The Leaven of the Ancients

Suhrawardī and the Heritage of the Greeks

By John Walbridge

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Paperback : 9780791443606, 305 pages, November 1999
Hardcover : 9780791443590, 305 pages, November 1999

Table of contents



Note on Terminology

References and Translations


Part 1
Suhrawardi as a Non-Peripatetic

Chapter 1
The Problem of Suhrawardi and Illuminationism

The Commentators

Chapter 2
Suhrawardi's Life and Works

From Maragha to Aleppo

Suhrawardi's works

Chapter 3
A Summary of the Illuminationist Philosophy

The Style of Suhrawardi's Philosophizing


First Philosophy: Beings of Reason

Physics: The Constituents of Body

Knowledge by Presence

Metaphysics and Rational Theology

The Mystical: Imaginal World, Afterlife, Cycles, Reincarnation

Chapter 4
Suhrawardi on the History of the Ancient Philosophy

The "Ishraqi" School

The Philosophical Genealogy

The Greek Line in Suhrawardi's Philosophical Isnad

Part 2
The Divine Philosophers

Chapter 5
Empedocles: The Philosopher as Mystic and Magus

The Empedocles of History

Shahrazuri's Account of Empedocles

The Empedoclean Tradition in Islam

Empedocles in Suhrawardi's Works

Love and Strife

Suhrawardi as Mystic and Magus

Chapter 6
Pythagoras: The Brotherhood of the Lovers of wisdom

The Pythagoras of History and Legend

The Commentaries on the Golden Verses and the Akousmata

Other Information on Pythagoreanism: Lore, Numbers, and Symbols

The Pythagoreanizing Neoplatonists and the Illuminationists

What the Illuminationists Learned from Pythagoras


Chapter 7
The Divine Plato

The Biography of Plato in Arabic

Platonic Materials in Arabic

Dialogue, Myth, and Allegory

Islamic Writers on Platonism

Why Did Suhrawardi Become a Platonist?

Chapter 8
Aristotle and the Peripatetics

The Historical Aristotle in the Islamic Tradition

The Problem of Suhrawardi's "Old Aristotle"

Suhrawardi's Critique of the Peripatetics

Chapter 9
Plato versus Aristotle (i): The Critique of Peripatetic Logic

Division and the Rejection of Essentialist Definition

The Simplification of the Syllogism

Propositional Logic

Chapter 10
Plato versus Aristotle (ii): Platonic Epistemology

The Problem of Vision

Alexander of Aphrodisius on Vision

Knowledge by Presence

Epistemology and the Seventh Epistle of Plato

Intuition as a Basis of Philosophy

Suhrawardi's Platonism in Review

Chapter 11
The Stoics: The Heirs of Plato's Esoteric Teachings

The Problem: Mulla Sadra's Identification of Suhrawardi as a Stoic

The Transmission of Stoic Ideas

Illuminationism as Stoicism

Suhrawardi's System and the History of Philosophy: Recapitulation

Part 3

Chapter 12
Politics, Plato's Seventh Epistle, and the Failure of Suhrawardi's Political Ambitions

Chapter 13
The Philosophical Heritage of Suhrawardi

The Transmission of his Books and Ideas

Maragha to the School of Isfahan

Mysticism and the Decline of Science in Islam

The Problem of Consciousness and the Recurrence of Metaphysics

Appendix I
Henry Corbin and Suhrawardi Studies

Appendix II
Suhrawardi's Dream of Aristotle




Provides an account of Islamic philosopher Suhrawardi's revival of Neoplatonism.


The twelfth-century Persian philosopher Suhrawardī was the key figure in the transition of Islamic philosophy from the neo-Aristotelianism of Avicenna to the mystically oriented Islamic philosophy of later centuries. Suhrawardī's "Illuminationist" philosophy was a vigorous reassertion of Neoplatonism at a time when Sufism was becoming a major presence in Islamic thought and society.

This book traces the intellectual background of Suhrawardī's thought and of the Greek roots of non-Aristotelian philosophy in the Islamic world. Suhrawardī placed himself in an intellectual tradition that sprang from the "Ancients," the philosophical and mystical tradition of Hermes Trismegistus and his successors in both Greece and the Orient. The author argues that Suhrawardī typifies an approach to philosophy characteristic of Neoplatonism, in which Pythagoras is the key pre-Socratic, Plato is the central figure in the history of philosophy, Aristotle is respected but corrected by reference to Pythagoras and Plato, and philosophy is ultimately an eclectic revelation known symbolically by different nations. Mystical intuition is a key philosophical tool and symbolism is of particular importance.

The Leaven of the Ancients provides a translation of Suhrawardī's famous dream, in which Aristotle reveals the epistemological foundations of Suhrawardī's Illuminationist system. The book also analyzes the role played by Suhrawardī and his approach to philosophy in turning Islamic civilization away from physical science toward a subtle mystical psychology, thus offering a new explanation for the decline of science in Islam.

John Walbridge is Associate Professor in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Philosophy at Indiana University. He has published several books including The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Din Shirazi and the Illuminationist Tradition in Islamic Philosophy.


"This is an original and provocative work in the area of Suhrawardian studies that challenges the existing interpretations of Suhrawardi's concept of the history of philosophy and offers an alternative perspective." -- Mehdi Aminrazavi, author of Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination