The Wisdom of the Mystic East

Suhrawardī and Platonic Orientalism

By John Walbridge

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Paperback : 9780791450529, 184 pages, August 2001
Hardcover : 9780791450512, 184 pages, August 2001

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Table of contents


Introduction: Suhrawardi and the Orient

1. The Lure of Oriental Wisdom


The Greek Pseudepigrapha and Platonic Orientalism
The Basis of Platonic Orientalism
Suhrawardi as Orientalizing Neoplatonist


2. Hermes of Egypt: God and Philosopher


Hermes as Universal Sage: Greece, Egypt, Chaldaea
The Problem of Philosophy and the Greek Gods
The Sabians of Harran
The Hermetic in Suhrawardi's Thought


3. Light, Darkness, and the Kings of Ancient Iran


The Philosophical History of Light
Ghazali, the Ghost at Suhrawardi's Feast
Light, Darkness, and the Persians


4. Buddha's Gate of Gates: The Problem of Reincarnation


Buddhism and the Muslims
The Indian Sages and the Ancients
The Problem of Reincarnation


5. The Past as Orient: The Ideological Heritage of Suhrawardi


Hermes and the Miraculous Preservation of the Avesta
The Commentators and the Persian Side of Suhrawardi
India: The Ancient Sages from Akbar to the Raj
Zoroaster and the Magi: Bruno, Voltaire, and Anquetil
Suhrawardi and Iranian Nationalism: The Persian Sages Return to Iran



An expert on the thought of medieval Islamic philosopher Suhrawardi argues that philosophers have romanticized this work as a revival of “oriental” wisdom.


Twelfth-century Islamic philosopher Suhrawardī attempted to revive Platonism in an era of Avicennan Aristotelianism. Modern scholars have portrayed Suhrawardī as wishing to revive an "oriental" wisdom and associate him with ancient Persia. In this book, John Walbridge uses Suhrawardī as a vehicle to explore the tendency of Platonic philosophers to romanticize oriental wisdom.

The work presents Suhrawardī and defines the problem of Platonic orientalism, both in general and in relation to Suhrawardī. Egypt and the Hermetic tradition, ancient Persia and the notion of metaphysical light, and India, Buddhism, and the transmigration of souls are all covered in terms of their influence or lack of influence in Suhrawardī's thought. The book also explores the role of Platonic and Suhrawardian orientalism in various cultures over the years.

John Walbridge is Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, and the author of The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks, also published by SUNY Press.


"Walbridge has the rare ability to make what might on the surface seem like arcane debates lively and relevant to today. His book is full of such important insights, the implications of which go well beyond simply Suhrawardi or even Islamics." — Juan R. I. Cole, University of Michigan