In the histories of Philosophy, Plotinus is usually portrayed as an otherworldly philosopher whose ideal was "a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, so much so that "he seemed ashamed of being in the body." Yet, a careful reading of the Enneads and Porphyry's Vita Plotini reveals a different picture of this extraordinary man. For example, in his effort to revive Platonism and defend the Hellenic heritage in philosophy and culture, Plotinus was compelled to engage in polemics against Gnosticism which, in the circle of the philosophers, was considered to be a form of Barbarism. It is difficult for us to imagine the calm Plotinus in the role of a passionate advocate of Platonic doctrines and the Hellenic way of living in harmony with the world. Yet, that is exactly what we find in his Against the Gnostics.
The purpose of this study is, through a critical examination of the above treatise and other relevant evidence, to provide an answer to the following related questions: How did the Gnostics, in Plotinus' view, use or abuse Plato? Who were these Gnostic opponents of Plotinus and why did he find it necessary to write against them himself and to instruct his students to do the same? What is the bearing of Plotinus' anti-Gnostic polemics on the problem of the relationship of Greek philosophy, and Platonism in particular, to Gnosticism as a religious movement? I shall begin with the question of the identity of Plotinus' Gnostic opponents; I shall proceed with their use and abuse of Plato in Plotinus' view; and I shall conclude with some remarks pertaining to the problem of the relationship between Platonism and Gnosticism.