Obituary: Professor Henry Blumenthal

HENRY BLUMENTHAL was a leading British scholar in the area of Neoplatonism, one of a small band of pioneers, including his friends John Rist and Denis O'Brien, who emerged from Cambridge in the early 1960s as students of F.H. Sandbach, so eminently broad-minded that he let them pursue such an odd bird as the philosopher Plotinus.

Of these three, only Blumenthal remained to fly the flag of Neoplatonism in England, Rist moving to Toronto and O'Brien to Paris. Taken on in Liverpool in 1965 by the father of Neoplatonic studies in Britain, Hilary Armstrong, Blumenthal went on to succeed him, and to become himself the senior figure in the field.

Henry Blumenthal was born in 1936, and attended Mill Hill School in London before going on, after National Service in the RAF, to Trinity College, Cambridge, whence he graduated in the Classical Tripos in 1960, with Philosophy and Linguistics as his special topics. After a year in Paris, he returned to Cambridge to do a PhD, which he gained in 1964. The topic, a study of Plotinus' psychology, was published in due course as Plotinus' Psychology: his doctrines of the embodied soul (1971), and was immediately hailed as the authoritative work on the subject in England.

Plotinus' doctrine in this area is in fact peculiarly subtle and complex, and its ramifications continued to exercise Blumenthal throughout his career. Indeed, he left behind him an almost complete commentary on Plotinus' major essay "Problems of the Soul" (Enneads IV 3-5), which we must hope will see the light of day.

He expanded from this to a comprehensive knowledge of every aspect of Neoplatonic psychology, based as it is on valiant attempts to reconcile Aristotelian doctrine, as expressed in the De Anima, with that of Plato, with which it might seem to be in flat contradiction. In a long series of articles, over a quarter of a century (many of which were gathered together in his 1993 collection Soul and Intellect), Blumenthal continued to explore various aspects of this, and of the Neoplatonic reception of Aristotle in general - a remarkable phenomenon, with many consequences for medieval and later philosophy. This resulted ultimately in a comprehensive study published in 1996, Aristotle and Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity.

Following a brief stint at Mount Allison University in Canada (where he met his wife Anna), Blumenthal secured an appointment as Lecturer in Greek at Liverpool, and remained there for the rest of his working life, rising from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer to Reader, and then, from 1983, Head of Department. In 1997, to the pleasure of his many friends and admirers, he was honoured with a personal chair.

Though troubled periodically by illness, he was a great source of fun and inspiration to a host of colleagues around the world. I recall in particular a mad and illegal assault on Mount Etna in September 1994. The peak of Etna was off limits, since it had swallowed up a group of German tourists a few months before, but Blumenthal was not to be put off, and talked Andrew Smith and myself into joining him. We slipped away from our guided tour, and got away with it, but we might well not have - especially as Blumenthal contrived to slip at one point in our descent and somersaulted past me out of the mist.

It may seem strange that a man who personally was not persuaded of the immortality of the soul, or indeed of the existence of a transcendent deity, should have devoted his career so successfully to the study of Neoplatonism, but he did. Perhaps the presence of Aristotle, with whose views he would have been more in sympathy, made things more congenial.

John Dillon

Henry Jacob Blumenthal, classical scholar: born Leipzig, Germany 30 March 1936; Lecturer in Greek, Liverpool University 1965-74, Senior Lecturer 1974-78, Reader 1978-97, Head of Department of Greek (later Classics and Archaeology) 1983-90, Professor 1997-98; married 1966 Anna Rosner (one son, one daughter, one foster daughter); died Catania, Sicily 23 April 1998.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments