The Brazilian Return to the Greeks

The Brazilian Return to the Greeks

I was pleased to learn recently that my affiliation as a research collaborator at the Graduate Program in Metaphysics at the University of Brasilia has come through. This is just affiliation and not yet a full-blown job, but I look forward to having academic community and access to university resources and life when I return to Brasilia later this year. I will be pursuing a research project on what I like to call “The Brazilian Return to the Greeks”.

I will be studying the reappropriation of Greek metaphysics in the mid-twentieth century in Brazil by two philosophers who were both active in São Paulo: Mário Ferreira dos Santos (1907-1968) and Vicente Ferreira da Silva (1916-1963). Ferreira dos Santos and Ferreira da Silva each conducted a separate and personal return to the Greeks. Ferreira dos Santos returned to Pythagoreanism in his late philosophy and starting with Filosofia e Cosmovisão (1954), and especially in Filosofia Concreta (1956), Pitágoras e o Tema do Número (1965) and later in the volumes where he develops his Pythagorean project of the “Mathesis Megiste”, A Sabedoria dos Princípios (1967), A Sabedoria da Unidade (1967) and A Sabedoria do Ser e do Nada (1968). Furthermore, there are unpublished commentaries of his on Hermeias and on the Enneads of Plotinus to look forward to researching in his archives.
Ferreira da Silva, in turn, returned to the power of myth and especially Greek myth through a polytheistic philosophy inspired in equal measure by Schelling and Heidegger and by German scholars of religion such as Ludwig Otto, Leo Frobenius and Bachofen. This project was launched with his book Teologia e Antihumanismo (1953), developed in several articles, and then, unlike the case of Ferreira dos Santos, was continued by members of his circle that outlived him, especially the poet and translator Dora Ferreira da Silva (1919-2006), and the Portuguese Classicist Eudoro de Sousa (1911-1987). The reappropriations of Greek thought of Ferreira dos Santos and Ferreira da Silva, thus, complement one another as returns to logos and mythos respectively, both in an attempt to ground a new metaphysics.

Ferreira da Silva and Ferreira dos Santos have been ignored by an establishment where the distinction between the history of philosophy and philosophy proper has been central, to the detriment of the latter (see e.g. Margutti 2018, Cabrera 2010). My research into them, will rather presuppose a continuity between philosophy and commentary on the history of philosophy: studying these Brazilian metaphysicians as “returning to the Greeks” will not be to study them as “mere commentators”, but rather to investigate the metaphysical possibilities, the novel combinations of concepts that they opened through their appropriation of Greek philosophy. (2 I am inspired here by the results of Adluri and Bagchee (2014), who show the fruitfulness of such a hermeneutical approach in the context of another field deeply damaged by an opposition between original works and mere commentary, Indology.) My plan is to gather translations of key texts of each of them, along with essays on the metaphilosophy of the idea of a “Brazilian” “Reutrn” to “The Greeks”, and also essays on metaphysical subjects that they deal with, bringing them into dialogue with ancient authors and contemporary concerns such as the relations between theology and phenomenology and the understanding of Plato’s vexed notion of “Form-Numbers” all into a single volume entitled Brazilian Greek Metaphysics.

I plan, perhaps counterintuitively, to author Brazilian Greek Metaphysics and the articles to be collected in it in English. Scholars of Brazilian Philosophy such as Cabrera have observed that Brazilian philosophy tends to follow foreign trnds, so it is important therefore for Brazilian philosophy to become an object of greater interest abroad if it is at all to become an object of interest in Brazil. A future translation of the volume into Portuguese would be natural. Furthermore, given the fact that these Brazilian philosophers are of interest not only as examples of reception in the history of philosophy, but as philosophers in their own right, my plan is to submit my translations and articles not, for the most part, to journals that focus on the history of Latin-American philosophy, but to a variety of journals so that these philosophers can find their appropriate audiences. I have already started this with the publication of my translation of VFS’ “Religião, Salvação e Imortalidade” (a paper on polytheist soteriology) in Walking the Worlds, a journal dedicated to polytheist tissues, and the submission of a commented translation of his “Introdução à Filosofia da Mitologia” (an essay strongly indebted to Heidegger) to Epoché, an important journal in the phenomenological tradition.

Both authors, finally, are of interest to Christian Platonism. Ferreira da Silva is important precisely for his polytheism. After all, as Schelling put it “The river of revelation cannot be understood without the riverbed of mythology”. A robust understanding of polytheism is required to read Platonist authors seriously, and it is also required even to make sense of facts such as the Lord’s executing judgment upon the gods of Egypt in Exodus. Mário Ferriera dos Santos, is, himself a Catholic Platonist and deserves to be located within that tradition.

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