Neoplatonism: A school of thought, originating in the third century A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, and persisting until the fifth century, whose proponents believed in the superiority of mind over matter and concerned themselves with fundamental human aspirations and problems. They especially developed Plato’s theory of beauty, arguing that the Absolute (the One, the Infinite Being, the source of all value and being) radiates all the beauty (and goodness and truth) that exists in this world. Neoplatonism, whose best-known proponent is the third-century philosopher Plotinus, incorporated certain elements of Christianity, gnosticism, and Oriental mysticism into Platonic thought to create a relatively optimistic, if vaguely defined, philosophical system. Later Christian thinkers were greatly influenced by the Neoplatonists, particularly by their concept of the Absolute and their understanding of beauty.
Subsequently, during the Renaissance, Neoplatonism was revived by thinkers who stressed that the material world is a path to the spiritual realm, rather than an obstacle to or diversion from it. Writers influenced by this version of Neoplatonism often wrote about lovers practicing a version of Platonic love that is in fact Neoplatonic; although the lovers’ ultimate goal is to apprehend Divine Beauty, they appreciate the bodily beauty of their earthly lover, believing it to signify a higher, more ethereal beauty, the experience of which will further their spiritual quest. (Neo)platonic love and lovers appear in the courtesy books of Baldassare Castiglione (The Courtier ) and in the poetry of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), and Edmund Spenser.