In this international and interdisciplinary collection of critical essays, distinguished contributors examine a crucial premise of traditional readings of Plato's dialogues: that Plato's own doctrines and arguments can be read off the statements made in the dialogues by Socrates and other leading characters. The authors argue in general and with reference to specific dialogues, that no character should be taken to be Plato's mouthpiece. This is essential reading for students and scholars of Plato.
Thrasyllus, best known as the Roman emperor Tiberius' astrologist, figured prominently in the development of ancient Platonism. How prominently and to what effect are questions that have puzzled philosophers down to our day; Harold Tarrant's important new book attempts to answer them.
In the first half of the first century BC the Academy of Athens broke up in disarray. From the wreckage of the semi-sceptical school there arose the new dogmatic philosophy of Antiochus, synthesized from Stoicism and Platonism, and the hardline Pyrrhonist scepticism of Aenesidemus. With his extensive knowledge of the ways in which Plato was read and invoked as an authority in late antiquity Dr Tarrant builds a most impressive reconstruction of Philo of Larissa's brand of Platonism and of its (...) arrival in Middle Platonism, particularly that of Plutarch, long after the Academy's institutional demise. Particularly valuable is his exploitation for this purpose of a text barely discussed since its publication 80 years ago - a commentary on Plato's Theaetetus whose unidentified author Dr Tarrant has cogently argued to be a follower of Philo. Among many other achievements, Dr Tarrant throws much light on the relation of Aenesideman scepticism to the Academy. (shrink)
In The Neoplatonic Socrates, leading scholars in classics and philosophy address this gap by examining Neoplatonic attitudes toward the Socratic method, Socratic love, Socrates's divine mission and moral example, and the much-debated issue of moral rectitude. Collectively, they demonstrate the importance of Socrates for the majority of Neoplatonists, a point that has often been questioned owing to the comparative neglect of surviving commentaries on the Alcibiades, Gorgias, Phaedo, and Phaedrus, in favor of dialogues dealing explicitly with metaphysical issues. Supplemented with (...) a contextualizing introduction and a substantial appendix detailing where evidence for Socrates can be found in the extant literature, The Neoplatonic Socrates makes a clear case for the significant place Socrates held in the education and philosophy of late antiquity. (shrink)
Readers of the early dialogues of Plato may soon feel that his Socrates proceeds methodically towards the ultimate embarrassment of his verbal wrestling-partners. Several recurrent tactics are easily identified, giving credence to claims that Socrates has a method. As Aristotle saw, he demanded universal definitions and he employed epagōgē. He elicited from an interlocutor whose belief he would question certain other beliefs, seemingly more fundamental, entailing the contradiction of the original belief. He flattered, hassled, cajoled, and criticized. He employed his (...) own recurrent themes, presented in a positive light, so as to undermine others. More fundamentally, he pursued philosophy neither in solitary meditation, nor out among the masses, but on a one-to-one basis,following an argument through with one individual at a time, as if the nature of philosophy demanded that it be practiced dialogically. (shrink)
The Alcibiades purports to offer us the very first conversation between Socrates and Alcibiades. Previously, it seems, Socrates has just lingered at the back of a crowd of lovers looking rather stupid. This is hardly surprising. Socrates did look stupid, and both Aristophanes and his rival Ameipsias thought that he was good enough material for a laugh to present him on stage in their comedies at the Dionysia of 423 BC. The only slight surprise here is that Alcibiades, though he (...) is mentioned in other Aristophanic comedies, is never actually named in the Clouds. One might suspect that the young man Pheidippides, whom Socrates exposes to the corrupting influence of philosophic argument and the ensuing amoral attitudes, bears some relationship to Alcibiades. He shares with him a partially Alcmaeonid background, a passion for horse-racing, and an interesting lisp, but as the play stands Pheidippides is never seen as having been in any way close to Socrates.1 Their relationship is in fact akin to one between the principal of a college and an individual first-year student, with no sinister overtones whatever. I doubt that the relationship with Alcibiades had by that stage been seen as in any way unusual; either its bizarre nature was a well-kept secret, or it was not seen as very unusual after all. Alcibiades had experienced the attentions of a host of would-be lovers, so what would have made Socrates special? (shrink)
Tarrant examines whether the relationship between Socrates and his young followers could ever have been treated by Plato in the same fashion as it is treated in the Platonic Theages, where the terminology of synousia is repeatedly applied to it. In minimizing the part played by knowledge and maximizing the role of the divine and of eros, the work creates a "Socrates" who conforms to the educational ideology of the Academy of Polemo in the period 314-270 BC.
Although it was influential for several hundred years after it first appeared, doubts about the authenticity of the Platonic Alcibiades I have unnecessarily impeded its interpretation ever since. It positions itself firmly within the Platonic and Socratic traditions, and should therefore be approached in the same way as most other Platonic dialogues. It paints a vivid portrait of a Socrates in his late thirties tackling the unrealistic ambitions of the youthful Alcibiades, urging him to come to know himself and to (...) care for himself. François Renaud and Harold Tarrant re-examine the drama and philosophy of Alcibiades I with an eye on those interpreters who cherished it most. Modern scholars regularly play down one or more of the religious, erotic, philosophic or dramatic aspects of the dialogue, so ancient Platonist interpreters are given special consideration. This rich study will interest a wide range of readers in ancient philosophy. (shrink)
Our knowledge of the Academy between the death of Plato and the first century BC is not extensive, though covered both by Philodemus' Academica, a history of the School on damaged papyrus, and by brief biographies in the fourth book of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers. These biographies cover the main school leaders down to the time of Clitomachus (d. 110/09 BC). It would be usual to see the Academy as having built on Plato's work and maintained his traditions (...) for about eighty years after the death of Plato in 347 BC, where upon Arcesilaus drew on the precedent of Socratic ignorance to move in a new, more sceptical direction. (shrink)
This paper examines the late Neoplatonic evidence for the text at the crucial point of the Alcibiades I, 133c, finding that Olympiodorus' important evidence is not in the lexis, which strangely has nothing to say. Perhaps it was dangerous in Christian Alexandria to record one's views here too precisely. Rather, they are found primarily in the prologue and secondarily in the relevant theoria. Olympiodorus believes that he is quoting from the work or paraphrasing closely, but offers nothing that can be (...) paralleled in either the manuscripts or the Eusebian versions. Since both the manuscript text and the Eusebian text fail to satisfy, the evidence deserves consideration. Even if he were not in possession of a text that was wholly correct, Olympiodorus does at least offer an overall interpretation of the passage which neatly unites the daemonic and erotic aspects of Socrates' activities, and offers a real reason for Alcibiades to return Socrates' love. He is encouraged to reflect upon the nature of the divine being controlling Socrates, so that he may behold the likeness of his own, woefully obscured, inner self, and so acquire the self-knowledge necessary for true political success.The anonymous Prolegomena are compatible with Olympiodorus, while Proclus' prologue again largely agrees with Olympiodorus' interpretation. For Proclus, Alcibiades must become an observer of Socrates knowledge and indeed of Socrates' whole life. 'For to desire to know the reason for Socrates' actions is to become the lover of the knowledge which is pre-established within him.' So the path towards a total understanding of his own inner intellective self lies via the contemplation of that being that is rooted within Socrates.I also examine earlier Platonist evidence for the text and find little that is not in harmony with late Neoplatonism. (shrink)
This is a modern, annotated translation of antiquity's only extant commentary on Plato's moral and political dialogue Gorgias , in which the author defends ancient Greek philosophy and culture at a time when Christianity has almost replaced it. The first translation into any modern language of a central work in Platonic studies is accompanied by annotations which guide the reader in understanding the obscurities of the text, an introduction to the main issues raised by it, and a bibliography of the (...) modern literature. (shrink)
At Alcibiades I, 133b-c, the reader expects, but does not according to the MSS find, the return of the mirror-motif that had supposedly explained the true meaning of the Delphic injunction. Hence it remains unclear why anything viewed within the soul should act in any way that resembles a mirror. I argue that the substitution of a single letter in one word, about which the manuscripts and modern scholars in any case disagree, can restore the necessary reference to a reflective (...) surface, though not specifically to a mirror, since the term for a mirror could only be applied to sight. A failure to understand the underlying intertextual allusion to Cratylus 408c had resulted in a safe but unsatisfactory substitution by Late Antiquity, and other modifications followed thereafter in an effort to give meaning to the text. (shrink)
Julius Tomin has recently questioned the new orthodoxy, stemming from Burnyeat's impressive article, that Socratic midwifery is not genuinely Socratic. I understand that many will feel the need to question Burnyeat's position, but I am unhappy that Aristophanes' comedy has once again been thought to give support to the view that Socrates had been known as an intellectual midwife. Thus my response will concentrate on our understanding of Clouds, and in particular on the key passage at 135ff.
This article presents evidence over which we stumbled while investigating a completely different part of the Platonic Corpus. While examining the ordinary working vocabulary of the doubtful dialogues and of those undisputed dialogues most readily compared with them, it seemed essential to have a representative sample of Plato's allegedly 'middle' and 'late' dialogues also. The real surprise came when the Critias was included, showing some frequencies not previously observed in Platonic dialogues. This prompted treatment of the Timaeus also, some of (...) which showed comparable peculiarities. The most distinctive feature was the increase in the rate of the definite article from around 8% of total vocabulary in dialogues assumed to be early, or around 10% in Laws, to some 14% in sizeable parts of the Timaeus-Critias, where Plato seemed no less interested in the literary credentials of his creations than elsewhere. Tests intended for application to our original set of problems were yielding results that appeared to bear on a number of problems central to the interpretation of the Timaeus-Critias. (shrink)
Today the name Socrates invokes a powerful idealization of wisdom and nobility that would surprise many of his contemporaries, who excoriated the philosopher for corrupting youth. The problem of who Socrates "really" was—the true history of his activities and beliefs—has long been thought insoluble, and most recent Socratic studies have instead focused on reconstructing his legacy and tracing his ideas through other philosophical traditions. But this scholarship has neglected to examine closely a period of philosophy that has much to reveal (...) about what Socrates stood for and how he taught: the Neoplatonic tradition of the first six centuries C.E., which at times decried or denied his importance yet relied on his methods. In The Neoplatonic Socrates, leading scholars in classics and philosophy address this gap by examining Neoplatonic attitudes toward the Socratic method, Socratic love, Socrates's divine mission and moral example, and the much-debated issue of moral rectitude. Collectively, they demonstrate the importance of Socrates for the majority of Neoplatonists, a point that has often been questioned owing to the comparative neglect of surviving commentaries on the Alcibiades, Gorgias, Phaedo, and Phaedrus, in favor of dialogues dealing explicitly with metaphysical issues. Supplemented with a contextualizing introduction and a substantial appendix detailing where evidence for Socrates can be found in the extant literature, The Neoplatonic Socrates makes a clear case for the significant place Socrates held in the education and philosophy of late antiquity. (shrink)
For those of us who do not idealize Proclus's contribution to Platonic scholarship, which is influenced excessively by the conviction that Orphic and Chaldaean texts are working within the same system, the commentaries of Olympiodorus can represent a substantial step forward. The range of issues tackled in his commentaries is often much closer to that expected of a modern commentary than those of his illustrious Athenian predecessor. This is not entirely new, since much the same could be said of Hermias, (...) working within Syrianus's school as Proclus did, and of Damascius when commenting on the Phaedo or Philebus rather than on the Parmenides. Yet our picture of so-called neoplatonism remains dominated by the more... (shrink)
Various ancient sources refer to the Platonic work that we know as Republic in the plural. Aristotle seems to have made it possible to refer to politeiai as ‘constitutions’, actual or written, and therefore some of our texts are best explained as references to Plato’s two written constitutions, Republic and Laws. One neglected reference that may perhaps be explained in this way occurs in the anonymous Antiatticista. A large number of references from the Alexandrian school of Platonism in late antiquity (...) cannot be explained in that way, and should be understood with reference to the prevalent interpretation of the Republic, which gives equal weight to the internal (psychic) and external (civic) constitutions. The trickiest question is what it means in the titles of three commentaries dating from the early imperial era. (shrink)
Proclus' commentary on the dialogue Timaeus by Plato, written in the fifth century AD, is arguably the most important commentary on a text of Plato, offering unparalleled insights into eight centuries of Platonic interpretation. It has had an enormous influence on subsequent Plato scholarship. This edition nevertheless offers the first new translation of the work for nearly two centuries, building on significant recent advances in scholarship by Neoplatonic commentators. It will provide an invaluable record of early interpretations of Plato's dialogue, (...) while also presenting Proclus' own views on the meaning and significance of Platonic philosophy. The book presents Proclus' unrepentant account of a multitude of divinities involved with the creation of mortal life, the supreme creator's delegation to them of the creation of human life, and the manner in which they took the immortal life principle from him and wove it together with our mortal parts to produce human beings. (shrink)
While Platonists are generally committed to a non-materialist worldview and the idea that human happiness is attained by caring for the immortal soul, they show less agreement on how the founding texts of their tradition, the Platonic dialogues, should be interpreted. After a discussion of Proclus’ philosophical sources and of the curriculum of the later Neoplatonists, the author tackles the question as to Proclus’ place in the Platonic tradition first by showing how Proclus himself regarded his predecessors, before pointing to (...) the limitations of Proclus’ own perspective. The author argues that Proclus indeed belonged to the strand of Platonism ready to go beyond the Plato’s words, but that his exegesis of Plato was much more inspired by Numenius’ allegorical interpretation and by Porphyry’s and Iamblichus’ project of reconciling Plato with Orphism and the Chaldean Oracles than Plotinus’. (shrink)