Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.07.24

Mark Joyal (ed.), Studies in Plato and the Platonic Tradition. Essays Presented to John Whittaker.   Aldershot:  Ashgate, 1997.  Pp. xviii, 313.  

Reviewed by Peter Lautner (
Word count: 3302 words

The book begins with a bibliography of John Whittaker which indicates the range of his scholarly achievement. The collection starts well. In a highly stimulating paper Matthias Baltes ("Is the Idea of the Good in Plato's Republic Beyond Being?", 3-25) urges us to think over again what Plato really meant by the famous dictum that the idea of the Good is ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας (509B8-9). According to the current interpretation, the idea of the Good is beyond being.1 Baltes enumerates ten points indicating that this idea does not transcend the realm of being. It is the highest being, τὸ ὂν αὐτό (508D5), which gives existence to every other thing. The phrase ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας would therefore mean nothing but "beyond any particular essence" (p.12). The idea of Good surpasses everything in dignity and power, but it does not rise above being. Baltes also shows that this interpretation was shared by all the Platonists and Pythagoreans before Plotinus, except Moderatus. On the whole, the ten arguments he lists are convincing. However, I would hesitate to render οὐσίας with "essence" and then to talk about the essence of the idea of the Good (p.12) as this would immediately recall the distinction of essence and accident which may not help explore the way this idea (along with any other ideas) exists.

John Dillon ("The Riddle of the Timaeus: Is Plato Sowing Clues?", 25-42), too, places considerable reliance upon the ancient Platonists, especially Xenocrates and Plutarch, in explaining three crucial points in the dialogue. (1) The Demiourge is an efficient, or creative function in the forms, which brings about the continual imposition on the material substratum of projections of the forms. This creative function is dramatized as a distinct divine figure, to be regarded also as an intellect (νοῦς) which is not to be separated from the world of forms. At 39E8 the Demiourge is dropped and Plato speaks about νοῦς. Here we find the root of the Middle Platonic doctrine of the ideas as thoughts of god. We can add that this also may be the source of Plotinus' interpretation of the Demiourge as νοῦς (V 1.8.5). (2) As for the Receptacle of Becoming, there is a permanent situation facing the Demiourge in its work of projecting forms on the substratum. The substratum has a certain degree of distortion in the combination of elemental bodies which Intellect cannot entirely overcome, and that is what produces our imperfect world. All talk about things before the Demiourge imposes order must be simply for the sake of instruction. What Plato describes is not the pre-cosmic chaos but a Heraclitean view of the physical world as it is. Plato presents a scenario which is an alternative to the atomist notion of random movements of atoms in the void. (3) There is a difference between the Phaedrus and the Timaeus as the former takes the soul as eternal while the latter says that it is created. Plutarch claims that the story of the creation of the soul concerns the rational soul only -- irrational soul has always existed and is responsible for the chaotic movement of the pre-cosmic matter. In Plutarch, οὐσία ... περὶ τὰ σώματα γιγνομένη μεριστή at 35A2-3 refers to the irrational soul (see Proc. an. 1023E). Xenocrates takes ἀμέριστος οὐσία to be the One, and μεριστὴ οὐσία to be the Manifold (πλῆθος) and their product, soul, to be self-moving number. He might have also added that the soul is a conduit for the forms. By connecting this account with Philebus 23C-D, Dillon thinks that νους can be the active aspect of πέρας.

Mark A. Joyal ("'The Divine Sign Did Not Oppose Me': A Problem in Plato's Apology?", 43-58) argues that Socrates' sign is not a moral guide (see also Euth. 272E1-273A2); rather, it helps Socrates act successfully even in small matters. The way of interpreting the inconsistency between 29A4-B2 (Socrates does not know whether death is good or not) and 40B7-C3 (the sentence of death is not bad) largely depends on how we think of the historicity of the Apology. The structure follows patterns of contemporary rhetoric and therefore cannot reproduce Socrates' words in court (p.52). Plato was moved to the unique description of the sign's inactivity because he was responding to a controversy: Why did the sign not present itself? It is not certain either that the sign was a δαίμων. Both Plato and Xenophon use δαιμόνιον solely. But, we can object, Socrates was well versed in rhetorical devices. Even if the arrangement is by Plato, it does not rule out that the text can reflect what Socrates said. Moreover, if δαίμων is allotted to everybody (inference from Rep. 496C4-5) while Socrates' δαιμόνιον is not, how should we interpret Apology 40C1 (ἡμεῖς ὀρθῶς ὑπολαμβάνομεν, ὅσοι οἰόμεθα κακὸν εἶναι τὸ τεθνάναι). And in any case, it is sign of the god (τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ σημεῖον, 40B1).

Denis O'Brien ("La Définition du Son dans le Timée de Platon", 59-64) offers a new interpretation of 67B2-4. The text runs as follows: φωνὴν θῶμεν τὴν δι' ὤτων ὑπ' ἀέρος ἐγκεφάλου τε καὶ αἵματος μέχρι ψυχῆς πληγὴν διαδιδομένην. As he translates it: "We should say that sound is a stroke inflicted by the air on the brain and blood, passing through the ears and transmitted up to the soul". The genitive in ἐγκεφάλου and αἵματος can be called objective insofar as both ἐγκέφαλος and αἷμα can be taken as objects of the verbal equivalent to πληγή (πλήττω). According to G. Stallbaum's proposal, however, the two genitives are governed by διά ("through the ears, as well as through the brain and the blood") and this is the conclusion by A. Rivaud who takes ἐγκεφάλου τε καὶ αἵματος to mean "par l'intermédiaire ... du cerveau et du sang". But this interpretation contradicts the sequence of the words. Theophrastus (De sensibus 6, 500.14-15 Diels) and Plutarch (Quaest. plat. VII 9, 1006B) also corroborate O'Brien's interpretation. The only thing we can add here is that in the Neoplatonists' definition of sound does not contain reference to a blow through the brain either (cf., e.g. Olympiodorus, in Alc. I 53.4 Westerink).

John Rist ("Plato and Professor Nussbaum on Acts 'Contrary to Nature'", 65-79) criticizes the claim that there is no evidence that Plato regarded homosexual conduct morally as worse than other forms of sexual behaviour. He thinks Plato grades erotic individuals in the Phaedrus as follows: (1) male lovers of the Form of Beauty whose love is reciprocal. The couple becomes "close" but refrain from sexual intercourse; (2) male lovers of the Form of Beauty who cannot resist occasional intercourse, thereby abandoning philosophy; (3) active womanizers, including those marrying for pleasure; (4) active male homosexuals whose pleasure is contrary to nature. In the Laws (636B-C) homosexual intercourse is prohibited.

David N. Bell ("Plato Monasticus: Plato and the Platonic Tradition Among the Cistercians", 83-97) reveals that the reason for the rejection of Plato's views by the majority of Cistercians was not so much his positive views but rather the influence he exerted on contemporary authors whose doctrines seemed dubious. Bernard of Clairvaux was convinced that at the root of the controversial tenets of Abelard and Gilbert de la Porrée lay still Plato's ideas, which were in vogue throughout the 12th century anyway. The negative attitude towards Plato was not universal among the monks. Aelred of Rievaulx, for instance, and, most notably, Isaac of Stella treated him in a much more conciliatory spirit. But while the former, when believing he was getting support from the Timaeus, in fact quoted Augustine, who had in turn drawn upon Cicero, the latter did read the dialogue in Calcidius' translation, which is not full however. All this shows that such ideas were well-known and popular among the monks to the extent that some of them may have been ready to throw off the antiqua (wisdom of the Scriptures and the Fathers) for the novelties. No doubt such a stance was completely at odds with the Cistercian via monastica.

F.E. Brenk ("Plutarch, Judaism and Christianity", 97-119) shows that Plutarch was not hostile towards Judaism. Like many others, he identifies the Jewish god with Dionysos and may also have been acquainted with the Jewish Sibyl. Comparison with Paul's speeches reveals striking similarities between the latter's doctrines and some Middle Platonist theories, even if for Paul the philosophers par excellence were the Stoics and the Epicureans. But, with the exception of resurrection, he is very close to Platonist thinking. To find remarkable differences where one could expect similarity Brenk points to Plutarch's The Divine Vengeance which deals with divine retribution, not with penology or conversion. The divine remains aloof and the lot of the blessed is not recounted in great detail.

Richard Goulet ("Trois Cordonniers Philosophes", 119-127) argues -- against H. v. Arnim -- that Hero the shoemaker referred to by Theon (Progymnasmata sect. 8) is not Hero of Alexandria, the famous scientist (author of the Peumatika). By referring to another shoemaker of philosophical vein, Simon, disciple of Socrates, who was a virtuous man but bad shoemaker (see, e.g., Ammonius, in De int. 205.6-7; Anonymus, in Soph. Elench. 21.15), he suggests that Theon may have got the name wrong, either by having a corrupted source (ΗΡΩΝΑ instead of ΣΙΜΩΝΑ and in Alexandria the former name was much more familiar than the latter) or by being deceived by its own memory: he was thinking of Simon. The third shoemaker is a certain Philiscus (Aristotle, Fr. 1 Ross), but his story has nothing to do with Simon or Hero. The Armenian translation of Prog., preserved in a 17th century manuscript, confirms "Simon". As this translation precedes by seven centuries the earliest document of the direct tradition of Theon's text and thereby is closest to the archetype we can surmise that the mistake may have been made not by Theon but by a careless copyist of his work.2

In his richly documented essay ("The Neoplatonic Hypostases and the Christian Trinity", 127-191) Salvatore R.C. Lilla points to such similarities beginning with Clement of Alexandria to Ps.-Dionysius Areopagita. It is impossible to mention all the important points he makes so I emphasise but a few. Clement's interpretation of the "three kings" in Plato's (?) Ep. II goes hand in hand with Plotinus' use of the very same passage to support the doctrine of three hypostases. Origen was the first to take ὑπόστασις to mean "individual entity". Didymus of Alexandria identifies Porphyry's World-Soul with the Holy Spirit, as did Cyril of Alexandria and Theodoretus of Cyrus. The trinitarian doctrine of the Cappadocians draws heavily on Porphyry's notion of the highest principle as threefold unity. Synesius of Cyrene is indebted to Neoplatonic speculations for the notion of "unity in distinction", as well as for the concept of μονή-πρόοδος-ἐπιστροφή. Ps.-Dionysius seems to have relied not only on Proclus but also on Damascius -- for the unity of the triad. His concept of God is a blend of views of many Neoplatonists. I guess Synesius is somewhat unique in this group. He was educated in the pagan Platonic circles in Alexandria; his teacher was Hypatia. Unlike Origen, however, who at some point in his career was also educated by a pagan Platonist (Ammonius Saccas), Synesius was not an original philosopher or theologian. As Hypatia may have been influenced by Porphyry's views we can expect a large amount of Porphyrian tenets in his writings. Two samples suffice: at Ep. I 171, παγὰ παγῶν recalls not only the Chaldaean Oracles (fr.30) but also Porphyry (Sent. 44), in II 83, καὶ διὰ σιγᾶς reflects also Porphyry (Abst. II 34.2; Antr. 27).

Jean Pépin ("A propos du Platonicien Hermogène. Deux Notes de Lecture de l'Adversus Hermogenem de Tertullien", 191-201) discusses two aspects of Hermogenes' concept of matter: (1) materia coaequalis deo, (2) terra rudis. According to the first, matter is not generated but coexistent with God. Tertullian accuses Hermogenes of equating God with matter but seems to miss the point as σύγχρονος cannot mean substantial unity, only temporal coexistence. For Tertullian coeternity rules out subordination of matter to God. Hermogenes, however, may have regarded matter as auxiliary (adiutrix) to God. The second pertains to Hermogenes' reading of Genesis 1:1-2. He assumes that the imperfect (erat) indicates that the earth, that is the matter, exists forever. Rudis translates ἀργός ("uncultivated"), see Apuleius, De Plat. I 5.191. I guess this means also that matter was formless in that stage. This fits well with the (pagan) Platonic notion of matter as existing in a formless state. Thus creation means that God imposes forms upon such matter.

Anne Sheppard ("Phantasia and Inspiration in Neoplatonism", 201-210) surveys different views on how we can contact the divine by the aid of phantasia. For Synesius, phantasia enables us to grasp the forms of τὰ γιγνόμενα through images of them, but its range may extend beyond this realm. He seems to conflate several different functions of phantasia. Iamblichus takes it to play a dual role: it awakens reflections from αἴσθησις to δόξα and holds out secondary reflections of νοῦς to δόξα. It is due to the latter function that phantasia may be able to form images of supra-rational powers such as gods. Human phantasia thus can be inspired by the intelligible gods. Hermias explicitly links phantasia and inspiration (ἐνθουσιασμός). There are several faculties of the soul which can be inspired and phantasia is one of them. In Proclus phantasia and inspiration are kept firmly apart.

Henry J. Blumenthal ("Some Notes on the Text of Pseudo-Simplicius' Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, III.1-5", 213-229) makes us clear how bad the text we have in the CAG edition is. Its reports on the readings of the only complete manuscript (Laurentianus 85.21, 13th or 14th century) are frequently unreliable and the lapses are concentrated on few pages at a time so that one might conclude that the editor must have relied on a less careful or competent assistant. The lemmata reflect a manuscript of Aristotle's De Anima that justifies the readings of the less innovative modern editions and highlights the idiosyncracies of Ross' text. To mention but a few examples: at 426a1 ὧν εἴποι instead of Ross' εἴπειεν; at 426a27 εἰ δή instead of εἰ δ' ἡ; at 427a13 Ross' δίς should be replaced with δυσί; at a14 ἕν, ἑνί is preferable to ἑνί, ἕν; at a18 κρίνειν should be restored in the text; at 427b17 Jannone's αὕτη is preferable (ὅτι δ' οὐκ ἐστιν αὕτη νόησις καὶ ὑπόληψις); at 428a27 Ross writes διότι for δῆλον ὅτι; at 429b30 Ross' δύναμει should be replaced with δεῖ. As for Ps.-Simplicius' commentary, some points may be worth stressing. At 174.24 ἐντελεχειῶν should be replaced with στοιχείων; at 175.32 ὀγδόῳ τῆς Φυσικῆς with ἑβδομόῳ τῆς Φυσικῆς; at 197.6 delete ὅταν ὡς ἄτομα λέγῃ as unnecessary doublet; at 200.18 we should read ἀύλου for ἐνύλου; at 216.22 αἰσθητικόν should be read αἰσθητόν; at 220.13 Πλάπωνι should be Πλωτίνῳ -- the commentator is objecting to Plotinus' notorious conception of the individual human soul having a part in the intelligible realm. In discussing the text of the De anima, Blumethal refers to Ross' edition accompanied with the commentary (Oxford 1961). We should bear in mind, however, that Ross prints a slightly different text in the OCT edition (Oxford 1956) where he showed a less innovative attitude, e.g., he prints εἴποιεν at 426a1 instead of the somewhat unrealistic εἴπειεν, rightly rejected by Blumenthal.

Jean Irigoin ("Traces de Livres Antiques dans Trois Manuscrits Byzantins de Platon [B, D, F]", 229-245) draws attention to the peculiarities to be found in Bodleianus Clarke 39 (B), Marcianus gr. 185 (D) and Vindob. suppl. gr. 39 (F). In B and D there are stichometric signs limited to the Symposium (third tetralogy) and the Cratylus (second tetralogy) which indicates that the rolls of different origins were collected only when Plato's works were transcribed into codices. Thus the unity of the tetralogies is apparent only; it conceals the fact that they were derived from a variety of sources. The catchwords in F allude again to the various rolls from which the text of the Republic was copied into a codex. Lacunas in F (mainly in the text of the Gorgias, Menon, Hippias Major) show that the dialogues were in the same collection transcribed onto a roll which was partly deteriorated.

Jaap Mansfeld ("Notes on the Didascalicus", 245-261) demonstrates that the use of μερισμός (distinction of parts) and διαίρεσις (division of genus into parts) (154.5-6) shows that the author aims at listing species and sub-species in their order and place, regarding enumeration of parts as coextensive with division into species. The sample he takes is the division of soul into parts and the further division of the passionate part into irascible and concupiscent (156.34-37); although the soul is the genus of its parts in terms of being predicated of them, the concupiscent is considered a part, not a species. At 156.39-41 we find a preeminently Peripatetic division of the good into good in the soul, as well as bodily and external. This is also reflected in Laws (III 697B) but many times contrasted with Plato's conception. It is in 180.5-15 that the division becomes Platonic to a great extent. As for the question-types in physics, it is emphasised that the questions and answers to them in the body of the Didascalicus do not always overlap. Pace Dillon, the theological proof concerning incorporeality and partlessness of god is not "banal". It contains a twist insofar as it converts Academic arguments against the Stoic and Epicurean god's inconceivability into arguments supporting Alcinous' own case for god's incorporeality and immortality. Thus the origin of the proof is far from being banal, although it does not exclude its being called so from a formal point of view.

David T. Runia ("The Text of the Platonic Citations in Philo of Alexandria", 261-293) lists 23 passages where Plato is referred to by name or quoted by anonymous phrase. To my mind the most interesting are De fuga et inventione 63 (quoting Tht. 176A5-B1), 82 (Tht. 176B8-C7), De aeternitate mundi 13 (Tim. 41A7-B6), 25-26 (Tim. 32C5-33B1), 38 (Tim. 33C6-D3), 141 (24E6-7). Sometimes, Philo modifies the text in order to match the theological position of his own; he puts θεός or θεῖος where Plato's text has plural forms (Tht. 176A7 Tim. 41A7). In Tim. 33A5 he gives λυπεῖ instead of λύει. Most changes are relatively innocent but we cannot rule out that in some cases he did intend to tamper with Plato's text.

H.D. Saffrey ("Nouvelles Observations sur le Manuscrit Parisinus graecus 1807", 293-307) illuminatingly points out that the codex was bought and corrected by Constantine, metropolite of Hierapolis, translator of Greek texts into Armenian, who probable found it in Constantinople towards the end of the 12th century. The further fate of the book is tied to the Dominican mission in the 13th century. There is an intimate link between it and Cod. Vind. phil. gr. 100 which contains Aristotle's Metaphysics. It is this manuscript on which Moerbeke relied in revising his translation. Moerbeke and his associates may have access to the Par. gr. 1807. On fol. 128r there is a marginal note from the 13th century which says finis translationis referring to Timaeus 53C4 where Calcidius' translation ends. This was the only translation accessible to the Frankish West in that age. The note indicates that at least some Latins -- among them perhaps Moerbeke -- were familiar with the entire text of the Timaeus in Greek. Neither can we rule out that the book was brought to the West in the 13th century. And this may be the manuscript which Petrarch owned.

The volume ends up with an index of the passages in Plato under discussion. This is an excellent collection of scholarship. No doubt that many of the papers to be found here will be referred to as authoritative statements of their subjects.


1.   One exception to current fashion is Th. A. Szlezák,'Das Höhlengleichnis (Buch VII 514a-521b und 539d-541b)', O. Höffe (ed.), Platon. Politeia. Berlin 1996, 205-228).
2.   On the rank of the Armenian translation, see G. Bolognesi, 'La traduzione armena dei Progymnasmata di Elio Teone', Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Anno CCCLIX (1962), Serie 8, Rendiconti. Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche. Vol. XVII (1962), 86-126 (Nota I), 211-258 (Nota II), esp. 255.

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