Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.13

Klaus Döring, [Plato]. Theages. Übersetzung und Kommentar. Platon, Werke, Band V 1.   Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.  Pp. 93.  ISBN 3-525-30416-1.  €29.90.  

Reviewed by Harold Tarrant, University of Newcastle, Australia (
Word count: 1200 words

The tension between the 'Platon' of the front cover and the '[Platon]' of the inside title page tells much of the story of the more interesting of the Platonic dubia. While it is no longer widely believed that works such as this and the Alcibiades I or Epinomis are by Plato himself, the study of them is still felt to belong firmly with that of the genuine Platonic corpus. Furthermore, the Theages and the Alcibiades at least seem to be important sources, in the broader Platonic tradition, for the study of Socrates. If their contribution to our picture of Socratic education, eroticism, and quasi-divine inspiration is to be rejected, then the argument still has to be made for rejecting it, quite apart from any questions about Plato's authorship. Then again, in what other relation could we study them? None stands in particularly close relation to the fragmentary remains of the scholarchs of the Academy after Plato, and indeed, as D notes (80-81), no special connection is apparent between the Socratic δαίμων in the Theages and the demonology of Xenocrates, the best known of Plato's early successors. Still, the strong, and widely accepted, ancient tradition that the Epinomis was written by Philip of Opus as well as Proclus' evidence that Crantor was the first Platonic ἐξηγήτης (at least of the Timaeus) should alert us to the fact that scholarchs were not necessarily the Academics whom we should link with the Platonic writings. So there is a mismatch between what we know of the Old Academy and what we should need to know in order to find a better place for these works than their 'provisional' place within the Platonic corpus, where they have been at least since Thrasyllus (d. AD 36), and probably since the third century BC.

There has been a recent flurry of scholarship on this particular miniature of the Platonic corpus, in spite of its relatively lean offering for those seeking exciting philosophic content. Mark Joyal produced a substantial edition in 2000,1 after publishing a number of articles of relevance to its content, and now, besides D's new edition, we also have a 313 page volume from Jacques Bailly2 dating from the same year (following a 1997 Cornell dissertation). The jobs which the volumes try to do are not so very different, though D does not offer us a text of his own, relying on that of the influential Joyal as the Vorwort tells us; Bailly on the other hand prints Joyal's text except on one minor point.

The contents of D's volume are of course determined in part by the requirements of the series. The translation comes at the start, and those whose first language is English will be heartened by the relative simplicity of the German, which matches well the conversational style of 'Socratic' dialogues in general. In the 13 pages of translation there are just 13 rather brief notes, which serve a variety of purposes, such as cross-referencing, giving the dates of individuals mentioned by Plato, and in three cases commenting on the text. The MSS of Platonic texts seldom cause great problems, and in two cases these notes serve to resist any alteration of the MS tradition (123b1, 128a6), while I infer from the note that Joyal's decision to follow Hirschig at 126b4 is accepted. This is not, however, so clear from the translation, since if I were translating παρὰ τοὺς αὐτοὺς δεινοὺς ὄντας ταῦτα here I should heed the parallel with παρ' ἄλλους τινὰς at b2 and render τοὺς αὐτοὺς unequivocally as 'the same ones', rather than (e.g.) Bailly's 'to those who are clever at these things, or D's 'zu denen, die selbst Meister sind auf diesem Gebiet'. At 122a7, where Bailly diverges from Joyal, D seems to concur with him.

Following the translation comes what might be described as a discursive commentary, first announcing a division of the dialogue (27), and next tackling one section at a time, without any attempt to break it into small lemmata (28-71). This is clearly a tactic that works well where the target audience is not equipped with the linguistic ability to understand arguments based upon the details of the Greek, though I have reservations about imposing too fixed a structure upon Plato's largely un-signposted text. One should note that, though largely accessible to the Greek-less reader, the commentary does from time to time include Greek in the main text, and even more in its footnotes. There is no doubt about its scholarly intentions or credentials, and though too late to take into account the book of Bailly, it does engage with his Cornell dissertation, as well as with a great deal of other scholarship, the majority from 1985 on. One thing to emerge clearly from this volume is the familiarity of the author with other parts of the Platonic corpus, some of which are at times followed closely, offering us extra justification for its being habitually studied in relation to Plato's 'Socratic' dialogues.

Following the translation come two appendices. The first of these (74-81) predictably discusses authorship and date, beginning with an historical account of the dialogue's changing fortunes, with some considerable attention to Schleiermacher. It is scarcely surprising that this giant of German Platonic scholarship merits space in a German volume. Nor is there much that is surprising about the conclusions that are reached, either on authorship or on date. Four arguments for an early date are spelled out, but not all thought cogent--and correctly so. The dialogue is finally thought to belong somewhere in the last two thirds of the fourth century BC, and to have been written by an author with links to the Academy and with an interest in Aeschines' Socratic works as well as those of Plato. It seems very likely that our author is a good imitator, with not only a knowledge of the Socratic dialogues but also a literary feel for them. While much of this picture suits me well, my own small recent contribution to the dating of the work3 argues for a marginally later date on grounds not considered in any of the recent editions, and I believe that our understanding has so far been impeded by some false assumptions about the Academy's activities in the first eight decades after Plato. The dubia have to be considered on this front as well as in relation to Plato and to other Socratic writings.

The second of the appendices (82-85), headed Zur Übersetzung, is primarily about the difficulties in translating such terms as σοφία into German and other scholarly languages. There follows a Literaturverzeichnis (86-88), and useful indices. There is no question of the volume's overall merit and usefulness, only, perhaps, about the sudden need for all three volumes that I have discussed in the space of five years. However, if I am not mistaken the work will indeed become of critical concern precisely because it is not by Plato, and it offers, along with others like it, the opportunity to understand a post-Platonic interest in Socrates that has been obscured by our judging the Academy in terms of the fragments of Speusippus and Xenocrates. I at least will be glad to have the volume on my shelves.


1.   M. Joyal, The Platonic Theages: an introduction, commentary, and critical edition, Stuttgart, 2000.
2.   J. Bailly, The Socratic Theages: Introduction, English Translation, Greek Text and Commentary, Hildesheim, 2004.
3.   H. Tarrant, 'Socratic Synousia?', Journal of the History of Philosophy, 43 (2005), 131-55.

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