Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.04.12

Matthias Baltes, EPINOHMATA. Kleine Schriften zur antiken Philosophie und homerischen Dichtung, herausgeben von Marie-Luise Lakmann. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 221.   München - Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2005.  Pp. xxii, 329.  ISBN 3-598-77833-3.  € 88.00.  

Reviewed by Christoph Helmig, University of Leuven (
Word count: 2404 words

[The titles of the essays are listed at the end of the review.]

The book under review is the second volume of Matthias Baltes' (B.) "Kleine Schriften" (Opera minora), containing 16 articles, four of which (nos. 9-11 and 16) were previously unpublished. B., undoubtedly one of the leading international scholars in the field of Platonic studies, is mainly known through the monumental encyclopedia on Platonism in Antiquity in the Imperial Age ("Der Platonismus in der Antike"),1 a project that he took over from the Münster based scholar Heinrich Dörrie. The latter's significant contribution to the history of Platonism is partly bundled in the volume "Platonica minora" (München, 1976).

It is the merit of M.-L. Lakman, who has been a colleague and assistant to B. for more than ten years, to have carefully and sympathetically edited this collection of a part of B.'s own "Platonica minora" after the latter's premature death in 2003 after a long and severe illness.2 The first volume of B.'s articles, entitled "Dianoemata",3 came out in 1999. It contains most of B.'s shorter publications on Plato and Platonism. The aim of the two volumes (the second is called "Epinoemata") is obviously to bring together all of B.'s published and unpublished papers and articles. Besides, the "Dianoemata" are two magisterial review articles (review of W. Deuse, Untersuchungen zur mittelplatonischen und neuplatonischen Seelenlehre [Wiesbaden, 1982] and T. Göransson, Albinus, Alcinous, Arius Didymus [Göteborg, 1995]) which are of central importance for the scholarship on Middle and Neo-Platonism. Browsing through B.'s bibliography (p. xv-xxi) one detects only one article that does not form part of the two-volume set, namely his short piece on the philosophy in Marius Victorinus' theological writings ("Überlegungen zur Philosophie in den theologischen Schriften des Marius Victorinus"). It is somewhat regrettable that this latter article has not been included in the present volume, but B published a comprehensive monograph on this very topic (see BMCR 2004.02.42).

B.'s "Epinoemata" fall into two main parts. Part one contains, following the chronological order of their publication, different articles on ancient philosophy, mainly concerning Plato and Platonism, but also two pieces on Epicurus and his influence, one on Boethius, and another on the decline of the Delphic Oracles. The second part comprises four older articles on Homer (two on the Iliad, one on the Odyssey, and one the Hymn to Apollo) and one previously unpublished piece on Ovid's story of Scylla and Minos (Met. 8, 6-151)4. In this review I will mainly focus on the first part (Platonica et Philosophica), which roughly comprises two thirds of the whole book.

After a short biography of B.'s work, there follows a complete list of publications, including articles for dictionaries and reviews. In the list of Ph.D.s supervised we may add the important edition of Albinus' Prologue by B. Reis (Hamburg), since B. initially suggested the topic and had been in constant collaboration with Reis during this project (the main supervisor was Prof. D. Harflinger, Hamburg).5

More than in the "Dianoemata", the reader will note the difference in character of the material brought together. Some of the articles are clearly intended for beginners, this is, for instance, the case with the article on Boethius (no. 3) and the piece on "Neo"-Platonism (no. 11) that reflects B.'s own reading of the different developments within the Neoplatonic "school" and his last words on what the 18th century German scholars have termed "Neoplatonism". Other articles, in contrast, are of a rather technical nature. Take, for instance, the rich and learned "die Weisheit der Barbaren" or "Plutarchs Lehre von der Seele" which provides B.'s last words on the complex psychology of Plutarch of Chaeronea.

The first essay, then, traces back the intricate relationship between Plato's philosophy and the wisdom of other ancient cultures (e.g., Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Chaldaeans). As B. demonstrates, throughout the Platonic tradition there had been a tendency to connect Plato's teachings with older and therefore more authoritative traditions. Especially in the struggle against the Christians, Platonic philosophers like Celsus used this alleged Platonic pedigree to argue that the Jewish and Christian religions are rather marred aberrations from the ancient tradition of revealed wisdom. There were, however, as B. reminds us in the end of the article, also Platonists who argued against 'barbaric' wisdom as a source for Plato's philosophy, among them Alcinous, Maximus of Tyre, Atticus, and probably Plotinus.

Ancient Epicurean theology is the topic of the second essay. B. summarises arguments of the Epicurean school (against Plato) to the effect that divine transcendence and blessedness exclude the creation of the world by the gods, as well as its divine maintenance and providence. Consequently, B. presents the Platonist's response to the Epicurean accusations and points out, rather interestingly, that in the same manner Platonists used similar arguments to undermine Christian theology and its doctrine of the world's creation.

As has been said already, essay three is a short but extremely concise introduction to Boethius' work, which was originally published in a collection of papers that aimed at introducing students to ancient philosophy. This essay should be read together with B.'s "Gott, Welt, Mensch in der Consolatio Philosophiae des Boethius" ("Dianoemata", p. 51-80) where Boethius' Platonic and Neoplatonic sources are unearthed in some detail.

Essay four should be read together with essay ten (previously unpublished), since both pieces provide evidence for the fact that already in Plato's early dialogues ("Frühdialoge") B. found many traces for Plato's theory of Forms. In the tenth essay, he argues that we should identify the πρῶτον φίλον of the Lysis with a Platonic Form: the Form of friendship. In the fourth essay, he unearths numerous references to the Forms in the Charmides, Euthydemus and Lysis. He assumes that already in these early dialogues Plato endorsed a rather developed theory of Forms, since he is able to extract from the text the, at first sight, rather Neoplatonic doctrine that the Forms (a) are transcendent, (b) reside in the things as images (eidola), and (c) reside in the human soul as logoi (p. 75). Both the fourth and the tenth essay betray a rather meticulous reading of the Platonic text and show B.'s astounding familiarity with the linguistic peculiarities of Plato's work. A thorough interpretation Plato's theory of Forms can be found in B.'s encyclopaedic article "Idee/Ideenlehre" ("Dianoemata", p. 275-302).

With "Plutarch's theory of the soul" (article five) we come to the original German version of an article published in Elenchos in 2000. As with other topics, B. had pursued the study of Plutarch for many years. His efforts culminated partly in a supervised Ph.D. thesis written by C. Schoppe.6 Concerning Plutarch's psychology, B. is convinced that the many scattered remarks in Plutarch's work amounts to a systematic doctrine of the soul. In his reconstruction, he is inclined to take most of the Plutarchan material literally (including De Iside et Osiride). Moreover, he takes Syrianus, In met. 105, 36 ff. as a genuine report about Plutarch's philosophy. The main difficulty in B.'s reconstruction concerns, however, the relation between soul and intellect. Along with H. Cherniss, he sticks to the questionable premise that for Plutarch intellect is always in a soul. Then, however, it is rather difficult to explain why Plutarch time and again stresses the transcendence of intellect to soul. B.'s attempt to explain this remains slightly contrived. However that may be, his attempt to unify all of Plutarch's remarks on the soul is certainly remarkable.

B.'s short text about the Anonymous Commentary on Plato's Parmenides (essay six) is the fruit of his preparation for the fourth meeting of the (Academia Platonica Septima Monasteriensis). The Academia was founded by B. in 1999 in order to bring together leading specialist in the field of Platonic studies. As is well known, the authorship of the commentary has been a matter of serious debates after the publication of Bechtle's study "The Anonymous Commentary on Plato's 'Parmenides'" (Bern, 1999). B.'s in part brilliant emendations clearly show that the text of the commentary remains in many places problematic.

In his treatment of the Imitatio Epicuri (essay seven), B. pursues the Platonic motif of the likeness to god in the Epicurean tradition. He demonstrates that Epicurus himself was considered to have reached this ideal to the highest degree. Therefore, the imitatio dei or deorum became in fact a imitatio Epicuri.

Essay eight tackles the much debated issue of the reason for the decline of the Delphic oracle. B.' provides a good status quaestionis of the problem and brings together the most important literature on the topic. His approach is, however, not exclusively historical, since he discusses several issues related to the Platonist theory of how the existence of oracles fits into the framework of Platonic theology (unchangeability of the divine, role of daimons, etc.). The study is mainly based on Plutarch's Delphic writings.

Among the most interesting pieces in the collection are the previously unpublished studies on the Middle Platonic ἐπιτομαί of Plato and B.'s view on the development of Neoplatonism. After a short introduction on the three different usages of the term ἐπιτομή in ancient Platonism (1. summaries of works, e.g. a Platonic dialogue [examples are Galen's PHP or Timaeus Locrus, De natura mundi et animae]; 2. summaries of certain philosophical issues, e.g. ethics, psychology, cosmology etc.; 3. summaries of whole "Wissenschaften", e.g. Platonic philosophy), the first essay presents all extant and non extant types of summaries connected to Plato and his philosophy. Among them, B. discusses the extant ἐπιτομαί of Plato's philosophy (altogether three: Alcinous, Didaskalikos; Apuleius, De Platone et eius dogmate; Diogenes Laertius, 3.67-80), but also the lost ἐπιτομαί (altogether six). The author concludes his study by pointing to the function of the different kinds of summaries in question for their ancient readers.

The essay on "Neo"-Platonism is divided into four parts: Plotinus, Porphyry, the tradition after Porphyry, and the "newer" elements in Neoplatonism. The reason why B. put(s) "Neo" in quotations marks is that within the Platonic tradition to introduce new elements (καινοτομία) was considered a sacrilege. Rather, "Neo"-Platonists saw themselves as people who faithfully preserved the teachings of Plato. Nevertheless, B. shows conclusively that with Plotinus and Porphyry a new period in the Platonic school was inaugurated, to wit what we call today Neoplatonism. In the last part of his essay he summarises what are according to him the new elements in Neoplatonism ("Das Neue am Neuplatonismus"). He lists altogether eleven characteristics: 1. an elaborated doctrine of the One; 2. the doctrine of the transcendent intellect (this is most probably stressed by B., since he assumes, as was explained already, that in Plato and Middle Platonism the formula that "intellect is always in a soul" was universally valid); 3. in the wake of a critical evaluation of Plotinus' doctrine of the undescended soul the Neoplatonists arrived at a rather elaborated psychology; 4. strict monism (cf. 1.); 5. commentaries on Aristotle gain currency, discussion whether he can be considered a genuine pupil of Plato; 6. Aristotle's writings become part of the curriculum studiorum ; 7. systematisation of knowledge in all areas; 8. integration of different older religious traditions; 9. the Chaldaean Oracles gain a central role from Iamblichus' onwards; 10. allegorical reading of Homer (and Orpheus) becomes one of the central elements; 11. "Systembildung" (cf. 7.).

As far as B.'s Homerica are concerned, I only want to briefly mention essay fifteen (on the structure of the Iliad, p. 273-291), since it presents a very unitarian approach to the whole epic and points to numerous compositional elements in the work. Everyone who wants to understand the architecture of this Homeric work will profit from B.'s dense and enlightening observations. For students of Classical Philology the short essay may well serve as an introduction to the different themes and the main plot of the Iliad.

As is frequently the case with scholars, the content of the different essays collected here also allows us a glimpse into the personal commitment and enthusiasm of B. as a teacher and scholar. Everyone who heard his lectures and visited his seminars will read the essays collected here and remember B.'s personality, whose admiration for Platonism culminated in his wish to be remembered as "Matthias Baltes Platoniker". Everyone who reads or re-reads his Platonica minora as well as his (and Dörrie's) Platonismus, will readily admit that B. has done a great service to all scholars working in the field of Platonic studies.

To conclude, it is the merit of Baltes' former colleague and long term assistant Marie-Luise Lakmann (as well as of Anette Hüffmeier and Matthias Vorwerk) to have made accessible Baltes' "Opera minora" in two nicely edited volumes. Both books contain a complete index locorum as well as an index nominum. As far as the "Epinoemata" are concerned I have spotted only one serious typo: on p. xviii (ad 26.) "4b" should be "1b". To sum up, it is very good to have a virtually complete collection of Baltes' "Kleine Schriften". It will be most useful to everyone interested in the history of Platonism. What remains is the wish that the last two volumes of Dörrie's and Baltes's, Platonismus in der Antike will appear soon and that the rest of B's undoubtedly extensive Nachlass will be made partly accessible to scholars in due course.



Matthias Baltes (13.04.1940-21.01.2003) [short memoir]

List of Publications of B.

I. Antike Philosophie

1. Der Platonismus und die Weisheit der Barbaren (p. 1-26)

2. Zur Nachwirkung des Satzes τὸ μακάριον καὶ ἄφθαρτον οὔτε αὐτὸ πράγματα ἔχει... (p. 27-48)

3. Boethius. Staatsmann und Philosoph (p. 49-66)

4. Zum Status der Ideen in Platons Frühdialogen Charmides, Euthydemos, Lysis (p. 67-76)

5. Plutarchs Lehre von der Seele (p. 77-100)

6. Anonymos, "In Platonis Parmenidem commentarium" (Cod. Taur. F IV 1): Anmerkungen zum Text (p. 111-134)

7. Nachfolge Epikurs. Imitatio Epicuri (p. 135-154)

8. Der Niedergang des delphischen Orakels. Delphis oracula cessant (p. 135-154)

9. Mittelplatonische ἐπιτομαί zu den Werken und der Philosophie Platons (unpublished, p. 155-170)

10. Das πρῶτον φίλον im Platonischen Lysis (unpublished, p. 171-178)

11. Der "Neu"-Platonismus (unpublished, p. 179-203)

II. Homerische Dichtung

12. Hermes bei Kalypso (Od. ε 43-148) (p. 205-230)

13. Die Kataloge im homerischen Apollonhymnus (p. 231-254)

14. Zur Eigenart und Funktion von Gleichnissen im 16. Buch der Ilias (p. 255-272)

15. Beobachtungen zum Aufbau der Ilias (p. 273-291)

III. Anhang

16. Ovids Skylla Erzählung (Met. 8,6-151). Ein psychodramatisches Epyllion (unpublished lecture, p. 293-306, original title: "Skylla und Minos (Ovid, Met. VIII 6-151)").


1.   H. Dörrie/M. Baltes (eds.), Der Platonismus in der Antike, vols. 1-6, Stuttgart - Bad Cannstatt, 1987-2002. This project has been highly praised for his comprehensiveness and clarity. J. Dillon once referred to it in a review as "vast encyclopaedia of ancient Platonism", while J. Barnes has called it a "Michelin for the land of Platonism".
2.   The author of this review was a student of Prof. Baltes from 1994-2002 at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. On B.'s biography and publications see M.-L. Lakmann, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (includes references to memoirs).
3.   M. Baltes, ΔΙΑΝΟΗΜΑΤΑ. Kleine Schriften zu Platon und zum Platonismus, herausgegeben von A. Hüffmeier, M.-L. Lakmann und M. Vorwerk (Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 123), Stuttgart/Leipzig, Teubner, 1999.
4.   The title of the article ("Ovids Skylla-Erzählung [Met. 8, 6-151]. Ein psychodramatisches Epyllion"]) is not B.'s own, but was given to the article by Prof. C. Schmitz (Münster), who prepared the piece for publication. The article goes back to a lecture given by Baltes in 1974. The original title was "Skylla und Minos (Ovid, Met. VIII 6-151)".
5.   B. Reis, Der Platoniker Albinos und sein sogenannter Prologos. Prolegomena, Überlieferungsgeschichte, kritische Edition und Übersetzung (Serta Graeca, 7), Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1999.
6.   C. Schoppe, Plutarchs Interpretation der Ideenlehre Platons, Münster 1994. Unfortunately, this monograph has virtually been neglected in discussions of Plutarch's philosophy. Many of B.'s and Schoppe's shared findings have entered the fifth volume of "Der Platonismus in der Antike", mainly in the section on Platonic Forms.

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