Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.11.06

Brisson on Baracat on Luc Brisson, Jean-François Pradeau, Plotin Traités 38-41.   Response to 2007.10.31



Response by Luc Brisson, CNRS, Paris (Villejuif) (lbrisson@agalma.net)

I would like to react here to the review by Jose Baracat, Jr. of Plotin, Traités 38-41, published in BMCR 2007.10.31, not by refuting any particular point, but by making four explanatory remarks that explain how we go about translating Plotinus.

1. The dialogue form of the treatises

Three reasons led us to present Plotinus' treatises in dialogue form. 1. The treatises are the reflection of Plotinus' teaching; in the Life of Plotinus (18.5-8), Porphyry tells us this was the form his master's course assumed. 2. In the text of Plotinus, we find several linguistic markers, including the famous (see Sleeman-Pollett, Lexicon Plotinianum, 473.21-37), which certainly indicate the play of questions and answers. 3. The attention focused on the dialogue form allows us not to attribute to Plotinus such-and-such a remark that should be considered as the opinion of his interlocutor, which Plotinus is going to refute, or as one of the criticisms of this interlocutor, to which Plotinus is going to respond.

2. Mysticism

In Plotinus, we find a description of the soul's union with the One. Yet this union is never qualified as "mystical" (the term is reserved for a certain type of the interpretation of myths, see Treatise 26 (III, 6), 19, 26). What is more, unlike Christian mysticism in particular, the soul unites with the One after identifying with the Intellect, which has its source in the One. This is therefore an "intellectualist" process, not the relation of one person to an Other, marked essentially by amorous feelings. On this subject, see L. Brisson, "Peut-on parler d'union mystique chez Plotin?", in A. Dierkens et B. Beyer de Ryke (edd.), Mystique: la passion de l'Un, de l'Antiquité à nos jours, Bruxelles (éd. De l'Univ. de Bruxelles) 2005, p. 61-72. [Problèmes d'histoire des religions 15]

3. The translation of οὐσία by "reality"

To translate οὐσία by "substance" is to situate oneself within a philosophical context already marked by several centuries of Aristotelian interpretation. Now, Plotinus remains a Platonist who was very familiar with the Greek Aristotle, who attended the Academy and lived long before his Latin interpreters translated οὐσία by substantia. It is respect for the historical context that led us to translate this term by "reality", for in Greek οὐσία is attached etymologically to the verb "to be".

4. The French language

The French language is characterized by its clarity and precision, which derives in particular from its abundant use of verbs with various moods and tenses. The price of this clarity and precision is a lack of flexibility, owing to the need for symmetry in the development of the phrase. This translation must meet the demands of the language into which it is made.

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