Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.46

Albert Rijksbaron (ed.), Plato. Ion. Or: On the Iliad. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology, 14.   Leiden / Boston:  Brill, 2007.  Pp. xii, 285.  ISBN 978-90-04-16321-8.  $139.00.  

Reviewed by Robert Mayhew, Seton Hall University (
Word count: 1462 words

This is a remarkable book. Not only is it arguably the most important work ever written on the Ion, scholars interested in Plato's dialogues generally should find it indispensable as a philological aid.

The book consists of the following parts: Preface (pp. ix-xii), Introduction (pp. 1-72), Text (pp. 73-93), Commentary (pp. 95-241), Appendices (pp. 243-69), Bibliography (pp. 271-80),1 and Indices (pp. 281-85). The preface contains, among other things, the justification given by Albert Rijksbaron for "the appearance of yet another book on the Ion" (ix), and a brief description of the text and app. crit. The lengthy introduction is divided into the following five parts: (1) "Dramatic date; date of composition; authenticity." (2) "Some comments: Plato and poetry." (3) "Title(s); the names of the speakers." (4) "The textual foundation of the present edition of the Ion." (5) "Some editorial decisions underlying the text of the Ion in the present edition."

Rijksbaron accepts the conclusion of J. D. Moore2 that the dramatic date of the dialogue is during the Peloponnesian War, and before the Ionian revolt of 412. More interesting and important, whereas the Ion is generally considered an early Socratic dialogue, Rijksbaron presents a compelling case for the view that it should "be reckoned among the works of Plato's (late-)middle period" i.e., that it comes from "the same time as the Republic and the Phaedrus" (p. 3). Much of his argument for this view consists of an analysis of technical terms for the rhapsode and the poet; but Rijksbaron does not ignore "the overall stance taken by Plato towards poets and poetry in the Ion and [other] dialogues" (p. 8).

In the third section of the introduction, Rijksbaron makes a strong case (against the current scholarly consensus) for the plausibility of the view that the second titles of Platonic dialogues (in this case, On the Iliad) are authentic. This is reflected in his text and app. crit. He further argues that the original text did not include a list of the names of speakers placed at the beginning of the dialogue, but that Plato used other means (e.g., opening the dialogue with τὸν Ἴωνα) to indicate the identity of the speakers. This too is reflected in Rijksbaron's text, which includes (after the title) ΣΩΚΡΑΤΗΣ, ΚΑΙ ΙΩΝ, but in pointed brackets (indicating an editorial insertion). In both cases--second titles and names of speakers--Rijksbaron chastises modern editors for what he sees as shoddy reporting (in their app. crit.) of what the mss. actually contain.

Sections 4 and 5 discuss the sources for Rijksbaron's text of the Ion, and some of the principles he employed in producing it. He argues that establishing the text does not "amount to establishing the text which Plato wrote," for not only is this goal unattainable, it is dubious, as "it presupposes the existence of a single fixed, definitive, text written or dictated by Plato at a fixed point in time, while in reality 'the' text must for a long time have been in a more or less constant flux, by interventions of Plato himself and of his pupils and audience, and of later readers, scribes and scholars" (pp. 26-27).3 Rijksbaron contrasts his "policy" with that of M. L. West, who claims that the editor's task is "to try to establish what the author originally wrote" (p. 27).4 Rijksbaron maintains that "'establishing the text' should lead to a text which can be interpreted in conformity with the linguistic rules, the genre conventions, the philosophical, cultural and historical ideas, as well as the material conditions, of the period as a whole in which the text was written and published, and in particular of other texts that are by scholarly convention assigned to the same author" (pp. 27-28). I think that at some level this is a distinction without a difference. For I assume that Rijksbaron, like West, hopes (perhaps with no guarantee of success) to get past the interventions of later readers, scribes, and scholars and arrive at something like a version of the text written (and revised) by Plato and used by him and his pupils. Indeed, judging by the present book, Rijksbaron has arguably done so more successfully than any earlier editors.

The primary mss. that Rijksbaron has relied upon (and collated in situ) are T, W, F and S. (See the introduction for a description of these mss. and the relationship among them.) Rijksbaron differs from Burnet, for example, in regarding S as a primary text and in fact superior to F. The introduction also discusses the other mss. used by Rijksbaron, as well as the indirect tradition. (In regard to this last, I'll mention only that Rijksbaron is the first editor to attend to the half dozen Ion quotations in Proclus' commentary on the Republic.) The introduction also contains an excellent excursus on the tricky issues confronting the editor in handling the text of Homeric quotations in the dialogue (pp. 37-48). The final section of the introduction covers in a fair amount of detail orthography, accents, and punctuation. This introduction should become required reading for anyone preparing a text of Plato.

Rijksbaron says that his edition of the text, "in spite of a certain number of divergences, is basically the same text as that of, e.g., Méridier, Burnet, Bekker, Stephanus and the Aldina" (p. 28). In a quick comparison with Burnet's OCT, I noted differences in just over 60 Stephanus lines. The app. crit. is detailed and informative. Rijksbaron describes his procedure for establishing the text as follows: "unless there were obvious palaeographical factors involved, the choice of one reading rather than another has been determined as much as possible by a detailed linguistic analysis of the readings concerned" (p. x). Ample evidence for such "detailed linguistic analysis" is found in the commentary. (Rijksbaron is not above admitting to having employed a flip of the coin to select a reading of the text--see, e.g., pp. 181-82--though even here he provides detailed analysis.)

The commentary is divided into parts based on natural divisions in the dialogue (e.g., the first division is 530a1-b4, "Prologue. The occasion of Ion's visit to Athens: the Panathenaic games"). Within a division, each section is marked first by a Stephanus number (or numbers) in bold, followed by a Greek word (or words) in bold. Philological issues predominate, though other issues -- especially the interpretation of the dialogue and its place in Platonic thought -- are not neglected. (Of course, philological issues are, at some level, always connected to the translation and/or interpretation of the dialogue.) Where relevant, a section is followed by a sub-section on any textual issues, headed by "Text" in bold. For example, the discussion of τὰ fῦν (in the opening line) ends with a discussion of the two variants: τὰ fῦν (mss. TW) and ταfῦν (mss. SF) (pp. 102-103).

The commentary is a tour de force, revealing a vast knowledge of ancient Greek philology and Platonic philosophy (including the secondary literature on both). For nearly every point Rijksbaron makes, he musters texts from elsewhere in the Platonic corpus (and/or from other Greek authors) to support it. Here is a brief sample of the parts of the commentary that I found especially illuminating: the discussion of the opening three words, τὸν Ἴωνα χαίρειν (pp. 95-100); the discussion of ἑρμηνέα (pp. 124-28); the discussion of the uses of λέγειν τι (pp. 190-91); the mini-essay on the "rather perplexing collection of instances of ἕτερος and ἄλλος" at 537d10-538a5 (pp. 196-200); the discussion of πολὺ διαφέρει (pp. 238-40); the frequent references to uncials (passim). I also found helpful the many discussions of Greek particles. (When working on a text of Plato in the future, I'll surely reach for the present volume in addition to Denniston's Greek Particles.)

There are three appendices, each of which is fascinating and well-worth reading: (1) "τί δέ and the punctuation of the Plato text" (pp. 243-57); (2) "Some remarks on the use of the vocative" (pp. 258-60); (3) "ἀκροᾶσθαι or ἀκροάσασθαι (530d9)?"

Often in making some point, rather than cite a passage, Rijksbaron will present it in full. For better or worse, many of us who till the fields of Platonic philosophy lack the knowledge of Greek equivalent to or even approaching that of Rijksbaron. This volume would have been more accessible to a broader range of scholars had these texts (or many more of them, at any rate) been translated, as Rijksbaron translates the long passage from Scholia in Porphyrii eisagogen (p. 253). Rijksbaron does, however, translate much of the Ion in passing, throughout the commentary. A translation of the entire dialogue, facing the text, would likewise have been useful (and no doubt an excellent rendering of the Ion). But this is a minor point that should in no way detract from the brilliance and value of this book.5


1.   The bibliography is extensive. I noticed one omission: Allan Bloom's translation of the Ion, with interpretive essay, in Thomas L. Pangle, ed., The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues (Ithaca, 1987). (Certainly judging by the contents of Rijksbaron's bibliography, it is strange to find the Ion included in what purports to be a collection of "Forgotten Socratic Dialogues".)
2.   J.D. Moore, "The Dating of Plato's Ion," GRBS 15 (1974): 421-40.
3.   I don't know what is meant by the interventions of Plato's audience.
4.   M.L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique (Stuttgart, 1973), p. 47.
5.   Errata: p. 38 (under "Comments"), "538a8" should be "537a8"; p. 76 (lines 530c8-9 of the text), two words require hyphenation; p. 114, l. 9, "prices" should be "prizes"; p. 128, antepenultimate line, insert an "I" between "if" and "had"; p. 174, 2nd line, hyphenation is required; p. 187, ad 536c2 κατοκωχῆι, cf. the text, which has a dative subscript; p. 246, n. 358, l. 6, "from 1910" is dangling.

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