Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.05

Francesco Aronadio (ed.), Dialoghi spuri di Platone. Classici della filosofia 8/5.   Torino:  Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 2008.  Pp. 405.  ISBN 9788802080222.  

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

The spuria (as opposed to the dubia) of the Platonic corpus are in general (though not quite unrelievedly) a pretty dismal group of texts, but nonetheless they are not to be entirely neglected, especially if one is at all concerned with the Platonic tradition. Aronadio has here provided a most useful collection of them, with a copious introduction and an Italian translation. It would be impertinent of me, I think, to evaluate the quality of the translation, though I can testify that it reads very lucidly when I have checked it, so I will concentrate my remarks on the various elements of the introduction.

The documents selected are twelve in number, Alcibiades I and II, Hipparchus, Anterastae, Theages, Definitions, On the Just, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Eryxias, Axiochus -- a pretty mixed bag, ranging from texts of some literary competence, such as the Theages or Axiochus, or even with some claim to authenticity, such as the Alcibiades I, to rather dismal student productions such as the On the Just, On Virtue, or Demodocus. But all share the distinction of having been included, at some point in its history, in the Corpus Platonicum, and so deserve discussion.

In his introduction, Aronadio first devotes a section (pp. 9-32) to the question of the constitution of the Platonic Corpus, then a longer, middle, section (pp. 32-92) to a survey of the individual works, discussing their authorship and their probable dating; and finally a section (92-103), discussing the question of the insertion of the spuria into the Corpus. This in turn is followed by a copious bibliography. He accepts, first of all, the probability (it can be no more than that) of an initial edition of Plato's works by the third Head of the School, Xenocrates, first proposed by Henri Alline in 1915, and I would concur with this. This brings with it, however, the interesting question, which Aronadio does not address directly, as to whether any dubia, such as the Epinomis, the Hippias Major, the Clitophon, or the Alcibiades I (only the last is included in Arnaldo's collection, the former three being indubitable enough to form part of the full collection of translations of Plato to which this volume is an appendix) could have been already incorporated in the edition of Xenocrates, and if so, what Xenocrates thought he was doing. It seems to me that Xenocrates may have been prepared to accept such documents as these as useful products of the Academy, and compatible with what Plato would have written if he had gotten around to it, and that thus his edition was not meant to be exclusively confined to works of the Master himself. It seems to me, in any case, that we have to try to penetrate the state of mind of whoever initially included in the corpus these and other works that we do not deem genuine, and of whose origin they must surely have been aware.

The distinction in ancient times between dubia (that is to say, what we regard as dubia, but the ancients in general did not) and spuria is represented by the inclusion or otherwise of a given dialogue within the tetralogical system as presented to us in the edition of Thrasyllus , which is thought likely to reflect the previous arrangements of Dercyllides and Aristophanes of Byzantium--though Aronadio expresses plausible doubts that Aristophanes actually produced an edition, as distinct from merely arranging fifteen of the dialogues into trilogies (p. 17, n. 22). Those works not deemed acceptable as works of Plato were assigned to an Appendix. The works in this collection are more or less evenly divided between the two categories.

Aronadio, in his introduction, arranges them in what seems to him their probable order of closeness to the period of Plato himself, and his remarks in this connection are of great interest. He is inclined to give most of them an early dating, and in that connection distinguishes three broad categories: first, those which he feels date from the period of Plato's own lifetime; secondly, those he sees as dating to the period of the Old Academy (i.e. from 347 to around 274 B.C.E.); and lastly, those which he would date to the period of the New Academy.

The first works with which he deals are the Alc. I, Theages, Hipparchus, Alc. II and Sisyphus, all of which he would like to situate within the Academy prior to Plato's death -- a proposal which, I must say, seems to me distinctly optimistic. In the case of Alc. I, he is respectful of Nicholas Denyer's efforts to claim it as authentic, but ultimately comes down (as I would) in favour of dubiety (p. 40). Since he is ordering the works in order of probability, things inevitably go downhill from here. In the case of the Theages, a chief stumbling-block is the prominent and uncharacteristic role given to Socrates' daimonion, which is un-Platonic, but may be compatible with attitudes prevalent in the later Old Academy (Aronadio's case for its being composed in Plato's lifetime seems optimistic). The Theages is, admittedly, pretty well composed; the Hipparchus is rather odder, being 'acephalous', beginning very abruptly with a question from Socrates to an anonymous companion, "What is the love of gain (to philokerdes)?", and then rather dragging in a long story by Socrates about Hipparchus, after whom (un-Platonically) the dialogue is called. But even so, it could be a product of the Old Academy--one thinks of such a figure as Heraclides of Pontus).

And so we go on down the list, to such dismal efforts as the De Iusto, the De Virtute, or the Demodocus in its four parts, all of which Aronadio would assign to the New Academic period, as they seem to be taking cracks at the Stoics, from a skeptical viewpoint. He even indulges in a little digression on the Halkyon (pp. 93-6), which he does not include in his collection, as it seems even later than New Academic--though Athenaeus (XI 506C) reports a certain Nicias of Nicaea as attributing it to one Leon of Byzantium, a member of the Old Academy!). It is a lively little piece, though, which one might have attributed to Lucian, were it not for this curious testimony (supported by Favorinus, ap. DL II 62: 'a certain Leon').

Throughout, Aronadio has made excellent use of various standard works on the dubia and spuria, such as C.W. Müller, Die Kurzdialoge der Appendix Platonica (München, 1975), and various essays of Antonio Carlini, M. Isnardi Parente, G.M. Rispoli, and M. Joyal, as well as the recent and most valuable collection Pseudoplatonica, edited by Döring, Erler, and Schorn (Stuttgart, 2005), containing essays by many of the main players in the field. This edition should help to stimulate further study and appreciation of the 'underside' of the Platonic Corpus, at least amongst those who can manage Italian. An excellent bibliography is included.

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