Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.03.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.26

Luc Brisson, Ecrits attribués à Platon. Traduction et notes. GF 1543.   Paris:  Flammarion, 2014.  Pp. 532.  ISBN 9782080711762.  €14.00.  

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

Spuriosity, it must be admitted, tends to serve as something of a damper on scholarly interest, and so it has been, down the ages, with the doubtful and spurious works attached to the Platonic Corpus. Not that they have been neglected altogether – Brisson’s comprehensive bibliography in the present volume gives the lie to that – but studies of them do tend to be somewhat marginalised. This fine volume of translations, with informative introductions and copious notes, in a usefully compendious format, and very modestly priced, is therefore warmly to be welcomed. It is yet another manifestation of Brisson’s indefatigable scholarship, in the area of translating Plato and Plotinus, and will serve to bring these intriguing little works somewhat more to the public notice.

First, something about the organisation of the volume. Brisson, in his Introduction, or ‘Présentation’, makes a point of distinguishing three classes of document included here (though in fact he presents them all in alphabetical order):

(1) At the bottom of the heap, so to speak, are a pair of items, the Epigrams and the Alcyon. The former, a group of 18, are generally well-turned but unremarkable; Brisson feels that they are Hellenistic in origin, composed as a tribute to the presumed literary prowess of Plato. Diogenes Laertius quotes the first ten; only the first two, to Aster, and the third, to Dion, might one wish to attribute to Plato (the old boy certainly had a bit of a crush on Dion!). As for the Alcyon, it is now generally agreed to belong to the ‘circle’ of Lucian of Samosata (presuming that he had a circle!), though Diogenes, oddly, credits it to a member of the Old Academy, Leon of Byzantium.

(2) The second group distinguished by Brisson comprises Axiochus, Definitions, Demodocus, Eryxias, On the Just, Sisyphus, and On Virtue. Not much more respectable than the first, and, like those, not included in the tetralogic edition of Thrasyllus, Brisson would nonetheless date them to the late fourth or early third centuries B.C., and thus to the period of the Old Academy. He discerns influences from other Socratic schools, Cynic, Megarian or Cyrenaic, rather than from the Hellenistic schools – though the Definitions seem to exhibit strong Aristotelian and Stoic traits also. Some, such as the last three of the four sections of the Demodocus, the On the Just and On Virtue may be student exercises.

(3) Finally, and most respectably, there is the group that did find their way into Thrasyllus’ tetralogic edition, comprising Alcibiades II, Clitophon, Epinomis, Hipparchus, Minos, Rivals in Love and Theages. Of these, the Epinomis has the distinction of being attributed elsewhere even in antiquity, namely to Plato’s faithful amanuensis, Philip of Opus. I am certainly prepared to accept this attribution, though Brisson (p. 153) treats it with some caution. I would suggest further that Philip can hardly have hoped to deceive his colleagues as to the authorship of this work, but rather must have persuaded them that he was faithfully relaying Plato’s last intentions, and as such had his work included in the official edition of the Platonic corpus, whether put together by Xenocrates or another.

The others are a pretty mixed lot, though all of considerable interest. The Clitophon and the Minos serve respectively as ‘introductions’ to the Republic and :Laws, but why did their authors compose them? The Clitophon (which is not in fact a dialogue, but a sort of ‘rant’ by Clitophon) is actually sharply critical of Socrates for practising his elenchus on his companions, but without then providing them with practical guidance. This criticism could be seen as being answered by the Republic from Book II on; but why was the Clitophon actually composed? As for the Minos, it is a reasonably good pastiche of a Socratic elenchus, in the interest of establishing that legislation in the true sense must be the work of a Wise Man (who should ideally be king). It is amusing to learn from Brisson that the only people in modern times who wish to maintain its genuineness are the followers of Leo Strauss, who are attracted by its defence of ‘natural law’! But what was actually in the mind of the author? Was it planned by him as a lead-in to the Laws, or simply placed there by an editor?

These are not questions, however, for which Brisson is required to have an answer. They simply arise in my mind from his excellent edition. Overall, he is inclined to date the spuria early, as I say, and I have no quarrel with that, though there are some who would date the Theages, for instance, to as late as the first century B.C. In his notes, Brisson highlights, among other things, the complex web of allusions, both linguistic and substantial, between these works and the genuine dialogues – including, it must be said, the (itself rather doubtful) Alcibiades I – as well as points of similarity with the Socrates of Xenophon (the Socrates of Alcibiades II serving as a good example of the latter). It is to be hoped that this handy edition will serve to stimulate further interest in these works – each of them, after all, a part, however humble, of the Platonic tradition.

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