BMCR 1993.01.23

Response: Ludlam on Sider on Ludlam, Hippias Major

Response to 1992.05.11

Response by

My book has evoked mixed reactions. On the one hand, “the result is a generally clear analysis of the dialogue’s two characters and its seven definitions of τὸ καλόν, both in themselves and in relation with each other”, while, on the other hand, “its chief flaw is a failure to recognize that the philosophical point of the dialogue is embedded not only in its details but in its structure as a whole”; then again, while “it is good to see an attempt to treat the literary form of HM and its philosophical content without distraction”, this very “methodology” is open to criticism because it deprives the analysis of “what may well be some pertinent information.” The reader might, like me, be somewhat confused by these statements, particularly since they come from one and the same review. I shall respond to Sider’s review methodically, dealing only with the major points.

Sider suggests at the beginning of his review that I adopt and maintain the view that this Socratic dialogue should be analysed entirely on its own terms since it is of doubted authorship. In fact, I maintain that the dialogue should be analysed on its own terms, since it is a drama (e.g., pp. 20; 184-5). The question of authorship is one which has dominated and, as I argue in the first chapter of my book (“Introduction”), has unduly affected previous analyses of the dialogue. I show there, through a discussion of the history of the controversy, how the authenticity problem has helped to promote two particularly prevalent phenomena: compartmentalization of the various features of the dialogue; and premature selective comparison of features and passages with those of external sources. These points are not touched upon in the review, although Sider makes much of the authenticity question per se. We learn that Ledger’s computer analysis dates the dialogue to 395-390 BC, and that Ledger concludes that the dialogue is probably genuine; that Kahn thinks it is spurious; that Woodruff maintains it is genuine, dating it—”Interestingly”—to “‘about 390 BC'”; that Sider himself thinks the author is Plato. I am not arguing that the authenticity question is unimportant (“The authenticity question is important, but not that important” p. 185), but in what is supposed to be a review of my book, it would have been informative to give the author’s position, for what it is worth. On the first page of chapter 1, I state that the book “is not yet another attempt to prove or disprove the authenticity of the Hippias Major. My own view is that the dialogue is Platonic, but I have tried not to let this prejudice my work.” Not only is this, and the rest of chapter 1, ignored, but Sider goes so far as to say, “(For one brief paragraph on the last page I thought that Ludlam was using his analysis to argue for Platonic authorship, but he immediately downplays any such attempt.)” (S. 378) My final chapter, which, incidentally, is entitled “Postscript”, shows with concrete examples how and why I think considerations of authenticity should be made secondary to an analysis of the dialogue itself.

Let us turn now to Sider’s criticism of my “methodology”. Sider restricts himself to the beginning of chapter 2 (pp. 22-4), and to one criticism only: that I refuse to bring to bear what is known of the historical characters in my analysis of Hippias and Socrates. He quotes me twice on p. 378 in the following contexts: (a) “(‘External sources cannot help us to understand the speakers, Hippias and Socrates.’ p. 22). Yet Plato or a near-contemporary imitator would have known something of Hippias himself … it would be rash to maintain that nothing of (say) Protagoras is to be found in Plato’s picture of him…”; (b) “L., however, argues that any such attempt to understand Hippias and Socrates from external sources ‘tends to depersonalize the dialogue, because the internal dynamics of the conversation must of necessity be overlooked or distorted in order to accommodate material which is alien and unnecessary to a self-standing drama’ (p. 24; my italics). This would be the case, however, only with a historicizing critic of a Procrustean sort…” The operative word in quotation (a), the first line of the second paragraph of chapter 2, is “speakers”. If I might quote the second to last paragraph of chapter 1, the significance of this word may become apparent (p. 20):

“In our following analysis of the characters, we shall not be considering how well they fit into the dialogue, nor whether they are accurate portrayals of historical figures, nor yet whether they are intended to serve as representatives of particular views. We simply wish to know at this stage how the characters in this dialogue argue, since it is they in this dialogue who do the arguing.”

I am aware that Sider may have overlooked this and the discussion preceding it, given that they are to be found in chapter 1, but what about my qualification immediately following quotation (b)? (p. 24):

“I am not referring to objectively factual data, which are vital to our understanding of a historical text, but to spurious character traits and mannerisms absent from the drama itself, and imposed, quite unjustifiably, upon it.”

These impositions are what I have termed “premature selective comparison”, and I then bring examples from work on this dialogue to show the dangers of this approach. Sider, however, in the best case, may not be aware that my argument is against premature selective comparison. As he says, “it would be foolish to refuse even to consider the possible relevance of Hippias’ introduction to (probably) his Synagogê“, and I agree; but I maintain that it would be even more foolish to consider this, or any other external material, before we have completed an analysis of the dialogue as a self-standing drama, in which we are attempting to understand the motives, viewpoints, and characters of the speakers as the author of this drama has chosen to present them.

Sider finds in the fragment he takes to be probably Hippias’ introduction to his συναγωγή (B6 DK) reason to believe that HM‘s first readers were aware of Hippias’ pride in his own works which were clearly composite in nature, and concludes that HM‘s author, “in a way every bit as oblique as anything found in Plato, pits Hippias’ attitude towards what is kalon—which the dialogue understands to cover esthetic and moral ground—against one which hints strongly that kalon entails a unity foreign to Hippias’ method of composition” (S. 379). Here we have an example of premature selective comparison, directed in this case against both works: Hippias’ attitude in this dialogue is as yet unknown; but because B6 DK deals with composition, HM must deal with composition, too; καλόν, it will be noticed, is not even mentioned in B6 DK. As for the obliqueness of HM‘s author, Sider’s own is much more impressive. He does not explain whose attitude opposes Hippias’, how it is manifested, nor does he mention that I myself deal with the κάλλος of composition where relevant throughout the book. I admit that I am dealing only with the speakers, Socrates and Hippias, and not their historical counterparts, but my discussions of their compositions may have been relevant in a review of my book (e.g. pp. 167-9). This observation is all the more pertinent since Sider goes on to say (S. 379): “… The work [i.e. HM ] challenges us, therefore, to find its own beauty, which, to seek guidance from the last definition, must somehow be found in the hidden relationship between its elements. This is a challenge which L. never takes up as such; although he is properly concerned with the overall character of the work, his concluding remarks are more directed towards defining its genre, which turns out to be sui generis, as is determined largely through a process of elimination based surprisingly on Aristotle’s Poetics (pp. 182ff.).”

The argument here is: (a) The dialogue challenges the reader to find its own beauty, to be found “somehow” in the relationship between its elements. (b) This challenge is not taken up by me “as such”. (c) This is seen from my concluding remarks, which refer not to the over-all character of the work, but to its genre.

It is not for me to write a review of my own book. Suffice it to to say here that a) I have indicated that the dialogue has its own κάλλος, even in the final chapter, the one referred to by Sider (esp. p. 184), and that b) this was not regarded by me as a challenge—the book is primarily concerned with an analysis of the dialogue and its subject matter. It would have been absurd to set out to discover the “beauty” of the dialogue before αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν, the nominal subject of the dialogue. Step c) may create the impression that my general conclusions are to be found in chapter 13, pp. 182ff. This, however, is none other than my postscript (aptly entitled “Postscript”), referred to earlier, tying up loose ends from chapter 1. I would be interested to know whether Sider does not think that (Platonic) dialogues are sui generis; and why the aid of Aristotle is particularly surprising (whatever we may make of D.L.3.37).

Sider’s review ends by showing my failure to grasp the philosophical point of the dialogue. “That is, not only does the dialogue suggest, as many Platonic ones do, that, however difficult it may be to define the subject at hand, we can at least look to Socrates for the best living exemplar of this virtue or quality, the dialogue also puts itself forward as a more appropriate model for artistic harmony and unity than the kind of work written by Hippias” (S. 381). The unwary reader may conclude from the words, “not only”, that the first half of this sentence deals with one of my own conclusions. I do not, however, claim anything about the historical Socrates. What I do say, amongst other things in the postscript, is that Socrates and Hippias “are necessarily not true to life since they have been adapted to represent two hypothetical extremes” (pp. 183-4). I would go further than Sider and claim that many Platonic dialogues, when analysed as self-standing dramas, require their protagonists (not only Socrates) to be exemplars—but dramatic rather than historical exemplars—of philosophical positions. Yet why mention these other dialogues here? If, on the other hand, Sider is implying that one of my conclusions is that defining the subject at hand is difficult, he is mistaken. I found the dialogue extremely difficult, but I did not conclude that we should settle for a mere example of the subject at hand (Sider’s historical Socrates); I arrived at conclusions—whether correct or not—regarding the subject at hand itself.

Sider, then, who has grasped the philosophical point of the dialogue (that HM is better than Hippias’ writings), claims that from the last line of the dialogue—χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά—”the author (who I think is Plato) also seems to suggest that the unity of this dialogue—difficult as it is—exemplifies a beauty which Hippias’ thought and writings can not” (S. 382). My own interpretation of this last passage of the dialogue is to be found on p. 174. Even though it comes at the end of the dialogue, the old proverb is still more obviously referring to καλά in general than to this dialogue in particular, let alone Hippias’ writings in particular. I myself had to analyse the whole work before I could come to any conclusions concerning the beauty or otherwise of anything in terms of this dialogue. Perhaps now is the time to turn to “the bulk of [my] book”. I shall be brief, since I do not wish to review my own book. I shall indicate only where I feel Sider has done me a disservice.

Sider claims that I give a fairly clear analysis of the two speakers and the seven definitions of τὸ καλόν (see the beginning of this response for the quotation). Presumably this analysis is not to be confused with the bulk of my book, since this is described as a series of overlapping subjects which are never tied up in one package (see p. 4 for quotation). This is the sum of Sider’s description of what I do in my book. Apart from being remarkably uninformative, these few details are also not particularly accurate.

Firstly, I do not give a clear analysis. The dialogue is perverse, and the analysis is (I feel) necessarily complex. Sider may have been misled by the title of chapter 2 (“The Speakers”) into thinking that the analysis of Socrates and Hippias takes place only there. It begins there, but it does not stop there. Secondly, the dramatic κάλλος of the dialogue is enhanced by the counterbalances to Socrates and Hippias, the Questioner and The Many. These two characters are introduced in chapter 3 (“The Full Cast”), and are vital to our understanding of the dialogue, particularly in distinguishing the real from the apparent. They are not mentioned once by Sider. Chapter 4 (“To Kalon“) discusses the main subject of this dialogue. The composition of this work or of any other is not the main subject of this dialogue—even Sider admits that a work only exemplifies a beauty. Sider does not mention this chapter. Chapters 5-7 may appear to analyse 7 definitions (“Hippias’ Three Proposals Concerning To Kalon“, “The Questioner’s Proposal”, “Socrates’ Three Proposals”), but they do not. They analyse the proposals, the motives for the proposals, the assumptions and the refutations; chapter 7 is almost totally devoted to the topic of fallacies. With chapter 8 (“The Three Facets of To Kalon“) we begin an analysis of the καλά of the last four arguments, always with reference to other parts of the dialogue where examples of each type are to be found. Chapter 9 (“Aesthetic Beauty”) deals with Socrates’ last proposal; chapter 10 (“The Useful and the Beneficial”) with Socrates’ first two proposals. I then begin to tie up the subjects in one package. Chapter 11 (“Hippias, Socrates, and the Beneficial”) applies the various terms of commendation (καλά) used and discussed in the dialogue to the two speakers to show that Hippias and Socrates in their compositions, behaviour, and appearance are intended to exemplify these terms in opposite ways, and that their example adds significantly to our understanding of these terms and their use. Chapter 12 (“To Kalon, To Prepon, and To Agathon“) shows how the Questioner’s proposal relates to Socrates’ three proposals; how the many terms of commendation (καλά) relate to each other; and how a satisfactory definition of τὸ καλόν is to be arrived at in terms of this dialogue. Even if I am completely wrong in my interpretation of τὸ καλόν and τὸ ἀγαθόν, Sider is surely remiss in his failure to mention the conclusion which is on p. 181, the page before the postscript. In the circumstances, I am relieved that Sider has ignored the definitions themselves, since they are so simple as to be unintelligible to anyone who has not worked through an analysis of the dialogue. The definition of τὸ ἀγαθόν requires an understanding of what “fittingness” means in this dialogue, while the definition of τὸ καλόν requires in addition an understanding of “apparent” as used in this dialogue.

I note that Sider does say some favourable things about my book, but I would rather he had tried to describe what my book is about. Sider effectively recommends those interested in the dialogue to read my book for details of my book, leaving himself free to discuss fragment B6 DK of the historical Hippias, comparing the (unexplained) beauty of the lost book, of which this fragment may be the introduction, with the (unexplained) beauty of HM. If this is the philosophical point of the dialogue, then no one before Sider has grasped it, and it is quite unjust to identify this as the “chief flaw” (S. 379) in my book as if it had been obvious to all previous scholars working on this dialogue.