BMCR 2004.04.36

Response: Giannopoulou on Evans on Giannopoulou on Evans

Response to 2004.04.29

Response by

It was with great interest that I read Evans’ response to my review of his book, Truth and Mockery in Platon and in Modernity: A New Perception of Platon’s Euthyphron, Apology, Criton and Phaidon, and I would like to address some of the issues he raises. By doing so, I shall have another opportunity to clarify the grounds of my review, thereby further assisting the reader in forming a clear opinion about the quality and value of the book. Let me begin with a couple of quibbles before I move on to four matters of substance.

Evans misspells my first name as ‘Vina.’ Of course, this is ultimately a trivial point, but I would not welcome the possibility that readers of my review think that my unfair, according to the author, critique of his book was the inevitable result of my being in a state of Dionysian inebriation. More seriously, however, to Evans’ complaint that my outline of the structure of each dialogue is ‘mechanical,’ I can only say that the ‘mechanical,’ or purely informative, is often complemented by subtle criticisms, to which he has failed to respond.

Now, regarding important interpretive issues: firstly, Evans objects to my ignoring his critique of the foundation of what he terms as ‘neutral, disengaged scholarly objectivity.’ If I understand him correctly, this critique, when assessed properly and without prejudice, provides the nucleus of a ‘theoretical reflection of his methodology,’ thereby rendering my seemingly hastily and obviously biased disregard for its value at least questionable. I accept the objection, but I would like to substantiate my apparently inexcusable negligence. It is true that Evans devotes a considerable portion of his book — almost one fifth, not, as he claims, one third — to describing normative polarities such as objective/subjective, common/individual, homogeneous/heterogeneous, and asexual/heterosexual.1 The categories on the left side are the sinister ones, which, according to Evans, permeate every aspect of our life (from our educational system — and of course academia — to free-market economy) and promote ‘homogenization, logical stability and routinization’ (24). Those on the right side are the author’s own treasured but sadly lost ideals whose legitimacy is sanctioned by their ‘naturalness.’ Now, why, Evans wonders, did I omit a detailed presentation of this grand methodological foundation? Because I find it gratuitously simplistic and, as I state in my review, unsupported by argument. Evans’ mostly ’empirical’ reasoning proceeds mainly by means of dubious observations invested with an apparently indisputable authority. He essays to produce conviction either by means of an almost aphoristic definitional style [e.g. ‘Clarity was no longer an individually centered clarity, no longer the brief, local pointed clarity in daily perception. Clarity was objective and lasting. … Clarity was mathematical’ (8)], or by at times excruciating repetitions [e.g. ‘Then we need better retraining for the system. Then we need more professional guidance about what we really want. Then we need more professional therapies to carry us through the stresses and maladjustments of modern living’ (35)], or by drawing presumably unobjectionable but ultimately vacuous parallels [e.g. ‘Just as there is an implicit and accepted dualism in science between the formal universal truth and the accidents of particular, local conditions, so there is also an implicit and accepted dualism in democracy between the common forms of government and the free lives of the people’ (34)]. In my opinion, such statements, with which Evans’ book teems, simply assert, but fail to delineate or support the rational foundation of a methodological approach. I therefore still abide by my review’s characterization of his method as groundless.

Secondly, the author faults my review for ‘misstating’ that he follows Thrasyllus’ principle of dialogic organization, which, he claims, he ‘mention[s] only in passing,’ while it omits to make reference to his ‘reliance on the tetralogy form of Attic tragedy as Platon’s inspiration for the tetralogical form.’ To this, I have two responses: (a) the fact that Evans mentions ‘only in passing’ Thrasyllus’ organizational principle does not preclude, either logically or practically, his having followed it. Even a perfunctory glance at the second note of my review shows the degree of influence exerted on Evans by the Thrasyllan structural schema. (b) Regarding the author’s innovative use of the tetralogy form of Attic tragedy, I consider the idea ingenious but ultimately unconvincing. The fact that, as Evans correctly points out, all four members of the first Thrasyllan tetralogy are dramatically interconnected does not by itself legitimize the modeling of his tetralogic organization after its dramatic counterpart.2 There are many questions here that need to be answered before any such labeling can be deemed viable. Why, for example, should one consider Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito tragedies, granted of a philosophic type? Evans offers no (compelling) reason for the legitimacy of this ascription. Also, why is Phaedo a satyr play? Evans’ suggestion that the dialogue is a farce — and therefore an appropriate candidate for a satyr-play — does not answer the question, because the characterization of the dialogue as a ‘farcical satyr-play’ is the author’s own axiomatic pronouncement, an ad hoc appellation meant to fit a preexisting genre-mould. Since Evans’ tetralogic principle is, in my view, inherently problematic and, moreover, since its dramatic ancestry does not really illuminate the author’s overall interpretation, I refrained from mentioning it in my review, opting instead for its well-established Thrasyllan alternative.

Thirdly, Evans faults my review for mentioning five poles while, as he says, there are only two antithetical poles and ‘two possible mediations which I call weak and strong logoi.’ The weak logos ‘produces a steadfast synthesis but a partial and alienating one,’ while the strong logos ‘delimits the paradigm of steadfast knowledge and recovers through self-knowledge a situationally appropriate insight that is the ideal in mediis rebus.’ This insight is the ‘fifth position.’ But Evans’ taste for verbal exactness seems a tad discriminatory, in light of the variety of terms he himself attributes to these five elements. Let me enumerate a few of the most glaring of his verbal inconsistencies. The two correctly named antithetical poles crop up as ‘poles’ (71, 86, 107, 122, 154, 221, 222), ‘positions’ (84), ‘contraries’ (161, 163), and ‘opposites’ (214, 221). The two ‘mediations,’ which I called ‘poles,’ are baptized by him in various ways: the first mediation is called ‘position’ (80, 108, 157, 158, 216) and ‘logos’ (86, 107, 154, 222), while the second one is termed as both ‘position’ (85, 155-7, 228) and ‘part’ (86, 154). So ultimately the four elements can (and do) emerge as ‘positions’ and, in one instance, all five of them acquire the sweepingly unimaginative label ‘things’ (212), thereby being conceptually placed on the same footing. If then ‘poles’ can acquire the nominal status of ‘positions,’ why, I wonder, are ‘positions’ denied the right to be called ‘poles’?

Finally, let us move from names to semantics. Evans keeps talking about the dialogue’s four-part structure as his novel, ‘heterogeneous’ contribution to our antiquated and ‘homogeneous’ understanding of the Platonic dialogue. If indeed, as he claims, there are only two poles and two mediating positions, the second of which ‘recovers … a situationally appropriate insight’ — which then becomes the fifth ‘thing’ — the term ‘four-part structure’ is at best misleading. It implies, at least to me, that there are ‘four’ things situated in some sort of successive order, all of which are ultimately found wanting, and then a ‘fifth’ element, emerging from the four previous ones, is added — or, in this case, invoked — to overcome the impasse. Evans equivocates here. In discussing Euthyphro, he speaks in terms that could be construed as implying succession: ‘the first three parts of this structure are a triad consisting in two contrary poles and the routine logos synthesizing them. The whole commensurable triad is then the fourth part, knowledge, but this fourth part is defective’ (86). The fifth ‘thing’ is not mentioned with these four but it later comes up as Evans’ notion of insight. The order here is: Poles I and II; Position III, synthesizing them; [Things ι, ιι, ιιι Position IV]; Position IV, necessitating Thing V. In Apology, the pattern whimsically changes (from now on I shall provide pages numbers, instead of quotations): Poles I and II; Position III, strong mediation between them; Position IV, weak mediation; Thing V (122-3). In discussing Crito, Evans arbitrarily reverses the order: Position IV; Position III, also called ‘a weaker logos,’ mediating the two poles mentioned only at the end of the section; Poles I and II; Thing V (155, 158, 161, 163). Finally in Phaedo, Evans adopts a chiastic order: Pole I; Position III : strong mediation between Pole I and the, as yet unnamed, Pole II; Pole II; Position IV : weak mediation preparing for Thing V (214, 216-7, 221, 228, 242-3). The only straightforward enumeration of all five ‘things’ occurs in the discussion of Apology, which, as I said in my review, is indeed Evans’ best. In all other cases, we are faced with capricious assignments of numbers to philosophic arguments and with a very idiosyncratic notion of mediation.

This has been a long tale, for the size of which I should perhaps apologize. My only consolation is that the reader is now better equipped to appraise Evans’ book. Whatever I omitted to state, or stated briefly, in my review, not wishing to exceed BMCR’s average word count, I have incorporated in my response to the author. I suspect that Evans and I shall continue to disagree as to how scholarship should be done. But the book is now out, and the reader will ultimately be the judge of, among many other things, the soundness of the author’s perhaps too generous parallelism between myself and Wilamowitz, himself and Nietzsche.


1. For those wondering about the fate of ‘homosexual’ reason, Evans dismisses it as cultivating ‘an exaggerated propriety within life and a homogenized or homosexual love among men or women. Behold,’ he says, ‘another intellectual short-circuitry breeding human farce or that comedy of life unaware of its own comedy’ (27).

2. The notion of thematic interconnectedness is even less useful to Evans as grounds for the comparison with the dramatic tetralogic principle because our scanty ancient evidence concerning dramatic tetralogies does not prove conclusively that they were thematically unified, at least in the post-Aeschylus era.