BMCR 2004.05.12

Plato’s Euthyphro and Clitophon

, Plato's Euthyphro & Clitophon : commentary with introduction, glossary, and vocabulary. Focus classical commentaries. Newburyport: Focus Pub./R. Pullins, 2003. 204 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 1585100595. $19.95 (pb).

Plato’s Euthyphro and Clitophon is a commentary with tools helpful for understanding both the philosophy and the language in the two dialogues. Bailly’s stated aim is to help intermediate/advanced readers of Greek engage the dialogues in the original, and so there is no English translation of the dialogues. The justification for treating Euthyphro and Clitophon in one volume seems to have more to do with a progressive comprehension of the Greek than with philosophical theme, although Bailly does point out that the philosophy of the two is connected (p. 1). While much has been written on the Euthyphro, very little has been done with the Clitophon. Interest in the Clitophon is growing however.1 Bailly’s title resembles S.R. Slings’ Plato: Clitophon,2 in attributing authorship of the Clitophon to Plato. (Slings has changed his mind regarding the dialogue’s authenticity since his 1981 doctoral dissertation.) Given his stated aim, Bailly does not offer the extensive treatment of the Clitophon that Slings provides, but I am grateful for Bailly’s discussion of Slings at various points, which is helpful for following Slings’ subtle argumentation. Bailly is to be commended for his sensitivity to philosophical, historical, and philological contextualization, and their importance for understanding the dialogues in the original. This is indeed timely as more philosophers are seeking dramatic and historical understanding of Plato’s dialogues — witness recent books by Nails and Blondell.3 Bailly’s book goes beyond merely a language learning tool to form a felicitous merging of classicist and philosophical perspectives that yields an interesting introduction to the Socratic dialogue.

The book contains many sections with different functions, and I here provide an overview of these before I discuss specifics. There is a General Introduction (3-13) which briefly discusses the way the commentaries work, followed by notes on the manuscripts used and rationale for this, notes on the sources for the historical Socrates, Socrates in Plato, Athens in the later fifth century, a brief note on Plato’s life, some remarks on philological tools, abbreviations and foreign phrases used. This is followed by an Introduction to the Euthyphro (15-24), which discusses the dialogue’s subject and structure, its authenticity, what we know about the historical Euthyphro, the date of composition and fictional date, as well as a brief discussion of Plato’s employment of three literary effects: irony, spontaneity and sincerity. Philosophical issues taken up in the Euthyphro are then discussed, followed by suggested further reading on the Euthyphro. The commentary on the Euthyphro (25-109) offers introductory contextual and philosophical remarks for a section of Greek text accompanied by running commentary that discusses difficult points in Greek in addition to providing more contextual information. The Introduction to the Clitophon (111-127) has sections on the dialogue’s structure and genre, tone and strategy, the historical Clitophon, the character of Socrates in the dialogue, the Clitophon‘s relationship to other dialogues, its meaning, date and authenticity, followed by suggestions for further reading. This is followed by the commentary on the Clitophon (129-69). There are two appendices, (171-83) one on textual criticism and emendation, working with a specific piece of the Clitophon, and one on the role of the divine sign in the indictment of Socrates. Finally there is a glossary of 17 Greek/Latin terms used in the commentaries (185-87), and a complete vocabulary list for both dialogues (189-204).

The general introduction is frank and accessible in terms of its treatment of many helpful topics, such as the sources for Socrates and Socrates in Plato, and points out useful philosophical and philological resources and notes on the Greek texts. Bailly employs the mss. of Stallbaum ( Euthyphro) and Ast ( Clitophon) in order to encourage students to confront the fact that the mss. are constructions that are still being improved upon. Hence he provides only minor changes in accentuation (e.g. omission of aspirates on the double rho and employment of English style punctuation).

Bailly points out at the beginning that he is a “developmentalist” with regard to Plato’s dialogues and distinguishes between “unitarianism” and “developmentalism”, referring the reader to significant literature on these issues. Introducing the ideas of developmentalism and unitarianism in the context of the Clitophon may in fact inspire thought on what if any suggestions an authentic Clitophon can provide regarding the debate. Kahn, for example, argues for a “proleptic” or “ingressive” unitarianism but ignores the Clitophon both in his treatment of Republic I and in his book Plato and the Socratic Dialogue.4 I am unconvinced that Bailly successfully employs Aristotle’s Metaphysics 1078b (quoted pp. 6-7) in support of a developmental reading of Plato; the passage may merely describe the prelude to a perspective that was then ingressively written.

The brief treatment of Athens in the fifth century that rounds out the General Introduction is also useful and again we are referred to excellent literature on these topics. It does contain a minor tension. On p. 11 we are told that Socrates denied that he had any students, but on pp. 11-12 we are told that he was, by the time he died, attracting students from as far away as Cyrene. The latter however is more of an enthusiastic point about the reach of Socrates’ influence or a recognition that, whether he admitted it or not, Socrates had “students”.

The most interesting parts of the introduction to the Euthyphro are the sections on the dramatic date of the dialogue, spontaneity and sincerity, and how the Euthyphro anticipates the theory of Forms in the “later” dialogues. The treatment of dramatic date is well reasoned and provides useful background information regarding how trials were processed before the Royal Stoa. Bailly makes a pointed distinction between the effect of spontaneity in writing and the spontaneity of the writer. Spontaneity, irony and sincerity are tools of the writer that say nothing of the writer’s own spontaneity, irony and sincerity. I suspect that this informs Bailly’s later criticisms of Sling’s “ironic” reading of the Clitophon, where according to Slings, Clitophon is really criticizing explicit protreptic. I am inclined to agree with Bailly’s criticism of Slings’ dependence on irony here since Clitophon explicitly praises explicit protreptic, and to my mind he is in earnest. Bailly’s treatment of planned literary spontaneity makes me wonder: if we see all instances of spontaneity in Plato as carefully planned effects, must we deny that Plato may have serendipitously recalled ideas in previous dialogues in later compositions? If so, how far down the path to Kahn’s ingressive unitarianism does this lead? Of course we must recognize that it is Bailly’s intention to point out such issues in the interest of contextualizing the dialogues, and that solving these issues is not his purpose here. My purpose in making the point is to show how evocative Bailly’s text can be.

The commentaries combine similar astute and evocative philosophical and historical remarks with very helpful notes for someone trying to understand the Greek. They contain everything from line notes that explain the role of the basileus archon in prosecuting murder as a religious offense (pg. 26 2a-3-4) to explanations of case, particles, grammatical points (often with references to the relevant section in Smyth), occasional discussions of variant mss., and the breaking down of complex sentences into their component clauses. The procedure for this last is explained in the General Introduction.

Each section of Greek text is preceded by an explanation of philosophical argument and context and is consequently also helpful in understanding the Greek. The most interesting case of Bailly’s philosophical skill is his distinction between a “state” of being loved by the gods and a “process” at Euthyphro 10d1-13 (78-80). I am not convinced this is any clearer than saying that the issue is whether the gods love something because it is pious or that something is pious because the gods love it, but there is intrinsic philosophical interest in the discussion as Bailly lays it out.

The Introduction to the Clitophon is perhaps the book’s most important contribution given the relative neglect of the dialogue.5 First we have a discussion of the relevance of three genres of literature to the Clitophon, namely the short dialogue, forensic speech and protreptic. The first and last seem undeniable, and, while the case has been made for the forensic genre both in the early and late 20th century (Brunnecke, Orwin), it has also been challenged by Roochnik, who cannot imagine a compatible context.6 A nice discussion of various ways the dialogue has been taken — incomplete, inauthentic, an abandoned Republic I — are discussed as well as the notion of the so-called Thrasymachus (a discrete Republic I so named by Dümmler). The treatment of the historical Clitophon follows other scholars’ employment of historical accounts of Clitophon’s association with Theramenes in the Athenian Constitution and Frogs. This has led to Clitophon in Republic I being labeled a relativist by Roochnik, a claim here echoed by Bailly’s description of him as a “normative relativist”. Kremer and, most convincingly and cautiously, Orwin have argued that Clitophon is best described as a legal positivist.7 Getting this right is important; it has implications for how we understand his philosophical orientation in the Clitophon and Republic I.

The exploration of the figure of Socrates in the next section is extremely valuable. The discussion of five points of difference between the Socrates of the Clitophon and the Socrates of other Platonic dialogues is also interesting (117-8). I would point out that the fourth difference, that Socrates does not talk to crowds in Platonic dialogues, is mentioned by Olympiodorus, who uses the Clitophon as evidence that Socrates sometimes does talk to crowds but only in an advisory manner and not in a demonstrative manner.8 Olympiodorus’ remark reflects his own lack of doubt regarding the Clitophon‘s authenticity, but at the same time provides indirect support for Bailly’s claim that the Clitophon is unique in making Socrates talk to crowds, since Olympiodorus apparently knew of no other evidence for such behaviour. Bailly is surely right that the dialogue is importantly authentic in so far as it is from ancient Greece (126), but this seems a far cry from the authenticity suggested by the book’s title Plato’s Euthyphro and Clitophon.

Bailly considers the possibility that the Clitophon was composed between Republic I and Republic II, (125) and the reasoning here is reminiscent of Grube, who assumes a parallel of dramatic meaning/ordering and composition.9 The implication of such a composition order is that the Clitophon represents a watershed in Plato’s thought, the movement from aporetic elenchus to positive claims. Bailly seems to favour Slings’ rejection of the “split Republic” hypothesis based on the foreshadowing of Republic II-X in Republic I, something which echoes Kahn’s proleptic reading.10 On Bailly’s reading, Clitophon knows something about argumentation and what might qualify as an account of virtue, so there is positive meaning in the Clitophon. Hence he concludes that the Republic represents less of a watershed towards positive philosophy and more of a watershed away from aporetic/elenctic dialogues.

The Introduction to the Clitophon is also valuable as a response to Slings’ reading of the Clitophon. Rutherford previously pointed out the difficulty of doing justice to Slings’ argument, a point with which Bailly concurs.11 At the same time, Bailly’s attempts to understand Slings has improved my own understanding of his complex interpretation, both in its attempt to put forth a clear presentation of some elements of Slings and to offer some points of resistance to it. Bailly is right to say that Slings must be consulted by any serious student of the Clitophon and acknowledges a great deal of indebtedness to the work; I would point out that anyone trying to follow Slings would benefit from consulting Bailly. In 1995 Rutherford expressed dissatisfaction that Slings’ previous (1981) work on the Clitophon was less well-known. Bailly helps bring the revised Slings (1999) into a better focus, and shows a good understanding of this very complex text. I do find it hard to reconcile Bailly’s claim (122) that Slings believes Socrates to represent Plato’s Socrates (i.e. not the Socrates of another Socratic writer) with the claim of Slings (209) that the figure of Socrates in the Clitophon is meant to symbolize Plato.

Bailly goes on to discuss Rutherford’s interpretation of the Clitophon as a response to Republic I — variations of this view can be found in Grube (who thinks it unfinished) as well as Thesleff (who thinks it is inauthentic).12 It is puzzling to me that Bailly does not discuss in any detail the interpretations of the Clitophon offered in the articles by Orwin and Roochnik that he cites in his suggestions for further reading, both of which deal with the long-standing issue of why Socrates does not respond to Clitophon.

The commentary on the Clitophon is on par with the Euthyphro commentary in terms of quality and help. I would make one remark about the Greek that I think is important. The A ms. gives πορεύομαι at 410c7 with a later hand interpolating πορεύσομαι Bailly gives πορεύσομαι without comment, but as Slings has pointed out, this is inept, given that the future requires ἂν δύνωμαι.13 This causes problems for a good understanding not only of the Greek but for the whole context of the dialogue. It affects whether we think Clitophon is threatening to turn to Thrasymachus and others, or explaining why he already does. This in turn may affect the perceived relative dramatic order of the Clitophon and the Republic. As Bruell has pointed out,14 we are not sure which dialogue comes first, and the implications of this extend to whether the perceived dramatic orderings of Roochnik and Kremer are correct, for these imply that Clitophon threatens to go to Thrasymachus in the Clitophon and does so in Republic I. This movement of Clitophon’s soul from techne to legal positivism is central to Kremer’s interpretation of the Clitophon, but his assumed dramatic ordering speaks against the implied readings of Grote, Grube, Thesleff and Slings, who think for other reasons that Republic I is first.

I would close with some suggestions regarding layout and two notes on typographical errors. The book’s extensive commentary results in many sections of Greek appearing without Stephanus page numbers, making it hard to refer back to a particular passage.15 I would prefer that the “glossary” items on pp. 13 and 185-187 be brought together and that a more comprehensive bibliography be collected at the back, instead of separated on pp. 23-4 and 127. There is no complete reference to Slings in the book, and its date is misprinted twice as 1991 (127). The date is 1999. Typo on p. 113 — “experiences” should be “experienced”.

I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciate this book, which is clearly the work of a scholar who has integrated many aspects of classics, philosophy and philology into an exceptionally useful, engaging and accessible guide to two dialogues of Plato. Such work is not easy and Bailly has presented us with a very frank and useful introduction that shows his skill as a philosopher, commentator, and classicist.


1. At the time of writing, Mark Kremer’s Plato’s Cleitophon: Socrates and the Modern Mind will be released in a few weeks (Lanham: Lexington, April 28, 2004). Kremer’s volume contains articles between 1983 and 2000 by authors who have treated the dialogue’s philosophical content on the assumption of authenticity.

2. Slings, S.R. Plato: Clitophon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

3. Nails, Debra 2002. The People of Plato. Indianapolis: Hackett; Blondell, Ruby 2002. The Play of Character in Plato’s Dialogues. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

4. Kahn, Charles 1993. “Proleptic Composition in the Republic“. Classical Quarterly 43:131-42; 1996. Plato and the Socratic Dialogue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5. pace Shorey: “the literature of discussion of the little dialogue is out of all proportion to its significance…” Shorey, Paul 1933. What Plato Said. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 422)

6. Brunnecke, H. 1913. “Kleitophon wider Sokrates”. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 26: 449-478; Orwin, C. 1982. “The Case Against Socrates: Plato’s Cleitophon”. Canadian Journal of Political Science 15: 741-753; Roochnik, D. 1984. “The Riddle of the CleitophonAncient Philosophy 4: 132-141.

7. Kremer, Mark 2000. “Socratic Philosophy and the Cleitophon”. Review of Politics 62: 479-502; Orwin 1982.

8. Jackson, R., Lycos, K., and Tarrant, H. 1998. Olympiodorus: Commentary on Plato’s Gorgias, 20.2.

9. Grube GMA 1931. “The Cleitophon of Plato,” Classical Philology 26: 302-8.

10. Kahn 1993.

11. Rutherford, R.B. 1995. The Art of Plato. London: Duckworth, 99; Bailly 122.

12. Grube 1931; Thesleff , H. 1982. Studies in Platonic Chronology. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica.

13. Slings, (1999: 329-330). The sentence is either διὰ ταῦτα δὴ καὶ πρὸς Θρασύμαχον, οἶμαι, πορεύομαι καὶ ἄλλοσε ὅποι δύναμαι, ἀπορῶν or διὰ ταῦτα δὴ καὶ πρὸς Θρασύμαχον, οἶμαι, πορεύσομαι καὶ ἄλλοσε ὅποι δύνωμαι, ἀπορῶν.

14. Bruell, C. 1999. On the Socratic Education. An Introduction to the Shorter Platonic Dialogues. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

15. Joyal notes the same inconvenience in Sling’s edition. Joyal, Mark 2001. “S.R. Slings, Plato: Clitophon“. BMCR 2001.11.06.