BMCR 2023.01.21

Manuscript transmission of Plato’s Laws: books 1 and 5

, Manuscript transmission of Plato's Laws: books 1 and 5. Serta Graeca, 35. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2022. Pp. 260. ISBN 9783752006070

Sadovskyy’s book—a revised version of his Hamburg dissertation—is a most welcome contribution to the austere field of Plato’s Textgeschichte, and it is within this very specialized branch of the study of the transmission of Classical texts that one should assess its merits.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors—Gerard Boter, Christian Brockmann and Gijsbert Jonkers, in particular—, Sadovskyy subdivides his work in three main parts of unequal length: an annotated list of the manuscripts transmitting Plato’s Laws (Chapter 1); a treatment of the different branches of the stemma codicum, including excerpts, manuscripts, papyri, printed-editions and Latin translations (Chapters 2–8), and a shorter section on the indirect transmission of the text (Chapters 9–10).

Chapter 1 offers an overview of the 34 manuscripts transmitting the Laws, listed in alphabetical order according to the city and library in which they are preserved. Each entry of the catalogue is divided into 12 subsections, thus offering a clear and compact description of each witness. Only one item seems to be missing from Sadovskyy’s list: the ms Rome, Biblioteca Vallicelliana, B 99 (gr. 22; Sec. XVI), preserving excerpts of the Laws on f. 151r–v.[1]

Considering the large amount of paleographical and philological literature on the transmission of Plato’s text, offering an account which aims to be, at the same time, complete, synthetic and up-to-date for each manuscript is no mean feat. Sadovskyy is, overall, successful in providing all the relevant information, but, possibly due to an unfortunate timing, he was not able to consult and quote several recent contributions that shed new light on one or more of the Platonic witnesses. Hoping to provide a useful tool for further research, I here propose some additions in a synthetic fashion. (Each manuscript is indicated with Sadovskyy’s number, the letters referring to a specific section of the description.)

(6) Laur. Plut. 85.9. (d) The identification of Bessarion’s hand in this manuscript is now (rightly) rejected by D. Speranzi, “Le mani del cardinale. Note sulla scrittura greca di Bessarione”, in A. Rigo & N. Zorzi (eds), I libri di Bessarione. Studi sui manoscritti del Cardinale a Venezia e in Europa (Turnhout 2021), 18 n. 8. The purely speculative connection with Plethon’s milieu loses its last concrete piece of supporting evidence.

(8) Vossianus Q 51. (c) The scribe of Voss. Q 38 and Q 51 is Demetrius Rhaoul Kabakes, one of Plethon’s pupils in Mistra (see

(14) Ambr. & 146 sup. (c) The “anonymous scribe” is in fact Theodore Rendios: see S. Martinelli Tempesta, “Per un repertorio dei copisti greci in Ambrosiana”, in F. Gallo (ed.), Miscellanea Graecolatina I (Rome 2013), 140.

(20) Angelicanus gr. 101. (c) The anonymous 15th-century scribe who penned ff. 1–153 is not the same as the scribe who penned Angel. 105. The Catalogue, quoted by Sadovskyy, refers here to another section of the manuscript copied by Mesobotes (the only scribe of Angel. 105).

(21) Vaticanus gr. 1. (d) 35: “O must have remained in Constantinople until at least 1452, since George Trapezuntius likely applied it for his translation of the Laws during his stay in the city”. George of Trebisond did not complete his translation in Constantinople; the translation of the Laws was commissioned by Pope Nicholas V, while George was working at the Roman Curia. See F. Pagani, “Philology in/of a Byzantine Quarrel: Bessarion v. George of Trebizond”, in S. Mariev (ed.), Bessarion’s Treasure: Editing Translating and Interpreting Bessarion’s Literary Heritage (Berlin 2020) 125–68. On the Greek sources used by George, see below.

(24) Vat. gr. 1031. (c) The scribe of ff. 1–11v is not George Galesiotes but an anonymous scribe of the 14th century. Galesiotes is responsible for ff. I–II and 113 (religious texts not connected with the main body of the Platonic manuscript): see now the description by A. Beghini, [Platone], Assioco (Baden-Baden 2020), 103 n. 257 (with all the relevant literature). The main scribe of Vat. 1031 can be placed in the later part of the 13th century rather than in the early 14th.

(27) Vat. Palatinus gr. 177. (a) The terminus post quem for this manuscript is not 1494 but rather 1459 (the date of Manetti’s death). The manuscript was most probably copied before 1453, since in that year Manetti left Florence for good: o (Laur. Conv. Soppr. 180), the model used by John Scutariotes for the Palatine manuscript, was kept in the library of the Benedictine “Badia”, in Florence.

(30) Marc. gr. 187. The manuscript is composite and its parts, copied in the East, should be dated to the first half of the 15th century (before 1439/40) and not to “ca. 1460”. The correct dating of the manuscript invalidates the argument made later on (185-6), concerning the sources of Trapezuntius’ translation. The anonymous scribe of ff. 24r–107r and 154r–309r has been identified with Michael/Manuel Chrysokokkes in the study by D. Bianconi & F. Acerbi, Il Codex Vaticanus a Bisanzio. Vicende e figure di una storia millenaria (Vatican City, 2022) (part. 73–74). The annotator is the (hiero)monk Gregory, not Athanasius Chalceopulos: see at least C. Giacomelli & D. Speranzi, “Dispersi e ritrovati. Gli Oracoli caldaici, Marsilio Ficino e Gregorio (iero)monaco”, Scripta 12, 2019, 139 nr. 41, with a more precise distinction of the scribes at work in the manuscript.

(33) Marc. gr. XI, 3. (c) The scribe of the Laws is not Franciscus Vitalis (as stated by Elpidio Mioni), but rather the Cretan Emmanuel Rhousotas. The origin of this old mistake, that should be corrected once and for all, is J. Bick, Die Schreiber der Wiener griechischen Handschriften (Vienna, 1920), Taf. LI, where Bick reproduces Rhousotas’ handwriting but with an erroneous attribution to Francesco Vitali (who cooperated with Rhousotas in the transcription of the Vienna ms Phil. gr. 167). Most attributions to Vitali should be reconsidered in light of this misapprehension, but Sadovskyy is, of course, blameless.

(34) Vindob. Suppl. gr. 20. (c) The annotator is now identified with Philipp Grundell rather than Johannes Sambucus (see, for instance, M. Donato, Il testo dell’Erissia: storia della tradizione (Baden-Baden 2022), 76, with reference to earlier studies by Christian Gastgeber).

Chapter 2 deals with the history of the text of the Laws from the Renaissance to the last critical edition, by Édouard des Places (1951). In this chapter, Sadovskyy discusses the most relevant contributions to the history of the Platonic text, thus giving a clear account of the state of the art. Thanks to these studies, the main lines of the transmission of the Laws are quite clear: of the 34 manuscripts listed in Chapter 1, only two are independent witnesses: Parisinus graecus 1807 (A), copied in the second half of the 9th century, and Vaticanus graecus 1 (O), copied at the end of the 9th century, or in the early years of the 10th.

In Chapter 3, Sadovskyy examines the relationship between A and O. While A, penned by one of the scribes of the so-called “Philosophical Collection”, seems to be copied directly from a majuscule manuscript (possibly a late antique codex), O depends on a minuscule manuscript. From Book 5 (746b8) onwards, A is the model of O.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to the two oldest witnesses. Sadovskyy describes the critical signs employed by the scribe of A and the corrections operated on the text by the corrector (Α2), who had access to the model of A itself. On f. 200r, A transmits a note referring to the recension of the text corrected by “Leo the Great”, possibly identifiable with one of the most intriguing figures of the early Byzantine humanism, Leo the Philosopher.

Manuscript O bears the traces of intense editorial activity: several correcting hands have been identified so far and Sadovskyy describes three of them (O2–4). Sadovskyy agrees with the view that A3 and O3 are the same individual but rejects the old (and already discredited) identification of this scribe with the well-known Arethas.[2] O4, a mid-11th-century scholar, added several marginal variants, mentioning, it would seem, his sources. One of the most interesting features of O4 is the reference to a rather mysterious “book of the Patriarch” (sometimes identified with Photius) or “of the patriarchate”; the abbreviation was interpreted as “τοῦ πατρικίου” (“of the patrician <Menas>”) by Maria Jagoda Luzzatto. As for the “ἀ-variants”, Sadovskyy could have referred his readers to the discussion offered by T. Dorandi, “Ancient ἐκδόσεις. Further Lexical Observations on Some Galen’s Texts”, Lexicon Philosophicum 2, 2014, 13–16.

The substantial Chapter 5 (96–183), which constitutes the core of the book under review, deals with all the secondary manuscripts: the descendants of A and O, including the manuscripts transmitting only excerpts of the Laws. These manuscripts, of little use when it comes to editing the text, document the reception and transmission of the Laws from the 11th century up to the late Renaissance. Sadovskyy bases himself on existing scholarship, but he also provides fresh evidence backing every step of his careful reconstruction. It would be impossible to give a detailed account of the wealth of details discussed in this section of the book, and I will limit myself to the most notable moments of the transmission of Plato’s work:

Pp. 100–114. While A is almost completely isolated in the stemma, the descendance of O, which was kept in an important Constantinopolitan library, is much more developed. Of the 34 manuscripts of Laws, 6 are direct copies of O: a (Laur. Plut. 59.1), Marc. (Marc. gr. XI, 13), Vind. (Vindob. Suppl. gr. 20), R (Vat. gr. 102), Vat. (Vat. gr. 230) and J (Vat. gr. 1031). The fact that Vind. was copied by John Scutariotes, a scribe who almost exclusively worked in Florence, seems to imply that by the second half of the 15h century (Vind. was copied in 1468), O was already in Italy, and possibly in Florence itself.

Pp. 115–22. Sadovskyy gives an account of Plethon’s corrections in manuscript K (Marc. gr. 188), a book which was probably used in class by the Byzantine philosopher. Plethon’s corrections will interest not only those studying Plato’s text, but also scholars dealing with 15th-century culture. Plethon, it would seem, tried his best to harmonize Plato’s philosophy with the traditional religious accounts as reported by Hesiod, taken as a doctrinal standard, while obliterating an anecdote referring to homosexual practices in Crete (636c7–d5).

Pp. 125–8. Manuscript Mon. (Monacensis gr. 490) was produced in the circles of Mistra, at the school of Plethon. I find it unlikely that this manuscript would be separated from K (Plethon’s personal copy) by four now-lost copies (ψ, ζ, ν, μ). The connection with Esc. (Scorialensis Ψ I 1), copied by Tribolis, himself a former pupil of Plethon, seems to confirm the hypothesis that the text of K circulated in that philosophical milieu, and I would rather favor a simplification of their mutual relations, cutting some of the intermediary steps.[3]

Pp. 134–7. Barb. (Barberinianus gr. 209) is a direct copy of H, Riccardianus 67, copied in Florence in the circles of Demetrius Chalondyles by Demetrius Damilas. I am able to give a name to the anonymous scribe of the Barberinianus: this manuscript was penned by the Venetian humanist Niccolò Passeri Genova, a pupil of Chalcondyles in Florence, and, later on in the 15th century, a successful professor of medicine in Padua.[4]

Pp. 156–83. In these pages, Sadovskyy studies the manuscript transmitting excerpts of the Laws. The oldest witness is Vat. Pal. gr. 173, a 10th-century manuscript transmitting Platonic excerpts and scholia. It is interesting to observe that the selection of the excerpts seems to be concerned with doctrines compatible with Christian dogma and that the text is censored accordingly (“gods” is systematically corrected to “God” and other mentions of polytheism are omitted or modified).

Chapter 6 deals with two Renaissance Latin translation of the Laws: the one by George Trapezuntius and the (slightly) later one by Marsilio Ficino. As far as the first translation is concerned, Sadovskyy collated only Vat. lat. 2062. Unfortunately, the author could not take into account the studies on Trapezuntius’ translations published in the last two years by Fabio Pagani, who is preparing a critical edition of the Latin text. In a 2021 paper on the transmission of Trapezuntius’ translation, Pagani was able to show that V (Vat. lat. 2062) is not the only independent witness of the text and that the editor should take into account five more manuscripts.[5] Concerning the Greek sources of George’s translation, Pagani and Sadovskyy reached similar conclusions: according to Sadovskyy, George of Trebisond used manuscript O, or a now lost copy of it contaminated with the text of A; Pagani, while also arguing for a dependence on the O branch, believes that manuscripts L and N may have played a crucial role in the making of the translation.[6] The results of these independent studies need to be further developed in light of the respective achievements.

Chapter 7 describes the first printed editions of the Text, all ultimately derived from the Aldina of 1513. The manuscript sources of the print are identified, as in many studies on the transmission of Plato’s text, with witnesses preserved in Venice, at the Marciana: particularly E and N. Since none of these manuscripts bears obvious traces of the typographical work, we are bound to assume that Aldus had access to a now lost copy of them.[7] I am not fully convinced that a single common reading (bibat/πίνει, instead of the transmitted πίνειν, at 647e2) is enough evidence to prove that the Aldine edition of the Laws was contaminated with Ficinus’ Latin translation.

In this chapter, Sadovskyy also deals with the In Calumniatorem Platonis (ICP), the most relevant literary contribution published by Bessarion. The nature of this composite text—originating from a harsh dispute with George of Trebisond—makes it one of the most complex and yet fascinating products of 15th-century scholarship. Book 5 of the ICP is structured as a review of Trapezuntius’ translation, with extensive quotations from the Greek original. Unsurprisingly, the text quoted by Bessarion comes from his personal copies of the Platonic text (K and N).[8]

Chapter 9 offers on overview of the indirect transmission of the text, mainly relying on studies published in the 40s and 50s by des Places. This chapter does not add much to the volume and, given the thorough analysis carried out in the preceding pages, I would have expected an equally detailed study of the textual evidence that can be gathered from ancient and late-ancient authors. But such research is likely to require a book-length treatment, and omitting it from the volume at hand altogether would have been perfectly understandable and actually preferable.

The volume is concluded by a bibliography, comprehensive indexes and 17 plates. As far as a non-native speaker of English can tell, the text is clear and readable. The presentation of the text is very good (the only misleading typo I wish to point out is on p. 23: “Voss. Q 74” should be corrected—here and elsewhere—in “Voss. F 74”) and the volume itself, in the style of the series, is handsomely produced.



[1] See F. Pagani, “The Greek Sources of George of Trebizond’s Translation of Plato’s Laws”, in S. Mariev (ed.), Bessarion’s Book in Defence of Plato: Among the Papers of the Last Byzantine Philosopher (Venice, 2022), 96, with previous literature.

[2] See also Donato, Il testo dell’Erissia, 30 n. 67. The first to cast doubt on the identification with Arethas was Post in 1934.

[3] Cf. Donato, Il testo dell’Erissia, 66–7.

[4] On this scribe and his connection with Chalcondyles’ circle, see C. Giacomelli, “Greek Manuscripts in Padua: Some New Evidence”, in R. Piccione (ed.), Greeks, Books and Libraries in Renaissance Venice (Berlin / Boston 2021), 211–14.

[5] F. Pagani, “Sulla tradizione manoscritta della versione delle Leggi di Platone di Giorgio Trapezunzio”, Bollettino dei Classici, s. III 42, 2021, 137–62.

[6] Pagani, ‘The Greek Sources’, 88–9.

[7] See Donato, Il testo dell’Erissia, 118–22 (with reference to important literature not cited by Sadovskyy).

[8] A new critical edition of ICP book 5 is being prepared by Sergiei Mariev: see the exhibition-catalogued freely accessible online.