Tuesday, March 28, 2017

1 Plato’s Symposium in the light of its dating, with reference to his Second Letter

Plato in the Second Letter asked Dionysius ‘obey me, and now, to begin with, after you’ve read this letter repeatedly, burn it (peithou, kai tên epistolên tautên nun prôton pollakis anagnous katakauson, 3145-6)’. Dionysius didn’t burn the letter, for had he done so, it wouldn’t have been preserved. Why did he disobay? In the last paragraph Plato writes: ‘You were surprised at my sending Polyxenus to you (peri de Poluxenou ethaumasas hoti pempsaimi soi); but now as of old I repeat the same statement about Lycophron also and the others you have with you (egô de kai peri Lukophronos kai tôn allôn tôn para soi ontôn legô kai palai kai nun ton auton logon), that, as respects dialectic (hoti pros to dialechthênai), you are far superior to them all both in natural intelligence and in argumentative ability (kai phusei kai tê̢ methodô̢ tôn logôn pampolu diaphereis autôn, 314c7-d4, tr. Bury).’ Polyxenus and Lycophron were well known sophists. Could Dionysius resist the temptation to circulate the letter among his courtiers and admirers?

Plato had good reasons for wishing that Dionysius memorised the letter and then burnt it. Having spoken in riddles (di’ ainigmôn) about ‘the First’, he warned him that ‘there are hardly any doctrines which sound more absurd than these to the vulgar (schedon gar ouk estin toutôn pros tous pollous katagelastotera akousmata), 314a2-4, tr. Bury). Bury’s ‘more absurd’ stands for Plato’s katagelastotera, which means ‘more laughable’. Did the people around Dionysius have a good laugh at the expense of Plato and his letter? Was this the reason why Dionysius did not summon Plato to his court during that sailing season?

Reduced to another year of waiting, Plato could not stay idly. In the Letter he exhorted Dionysius to compare his teachings with that of the sophists, confident that if he does so and examines his doctrines side by side with theirs, ‘these doctrines will implant themselves now in your mind (nun soi tauta te prosphusetai), and you also will be devoted both to them and to us (kai oikeios toutois te kai hêmin esê̢, 313d1-3)’. He had in mind doctrines presented to Dionysius by him in person, communicated by spoken word. Left in Athens, he had to take recourse to writing. But hadn’t he improvidently hampered himself in doing so when he wrote in the Letter ‘I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects (ouden pôpot’ egô peri toutôn gegrapha), and no treatise of Plato exists or will exist (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos ouden oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates become beautiful and young (Sôkratous estin kalou kai neou gegonotos, 314c2-4)’?

In the Symposium Plato found a way of turning this to humour. In the dialogue, after the preamble Aristodemus ‘said (ephê) that he met Socrates (hoi Sôkratê entuchein) fresh from the bath (leloumenon te) and with sandals on (kai tas blautas hupodedemenon), which he rarely did (ha ekeinos oligakis epoiei), and so he asked him (kai eresthai auton) where did he go (hopoi ioi) having become so beautiful (houtô kalos gegenêmenos, 1743-5).’ Socrates replied that he went to Agathon ‘for dinner’ (epi deipnon, 174b1): ‘I have made myself beautiful in this way (tauta dê ekallôpisamên), so that beautiful I go to a beautiful man (hina kalos para kalon iô, 174a9). The dialogue is not Socrates’ (Sôkratous); Socrates is only one of the speakers; encomia on Eros are given by Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, and Agathon, then Socrates tells the truth about Eros, and Alcibiades presents his picture of Socrates. Socrates in his speech presents us with a picture of young Socrates who went to the wise Diotima to learn about Eros; the exposition on Love by the priestess, presented through the mouth of Socrates, is Plato’s (Platônos).

Monday, March 27, 2017

2 Plato’s Symposium, its dating with references to his Second and Seventh Letter, his Republic, and to Plutarch’s Dion

Let me return to Plato’s reflections on his intercourse (sunousia ‘being together’, 310e1) with Dionysius in 367-366 B.C. as he presents them in the Second Letter. In my preceding post I ended my reference to it with the paragraph with which I shall now begin: ‘In our case, then – if God so grant – it still remains possible (touto oun hêmin eti, sun theô̢ eipein, exestin) to put right whatever has been amiss in word or deed during our intercourse in the past (ei ti ara mê kalôs pepraktai kata tên emprosthen sunousian, epanorthousthai kai ergô̢ kai logô̢). For I maintain that, as regards the true philosophy (peri gar philosophian phêmi egô tên alêthinên), men will think and speak well of it if we ourselves are upright (doxan esesthai kai logon hêmôn men ontôn epieikôn beltiô), and ill if we are base (phaulôn de, t’ounantion). And in truth we could do nothing more pious than to give attention to this matter (kaitoi peri toutou hêmeis epimeloumenoi ouden an eusebesteron prattoimen), nothing more impious than to disregard it (oud’ amelountes asebesteron).’ (311d6-e2; translations from the Letters are Bury’s)
Plato goes on to say: ‘How this result should be brought about (Hôs dê dei gignesthai), and what is the just course to pursue (kai to dikaion hê̢ echei), I will now explain (egô phrasô). I came to Sicily (êlthon egô eis Sikelian) with the reputation (doxan echôn) of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy (polu tôn en philosophia̢ diapherein); and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse (boulomenos de elthôn eis Surakousas), to gain your testimony as well (summartura labein se), in order that I might get philosophy held in honour (hina dê moi timô̢to hê philosophia) even by the multitude (kai para tô̢ plêthei). In this, however, I was disappointed (touto d’ ouk euages moi apebê).’ (311e4-312a3)

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Arguing against the authenticity of the Second Letter, Bury asks: ‘Can we imagine the real Plato saying that his object in visiting Syracuse was “to make philosophy honoured by the multitude”?’ (Plato in LCL, vol. IX, p. 399) In the note on the quoted words he says: ‘A most un-Platonic sentiment: contrast Republic 493 E ff.’ (Bury, op. cit. p. 408) In fact, Second Letter 311e4-312a3 is in full harmony with the Republic, if we view Republic 493e ff. in its broader context. In Republic 493e Socrates asks ‘whether the world will ever be induced to believe in the existence of absolute beauty rather than of the many beautiful, or of the absolute in each kind rather than of the many in each kind’ (auto to kalon alla mê ta polla kala, ê auto ti hekaston kai mê ta polla hekasta, esth’ hopôs plêthos anexetai ê hêgêsetai einai;). Adeimantus replies: ‘Certainly not (Hêkista ge).’ – Socrates: ‘Then the world cannot possibly be a philosopher (Philosophon men ara, ên d’ egô, plêthos adunaton einai)? – Adeimantus: ‘Impossible (Adunaton).’ – Socrates: ‘And therefore philosophers must inevitably fall under the censure of the world (Kai tous philosophountas ara anankê psegesthai hup’ autôn)? – Adeimantus: ‘They must (Anankê).’ (493e2-494a7, tr. B. Jowett)

In this passage in Republic VI Socrates reaffirms in discussion with Adeimantus what he established in Republic V in discussion with Glaucon, Adeimantus’ younger brother, i.e. that the many can never see the Forms, only true philosophers can do so. Socrates then explains the reasons why philosophy happened to be in disrepute. It is because people unworthy of it ‘take a leap out of their trades into philosophy’ (ek tôn technôn ekpêdôsin eis philosophian, 495d3). He then goes on to say that ‘if philosophy ever finds in the State that perfection (ei de lêpsetai tên aristên politeian) which she herself is (hôsper kai auto ariston estin), then will be seen (tote dêlôsei) that she is truly divine (hoti touto men tô̢ onti theion ên, 497b7-c2).’ Socrates thus reaches the point in his discussion with Adeimantus with which he initiated the discussion of the ideal State in discussion with Glaucon in Republic V: ‘Neither States nor individuals will ever attain perfection (oute polis oute politeia oude g’ anêr homoiôs mê pote genêtai teleios) until the small class of philosophers whom we termed useless but not corrupt (prin an tois philosophois toutois tois oligois kai ou ponêrois, achrêstois de nun keklêmenois) are in consequence of some chance compelled (anankê tis peribalê̢), whether they will or not (eite boulontai eite mê), to undertake the care of the state (poleôs epimelêthênai), and until a like necessity be laid on the state to obey them (kai tê̢ polei katêkoô̢ genesthai); or until kings, or if not kings, the sons of kings or princes, are divinely inspired with a true love of true philosophy (ê tôn nun en dunasteiais ê basileiais ontôn huesin ê autois ek tinos theias epipnoias alêthous philosophias alêthinos erôs empesê̢, 499b3-c2, cf. Rep. V, 473c11-e5).’ Adeimantos agrees, so Socrates asks: ‘But do you want to say that this is not the opinion of the multitude (Tois de pollois hoti ouk au dokei, ereis;)?’ – Adeimantus: ‘I should imagine not (Isôs).’ – Socrates: ‘O my friend (Ô makarie), do not attack the multitude (mê panu houtô tôn pollôn katêgorei): they will change their minds (alloian toi doxan hexousin), if, not in an aggressive spirit, but gently and with the view of soothing them (ean autois mê philonikôn alla paramuthoumenos) and removing their dislike of overeducation (kai apoluomenos tên tês philomatheias diabolên), you show them your philosophers as they really are (endeiknuê̢ hous legeis tous philosophous) and describe as you were just now doing (kai diorizê̢ hôsper arti) their character and profession (tên te phusin autôn kai tên epitêdeusin), and then mankind will see that he of whom you are speaking is not as they supposed (hina mê hêgôntai se legein hous autoi oiontai).’ (499d8-500a2, tr. Jowett)

When Plato says to Dionysius in his Second Letter ’I came to Sicily with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy; and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse, to gain your testimony as well, in order that I might get philosophy held in honour even by the multitude,’ his words are in perfect harmony with what he says about the true philosophy and the true philosopher in the Republic. For Plato went to Sicily in the hope of transforming Dionysius into a philosopher-king.

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In the Second Letter Plato goes on to consider the reasons for his disappointment: ‘The reason I give for this is not that which is commonly given (to d’ aition ou legô hoper an polloi eipoien); rather it was because (all’ hoti) you showed (ephainou) that you did not fully trust me (ou panu emoi pisteuein su) but wished rather to get rid of me somehow (all’ eme men pôs apopempsasthai ethelein) and invite others to my place (heterous de metapempsasthai); and owing, as I believe, to your distrust of me, you showed yourself inquisitive as to what my business was (kai zêtein to pragma ti to emon estin, apistôn, hôs emoi dokei, 312a3-6).’

František Novotný in his Latin Commentary suggests that the reason commonly given for Plato’s disappointment was that ‘Dionysius was not a suitable person for grasping Plato’s philosophy, the opinion which Dionysius himself later feared; see Seventh Letter 336b ff.’: Dionysium non esse idoneum Platonis philosophiae capessendae; quam opinionem postea Dionysius ipse metuebat, v. 7, 338esq.’ (Franciscus Novotný, Platonis epistulae commentariis illustratae, Spisy Filozofické fakulty Masarykovy university v Brně / Opera Facultatis philosophicae universitatis Masarykianae Brunensis.)

The reason Plato himself gave was Dionysius’ lack of trust, his inquisitiveness concerning Plato’s motifs for coming to Syracuse. Plato does not delve into Dionysius’ mistrust of him, but it is clear that if he was to have any success in transforming Dionysius into a philosopher-king, he had to gain his trust. If we are to understand what he does about it in the Second Letter, and then in the Symposium, we must get to the roots of Dionysius’ distrust.

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Plato says in the Seventh Letter that during his first visit to Sicily the young Dion was inflamed with his belief that ‘by true philosophy one is enabled to see all forms of justice both political and individual (ek tautês esti ta te politika dikaia kai ta tôn idiôtôn panta katidein, VII, 326a6-7). Wherefore the classes of mankind will have no cessation from evils (kakôn oun ou lêxein ta anthrôpina genê) until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers (prin an ê to tôn philosophountôn orthôs kai alêthôs genos) attains political supremacy (eis archas elthê̢ tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the States (ê to tôn dunasteuontonôn en tais polesin) becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic (ek tinos moiras theias ontôs philosophêsê̢, 326a7-b4).’ After the death of Dionysius I (in 367 B.C.) Dion ‘came to the belief (dienoêthê) that this belief, which he himself had acquired through right instruction, would not always be confined to himself (mê monon en hautô̢ pot’ an genesthai tautên tên dianoian, hên autos hupo tôn orthôn logôn eschen); and in fact he saw it being implanted in others also (engignomenên de autên kai en allois horôn katenoei) – not in many, it is true (pollois men ou), but yet implanted in some (gignomenên d’ oun en tisin); and of these he thought that Dionysius (with Heaven’s help) might become one (hôn kai Dionusion hêgêsato hena genesthai tach’ an sullambanontôn tôn theôn), and that, if he did become a man of this mind (genomenou d’ au tou toioutou), both his own life (ton te autou bion) and that of all the rest of Syracusans (kai ton tôn allôn Surakousiôn) would, in consequence, be a life of immeasurable felicity (amêchanon an makariotêti sumbênai genomenon). Moreover (pros dê toutois), Dion considered that I ought, by all means, to come to Syracuse with all speed (ô̢êthê dein ek pantos tropou eis Surakousas hoti tachista elthein eme) to be his partner in this task (koinônon toutôn).’ (327b6-d1)

Obviously, after the death of Dionysius I Dion began to spread the idea of ‘philosopher-rulers’ among the few whom he believed to be fit and ready for such a role. Who may have been those few whom he saw having this idea implanted in them? Plato says that Dion ‘spoke of his own nephews and connexions (legôn tous te hautou adelphidous kai tous oikeious, 328a3)’. Plutarch says in his Dion that Dion’s enemies spread the rumours that the Athenians intended ‘by means of one sophist (di’ henos sophistou) to overthrow the tyranny of Dionysius (kataluousi tên Dionusiou turannida) by persuading him (sumpeisantes auton) … to seek in Academic philosophy for a mysterious good (en Akadêmeia̢ to siôpômenon agathon zêtein), and make geometry his guide to happiness (kai dia geômetrias eudaimona genesthai), surrendering the happiness that was based on dominion and wealth and luxury (tên en archê̢ kai chrêmasi kai truphais eudaimonian) to Dion (Diôni) and Dion’s nephews (kai tois Diônos adelphidois proemenon, XIV, 2-3, tr. B. Perrin).’

Dionysius had every reason for being distrustful of Plato even after he had expelled Dion, for in the very heart of Plato’s Republic is the postulate of unity between philosophy and political power, which means ‘that those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other (tôn de nun poreuomenôn chôris eph’ hekateron hai pollai phuseis) are compelled to stand aside (ex anankês apokleisthôsin, 473d3-5, tr. Jowett)’. It is this postulate that Plato endeavours to revise in the Second Letter by viewing his and Dionysius’ intercourse in the light of the historical and mythical examples of associations between great rulers and wise men, and in the Symposium, in which he outlines the road to philosophy in the guise of the wise Diotima, a consummate philosopher with no political aspirations. Plato thus indicates that he intends to return to Sicily as Dionysius’ trusted advisor, not as a co-ruler.

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In the Second Letter Plato went on to say: ‘And now I will tell you what it is right to do after this (ho dê meta tauta dikaion esti poiein, akoue), that so I may reply also (hina kai soi apokrinômai) to your question (ho su erôta̢s) how you and I ought to behave to each other (pôs chrê echein eme kai se pros allêlous). If you altogether despise philosophy (ei men holôs philosophias katapephronêkas), leave it alone (ean chairein). If, again, you have been taught by someone else (ei de par’ heterou akêkoas) or have yourself invented better doctrines than mine (ê autos beltiona hêurêkas tôn par’ emoi), hold them in honour (ekeina tima). But if you are contented with my doctrines (ei d’ ara ta par’ hêmôn soi areskei), then you should hold me also in special honour (timêteon kai eme malista). So now (nun oun), just as at the beginning (hôsper kai ex archês), do you lead the way (su kathêgou) and I will follow (hepsomai d’ egô). If I am honoured by you (timômenos gar hupo sou), I will honour you (timêsô se); but if I am not honoured (mê timômenos de) I will keep to myself (hêsuchian hexô). Moreover (eti de), if you honour me (su men eme timôn) and take the lead in so doing (kai toutou kathêgoumenos), you will be thought to be honouring philosophy (philosophian doxeis timan); and the very fact (kai auto touto) that you have studied other systems as well (hoti dieskopeis kai allous) will gain you the credit, in the eyes of the many (pros pollôn eudoxian soi oisei), of being a philosopher yourself (hôs philosophô̢ onti).’ 312b2-c4)

Plato wishes to rewind the clock: ‘When Plato came to Sicily (Platôn eis Sikelian aphikomenos), in the first instances (peri men tas prôtas apantêseis) he met with astonishing friendliness and honour (thaumastês etunchane philophrosunês kai timês).’ (Plutarch, Dion XIII, 1, tr. Perrin). Trying to start their intercourse anew, he plays on Dionysius’ ‘extraordinary love of glory’ (philotimos te thaumastôs, VII, 338d7), and in the Symposium he attempts to cultivate Dionysius’ infatuation with him, which the latter displayed during their initial intercourse.

The participants in the Symposium accept Phaedrus’ suggestion to make speeches in praise of Eros. Phaedrus begins, and he crowns his encomium by praising Achilles’ attachment to his lover Patroclus. In doing so he rejects Aeschylus’ view that Patroclus was Achilles’ beloved, Achilles his lover, maintaining that Achilles ‘was much younger, as Homer says’ (neôteros polu, hôs phêsin Homêros, 180a7) Phaedrus’ ‘much younger’ in fact points to Plato-Dionysius relationship, for in Homer Menoetius says to Patroclus: ‘My son (teknon emon), Achilles is of nobler birth than you (geneê̢ men huperteros estin Achilleus), but you are older than him (presbuteros de su essi), yet he is much stronger than you (biê̢ d’ ho ge pollon ameinôn, Il. XI, 786-7). Homer says that Patroclus is older, not ‘much older’.

Pausanias says in the next speech: ‘There remains, then, only one road of honourable attachment which our custom allows the beloved to follow (mia dê leipetai tô̢ hêmeterô̢ nomô̢ hodos, ei mellei kalôs charieisthai erastê̢ paidika); for it is our rule (esti gar hêmin nomos) that as any menial service which the lover does to him (hôsper epi tois erastais ên douleuein ethelonta hêntinoun douleian paidikois) is not to be accounted flattery (mê kolakeian einai) or a reproach to himself (mêde eponeidiston), so the beloved has one way only of voluntary service (houtô dê kai allê mia monê douleia hekousios leipetai) which is not open to reproach (ouk eponeidistos), and this is the service directed to virtue (hautê d’ estin hê peri tên aretên).’ (184b5-c3, tr. Jowett)

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In the Second Letter Plato tells Dionysius: ‘according to Archedemus’ report you say (phê̢s gar dê kata ton ekeinou logon) that you have not had a sufficient demonstration (ouch hikanôs apodedeichthai soi) of the doctrine concerning the nature of the First (peri tês tou prôtou phuseôs) … the matter stands thus (hôde gar echei): Related to the King of All are all things (peri ton pantôn basilea pant’ esti), and for his sake they are (kai ekeinou heneka panta), and of all things fair he is the cause (kai ekeino aition hapantôn tôn kalôn) … About these, then, the human soul strives to learn (hê oun anthrôpinê psuchê peri auta oregetai mathein poi’ atta estin), looking to the things that are akin to itself (blepousa eis ta hautês sungenê), whereof none is fully perfect (hôn ouden hikanôs echei). But as to the King (to dê basileôs peri) and the objects I have mentioned (kai hôn eipon, i.e. ‘things fair’ of which, the King of All, that is the Good, is the cause), they are of quite different quality (ouden estin toiouton). In the next place the soul inquires (to dê meta touto hê psuchê phêsi) – “Well then, what quality have they (alla poion ti mên;)?” But the cause of all mischief, O son of Dionysius and Doris, lies in this very question (tout’ estin, ô pai Dionusiou kai Dôridos, to erôtêma ho pantôn aition estin kakôn), or rather in the travail which this question creates in the soul (mallon de hê peri toutou ôdis en tê̢ psuchê̢ engignomenê); and unless a man delivers himself from this (hên ei mê tis exairethêsetai) he will never really attain the truth (tês alêtheias ontôs ou mê pote tuchê̢).’ (312d5-313a6)

Novotný in his commentary explains: qaestio animi interrogantis quale (poion ti) non quid sit illud primum (op. cit.) – ‘the question of the soul asking “of what quality” instead of “what is” this First’.

This whole section of the Second Letter opened with Plato’s deliberations on Dionysius’ complaint that he did not provide him with a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of the First. So Plato explained it to him ‘in a riddling way (di’ ainigmôn), in order that, should the tablet come to any harm “in folds of ocean or of earth” (hin’ an ti hê deltos ê pontou ê gês en ptuchais pathê̢), he that readeth may not understand (ho anagnous mê gnô̢, 312d7-e1).’ Then he reprimanded him for having been not only inattentive to what he was telling him about the First, but for having claimed to have invented it himself: ‘You, however (su de), declared to me in the garden, under the laurels, that you had formed this notion yourself (touto pros eme en tô̢ kêpô̢ hupo tais daphnais autos ephêstha ennenoêkenai) and that it was discovery of your own (kai einai son heurêma); and I made answer (kai egô eipon) that if it was plain to you that it was so (hoti touto ei phainoito soi houtôs echein), you would have saved me from a long discourse (pollôn an eiês logôn eme apolelukôs). I said, however, that I had never met with any other person who had made this discovery (ou mên allô̢ ge pot’ ephên entetuchêkenai touth’ hêurêkoti); on the contrary (alla) most of the trouble I had (hê pollê moi pragmateia) was about this very problem (peri tout’ eiê) … thus your view of the truth sways now this way (all’ a̢ttei soi tote men houtôs), now that (tote de allôs), round about the apparent object (peri to phantazomenon); whereas the true object is wholly different (to de ouden esti toiouton, Novotný explains that to [a demonstrative pronoun] stands for ‘the thing itself, the Form’, toiouton stands for ‘such as the thing imagined’: Enuntiati subiectum to = res ipsa per se, idea, eiusque cognitio; toiouton scilicet hoion to phantazomenon). Nor are you alone in this experience (kai touto ou soi monô̢ gegonen); on the contrary, there has never yet been anyone, I assure you, who has not suffered the same confusion at the beginning, when he first learnt this doctrine from me (all’ eu isthi mêdena pôpote mou to prôton akousanta echein allôs pôs ê houtôs kat’ archas); and they all overcome it with difficulty, one man having more trouble and another less (kai ho men pleiô echôn pragmata, ho de elattô, mogis apallattontai), but scarcely a single one escapes with but little (schedon de oudeis oliga).’ (313a6-c5)

At this point, Plato says: ‘So now that this has occurred (toutôn dê gegonotôn), and things are in this state (kai echontôn houtô), we have pretty well found an answer, as I think, to the question (schedon kata tên emên doxan heurêkamen ho su epestilas) how we ought to behave to each other (hopôs dei pros allêlous hêmas echein, 313c5-7).’ Bury in his translation makes out of Plato’ single subject toutôn two subjects, ‘this’ and ‘things’. This obscures Plato’s thought. ‘So now that these things happened and are in this state (toutôn dê gegonotôn kai echontôn houtô)’ refers to everything Plato said from the moment he evoked Dionysius’ question (ho su epestilas ‘what you sent’) at 312b2-4 (ho su erôta̢s ‘what you ask’, 312b3). Bury’s ‘we have pretty well found an answer, as I think’ well reproduces Plato’s contrast between kata tên emên doxan (‘as I think’) and heurêkamen (‘we have found’); for Plato feels entitled to unite Dionysius with himself in the plural ‘we’. So what is the answer ‘they’ have found, and what is the ground for Plato’s speaking in the plural ‘we’?

Plato goes on to say: ‘For seeing that you are testing my doctrines both by attending the lectures of other teachers (epei gar basanizeis auta sungignomenos te allois) and by examining my teaching side by side with theirs (kai paratheômenos para ta tôn allôn), as well as by itself (kai auta kath’ hauta), then, if the test you make is a true one, not only will these doctrines implant themselves now in your mind (nun soi auta te, ei alêthês hê basanos, prosphusetai), but you also will be devoted both to them and to us (kai oikeios toutois te kai hêmin esê̢, 313c7-d3).

But how can Dionysius properly examine Plato’s teaching by comparing it with that of the sophists around him, let alone examining it by itself, when he proved to be so inattentive to what Plato was saying to him during his stay in Syracuse? Plato suggests: ‘How, then, will this, and all that I have said, be brought to pass (pôs oun auta t’ estai kai panta ha eirêkamen;)? You have done right now in sending Archedemus (ton Archedêmon nun te orthôs epoiêsas pempsas); and in the future also (kai to loipon), after he returns to you (epeidan elthê̢ pros se) and reports my answer (kai apangeilê̢ ta par’ emou), you will probably be beset later on with fresh perplexities (meta tauta isôs allai se aporiai lêpsontai). Then, if you are rightly advised, you will send Archedemus back to me (pempseis oun authis, an orthôs bouleuê̢, par’ eme ton Archedêmon), and he with this cargo will return to you again (ho d’ emporeusamenos hêxei palin). And if you do this twice or thrice (kai touto ean dis ê tris poiêsê̢s), and fully test the doctrines I send you (kai basanisê̢s ta par’ emou pemphthenta hikanôs), I shall be surprised (thaumazoim’ an) if your present difficulties do not assume quite a new aspect (ei mê ta nun aporoumena polu soi dioisei ê nun). Do you, therefore, act so, and with confidence (tharrountes oun poieite houtôs); for there is no merchandise more fair than this or dearer to Heaven which you can ever dispatch or Archedemus transport (ou mên gar pote tês emporias tautês oute su steilê̢s oute Archedêmos emporeusetai kalliô kai theophilesteran).’ (313d3-314a1)

Could Plato have meant this seriously as the way their future relationship was to develop? Especially if by letters he would communicate his teaching to him only in riddles? His next words are: ‘Beware (eulabou), however (mentoi), lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people (mê pote ekpesê̢ tauta eis anthrôpous apaideutous). For there are hardly any doctrines, I believe, which sound more absurd than these to the vulgar (schedon gar, hôs emoi dokei, ouk estin toutôn pros tous pollous katagelastotera akousmata) or, on the other hand, more admirable and inspired to men of fine disposition (oud’ au pros tous euphueis thaumastotera te kai enthousiastikôtera). For it is through being repeated (pollakis de legomena) and listened to frequently (kai aei akouomena) for many years (kai polla etê) that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold (mogis hôsper chrusos ekkathairetai), with prolonged labour (meta pollês pragmateias) (314a1-7) … So, bearing this in mind (pros taut’ oun skopôn), have a care (eulabou) lest one day you should repent (mê pote soi metamelêsê̢) of what has now been divulged improperly (tôn nun anaxiôs ekpesontôn). The greatest safeguard (megistê de phulakê) is to avoid writing (to mê graphein) and to learn by heart (all’ ekmanthanein); for it is not possible (ou gar estin) that what is written down (ta graphenta) should not get divulged (mê ouk ekpesein). For this reason (dia tauta) I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects (ouden pôpot’ egô peri toutôn gegrapha), and no treatise of Plato exists (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos) or will exist (oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates (Sôkratous estin) become fair and young (kalou kai neou gegonotos). Fare thee well (errôso), and give me credence (kai peithou); and now, to begin with, read this letter over repeatedly and then burn it up (kai tên epistolên tautên nun prôton pollakis anagnous katakauson).’ (314b5-c6)

The message of this long section, which began at 312b2 with the words ‘And now I will tell you what it is right to do after this (ho dê meta tauta dikaion esti poiein, akoue)’, is simple: ‘Summon me to your court, I will come.’ Why does not Plato say it so? He in fact does say so when he appeals at Dionysius’ sense of honour: ‘So now (nun oun), just as at the beginning (hôsper kai ex archês), do you lead the way (su kathêgou) and I will follow (hepsomai d’ egô, 312b7-8) … If you honour me (su men eme timôn) and take the lead in so doing (kai toutou kathêgoumenos), you will be thought to be honouring philosophy (philosophian doxeis timan, 312c2-3) … But if I honour you (egô de se timôn), while you do not honour me (mê timônta), I shall be deemed to be a man who worships and pursues after wealth (plouton doxô thaumazein te kai diôkein, 312c4-5).’ He could not say ‘Summon me to your court, I will come’; for had he done so, he would be deemed ‘to be a man who worships and pursues after wealth’.

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The sailing season passed, but for whatever reason, Dionysius did not summon Plato and Dion to Syracuse, but he did not stop sending Dion the proceeds of his property, and Plato did not stop thinking of returning to Syracuse. During the first year after his ‘temporary’ return to Athens – which he believed to be his last year there – his mind was concentrated on his students; with them in mind he wrote the Phaedo and the Parmenides, thus doing his best for the preservation of his philosophic legacy in the Academy. Plato was presumably thinking of work devoted to this end when he wrote to Dionysius: ‘But listen now to the most remarkable result of all (ho de thaumaston autou gegonen, akouson). Quite a number of men there are who have listened to these doctrines (eisin gar anthrôpoi tauta akêkootes kai pleious) – men capable of learning (dunatoi men mathein) and capable also of holding them in mind (dunatoi de mnêmoneusai) and judging them by all sorts of tests (kai basanisantes pantê̢ pantôs krinai) – and who have been hearers of mine for no less than thirty years and are now quite old (gerontes êdê kai ouk elattô triakonta etôn akêkootes); and these men now declare that the doctrines that they once held to be most incredible (hoi nun arti sphisi phasin ta men tote apistotata doxanta einai) appear to them now the most credible (nun pistotata kai enargestata phainesthai), and what they then held most credible (ha de tote pistotata) now (nun) appears the opposite (t’ounantion).’ (314a7-b5)

This reflection of his had a purpose; it was telling Dionysius quite plainly that their future sunousia ‘being together’ was to be a life-long affair. But the result of his Letter was not what he had expected; the sailing season passed without any summons from Dionysius. So now his task was to write something with the eyes directed towards Dionysius and the task of turning him towards true philosophy. In view of what he knew about Dionysius, the theme of a symposium devoted to encomia on Eros was the obvious choice.

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Plutarch wrote in his Dion: ‘In the first conference held between the young Dionysius and his friends (sullogou prôtou tôn philôn genomenou para ton neon Duonusion), Dion discoursed upon the needs of the situation in such a manner (houtô dielechthê peri tôn sumpherontôn pros ton kairon ho Diôn) that his wisdom made all the rest appear children (hôste tous allous hapantas tê̢ men phronêsei paidas apodeixai), and his boldness of speech (tê̢ de parrêsia̢) made them seem mere slaves of tyranny (doulous tês turannidos), who were wont to give their counsels timorously and ignobly to gratify the young man (agennôs kai periphobôs ta polla pros charin tô̢ meirakiô̢ sumbouleuontas). But what amazed them in their fear of the peril that threatened the realm from Carthage (malista de autous exeplêxe ton apo Karchêdonos kindunon epikekramenon tê̢ archê̢ dedoikotas), was Dion’s promise that (huposchomenos), if Dionysius wanted peace (ei men eirênês deoito Dionusios), he would sail at once to Africa (pleusas euthus eis Libuên) and put a stop to the war on the best terms possible (hôs arista diathêsesthai ton polemon); but if war was the king’s desire (ei de polemein prothumoito), he himself would furnish him with fifty swift triremes for the war, and maintain them at his own cost (threpsein autos idiois telesi kai parexein eis ton polemon autô̢ pentêkonta triêreis eu pleousas). Dionysius, then, was greatly astonished at his magnanimity (ho men oun Dionusios huperphuôs tên megalopsuchian ethaumase) and delighted with his ardour (kai tên prothumian êgapêsen); but the other courtiers (hoi de), thinking themselves put out of countenance by Dion’s generosity and humbled by his power (elenchesthai tê̢ lamprotêti kai tapeinousthai tê̢ dunamei tou Diônos oiomenoi), began hostilities forthwith (tautên euthus archên labontes), and said everything they could (oudemias epheidonto phônês) to embitter the young king against him (hê̢ to meirakion exagriainein emellon pros auton), accusing him of stealing into the position of tyrant by means of his power on the sea (hôs huperchomenon dia tês thalattês turannida), and of using his ships to divert the power into the hands of the children of Aristomache (kai perispônta tais nausi tên dunamin eis  tous Aristomachês paidas [Aristomache was the second wife of Dionysius I]), who were his nephews and nieces (adelphidous ontas autô̢, Dion VI, 1-2]). But the strongest and most apparent grounds for their envy and hatred of him lay (phanerôtatai de kai megistai tôn eis phthonon kai misos aitiôn hupêrchon) in the difference between his way of life and theirs, and his refusal to mingle with others (hê tou biou diaphora kai to tês diaitês amikton). For from the very outset they obtained converse and intimacy with the tyrant who was young and had been badly reared by means of pleasures and flatteries (hoi men gar, euthus ex archês neou turannou kai tethrammenou phaulôs homilian kai sunêtheian hêdonais kai kolakeiais katalambanontes), and were ever contriving for him sundry amours, idle amusements with wine and women (aei tinas erôtas kai diatribas emêchanônto rembôdeis peri potous kai gunaikas), and other unseemly pastimes (kai paidias heteras aschêmonas) … For it is said that the young king once kept up a drinking bout for ninety consecutive days from its beginning (hêmeras gar, hôs phasin, enenêkonta sunechôs epinen arxamenos), and that during this time his court gave no access or admission to men or matters of consequence (kai tên aulên en tô̢ chronô̢ toutô̢ spoudaiois andrasi kai logois abaton kai aneisodon ousan), but drunkenness and raillery and music and dancing and buffoonery held full sway (methai kai skômmata kai psalmoi kai orchêseis kai bômolochiai kateichon).’ (VI,4-VII,7, tr. B. Perrin)

When Dion temporarily prevailed, and Plato arrived at Syracuse, ‘the modesty that characterized Dionysius’ symposia (aidôs de sumposiôn), the decorum of the courtiers (kai schêmatismos aulês), and the mildness of the tyrant himself (kai pra̢otês autou tou turannou) in all his dealings with the public (peri hekasta tôn chrêmatizomenôn), inspired the citizens with marvellous hopes of his reformation (thaumastas enedôken elpidas metabolês tois politais, Plutarch, Dion XIII, 3, tr. Perrin).’

The Symposium was written to eclipse anything the sophists around Dionysius could offer him; if he was serious about philosophy, as he appeared to be, he had to summon Plato and Dion to his court.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

1 Plato’s Symposium, its dating with references to his Second and Seventh Letter, and to Plutarch’s Dion and Timoleon

Plutarch in his Dion describes the early days of Plato’s arrival in Syracuse at the court of Dionysius II: ‘When Plato came to Sicily (Platôn eis Sikelian aphikomenos), in the first instances (peri men tas prôtas apantêseis) he met with astonishing friendliness and honour (thaumastês etunchane philophrosunês kai timês). For a royal chariot (kai gar harma tôn basislikôn), magnificently adorned, awaited him as he left his trireme (autô̢ parestê kekosmêmenon diaprepôs apobanti tês triêrous), and the tyrant offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving (kai thusian ethusen ho turannos) for the great blessing that had been bestowed upon his government (hôs eutuchêmatos megalou tê̢ archê̢ prosgegonotos). Moreover, the modesty that characterized his symposia (aidôs de sumposiôn), the decorum of the courtiers (kai schêmatismos aulês), and the mildness of the tyrant himself (kai pra̢otês autou tou turannou) in all his dealings with the public (peri hekasta tôn chrêmatizomenôn), inspired the citizens with marvellous hopes of his reformation (thaumastas enedôken elpidas metabolês tois politais). There was also something like a general rush for letters and philosophy (phora de tis ên epi logous kai philosophian hapantôn), and the palace was filled with dust, as they say, owing to the multitude of geometricians there (kai to tyranneion, hôs phasi, koniortos hupo plêthous tôn geômetrountôn kateichen).’ [Geometrical figures were traced in loose sand strewn upon the floor.] (Ch. XIII 1-4, the note and translation by B. Perrin.)

I am dating the Symposium in 364 B.C., that is the second year of Plato’s ‘temporary’ stay in Athens, the first year having been devoted to the Phaedo and the Parmenides, dialogues directed at his disciples in the Academy, which he intended to leave for good. But when the first year passed without his being summoned back, his eyes turned to Dionysius and the task of transforming him into a philosopher-king. Choosing the symposium as the framework for his dialogue, his thoughts went back to the early days of his intercourse with Dionysius, before it was sullied by Dionysius’ expulsion of Dion.

The theme discussed in Plato’s Symposium is Eros, the god of love; Plutarch’s description of Dionysius’ relationship to Plato after his expulsion of Dion sheds light on this choice of theme: ‘As for Plato, Dionysius at once removed him to the acropolis (Platôna de Dionusios euthus men eis tên akropolin mestestêsen), where he contrived to give him a guard of honour under pretence of hospitable kindness (entimon autô̢ schêmati xenias philanthrôpou phrouran mêchanêsamenos), in order that he might not accompany Dion (hôs mê sumpleoi Diôni) and bear witness to his wrongs (martus hôn êdikeito). But after time and intercourse (chronô̢ de kai sundiaitêsei) … he conceived a passion for him that was worthy of a tyrant (êrasthê turannikon erôta), demanding that he alone should have his love returned by Plato (monos axiôn hupo Platônos anterasthai) and be admired beyond all others (kai thaumazesthai malista pantôn), and he was ready (hetoimos ôn) to entrust Plato with the administration of the tyranny (epitrepein ta pragmata kai tên turannida) if only he would not set his friendship for Dion above that (mê protimônti tên pros Diôna philian) which he had for him (tês pros hauton).’ (Dion XVI, 1-2, tr. Perrin)

Plato gives substance to Plutarch’s account when he says in the Seventh Letter that in those days it had been proclaimed (diêngelmenon) ‘that Dionysius is wonderfully devoted to Plato’ (hôs Platôna Dionusios thaumastôs hôs aspazetai),’ and goes on to say: ‘But what were the facts (to d’ eichen dê pôs;)? For the truth (to gar alêthes) must be told (dei phrazein). He became indeed more and more devoted as time advanced (êspazeto men aei proïontos tou chronou mallon), according as he grew familiar with my disposition and character (kata tên tou tropou te kai êthous sunousian), but he was desirous that I should praise him more than Dion (heauton de epainein mallon ê Diôna ebouleto me) and regard him rather than Dion as my special friend (kai philon hêgeisthai diapherontôs mallon ê ‘keinon), and this triumph he was marvellously anxious to achieve (kai thaumastôs ephilonikei pros to toiouton). But the best way to achieve this, if that was to be achieved (hê̢ d’ an houtôs egeneto, eiper egigneto, kallista) – namely, by occupying himself in learning and in listening to discourses on philosophy and by associating with me – this he always shirked (ôknei hôs dê manthanôn kai akouôn tôn peri philosophian logôn kai emoi sungignesthai) owing to his dread of the talk of slanderers (phoboumenos tous tôn diaballontôn logous), lest he might be hampered in some measure (mê pê̢ parapodistheiê) and Dion might accomplish all his designs (kai Diôn dê panta eiê diapepragmenos). I, however (egô de), put up with all this (panta hupemenon), holding fast the original purpose (tên prôtên dianoian phulattôn) with which I had come (hê̢per aphikomên), in the hope that he might possibly gain a desire (ei pôs eis epithumian elthoi) for the philosophic life (tês philosophou zôês); but he, with his resistance, won the day (ho d’ enikêse antiteinôn).’ (330a1-b7, tr. Bury)

As their mutual intercourse did not make progress in the direction in which Plato wanted it to go, he departed for Athens; his departure was to be temporary, until the next sailing season; Dionysius ‘promised him that in the summer he would summon Dion home’ (sunthemenos eis hôran etous metapempsasthai Diôna, Plut. Dion XVI.4).

It is noteworthy that Plato speaks of that first stay in Sicily as epidêmia (Letter VII, 330b8), ‘staying at home’, and for his departing for Athens he uses the verb apodêmeô (330c2), ‘to be away from home’. When Plato went to Syracuse at Dion’s bidding, summoned by Dionysius, he went there with the intention to make it his home for the end of his days.

During his ‘temporary’ stay in Athens Plato remained true to his hope that he might awaken in Dionysius a desire for philosophy, although the latter broke his promise to summon Dion ‘in the summer’ (eis hôran etous). If he was to have any chance of making his hope true, he had to do something extraordinary; because he could not use the power of his spoken word, he had to take recourse to writing. He had to rekindle Dionysius’ love for him and direct it towards philosophy. This is the road along which Plato in the Symposium, in the guise of ‘most wise Diotima’ (sophôtatê Diotima, 208b8), suggests a talented young man, erotically inclined, should be guided, beginning with love towards the beauty of one body, marching towards the boundless love of wisdom, and ending with the sight of the Beauty itself (210a-212a).

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Plato opens his Second Letter, addressed to Dionysius, with the words: ‘I hear from Archedemus (Êkousa Archedêmou) that you think (hoti su hêgê̢) that not only I myself should keep quiet (chrênai peri sou mê monon eme hêsuchian agein) but my friends also (alla kai tous emous epitêdeious) from doing or saying anything bad about you (tou phlauron ti poein ê legein peri se); and that “you except Dion only” (Diôna de monon exaireton poiê̢, 310b4-c1; translations from the Letters are Bury’s).’

These words indicate that Dionysius believed he had reason to be indignant and injured and that he was in a position to tell to Plato how to behave concerning himself. Plato responds by deploring his lack of influence on Dion and Dionysius: ‘Now your saying this, that Dion is excepted, implies (houtos de ho logos sêmainei, to Diôna exaireton einai)  that I have no control over my friends (hoti ouk archô egô tôn emôn epitêdeiôn); for had I had this control over you and Dion, as well as the rest (ei gar êrchon egô houtô tôn te allôn kai sou kai Diônos), more blessings would have come to us all (pleiô an ên hêmin te pasin agatha) and to the rest of the Greeks also (tois te allois Hellêsin), as I affirm (hôs egô phêmi, 310c1-5).’

What Plato says next allows us to date the Letter: ‘I do not say this as though what Cratistolus and Polyxenus have told you is to be trusted (kai tauta legô hôs ouch hugies ti Kratistolou kai Poluxenou pros se eirêkotôn); for it is said that one of these men declares (hôn phasi legein ton heteron) that at Olympia he had heard (hoiti akouoi Olumpiasi) quite a number of my companions maligning you (pollôn tinôn tôn met’ emou se kakêgorountôn). No doubt his hearing is more acute than mine (isôs gar oxuteron emou akouei); for I certainly heard no such thing (egô men gar ouk êkousa, 310c6-d3).’

The Olympic Festival referred to must be that of 364 B.C. This means that Plato’s disappointment with Dionysius’ breaking his promise of summoning Dion back home ‘next summer’ was acutely felt by him, and that Dion must have been seething with resentment. This explains Dionysius’ ‘excepting Dion’ from saying or doing anything against him. But Dionysius presumably continued sending to Dion the revenues of his vast property, and he still kept open the prospect of summoning both Plato and Dion back to Sicily. Plato, on his part, is clearly interested in their maintaining friendly relations, untainted by detractors and calumniators: ‘For the future, whenever anyone makes such a statement about any of us, what you ought, I think, to do is (chrê de, hôs emoi dokei, houtôsi se poiein tou loipou, hotan ti toiouto legê̢ tis peri hêmôn tinos) to send me a letter of inquiry (grammata pempsanta eme eresthai); for I shall tell the truth (egô gar t’alêthê legein) without scruple or shame (oute oknêsô oute aischunoumai, 310d3-6).’

After dismissing Dionysius’ complaint as based on fabrications, Plato invites him to view their relationship as it is stands, as it is seen by people: ‘Now as for you and me (emoi de dê kai soi), the relation in which we stand towards each other (ta pros allêlous) is really this (houtôsi tunchanei onta). There is not a single Greek, one may say, to whom we are unknown (oute autoi agnôtes esmen oudeni Hellênôn hôs epos eipein), and our intercourse is a matter of common talk (oute hê sunousia hêmôn sigatai); and you may be sure of this (mê lanthanetô de se), that it will be common talk also in days to come (hoti oud’ eis ton epeita chronon sigêthêsetai), because so many have heard tell of it (tosoutoi hoi paradedegmenoi eisin autên) owing to its duration and its publicity (hate ouk oligên gegenêmenên oud’ êrema, 310d6-e4; following Novotný and Bury, I accept H. Richards emendation of tosoutoi, ‘so many’, for toioutoi, ‘such’, ‘of such quality’, of the manuscripts, retained by Burnet).’

Plato’s sudden concern for the opinion of common people, for what people may think and say about him and Dionysius, sounds strange when Socrates in his dialogues is concerned only with what is right, not with what people think to be right. Plato asks: ‘What now is the point of this remark (ti oun dê legô nuni;)?’ He answers: ‘I will go back to the beginning and tell you (erô anôthen arxamenos). It is natural for wisdom and great power to come together (pephuke sunienai eis t’auton phronêsis te kai dunamis megalê), and they are for ever pursuing and seeking each other (kai taut’ allêla aei diôkei kai zêtei) and consorting together (kai sungignetai). Moreover (epeita), these are qualities which people delight in discussing themselves in private conversation (kai hoi anthrôpoi chairousin peri toutôn autoi te dialegomenoi) and hearing others discuss in their poems (kai allôn akouontes en te idiais sunousiais kai en tais poiêsesi). For example (hoion kai), when men talk about Hiero (peri Hierônos hotan dialegôntai anthrôpoi) or about Pausanias (kai Pausaniou) the Lacedaemonian (tou Lakedaimoniou) they delight (chairousi) to bring in their meeting with Simonides (tên Simônidou sunousian parapherontes) and what he did (ha te epraxen) and said to them (kai eipen pros autous). [Bury remarks: ‘Hiero, the elder, was tyrant of Gela and Syracuse 485-467 B.C. Pausanias defeated the Persians at Plataea 479 B.C. Simonides of Ceos was a famous lyric poet.] … The poets, too, follow their example (kai dê tauta mimoumenoi hoi poiêtai), and bring together Creon and Tiresias (Kreonta men kai Teiresian sunagousin), Polyeidus and Minos (Polueidon de kai Minô), Agamemnon and Nestor (Agamemnona de kai Nestora), Odysseus and Palamedes (kai Odussea kai Palamêdê); and so it was, I suppose (hôs d’ emoi dokei), that the earliest men also brought together Prometheus and Zeus (kai Promêthea Dii tautê̢ pê̢ sunêgon hoi prôtoi anthrôpoi). [Bury remarks: ‘Creon and Tiresias are characters in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus and; Polyeidus and Minos in Euripides’ Polyeidus; the rest in Homer; Aeschylus in Prometheus Vinctus tells us about Zeus and Prometheus.] And of these some were – as the poets tell – at feud with each other, and others were friends; while others again were now friends and now foes, and partly in agreement and partly in disagreement (toutôn de tous men eis diaphoran, tous d’ eis philian allêlois iontas, tous de tote men eis philian tote d’ eis diaphoran, kai ta men homonoountas, ta de diapheromenous a̢dousi, 310e4-311b7).’

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R. G. Bury refers to this passage as an argument against the authenticity of the Second Letter: ‘Can we imagine the real Plato … trotting out a list of sages and potentates to suggest his own magnanimity and the magnificence of Dionysius? (Prefatory Note to ‘Epistle II’, vol. IX of the LCL edition of Plato, pp. 399-400). In fact, this passage provides a telling testimony to its authenticity, for it is hard to imagine how anybody could forge this letter in view of Dionysius’ final years, and if anyone did, how such a forgery could be accepted by the Academy as genuine. Plutarch says that ‘after he had been conveyed to the camp of Timoleon (komistheis eis to tou Timoleontos stratopedon), where for the first time he was seen as a private person and in humble garb (tote prôton idiôtês kai tapeinos ophtheis), he was sent off to Corinth with a single ship and a small treasure (epi mias neôs kai chrêmatôn oligôn eis Korinthon apestalê), having been born (gennêtheis men) and reared (kai trapheis) in a tyranny (en turannidi) which was the greatest and most illustrious of all tyrannies (tê̢ pasôn epiphanestatê̢ kai megistê̢, Timoleon XIII, 8-9) … after his arrival at Corinth (Tou de Dionusiou katapleusantos eis Korinthon) there was no Greek (oudeis ên Hellênôn) who did not long to behold and speak to him (hos ouchi theasasthai kai proseipein epothêsen auton) … For that age showed no work either of nature or of art (ouden gar oute phuseôs ho tote kairos oute technês) that was comparable to this work of Fortune (hoson ekeino tuchês ergon epedeixato), namely, the recent tyrant of Sicily (ton Sikelias oligon emprosthen turannon) in Corinth (en Korinthô̢), whiling his time away at a fishmonger’s (diatribonta peri tên opsopôlin) or sitting in a perfumer’s shop (ê kathêmenon en muropôliô̢), drinking diluted wine (pinonta kekramenon) from the taverns (apo tôn kapêleiôn) and skirmishing (kai diaplêktizomenon) in public (en mesô̢) with common prostitutes (tois aph’ hôras ergazomenois gunaiois), or trying to teach music-girls in their singing (tas de mousourgous en tais ô̢dais didaskonta), and earnestly contending with them about songs for the stage (kai peri theatrikôn a̢smatôn erizein spoudazonta pros ekeinas) and melody in hymns (kai peri melous harmonias). Some thought that Dionysius did these things as an aimless loiterer, and because he was naturally easy-going and fond of license (tauta d’hoi men allôs aluonta kai phusei ra̢thumon onta kai philakolaston ô̢onto poiein ton Dionusion); but others thought that it was in order to be held in contempt (hoi d’ huper tou kataphroneisthai) and not in fear by the Corinthians (kai mê phoberon onta tois Korinthiois), nor under suspicion (mêd’ hupopton) of being oppressed (hôs barunomenon) by the change in his life (tên metabolên tou biou) and of striving after power (kai pragmatôn ephiemenon), that he engaged in these practices and played an unnatural part (epitêdeuein kai hupokrinesthai para phusin), making a display of great silliness in the way he amused himself (pollên abelterian epideiknumenon en tô̢ scholazein). (Timoleon XIV, 1-4, tr. Bernadotte Perrin.)
In view of all this, the Second Letter could be included among Plato’s Letters only if its authenticity was undisputed.
***
But let me return to the Second Letter with a remark on Plato’s kai dê tauta mimoumenoi hoi poiêtai (311a7), which means ‘and the poets, imitating these examples’. Bury’s translation ‘the poets, too, follow their example’ obscures the fact that Plato keeps thinking of the poetry of Homer and the tragedians as ‘imitation’ (mimêsis), but unlike Socrates in the Republic, he views it now in positive terms. He goes on to say: ‘Now my object in saying this is to make it clear (panta de tauta legô tode boulomenos endeixasthai), that when we ourselves die men’s talk about us will not likewise be silenced (hoti ouk, epeidan hêmeis teleutêsômen, kai hoi logoi hoi peri hêmôn autôn sesigêsontai); so that we must be careful about it (hôst’ epimelêteon autôn estin). We must necessarily (anankê gar), it seems (hôs eoike), have a care also for the future (melein hêmin kai tou epeita chronou), seeing that (epeidê), by some law of nature (kai tunchanousin kata tina phusin), the most slavish men (hoi men andrapodôdestatoi) pay no regard to it (ouden phrontizontes autou), whereas the most upright (hoi d’ epieikestatoi) do all they can (pan poiountes) to ensure that they shall be well spoken of in the future (hopôs an eis ton epeita chronon eu akousôsin, 311b7-c7).’
Plato strongly emphasizes this point as intimately linked to his care for philosophy: ‘In our case, then – if God so grant – it still remains possible (touto oun hêmin eti, sun theô̢ eipein, exestin) to put right whatever has been amiss in word or deed during our intercourse in the past (ei ti ara mê kalôs pepraktai kata tên emprosthen sunousian, epanorthousthai kai ergô̢ kai logô̢). For I maintain that, as regards the true philosophy (peri gar philosophian phêmi egô tên alêthinên), men will think and speak well of it if we ourselves are upright (doxan esesthai kai logon hêmôn men ontôn epieikôn beltiô), and ill if we are base (phaulôn de, t’ounantion). And in truth we could do nothing more pious than to give attention to this matter (kaitoi peri toutou hêmeis epimeloumenoi ouden an eusebesteron prattoimen), nothing more impious than to disregard it (oud’ amelountes asebesteron).’ (311d6-e2)
***
Plato’s Socrates was interested in afterlife but not in after-fame. The interest in after-fame Plato appears to have for the first time expressed – in his writings – in the Seventh Letter. It was an important thought; for Plato, it was closely linked to his engagement in philosophy, and it deserved to be properly anchored in it. This task he undertook in the Symposium, in the guise of Diotima.

When Socrates’ turn came to give an encomium on Eros in the Symposium, he chose instead to tell ‘the tale about Eros (ton logon ton peri tou Erôtos) I once heard (hon pot’ êkousa) from a woman (gunaikos), Diotima of Mantinea (Mantinikês Diotimas), who was wise in this (hê tauta te sophê ên) and many other kinds of knowledge (kai alla polla, 201d2-3)’. Diotima tells the young Socrates that ‘universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality (athanasias gar charin panti hautê hê spoudê kai ho erôs hepetai, 208b5-6) … Of that, Socrates, you may be assured (Eu isthi, ô Sôkrates); – think only of the ambition of men (epei ge kai tôn anthrôpôn ei etheleis eis tên philotimian blepsai), and you will wonder at the senselessness of their ways (thaumazois an tês alogias peri ha egô eirêka), unless you consider (ei mê ennoeis enthumêtheis) how they are stirred by the passionate love of fame (hôs deinôs diakeintai erôti tou onomastoi genesthai kai kleos es ton aei chronon athanaton katathesthai). They are ready to run all risks (kai huper toutou kindunous te kinduneuein hetoimoi eisi pantas), even greater than they would have run for their children (eti mallon ê huper tôn paidôn), and to pour out money (kai chrêmata analiskein) and undergo any sort of toil (kai ponous ponein houstinsaoun), and even die (kai huperapothnê̢skein), if so they leave an everlasting name (kai kleos es ton aei chronon athanaton katathesthai, taken from above, where it remained untranslated). Do you imagine (epei oiei su) that Alcestis would have died to save Admetus (Alkêstin huper Admêtou apothanein an), or Achilles to avenge Patroclus (ê Achillea Patroklô̢ epapothanein), or your own Codrus in order to preserve the kingdom for his sons (ê proapothanein ton humeteron Kodron huper tês basileias tôn paidôn), if they had not imagined (mê oiomenous) that the memory of their virtues, which still survives among us, would be immortal (athanaton mnêmên aretês peri heautôn esesthai, hên nun hêmeis echomen;)? Nay (pollou ge dei), she said (ephê), I am persuaded that all men do all things, and the better they are the more they do them, in the hope of the glorious fame of immortal virtue (all’ oimai huper aretês athanatou kai toiautês doxês eukleous pantes panta poiousin, hosô̢ an ameinous ôsi, tosoutô̢ mallon); for they desire the immortal (tou gar athanatou erôsin).’ (208c1-e1, tr. B. Jowett)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Applying for Pension Credit

In my letter to the Department for Work & Pensions I wrote:
I came to Britain in August 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol College, University of Oxford, and of Kings College, University of Cambridge. (The Kings College provided the grant for my first seven months in Britain.) I came here and I have remained deeply convinced that mu studies, the work I have been doing, is important for students of philosophy in the Czech Republic and in Britain (and in every country culturally linked to the cultural treasures of the Ancient Greece). I am deeply convinced that my work ought to be properly remunerated, and I claim that remuneration simply by my work, which can be seen on my website and my blog. From time to time I resort to a direct appeal, as I have done in my recent appeal to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and to Oxford Academics. I enclose these two texts as items 5 and 6. Nothing would please me more than if my appeals received a positive response and I could write to you that I do not need the Pension Credit after all. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely. These two texts will tell you how desperate is the situation in which I live, and how much I need the Pension Credit. If the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford or any academic positively responds to my appeals, I should inform your office about it.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

A book on Plato?

A friend wrote to me: ‘I wonder if you might not approach a publisher with a carefully directed proposal.’

The problem is that I have become used to the freedom of working on my blog. What I am doing is ‘subverting’ the Platonic scholarship of the last hundred and fifty years. (See ‘Could my dating of the Phaedrus be the answer?’ posted on my blog on November 25, 2016.) The nearest I have got to writing a book on this subject is The Lost Plato on my website, which was to be the 1st volume of my Plato. I put a few more things on my website, a paper on ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’ (the most frequented piece on my website), a piece on Plato and Isocrates, but then I got stuck and devoted myself to recording the Greeks and putting the recordings on my website. Retrospectively, it was a very important ‘preparatory’ work, for it really made me at home in the world, thought, and language of the Ancient Greeks.

And then, when I began working on Plato’s Parmenides, I discovered the blog as an ideal working tool. It gives me the freedom ‘to go where Plato takes me’, or better to say, ‘I go where my thinking about Plato takes me’. Let me give an example. After posting ‘Plato’s Statesman, the date of its composition with references to his Parmenides, Phaedo, Symposium, Second and Seventh Letter, and to Plutarch’s Dion’ on my blog, I thought my next post would be ‘Plato’s Statesman in the light of its dating’. I put this title on my computer just to let it work on my subconscious. But yesterday, having a bath before going to bed, I realized that I must write next something very different, namely ‘Stylometric contrast between Plato’s Symposium on the one hand, and his Sophist and Statesman on the other’. For there is a stylometric ‘gap’ between Plato’s six late dialogues (Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias, Laws) and the rest of his work. This gap has been explained by conjuring up a chronological gap: ‘To account for so marked a change … it seems necessary to suppose a reasonably long interval of interruption in Plato’s activity …  from 367 down to at least 361-360 … he must have been too fully occupied in other ways to have much time for composition’. (A. E. Taylor, Plato, quoted in my preceding post.)

If Platonic scholars have read my preceding post, they must have thought: ‘Plato’s Symposium and Sophist in close chronological succession? Absurd!’ Luckily, I spent a lot of my time studying works on stylometry, the result of which I incorporated in the The Lost Plato, Ch. 3, ‘Stylometric arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’. With its help, I should be able to show that there is nothing absurd in dating the Symposium in proximity to the Sophist. But more than that, I hope that by considering the stylometric contrast between these two dialogues with reference to Plato’s Second and Seventh Letters, I shall be able to explain why Plato abandoned writing dialogues ‘which belong to a Socrates become fair and young, (ta de nun legomena [Platônos] Sôkratous estin kalou kai neou gegonotos, SL 314c3-4, tr. Bury).’

If I succeed in doing so, I hope to put to rest such explanations as ‘they all [i.e. the late six dialogues] agree linguistically in the adoption of the stylistic graces of Isocrates. Particularly the artificial avoidance of hiatus, a thing quite new in the prose of Plato’ (Taylor, l.c.).

Let me end this post by quoting from The Lost Plato, Ch. 3: ‘As Cherniss remarked, Plato consciously avoided hiatus in none of the first group [of Plato’s dialogues] and in all those of the second. The question is, how the elderly Plato succeeded with apparent ease in avoiding the hiatus when he made the decision to do so. No one appears to have considered this question except Thesleff, who remarks that the avoidance of hiatus was an Isocratean mannerism “unlikely to have been adopted by the aged Plato” and therefore attributes it to “Plato’s secretary”. However, it is hardly likely that Plato’s secretary could have restructured every sentence so as to avoid hiatus while writing to Plato’s dictation, and even less likely that Plato would have permitted this person to rewrite the dialogues in an Isocratean manner. Yet Thesleff put his finger on a real problem, which requires explanation. The ancient biographic tradition offers us two pieces of information, which can help us in finding a solution. Diogenes informs us that before attaching himself to Socrates Plato wrote poetry, dithyrambs, lyric poems, and tragedies (iii. 5), which means that Plato in his youth cultivated the poetic skill of avoiding hiatus; this training, although not consciously exercised, left its traces in the Phaedrus, his first dialogue (iii. 38).’

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I have applied to the Department for Work & Pensions for the Pension Credit. If I get it, I may be able to survive.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Plato’s Statesman, the date of its composition with references to his Parmenides, Phaedo, Symposium, Second and Seventh Letter, and to Plutarch’s Dion

Our reading and perception of the Statesman will be influenced by its dating; for if it was written after Plato’s second journey to Sicily, he must have written it with Dionysius the younger in mind. Stylometrically, the Statesman is one of the six late dialogues (Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias, Laws), but this does not solve the problem, for Plato went for his second journey to Sicily in 367 B.C., in his early sixties, and he may have changed his style of writing before he went on his journey.

But there is another factor which we must consider. The Statesman follows the Sophist and the Sophist follows the Theaetetus. The Theaetetus ends with Socrates’ words: ‘Well, now I must go (nun men oun apantêteon moi) to the King’s Porch (eis tên tou basileôs stoan) to face the charge Meletus (epi tên Melêtou graphên) has brought against me (hên me gegraptai). But let’s meet here again, Theodorus, in the morning (heôthen de, ô Theodôre, deûro palin apantômen).’ (210d1-4, tr. John McDowell) The Sophist opens with the words of Theodorus: ‘Here we are, Socrates, true to our agreement of yesterday (Kata tên chthes homologian, ô Sôkrates, hêkomen te kosmiôs); and we bring with us a stranger (kai tonde tina xenon agomen) from Elea (to men genos ex Eleas), who is a disciple of Parmenides and Zeno (hetairon de tôn amphi Parmenidên kai Zênôna), and a true Philosopher (mala de andra philosophon).’ (216a1-4, tr. B. Jowett) At Socrates’ bidding, the stranger from Elea provides the definition of the Sophist, which he accomplishes in a discussion with Theaetetus in the Sophist, then the definition of the Statesman elaborated in a discussion with the younger Socrates in the Statesman. Until recently, the battle in which Theaetetus was wounded – of which we learn in the preface to the dialogue – was the one that took place in 369. On this dating, Plato would have had time to write the Theaetetus, but hardly the Sophist and Statesman, before leaving Athens for Sicily. But there are serious doubts concerning the implied dating of the Theaetetus. Debra Nails writes: ‘Athens was almost certainly not mustering forty-six-years-old academics for hoplite combat by 369; Theaetetus’ skilful soldiering (Tht. 142b-c) was far more likely to have been exhibited when he was of military age, twenty-four. Second, Euclides’ 30-km. walk, from which he has just returned as the dialogue’s frame begins, is more likely for a man of fifty-nine than a man of eighty-one … Those who insist that Theaetetus was involved in the mathematics of the early decades of the Academy are invited to imagine that Theaetetus recovered from his wounds and dysentery and lived on for as long as they like (the year 369 becomes irrelevant when no battle is required to kill him off). If, however, Theaetetus died of his wounds, then the battle in which he was engaged was probably fought in the spring of 391.’ (Debra Nails, The People of Plato, Hackett Publishing Company 2002, p. 276)

As can be seen, Theaetetus is best dated after 391, and its link to the Sophist and the Statesman cannot serve as an argument for dating the two later dialogues as written after Plato’s second journey to Sicily. The possibility of Plato’s writing the Statesman in the wake of the Republic should not be dismissed without argument, for although in the latter the rulers-philosophers are considered to be more than one, the few fitted for the task, for whom the whole system of education is designed, Plato toyed there with the idea of just one supreme ruler: 'What has been said about the State and the government is not a mere dream (peri tês poleôs te kai politeias mê pantapasin hêmas euchas eirêkenai), and although difficult not impossible (alla chalepa men, dunata de pê̢), but only possible in the way which has been supposed (kai ouk allê̢ ê eirêtai); that is to say when true philosophers are born in the reigning family in a State, one or more of them (hotan hoi hôs alêthôs philosophoi dunastai, ê pleious ê heis en polei genomenoi).’ (Rep. 540d1-5, tr. B. Jowett) But when in the Republic Plato speaks of the one ruler as a possibility, he has in mind a philosopher-ruler, whereas in the Statesman the Statesman is portrayed as distinct from the Philosopher. The gap between these dialogues is not only stylometric, as between the Theaetetus and the Sophist - Statesman, but doctrinal.

In fact, this doctrinal discrepancy between the Republic and the Statesman provides the strongest argument against the dating of the latter prior to his second journey to Sicily. Plato tells us in the Seventh Letter that he gave up on his attempts to pursue a politic career in Athens after he had conceived the idea of philosopher-rulers. He went on his first journey to Sicily overwhelmed by this idea (326a-b), with this idea he in Sicily enthused Dion, a young Sicilian aristocrat, and it was this idea with which Dion in his turn enthused Dionysius: ‘Holding these right views, Dion (Tauta Diôn orthôs dianoêtheis) persuaded Dionysius to summon me (epeise metapempesthai Dionusion eme); and he himself also sent a request (kai autos edeito pempôn) that I should by all means come with all speed (hêkein ho ti tachista ek pantos tropou), before that any others (prin tinas allous) should encounter Dionysius (entuchontas Dionusiô̢) and turn him aside to some way of life other than best (ep’ allon bion auton tou beltistou paratrepsai). And these were the terms – long though they are to repeat – in which his request was couched (legôn de tade edeito, ei kai makrotera eipein): “What opportunities (tinas gar kairous), he asked (ephê), are we to wait for that could be better (meizous paramenoumen) than those that have now been presented (tôn nun paragenomenôn) by a stroke of divine good fortune (theia̢ tini tuchê̢;)?” And he dwelt in detail (katalegôn de) on the extent of the empire in Italy and Sicily (tên te archên Italias kai Sikelias) and his own power therein (kai tên hautou dunamin en autê̢), and the youth of Dionysius, mentioning also how great a desire he had for philosophy and education (kai tên neotêta kai tên epithumian tên Dionusiou, philosophias te kai paideias hôs echoi sphodra), and he spoke of his own nephews and connexions (legôn, tous te hautou adelphidous kai tous oikeious) and how they would be not only easily converted themselves to the doctrines and life I always taught (hôs euparaklêtoi eien pros ton hup’ emou legomenon aei logon kai bion), but also most useful in helping to influence Dionysius (hikanôtatoi te Dionusion sumparakalein); so that now, if ever (hôste, eiper pote, kai nun), all our hopes will be fulfilled (elpis pasa apotelesthêsetai) in seeing the same persons at once philosophers and rulers of mighty States (tou tous autous philosophous te kai poleôn archontas megalôn xumbênai genomenous).’ (SL 327d7-328b1, tr. R. G. Bury) – Note that Dion spoke in plural, having presumably in mind himself and Plato as philosopher-rulers, and Dionysius when properly educated by Plato.

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A. E. Taylor dates the Statesman after Plato’s return from his third, that is his last journey from Sicily. In the chapter on ‘Sophistes-Politicus’ he writes: ‘The dialogues which we have still to consider all reveal themselves, by steady approximation to the style characteristic of the Laws, as belonging to the latest period of Plato’s activity as a writer … From 367 down to at least 361-360, the year of Plato’s second and longer sojourn with Dionysius II and his final resolution to take no further direct part in the affairs of Syracuse, he must have been too fully occupied in other ways to have much time for composition. We must probably, therefore, think of this whole group of latest dialogues as written in the thirteen last years of Plato’s life, 360-348/7. Since the Sophistes and Politicus attach themselves outwardly to the Theaetetus, and the former [i.e. the Sophist], in fact, contains the critical examination of Eleatic principles which that dialogue [i.e. the Theaetetus] had half promised, it is reasonable to hold, as most recent critics do, that the Sophistes opens the series.’ (A. E. Taylor, Plato, the man and his work, University Paperbacks, Methuen: London, first published in 1926, the 8th reprint in 1966, p.  371)
What pressing activities could Taylor mean? The period between Plato’s return to Athens after his first stay at the court of Dionysius and his departure from Athens to his second stay there was predetermined by their parting in 366. Plato says in the Seventh Letter: ‘we both made a compact (sunômologêsamen amphoteroi) … Dionysius said that he would invite Dion and me back again (Dionusios men ephê metapempsasthai Diôna kai eme palin) … and he asked Dion to regard his situation not as an exile (Diôna de êxiou dianoeisthai mê phugên hautô̢ gegonenai tote) but a change of abode (metastasin de); and upon these conditions I promised to return (egô d’ hêxein hômologêsa epi toutois tois logois).’ (338a5-b2 )

Plutarch says in the Life of Dion that Dionysius ‘kept sending to Dion the revenues from his property (tas de prosodous tôn ktêmatôn apepempen autô̢)’, ‘asking him to keep quiet (axioun auton hêsuchian agein), and to attempt no revolution (kai mêden neôterizein), and ̂to say no evil of him to the Greeks (mêde blasphêmein kat’ autou pros tous Hellenas) (Ch. XVI, 5-6)’. He adds that ‘this Plato tried to effect (tauta epeirato poiein Platôn)’. But Plutarch specifies that ‘having turned Dion to philosophy (kai Diôna trepsas epi philosophian), Plato kept him in the Academy (en Akadêmeia̢ kateichen, Ch. VII, 1)’. There is no reason to think that teaching in the Academy prevented Plato from composing his dialogues.

Plutarch indicates that to ‘keep Dion quiet’ required more than getting him engaged in philosophy, but this ‘extra’ Plato appears to have delegated to his nephew: ‘Plato desired that Dion’s disposition should be tempered and sweetened by association with men of charming presence who indulged seasonably in graceful pleasantries (boulomenou tou Platônos homilia̢ charin echousê̢ kai paidias emmelous kata kairon haptomenê̢ kerannumenon aphêdunesthai tou Diônos to êthos). And such a man was Speusippus (toioutos de tis Speusippos ên).’ (Ch. XVII, 3-4, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

Teaching in the Academy was not the only Plato’s activity of which Plutarch informs us: ‘And when Plato himself was called upon to furnish a chorus of boys (autô̢ de Platôni chorêgounti paidôn chorô̢), Dion had the chorus trained (ton te choron êskêse ho Dion) and defrayed all the expense of its maintenance (kai to dapanêma pan etelese par’ heautou), and Plato encouraged in him such an ambition to please the Athenians (sunchôrountos tou Platônos tên toiautên philotimian pros tous Athênaious), on the ground that it would procure goodwill for Dion rather than fame for himself (hôs ekeinô̢ mallon eunoian ê doxan autô̢ pherousan).’ (Ch. XVII, 5, tr. Bernadotte Perrin) Plato himself in the Second Letter refers to another non-philosophical activity of his; he tells to Dionysius that Cratistolus and Polyxenus are not to be trusted ‘for it is said (hôn phasi) that one of these men declares that at Olympia [the Olympic Festival of 364 B.C.] he heard (legein ton heteron hoti akouoi Olumpiasi) quite a number of my companions maligning you (pollôn tinôn tôn met’ emou se kakêgorountôn). No doubt his hearing is more acute than mine (isôs gar oxuteron emou akouei); for I certainly heard no such thing (egô men gar ouk êkousa, 310c7-d3, tr. Bury.’ But neither Plato’s being called upon to furnish a chorus of boys – notice that it was Dion who had the chorus trained – nor his attendance at the Olympic games can be viewed as activities preventing him from writing.

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In 367 Plato left Athens ‘with all speed’, urgently called by Dion, and so he had little possibility to prepare the Academy for his departure. In 367/366, the year he spent at the court of Dionysius, he badly deplored ‘having left my own occupations, which were anything but ignoble (katalipôn tas emautou diatribas, ousas ouk aschêmonas, Seventh Letter 329b1-2)’. When he urged Dionysius ‘by all means possible (hopê̢ dê pot’ edunamên) to let me go (apheinai me, 338a3-4)’ he was presumably thinking first and foremost about his disciples. The year when Plato went on his second journey to Sicily (367 B.C.) was the year when the 17 years old Aristotle entered the Academy, and there are reasons to believe that during Plato’s absence, which was intended to be permanent – Plato was to devote the rest of his life to his ideal of the State governed by philosophers – the theory of Forms came under attack in the Academy itself. If Plato was to have any hope of returning to Dionysius as the foremost philosopher – ‘I came to Sicily with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy (êlthon egô eis Sikelian doxan echôn polu tôn en philosophia̢ diapherein, Second Letter 311e5-6, tr. Bury)’ – he had to make his theory of Forms unassailable by any criticism. This he did in the Parmenides, as I have argued on my blog (see ‘A year on my blog with Plato’s Parmenides’ posted on November 24, 2015) and on my website in ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’.

I believe that Plato wrote one more dialogue in 366/365, the Phaedo. Diogenes Laertius says that ‘according to Favorinus, when Plato read the dialogue On the Soul, Aristotle alone stayed to the end; the rest of the audience got up and went away’ (touton monon parameinai Platôni Phabôrinos pou phêsin anagignôskonti ton Peri psuchês, tous d’ allous anastênai pantas, III, 37, tr. R. D. Hicks). This story suggests that on that occasion Plato read the Phaedo for the first time; the audience had to leave, or else they all would have ended howling: Socrates’ leaving his disciples for good was heart-rendering; add to it Plato’s having composed the Phaedo as his farewell.

In the Parmenides, the young Socrates presents his theory of Forms as a criticism of Parmenides’ and Zeno’s theory of the oneness of Being – there are as many true Beings as there are Forms. Parmenides subjects Socrates’ theory to severe criticism, but avers that if one discards the Forms, ‘one will completely destroy the power of discussion’ (tên tou dialegesthai dunamin pantapasi diaphtherei, Parm. 135c1-2). He thus left the young Socrates in the state of philosophic ignorance: he could neither profess the theory of Forms as true, for he could not defend it against Parmenides’ arguments, nor could he reject it. In this state of philosophic ignorance he went throughout his life, from discussion to discussion, searching for Forms as moral concepts, leaving their being, their ontological status, undecided, suspended in his not-knowing. In this state of philosophic ignorance we find him in the Phaedo, where in his autobiographic digression he intimates that he had given up on looking for true causes of things and adopted ‘the second best course in quest for the cause (ton deuteron ploun epi tên tês aitias zêtêsin [99c9-d1] … I thought that I had better find refuge in discussions (edoxe dê moi eis tous logous kataphugonta) and in them seek the truth of things (en ekeinois skopein tôn ontôn tên alêtheian, 99e4-6)’. On his last day, pressed by Cebes, he transcends ‘that safe answer’ (apokrisin tên asphalê ekeinên, 105b7), ‘that ignorant one’ (apokrisin ekeinên tên amathê, 105c1), finding ‘a subtler answer on the basis of the present considerations’ (apokrisin kompsoteran ek tôn nun, 105c2). He now views the Forms as true causal agents, finds the Form of Life indelibly attached to human souls and thus guaranteeing human immortality (105c-107b). Socrates thus on his last day transcends his ignorance, admonishing his disciples: ‘follow up the argument (akolouthêsete tô̢ logô̢) as far as is humanly possible (kath’ hoson dunaton malist’ anthrôpô̢ epakolouthêsai); and if you make sure you have done so (k’an touto auto saphes genêtai), there will be no need for any further enquiry (ouden zêtêsete peraiterô, 107b7-9, tr. B. Jowett)’. Socrates ends by exhorting his friends and disciples ‘to live taking care of themselves (humôn autôn epimeloumenoi, 115b6), following as if in footsteps what was said now, and in previous discussions (hôsper kat ichnê kata ta nun eirêmena kai ta en tô̢ emprosthen chronô̢ zên, 115b9-10). Plato could not leave his friends and disciples with a more pertinent goodbye.

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The sailing season of 365 B.C. passed without any invitation from Dionysius. The Second Letter, which Plato wrote to Dionysius in 364 (Plato’s visit at the Olympic Festival of 364 is referred to as a recent event, SL 310c-d), indicates a rift between the two: ‘If you altogether despise philosophy (ei men holôs philosophias katapephronêkas), leave it alone (ean chairein). If, again, you have been taught by someone else (ei de par’ heterou akêkoas) or have yourself invented better doctrines than mine (ê autos beltiona hêurêkas tôn par’ emoi), hold them in honour (ekeina tima). But if you are contented with my doctrines (ei d’ ara ta par’ hêmôn soi areskei), then you should hold me also in special honour (timêteon kai eme malista, 312b4-7) … For seeing that you are testing my doctrines (epei gar basanizeis auta) both by attending the lectures of other teachers (sungignomenos te allois) and by examining my teaching side by side with theirs (kai paratheômenos para ta tôn allôn), as well as by itself (kai auta kath’ hauta), then, if the test you make is a true one, not only will these doctrines implant themselves now in your mind (nun soi tauta te, ei alêthês hê basanos, prosphusetai), but you also will be devoted both to them and to us (kai oikeios toutois te kai hêmin esê̢, 313c7-d3).’

Dionysius appears to have surrounded himself with sophists inimical to Plato and his philosophy. Plato had no fear of Dionysius’ comparing his teaching with that of the others, meaning his oral teaching, for the whole point of their relationship was to be his teaching and advising Dionysius. But it appears that they had only one discussion about the very crux of Plato’s philosophy, the Good, ‘the King of all to whom all things are related (peri ton pantôn basilea pant’ esti), for whose sake they all are (kai ekeinou heneka pantaekeinou is masculine, referring to the King), and which is the cause of all beautiful things (kai ekeino aition hapantôn tôn kalôn, 312e13 – notice Plato’s switch from the ‘King’, which is masculine, to the Good, which is neuter), and so his only real representative at the court of Dionysius during his absence were his writings. The Parmenides could not stand alone as a defence of Plato’s theory of Forms, for it only indicated that Plato knew of the arguments against the theory of Forms from his youth; no arguments against the Forms had any relevance for those who could see the Forms. For any arguments against the Forms were of necessity framed within the realm ‘that lies in between pure being and absolute not-being’ (metaxu keisthai tou eilikrinôs ontos te kai tou pantôs mê ontos, Republic 478d6-7) and so they had no relevance concerning the Forms, the true being. But this could be only gestured at by Parmenides as the goal to be reached by an exceptional man in future (Parm. 133b4-c1); the place in which this goal was reached was the Republic. (The Parmenides and the Republic are dramatically interconnected; Plato’s brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon are Socrates’ main interlocutors in the Republic, in the Parmenides they introduce Cephalus, the narrator, to their half-brother Antiphon, who tells Cephalus from memory the discussion that once upon a time the young Socrates held with Zeno and the aging Parmenides. Plato’s elder brother Adeimantus vouches for the truth of Antiphon’s having diligently learnt it by heart in his teens, and that he had heard it many times from Pythodorus who was present at that discussion.) But the Republic is two long, Plato introduces the Forms in it in the fifth book. He needed to present Dionysius with the theory of Forms in a more compact and attractive manner. This, in my view, he did in writing the Symposium, which no sophist in Dionysius’ entourage could match with anything they could produce. The Symposium is dramatically linked both to the Parmenides and to the Republic by Plato’s brother Glaucon who figures in the preamble to the dialogue (Symp. 172a-173b). In my view, Plato composed it after the Parmenides and the Phaedo, with Dionysius in mind.

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Another sailing season passed by without an invitation from Dionysius. What went wrong? To understand the situation in which Plato thus found himself, we must go back to Syracuse, and back in time.

Plutarch writes in the Dion: ‘This tyrant’s son [i.e. Dionysius II, the son of Dionysius I] (Ton d’ huion autou) Dion saw to be dwarfed and deformed in character from his lack of education (dialelôbêmenon apaideusia̢ kai suntetrimmenon to êthos ho Diôn horôn), and therefore exhorted him to apply himself to study (parekalei pros paideian trapesthai), and to use every entreaty with the first of philosophers to come to Sicily (kai deêthênai tou prôtou tôn philosophôn pasan deêsin elthein eis Sikelian), and, when he came, to become his disciple (elthonti de paraschein hauton, X 1) … Since Dion frequently gave him such advice (Tauta pollakis tou Diônos parainountos), and artfully mingled with it some of Plato’s doctrines (kai tôn logôn tou Platônos estin houstinas hupospeirontos), Dionysius was seized with a keen and even frenzied passion (eschen erôs ton Dionusion oxus kai perimanês) for the teachings and companionship of Plato (tôn te logôn kai tês ousias tou Platônos, XI 1).

There was only one dialog of Plato that was full of ‘doctrines’ – as Bernadotte Perrin translates Plutarch’s logôn – that could have this effect on Dionysius: the Phaedrus. I have little doubt that Plato took the Phaedrus to Sicily on his first journey to Sicily and that he left a copy as a present to Dion, this aristocratic youth with whom he became enamoured (Plato was 40 when he left Athens for Sicily, Dion was about 20 when they first met). In his relationship to Dionysius Dion tried to imitate the Phaedran Philosopher-lover; ill-suited for that role, he prompted him to invite the genuine one.

‘But the enemies of Dion (Hoi de tô̢ Diôni polemountes), afraid of the alteration in Dionysius (phoboumenoi tên tou Dionusiou metabolên), persuaded him (epeisan auton) to recall from exile Philistus (apo tês phugês metapempesthai Philiston), a man versed in letters (andra kai pepaideumenon peri logous) and acquainted with the ways of tyrants (kai turannikôn êthôn empeirotaton), that they might have in him a counterpoise to Plato and philosophy (hôs antitagma pros Platôna kai philosophian ekeinon hexontes, XI 4) [Philistus was a first class historian. Plutarch says that it was during his exile that ‘in his leisure Philistus composed the greater part of his history’ (hopou kai dokei ta pleista suntheinai tês historias scholazôn, XI 6-7).] … Such was the condition of affairs (En toiautê̢ de katastasei tôn pragmatôn ontôn) when Plato came to Sicily (Platôn eis Sikelian aphikomenos), and in the first instances (peri men tas prôtas apantêseis) he met with astonishing friendliness (thaumastês etunchane philophrosunês) and honour (kai timês, XIII 1) … After a few days had passed (hêmerôn de oligôn diagenomenôn), there was one of the customary sacrifices of the country (thusia men ên patrios) in the palace grounds (en tois turanneiois); and the herald (tou de kêrukos), as was the custom (hôsper eiôthei), prayed (kateuxamenou) that the tyranny might abide (diamenein tên turannida) unshaken  (asaleuton) for many generations (pollous chronous), it is said that Dionysius, who was standing near (ho Dionusios legetai parestôs), cried: “Stop cursing us!” (“Ou pausê̢,” phanai, “katarômenos hêmin;”) This quite vexed Philistus and his company (touto komidê̢ tous peri ton Philiston elupêsen), who thought that time and familiarity would render Plato’s influence almost irresistible (amachon tina tou Platônos hêgoumenous esesthai chronô̢ kai sunêtheia̢ tên dunamin), if now (ei nun), after a brief intimacy (ek sunousias oligês), he had so altered (êlloiôken houtô) and transformed (kai metabeblêke) the sentiments of the youthful prince (tên gnômên to meirakion). (XIII 5-6) … And some pretended (enioi de prosepoiounto) to be indignant (duscherainein) that the Athenians, who in former times (ei proteron men Athênaioi) had sailed to Sicily with large land and sea forces (nautikais kai pezikais dunamesi megalais deuro pleusantes), but had perished utterly (apôlonto kai diephtharêsan) without taking Syracuse (proteron ê labein Surakousas), should now (nuni de), by means of one sophist (di’ henos sophistou), overthrow the tyranny of Dionysius (kataluousi tên Dionusiou turannida), by persuading him (sumpeisantes auton) to dismiss his ten thousand body-guards (ek tôn muriôn doruphorôn apodranta), and abandon his four hundred triremes (kai kataliponta tas triakosias triêreis) and his ten thousand horsemen (kai tous murious hippeis) and his many times that number of men-at-arms (kai tous pollakis tosoutous hoplitas), in order to seek in Academic philosophy for a mysterious good (en Akadêmeia̢ to siôpômenon agathon zêtein), and make geometry his guide to happiness (kai dia geômetrias eudaimona genesthai), surrendering the happiness that was based on dominion and wealth and luxury to Dion and Dion’s nephews and nieces (tên en archê̢ kai chrêmasi kai truphais eudaimonian Diôni kai tois Diônos adelphidois proemenon).’ (XIV 2-3, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

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If Plato was to have any chance of renewing his mission in Syracuse, he had to find a way of ostensibly distancing himself from his Republic. He prepared the way for it in his Second Letter. Having discussed the ‘King of All’, and admonishing Dionysius ‘lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people’ (eulabou mentoi mê pote ekpesê̢ tauta eis anthrôpous apaideutous, SL 314a1-2), he says: ‘I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects (ouden pôpot’ egô peri toutôn egrapsa), and no treatise by Plato exists (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos ouden) or will exist (oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates become fair and young (Sôkratous estin kalou kai neou gegonotos).’ (314c2-4, tr. Bury)

In the light of this passage, Plato does not express his own views in the Republic, but the views of ‘a Socrates become fair and young’. But this was not enough; Plato had to distance himself from the Republic manifestly. He did so in the Sophist and the Statesman, in the guise of the Stranger from Elea. I therefore date these two dialogues as written in the latter part of Plato’s stay in Athens between his second and third journey to Sicily.

Dionysius may have wondered, and the sophists around him may have asked him, whether there was any reason to believe that when Plato in the Sophist and the Statesman abandoned the doctrine of the Republic concerning the unity of philosophy and statesmanship in one person or persons, speaking through the mouth of the Stranger of Elea, he abandoned his resolve ‘that there never will exist a treatise by Plato’. Well, the only way he could find the answer to this question was by discussing it with Plato in person; he had to invite him back.