Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Aristotle on Plato in Metaphysics A and Λ, and the strange case of the Phaedrus

In Metaphysics A Aristotle proposes four original causes of things: 1) the substance or the essence (tên ousian kai to ti ên einai), i.e. the formal cause, 2) the matter or substratum (tên hulên kai to hupokeimenon), i.e. the material cause, 3) the source of the movement (hothen hê archê tês kinêseȏs), i.e. the efficient or moving cause, 4) the purpose and the good (to hou heneka kai t’agathon), that is the final cause, which is opposed (antikeimenên) to the third cause, for it is the end (telos gar) of all generation and movement (geneseȏs kai kinêseȏs pasês) (983a24-32). Aristotle says that ‘it is clear (phaneron) that Plato has used only two causes (duoin aitiain monon kechrêtai), that of the essence (têi te tou ti esti) and the material cause (kai têi kata tên hulên), for the Forms (ta gar eidê) are the causes of the essence (tou ti estin aitia) of all other things (tois allois), and the One is the cause of the essence of the Forms (tois d’ eidesi to hen); and it is evident what the underlying matter is (kai tis hê hulê hê hupokeimenê), of which the Forms (kath’ hês ta eidê men) are predicated (legetai) in the case of sensible things (epi tȏn aisthêtȏn) and the One in the case of the Forms (to d’ hen en tois eidesi), viz. that this is a dyad (hoti hautê duas esti), the great and the small (to mega kai to mikron). Further (eti de), he has assigned the cause of good and of evil (tên tou eu kai tou kakȏs aitian) to the elements (tois stoicheiois), one to each of the two (hekaterois hekateran).’ (988a7-15, tr. Ross). [Ross notes on 988a14: ‘The origin of good is distinctly ascribed to limit in Plato Philebus 25 E – 26 B.’]

W. D. Ross notes: ‘Aristotle ignores various suggestions of an efficient cause in Plato – the self-moving soul of Phaedrus 245C, D, Laws 891-899, the demiurge of Sophist 265 B-D and of Timaeus 28C ff., the aitia tês mixeȏs (‘cause of the mixture’) of Philebus 23d, 26 E- 27 B, and various suggestions of a final cause – the ultimate good or hou charin (‘for the sake of what’) Philebus 20 D, 53 E, the object of the creator’s purpose in Timaeus 29 D ff., and in Laws 903 C. He doubtless thinks Plato’s treatment of these causes inadequate, but that does not justify him in speaking as if Plato had ignored them completely.’ (Ross’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, op. cit. pp. 176-7)

Since Ross believes that Plato wrote all books of the Metaphysics after the death of Plato, he cannot but accuse Aristotle of misrepresenting Plato. On the dating that I have proposed – Aristotle wrote Metaphysics A after Plato went to Sicily in 361 BC and before he returned to Athens in 360 BC – the matter appears to be very different. According to the currently accepted dating of Plato’s dialogues, those mentioned by Ross followed his Sicilian adventure, so that Plato’s attempts to do justice to the efficient and the final cause may be viewed as his response to Aristotle’s criticism.

Does this mean that I should recant my dating of the Phaedrus as Plato’s first dialogue? (For my dating of the Phaedrus see The Lost Plato on my website www.juliustomin.org, especially Ch. 2 ‘A critical review of doctrinal arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 3 ‘Stylometric arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, and Ch. 4 ‘The dating of the Phaedrus: Ancient Sources’.) No, it does not, for on the testimony of Metaphysics Λ, the Phaedran view of the soul as the first principle of motion that was not created was not held by Plato Aristotle knew; it must have been discarded by Plato himself as a youthful aberration. In Metaphysics Λ Aristotle writes that ‘Plato can’t say (oude Platȏni hoion te legein) that “that which moves itself” (to auto heauto kinoun) is the primary cause (archên einai), which he sometimes views as such (hên oietai eniote), for the soul is later and coeval with heavens (husteron gar kai hama ouranȏi hê psuchê), according to his account (hȏs phêsin)’ (1071b37-1072a3). The expression to auto heauto kinoun is used by Plato in the Phaedrus, where it figures as the definition of the soul (245e7-246a1) and the first principle of motion (kinêseȏs archê to auto hauto kinoun, 245d7). Aristotle’s quoting it clearly indicates that he had the Phaedrus in front of his mind when he wrote the given passage. In the Laws 891-899, to which Ross refers, Plato uses the expression ‘motion that moves itself’ (kinêsin autên heautên kinousan, 894c4-5, 895b1, 896a1-2, which is equivalent to the Phaedran to auto heauto kinoun but is verbally different. The nearest Plato in the Laws approximates to the Phaedran expression is at 896a3: to heauto kinein ‘to move itself’.

There is a major difference between the Phaedrus and the Laws. In the Phaedrus Plato defines the soul, ‘that which moves itself’ as a first principle, which cannot come into being (archê de agenêton), for anything that comes to be must come to be from the first principle (ex archês gar anangkê pan to gignomenon gignesthai), whereas the first principle cannot come to be from anything whatsoever (autên de mêd’ ex henos, 245d1). In the Laws Plato emphatically insists that the soul, that is ‘motion that moves itself’, is a created cause, genomenên 895b4, 896b3, c1; he describes the creation of the soul in Timaeus 41d.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Plato’s Academy in the light of Aristotle’s Metaphysics A

In Metaphysics A Aristotle criticises the Platonic identification of the Forms with numbers. ‘If the Forms are numbers, how can they be causes,’ he asks (991b9). Speaking of himself as a Platonist, he says: ‘When we wish to reduce substances to their principles (boulomenoi de tas ousias anagein eis tas archas), we state that lines come from short and long (i. e. from a kind of small and great), and the plane from the broad and narrow, and body from the deep and shallow (992a10-13) … from what principle will the presence of the points in the line be derived (hai stigmai ek tinos enuparxousin)? Plato even used to object to this class of things (toutȏi men oun tȏi genei kai diemacheto Platȏn) as being a geometrical fiction (hȏs onti geȏmetrikȏi dogmati). He gave the name of principle of line (all ekalei archên grammês) – and this he often posited (touto de pollakis etithei) – to the indivisible lines (tas atomous grammas) (992a19-22, tr. W. D. Ross).’

Ross comments: ‘The imperfects diemacheto (‘used to object’), ekalei (‘gave the name’), etithei (‘posited’) indicate that Aristotle is thinking of frequently repeated oral teaching of Plato … The imperfects probably also indicate that Book A was written after Plato’s death in 348-347.’ (Aritotle’s Metaphysics, A revised text with Introduction and Commentary by W. D. Ross, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997, vol. I, p. 207). Pace Ross, the imperfects may equally well indicate that Plato left his Academy having gone to Sicily on his third journey, where he intended to stay to the end of his days.

The same can be said of the aorist ȏiêthê (‘thought’) and the imperfect elege (‘agreed in saying’) in an earlier passage in Book A where Aristotle speaks of Plato’s oral teaching: ‘Since the Forms were the causes of all other things (epei d’ aitia ta eidê tois allois), he thought (ȏiêthê ) their elements were the elements of all things. As matter, the great and small were principles; as essential reality, the One; for from the great and the small, by participation in the One, come the Numbers. But he agreed with the Pythagoreans in saying (paraplêsiȏs tois Puthagoreiois elege) that the One is substance and not a predicate of something else’ (987b22-24, tr. Ross).

Concerning Plato’s rejection of points as a geometrical fiction Ross remarks: ‘The point, if it was to be real, should have been a combination of form and matter. Now a matter could be assigned to the line, the plane, and the solid (the long and short &c.), but no such matter could be assigned to the point, since it had no dimensions at all. We have, however, no evidence to show that this difficulty was in Plato’s mind.’ (Ross, p. 207)

Aristotle’s tithemen (‘we state’) at 992a11 clearly indicates that Plato at the time of writing Book A considered himself as a member of the school. In the same vein, using the first person plural, Aristotle speaks as a Platonist throughout his critical remarks on the views prevalent in the Academy at that time. At 990b8-17 he says: ‘Of the ways in which we prove that the Forms exist (kath’ hous tropous deiknumen hoti esti ta eidê), none is convincing (kat’ outhena phainetai toutȏn); for from some no inference necessarily follows, and from some arise Forms even of things of which we think there are no Forms (ex eniȏn de kai ouch hȏn oiometha toutȏn eidê gignetai) … according to the ‘one over many’ (kai kata to hen epi pollȏn) argument there will be Forms even of negations … of the more accurate arguments (hoi akribesteroi tȏn logȏn), some lead to Ideas of relations (hoi men tȏn pros ti poiousin ideas), of which we say there is no independent class (hȏn ou phamen einai kath’ hauto genos), and others introduce ‘the third man’ (hoi de triton anthrȏpon legousin).’ (Tr. Ross)

Ross notes ‘It is quite clear that Platonism soon departed from the doctrine of the Republic (596 A) that there is an Idea answering to every group of things.’ At 596 A Socrates tells Glaukon: ‘Let us begin the enquiry (arxȏmetha episkopountes) in our usual manner (ek tês eiȏthuias methodou): We posit a Form, one each (eidos gar pou ti hen hekaston eiȏthamen tithesthai), for each group of many things (peri hekasta ta polla) to which we give the same name (hois t’auton onoma epipheromen).’ For the Forms of negations Ross refers to Republic 402 C where Socrates refers to virtues, such as sȏphrosunê (temperance, prudence, self-control), andreia (courage), eleutheriotês (liberality, generosity) and megaloprepeia (magnificence) and their opposites (ta toutȏn au enantia), as Forms (eidê). – Concerning this point, one might argue against Ross that the opposites of virtues are vices, such as aphrosunê, aneleutheriotês, which have a specific force in determining behaviour; they are not just negations.

Concerning the Forms of relations Ross refers to Phaedo 74 A where Socrates speaks of ‘the equal itself’ (auto to ison), 75 C where he speaks of ‘the equal’, the ‘greater’, ‘the smaller’, and 100 E where he points to ‘largeness’ by which large things are large and larger things are larger, and to ‘smallness’ by which smaller things are smaller. To this may be added Parmenides 129d8 where we find homoiotês ‘likeness’ and anomoiotês ‘unlikeness’, 131c12 auto to megethos ‘largeness itself’, 131d5 auto to ison ‘the equal itself’, d7 to smikron ‘the small’.

At 990b17-22 Aristotle writes: ‘And in general the arguments for the Forms destroy the things for whose existence we are more zealous than for the existence of the Ideas (ha mallon boulometha tou tas ideas einai); for it follows (sumbainei gar) that not the dyad but number is first (mê einai tên duada prȏtên alla ton arithmon), and that the relative is prior to the absolute (kai to pros ti tou kath’ hauto), – besides all the other points on which certain people (kai panth’ hosa tines) by following out the opinions held about the Ideas (akolouthêsantes tais peri tȏn ideȏn doxais) have come into conflict with the principles of the theory (ênantiȏthêsan tais archais).’ (Tr. Ross)

When Aristotle wrote Metaphysics A, the theory of Forms appears to have been hotly discussed, criticised, and profoundly modified even by those Platonists, who accepted the Forms. On the dating that I propose for Metaphysics A – after Plato went on his last journey to Sicily and before he returned to Athens – we may presume that the picture of the Academy he gives in it reflects on the situation in the school not only during Plato’s last stay in Sicily, but even prior to it. Plato went on his second journey to Sicily in 367-6, just at the time when the 17 years old Aristotle entered Plato’s Academy. When Plato was leaving Sicily in 366, his departure was to be short, as he says in the Seventh Letter: ‘I urged Dionysius by all means possible to let me go, and we both made a compact that when peace was concluded (for at that time there was war in Sicily) Dionysius, for his part, should invite Dion and me back again, as soon as he had made his own power more secure; and he asked Dion to regard the position he was now in not as a form of exile but rather as a change of abode; and I gave a promise that upon these conditions I would return. When peace was made he kept sending for me; but he asked Dion to wait still another year, although he kept demanding most insistently that I should come. Dion, then, kept urging and entreating me to make the voyage.’ (338a3-b5, tr. Bury)

It thus appears that after his return from his second journey to Sicily Plato’s thoughts were mainly preoccupied with Dion, with Dionysius, with the prospect of establishing a state in which a philosopher rules, Dionysius becoming a philosopher. In the Seventh Letter Plato says that from his youth he was strongly attracted to politics, looked for a possibility to take part in establishing a true aristocracy, the rule of the best citizens for the good of the whole city: ‘As regards political action I kept constantly waiting for an opportune moment; until, finally … in my praise of the right philosophy (epainȏn tên orthên philosophian) I was compelled to declare (legein te ênangkasthên) that by it (hȏs ek tautês) one is enabled to discern all forms of justice both political and individual (estin ta te politika dikaia kai ta tȏn idiȏtȏn panta katidein). Wherefore the classes of mankind (I said) will have no cessation from evils (kakȏn oun ou lêxein ta anthrȏpina genê) until (prin an) either the class of those who are right and true philosophers (ê to tȏn philosophountȏn orthȏs genos) attains political supremacy (eis archas elthêi tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the States (ê to tȏn dunasteuontȏn en tais polesin) becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic (ek tinos moiras theias ontȏs philosophêsêi). This was the view I held when I went to Italy and Sicily, at the time of my first arrival.’ (325e3-326b6, tr. Bury) It was on that occasion, that he ‘associated with Dion, who was then a youth, instructing him verbally in what I believed was the best for mankind and counselling him to realise it in action’ (327a1-4, tr. Bury).

During the time Plato spent in Athens after his return from Sicily he did his best to keep Dion quiet (hêsuchian agein) and prevent him from attempting any revolution (kai mêden neȏterizein) and from saying anything evil against him to the Greeks (Plutarch, Dion, xvi. 6). Plutarch says that Plato ‘kept Dion with him in the Academy, where he turned his attention to philosophy … Plato desired that Dion’s disposition should be tempered and sweetened by association with men of charming presence who indulged seasonably in graceful pleasantries. And such a man was Speusippus [Plato’s nephew who after Plato’s death succeeded him as the head of the Academy]; wherefore Timon, in his Silli spoke of him as “good at jest”. And when Plato himself was called upon to furnish a chorus of boys, Dion had the chorus trained and defrayed all the expense of its maintenance … ‘(Plutarch, Dion xvii. 1-5, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

As can be seen from Aristotle’s Metaphysics A, the theory of Forms as such was exposed to criticism, and as can be seen from the Parmenides, instead of attempting to defend the Forms by arguments, he simply believed that those who are by nature capable of seeing the Forms, will in the end see them in spite of all the arguments against their existence and knowability. On the testimony of the Second Letter Plato avoided discussing the Forms with Dionysius, for he does not mention them when he speaks of the nature of the First where we might expect them mentioned: ‘The matter stands thus: Related to the King of All are all things, and for his sake they are, and of all things fair He is the cause (kai ekeino aition hapantȏn tȏn kalȏn). And related to the Second are the second things; and related to the Third are the third. About these, then, the human soul strives to learn, looking to the things that are akin to itself, whereof none is fully perfect. But as to the King and the objects I have mentioned (tou dê basileȏs peri kai hȏn eipon), they are of quite different quality (ouden esti toiouton). In the next place the soul inquires – “Well then, what quality have they (alla poion ti mên)?” But the cause of all the mischief, O son of Dionysius and Doris, lies in this very question, or rather in the travail which this question creates in the soul; and unless a man delivers himself from this he will never attain the truth. You, however, declared to me in the garden, under the laurels, that you had formed this notion yourself and that it was a discovery of your own.’ (312e1-313b1, tr. Bury).

When Plato speaks here of all things fair of which the King/the Good is the cause – ‘the objects I have mentioned’ (peri hȏn eipon) at 313a1 refers to ‘all things fair’ at 312e3 – we are reminded of the passage in Republic VI where he says that the Good is not only the cause of knowing the entities that can be known (only the Forms can be known in this sense) but is the cause of their being and there substance (alla kai to einai te kai tên ousian hup’ ekeinou autois einai, 509b6-8). But while in the Republic passage Plato clearly speaks about the Forms, in the Second Letter passage he avoids speaking about them, as he did in his discussion with Dionysius in the garden under the laurels to which he refers; had he discussed the Forms, Dionysius would hardly have claimed that it was his own discovery.

All this can help us to better understand and take more seriously the passage ‘I myself have never yet written on these subjects, and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist, but those which now bear his name belong to a Socrates who became fair and young (314c2-4, tr. Bury)’ in the Second Letter. On this passage Bury notes: ‘This curious statement seems based on Ep. vii. 342c, combined perhaps with an allusion to the Parmenides.’

Plato’s primary concern in writing this statement was to prevent Dionysius from publishing what he told him during their discussion ‘on the nature of the First’ and the passage in the Seventh Letter to which Bury refers was motivated by similar concerns. Speaking of ‘the test’ to which he subjected Dionysius on his last stay with him, Plato says: ‘I did not expound the matter fully (panta men oun out egȏ diexêlthon), nor did Dionysius ask me to do so (oute Dionusius edeito)… And I am even told that later on (husteron de kai akouȏ) he himself wrote a treatise (gegraphenai auton) on the subjects in which I then instructed him (peri hȏn tote êkouse)… I know indeed that certain others have written on these same subjects (allous men tinas oida gegraphotas peri tȏn autȏn toutȏn) … it is impossible, in my judgement at least, that these men should understand anything about this subject (toutous ouk estin kata ge tên emên doxan peri tou pragmatos epaiein ouden). There does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith (oukoun ge peri autȏn estin sungramma oude mêpote genêtai). For it does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies (rêton gar oudamȏs estin hȏs alla mathêmata), but, as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith (all’ ek pollês sunousias gignomenês peri to pragma auto kai tou suzên), it is brought to birth in the soul (en têi psuchêi genomenon) on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark (exaiphnês hoion apo puros pêdêsantos exaphthen phȏs), and thereafter nourishes itself (auto heauto êdê trephei).’ (341a8-d2, tr. Bury) At 342a8-343a4 Plato makes it then clear that the ineffable subject to which he thus refers are the Forms; it is in the very nature of the Forms that they cannot be verbally expressed.

The passage 341a8-d2 in the Seventh Letter is closely related to Parmenides 133b4-c1, as I have pointed out in my entry of January 10 ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ in which I expanded on my view that Plato wrote the Parmenides in preparation for his third journey to Sicily, which I expressed in my entry of October 16, 2014 ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’. In the Parmenides Plato presents us a young Socrates discussing a theory of Forms, and Bury is probably right when he believes that there is a connection between it and ‘a Socrates who became fair and young’ in the Second Letter. But if it is so, it does in no way negatively affect the authenticity of the Second Letter; on my dating of the Parmenides, Plato was most likely in the middle of writing it when he composed the Second Letter. The difficulties raised there against the theory of Forms by Parmenides are closely connected with Aristotle’s criticism of the Forms in Metaphysics A. On the dating that I have proposed, Plato’s Second and Seventh Letter, his Parmenides, and Aristotle’s Metaphysics A allow us an insight into Plato’s own thoughts and those of his disciples in the Academy after Plato left Athens for his second and before he returned from his third journey to Sicily.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Plato’s Second Letter in the light of his Seventh Letter, with a cursory glance at Plutarch’s Dion and Plato’s Phaedrus

In the Seventh Letter Plato speaks of his meeting with Dionysius after arriving at Syracuse: ‘On my arrival, I thought that first I must put to the test the question (toutou prȏton elengchon dein labein) whether Dionysius had really been kindled with the fire of philosophy (poteron ontȏs eiê Dionusios exêmmenos hupo philosophias hȏsper puros), or whether all the reports which had come to Athens were empty rumours (ê matên ho polus houtos elthoi logos Athênaze). Now there is a way of putting such things to the test which is not to be despised and is well suited to monarchs, especially to those who have got their heads full of erroneous teaching (parakousmatȏn; Bury ‘borrowed doctrines’) which immediately on my arrival I found to be very much the case with Dionysius. One should show such men what philosophy is in all its extent (ho ti esti pan to pragma hoion te), what the range of studies is by which it is approached (kai di’ hosȏn pragmatȏn), and how much labour it involves (kai hoson ponon echei). For the man who has heard this, if he has the true philosophic spirit (ean men ontȏs êi philosophos) and that godlike temperament which makes him akin to philosophy and worthy of it (oikeios te kai axios tou pragmatos theios ȏn), thinks that he has been told of a marvellous road lying before him (hodon te hêgeitai thaumastên akêkoenai), that he must forthwith press on with all his strength (suntateon te einai nun), and that life is not worth living if he does anything else (kai ou biȏton allȏs poiounti; Bury: ‘and that life will not be worth living if he does otherwise’). After this he uses to the full his own powers (meta touto dê sunteinas autos te) and those of his guide in the path (kai ton hêgoumenon tên hodon), and relaxes not his efforts (ouk aniêsin), till he has either reached the end of the whole course of study (prin an ê telos epithêi pasin) or gained such power (ê labêi dunamin) that he is not incapable of directing his steps without the aid of a guide (hȏste autos hauton chȏris tou deixontos dunatos einai podêgein).’ (340b1-d1; tr. J. Harward)


Plato’s parakousmatȏn at 340b6, which Harward translates ‘erroneous teaching’, Bury ‘borrowed doctrines’, and Liddell&Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon as ‘thing heard amiss’, ‘false notion’ with reference to 338d in the Seventh Letter, can be properly understood only if viewed in its context. Plato speaks about the pressures to which he was exposed by his friends: ‘Dion now kept urging and entreating me to make the voyage; for in truth constant accounts were pouring in from Sicily how Dionysius was now once more marvellously enamoured of philosophy; and for this reason Dion was strenuously urging me not to decline his invitation (338b4-8) … There were some others in Syracuse who had had some teaching from Dion (Diȏnos te atta diakêkootes), and others again who had been taught by these (kai toutȏn tines alloi), men who were stuffed with what they heard on philosophy (parakousmatȏn tinȏn emmestoi tȏn kata philosophian). These men, I believe, tried to discuss these subjects with Dionysius, on the assumption that Dionysius was thoroughly instructed in all my systems of thought.’ (338d1-6). I translate parakousma ‘what they heard on philosophy’; it clearly refers to what those people heard second hand concerning Plato’s philosophy. At 340b6 Plato refers to the same parakousmata.

Plato’s words ‘hearing some things from Dion’ should be viewed in the light of Plutarch’s Dion. Plutarch says that when Dionysius became the ruler of Syracuse ‘Dion exhorted him to apply himself to study, and to use every entreaty with the first of philosophers to come to Sicily, and when he came (elthonti de), to become his disciple (paraschein hauton), in order that his character might be regulated (hopȏs diakosmêtheis to êthos) by the principles of virtue (eis arêtês logon), and that he might be conformed to that divinest and most beautiful model of all being (kai pros to theiotaton aphomoiȏtheis paradeigma tȏn ontȏn kai kallistȏn), in obedience to whose direction the universe (hȏi to pan hêgoumenȏi peithomenon) issues from disorder to order (ex akosmias kosmos esti); in this way he would procure (mêchanêsetai) great happiness for himself (pollên men eudaimonian heautȏi), and great happiness to his people (pollên de tois politais)… Since Dion frequently gave him such advice, and artfully mingled with it some of Plato’s doctrines (kai tȏn logȏn tou Platȏnos estin houstinas hupospeirontos), Dionysius was seized with a keen and even frenzied passion for the teachings and the companionship of Plato.’ (Plutarch, Dion X. 1-XI. 1, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

Plutarch’s kai tȏn logȏn tou Platȏnos estin houstinas hupospeirontos, which Perrin translates ‘artfully mingled with it some of Plato’s doctrines’, simply means ‘sowing some of Plato’s words’. In his relation to Dionysius Dion assumed the role of a philosopher whom Plato in the Phaedrus likens to a competent farmer sowing seeds in suitable ground (speiras eis to prosêkon, 276b7). Like such a farmer, the philosopher ‘selects a soul of the right type (labȏn psuchên prosêkousan), and in it he plants and sows (phuteuêi te kai speirêi) his words founded on knowledge (met epistêmês logous)’ (276e6-7; tr. Hackforth) Dion drew on the Phaedran love-song, the Palinode on Eros, where Plato depicts philosophers as followers of Zeus – ‘we follow Zeus’ (hepomenoi meta Dios hêmeis, 250b7) – ‘the mighty leader in heaven (ho megas hêgemȏn en ouranȏi) who is beautifully ordering all things and caring for all’ (diakosmȏn panta kai epimeloumenos, 246e4-6). Philosophers ‘belong to Zeus (hoi men dê oun Dios) and seek (zêtousi) that the one they love (ton huph’ hautȏn erȏmenon) should be someone like Zeus (dion tina zêtousi) in respect of his soul (einai tên psuchên); so they look to see (skopousin oun) whether he is naturally disposed towards philosophy and towards leadership (ei philosophos te kai hêgemonikos tên phusin), and when they have found him and fall in love (kai hotan heurontes auton erasthȏsi) they do everything (pan poiousi) to make him of such a kind (hopȏs toioutos estai).’ (252e1-5; tr. C. J. Rowe)


Dionysius failed the test, and the question is, how could Plato leave the test only after his arrival to Sicily, venturing the journey on the basis of mere hearsay, however well-meaning, trustworthy, and well known to him were those ‘who all brought the same report (êngellon pantes ton auton logon), that Dionysius had made remarkable progress in philosophy’ (hȏs thaumaston hoson Dionusios epidedȏkȏs eiê pros philosophian, 339b2-4; tr. J. Harward). Couldn’t he test Dionysius before leaving Athens for Sicily? In fact, the Second Letter can be viewed as such a test.

To Dionysius’ request that he and his friends should refrain from doing or saying anything bad about him, excepting Dion, Plato replied: ‘Now your saying this, that Dion is excepted, implies that I have no control over my friends; for had I had this control over you and Dion, as well as the rest, more blessings would come to us all and to the rest of the Greeks also, as I affirm (310c1-5; tr. Bury). Bury’s ‘that I have no control’ stands for Plato’s hoti ouk archȏ; archȏ means ’lead’, ‘rule’, ‘govern’. If Plato is to accept Dionysius’ invitation, he must submit to Plato’s guidance.

Dionysius must change: ‘You showed that you did not fully trust me (ephainou ou panu emoi pisteuein su) but wished rather to get rid of me somehow (all’ eme men pȏs apopempsasthai ethelein) and invite others in my place’ (heterous de metapempsasthai, 312a4-5) … If you altogether despise philosophy, leave it alone. If, again, you have been taught by someone else or have yourself invented better doctrines than mine, hold them in honour. But if you are contented with my doctrines, then you should hold me also in special honour.’ (312b4-7, tr. Bury)

Dionysius complained that Plato did not sufficiently explained to him the nature of the First (ouch hikanȏs apodedeichthai soi peri tês tou prȏtou phuseȏs, 312d6-7). So Plato explains: ‘All things are related to the King of All (peri ton pantȏn basilea pant’ esti), for his/its sake all things are (ekeinou heneka panta); and it (i.e. to agathon, the Good; Plato’s thought slides from the King of All to the Good, which is neuter; the two are identical) is the cause of all beautiful things’ (kai ekeino aition hapantȏn tȏn kalȏn, 312e1-3) … Nothing is like (ouden estin toiouton ) the King and all those beautiful things of which I spoke (tou de basileȏs peri kai hȏn eipon) – the soul then says (to dê meta touto hê psuchê phêsi) –  “but of what quality is it?” (alla poion ti mên), and this is the question that is the cause of all the mischief (to erȏtêma ho pantȏn aition esti kakȏn) [František Novotný in his Latin commentary to the Epistles notes: questio animi interrogantis quale (poion ti) non quid (ti) sit illud primum – ‘a question of the soul asking “of what quality” not “what” is that First’. (František Novotný , Platonis Epitulae, Brno 1930)], or rather the travail which this question creates in the soul (mallon de hê peri toutou ȏdis en têi psuchêi engignomenê); and unless a man delivers himself from this (hên ei mê tis exairethêsetai) he will never attain the truth (tês alêtheias ontȏs ou mê pote tuchêi, 313a3-6).’

The fault was not with Plato not explaining all this sufficiently: ‘You, however, declared to me in the garden (su de touto pros eme en tȏi kêpȏi), under the laurels (hupo tais daphnais), that you had formed this notion yourself (autos ephêstha ennenoêkenai) and that it was a discovery of your own (kai einai son heurêma); and I made answer (kai egȏ eipon) that if it was plain to you that this was so (hoti touto ei phainoito soi houtȏs echein), you would have saved me from a long discourse (pollȏn an eiês logȏn eme apolelukȏs). I said, however, that I had never met with any other person who had made this discovery (ou mên allȏi ge pot’ ephên entetuchêkenai touth’ hêurêkoti); on the contrary most of the trouble I had was about this very problem (alla hê pollê moi pragmateia peri tout’ eiê). So then, after you had either, as is probable, got the true solution from someone else (su de isȏs men akousas tou, ‘you probably heard it from somebody’ ), or had possibly (by Heaven’s favour) hit on it yourself (tacha d’ an theiai moirai kata tout’ hormêsas), you fancied you had a firm grip on the proofs of it (epeita autou tas apodeixeis hȏs echȏn bebaiȏs), and so you omitted to make them fast (ou katedêsas); thus your view of the truth sways now this way (all’ aittei soi tote men houtȏs, ‘thus it darts for you now in this way’), now that (tote de allȏs, ‘now in a different way’), round about the apparent object (peri to phantazomenon); whereas the true object is totally different (to de ouden esti toiouton). [Novotný notes that to signifies ‘res ipsa per se, idea’ = ‘thing itself’, and that toiouton points to hoion to phantazomenon, ‘like the imaginary object’]. Nor are you alone with this experience (kai touto ou soi monȏi gegonen); on the contrary, there has never yet been anyone, I assure you, who has not suffered the same confusion at the beginning (all’ eu isthi mêdena pȏpote echein allȏs pȏs ê houtȏs kat’ archas), when he first learnt this doctrine from me (mou to prȏton akousanta, ‘who hears it from me for the first time’); and they all overcome it with difficulty (mogis apallattontai), one man having more trouble (ho men pleiȏ echȏn pragmata) and another less (ho de elattȏ), but scarcely a single one of them escapes with but little (schedon de oudeis oliga).’ (313a6-c5) – If Dionysius wants Plato back, he must accept him as his teacher, become his disciple, and stop playing at being wise.

Plato then determines how they are to behave to each other in future: ‘So now that this has occurred (toutȏn dê gegonotȏn), and things are in this state (kai echontȏn houtȏ), we have pretty well found an answer (schedon hêurêkamen), as I think (kata tên emên doxan), to the question (ho su epesteilas) how we ought (hopȏs dei) to behave towards each other (pros allêlous hêmas echein). For seeing that you are testing my doctrines (epei gar basanizeis auta) both by attending the lectures of other teachers (sungignomenos te allois means simply ‘in company with others’, which implies ‘discussing my views on philosophy with others’; ‘attending the lectures of other teachers’ appears to be implied) and by examining my teaching side by side with theirs (kai paratheȏmenos para ta tȏn allȏn), as well as by itself (kai auta kath’ hauta), then (nun), if the test you make is true one (ei alêthês hê basanos), not only will these doctrines implant themselves now in your mind (prosphusetai), but you also will be devoted both to them and to us (kai oikeios toutois te kai hêmin esêi).’ (313c5-d3)

Plato does not say in the Seventh Letter what Dionysius replied to him, but he says that he wrote a very long letter (epistolên panu makran, 339b5), from which he mentions only what Dionysius said concerning Dion: ‘Since he knew how I was disposed towards Dion and also Dion’s eagerness that I should make the voyage and come to Syracuse,’ Dionysius wrote ‘If you are persuaded by us and come now to Sicily, in the first place you will find Dion’s affairs proceeding in whatever way you yourself may desire – and you will desire, as I know, what is reasonable, and I will consent thereto; but otherwise none of Dion’s affairs, whether they concern himself or anything else, will proceed to your satisfaction.’ (339b5-c7) Yet it is clear from the words in which Plato reflects on the letter that Dionysius devoted the main part of his letter to responding more than satisfactorily to Plato’s strictures, demands, and hopes. In other words, in Plato’s view Dionysius had passed the test of the Second Letter: ‘And I felt also myself (autȏi de moi hupên) that there would be nothing surprising (hȏs ouden thaumaston) if a young man (neon anthrȏpon), who was apt at learning (eumathê), attained to a love of the best life (pros erȏta elthein tou aristou biou) through hearing about subjects of importance (parakouonta axiȏn logou pragmatȏn). So it seemed to be my duty to determine clearly (dein oun auto exelenxai saphȏs) which way the matter really stood (hopoterȏs pote ara echoi), and in no wise to prove false to this duty (kai tout’ auto mêdamêi prodounai).’ (339e3-6; Bury’s translation with some changes: Bury translates 339e3-5 ‘And I felt also myself that there would be nothing surprising in a young man, who was apt at learning, attaining to a love of the best life through hearing lectures on subjects of importance (parakouonta axiȏn logou pragmatȏn).’ Bury’s translation can only mean that Plato is thinking about the possible effect of his own lectures which he would give after arriving in Syracuse. But parakouonta axiȏn logou pragmatȏn cannot mean ‘through hearing lectures on subjects of importance’. Plato must be referring to reports about his own teachings, which came to Dionysius’ ears, and of which Dionysius wrote in his long letter to Plato; J. Harward translates: ‘hearing talk of the great truths of philosophy’.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Plato’s Second Letter in the light of the Phaedrus

Bury says in the Prefatory Note to the Second Letter: ‘Can we imagine the real Plato … denying that he ever wrote serious books on philosophy?’ (Bury, p. 399) Let us see Bury’s argument against the authenticity of the Second Letter in the light of the Phaedrus, the last section of which is devoted to ‘the question of propriety and impropriety in writing’ (to euprepeias dê graphês peri kai aprepeias, 274b6).

Socrates introduces this subject with an Egyptian myth: Theuth, one of the old gods of Egypt, invented the art of writing and presented it to Thamous, the king of the whole country, called Ammon by the Egyptians: ‘Here, O king, is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories: my discovery provides a recipe for memory and wisdom (274e5-).’ Thamous rebuffed him: ‘If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks; what you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance; for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing; and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.’ Phaedrus remarks: ‘It is easy for you, Socrates, to make up tales from Egypt or anywhere else you fancy.’ (R. Hackforth remarks: ‘The little myth of Theuth and Thamous is apparently Plato’s own invention, though of course the personages belong to Egyptian history and legend.’ R. Hackforth, Plato’s Phaedrus, Cambridge University Press, 1972, p. 157. Translations from the Phaedrus in this entry are by R. Hackforth.) Socrates ripostes: ‘’For you apparently it makes a difference who the speaker is, and what country he comes from: you don’t merely ask whether what he says is true or false.’ – Phaedrus: ‘I deserve your rebuke, and I agree that the man of Thebes (the king Thamous resided ‘in the great city of Upper Egypt which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes’, 247d3-4) is right in what he said about writing.’ (274e4-275c4) – Socrates: ‘Then anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who takes it over from him, on the supposition that such writing will provide something reliable and permanent, must be exceedingly simple-minded; he must really be ignorant of Ammon’s utterance (tên Ammȏnos manteian; C. J. Rowe translates more attentively: ‘Ammon’s prophetic utterance’), if he imagines that written words can do anything more than remind one who knows that which the writing is concerned with.’ – Phaedrus: ‘Very true. (275c5-d2)


The myth presents a little textual problem. Burnet in his Oxford edition of Plato gives the text as it stands in the manuscripts: basileȏs d’ au tote ontos Aiguptou holês Thamou peri tên megalên polin tou anȏ topou hên hoi Hellênes Aiguptias Thêbas kalousi, kai ton theon Ammȏna. Hackforth and Row in their translations accept Postgates’ emendation Thamoun for theon. Hackforth translates: ‘Now the king of the whole country at that time was Thamous, who dwelt in the great city in Upper Egypt which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes, while Thamous they call Ammon.’ The italicised words as they stand un-emended in Burnet’s text mean ‘and the god they call Ammon’. After writing the myth in accordance with Postgates’ emendation I went for a walk and I could not help thinking about it. The more I thought about it, the less I liked Postgates’ emendation, which Burnet mentions in his textual notes. Presumably, what led Postgate to his emendation are Socrates’ words at 275c7-8 tȏi onti tên Ammȏnos manteian agnooi ‘he would be really ignorant of Ammon’s prophetic utterance’. When Socrates tells the myth, at 274e5 he puts the utterance into the mouth of Thamous . What stands in between the two are Phaedrus’ words kai moi dokei peri grammatȏn echein hêiper ho Thêbaios legei, which Hackforth translates ‘I agree that the man of Thebes is right in what he said about writing’, and Rowe more attentively ‘it seems to me to be as the Theban says …’ Phaedrus’ words hêiper ho Thêbaios legei ‘as the Theban says’ prompted Socrates to enjoin that it was actually the god Ammon who through the mouth of the king pronounced the negative verdict on the art of writing, thus emphasizing its importance. Rowe notes: ‘Amoun, Herodotus says, is the Egyptian Zeus: a different name, but the same god.’ (Plato: Phaedrus, translation and commentary by C. J. Rowe, Aris & Philips Classical Texts, 1988, p. 209.)


Socrates then compares writing to painting: ‘The painter’s products stand before us as though they were alive: but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence. It is the same with written words: they seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you just the same thing for ever. And once a thing is put in writing (hotan de hapax graphêi), the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place (kulindeitai men pantachou pas logos), getting into the hands not only of those who understand it (homoiȏs para tois epaiousi), but equally of those who have no business with it (hȏs d’ autȏs par’ hois ouden prosêkei); it doesn’t know how to address the right people, and not to address the wrong (kai ouk epistatai legein hois dei ge kai mê). And when it is ill-treated and unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its help, being unable to defend or help itself.’ (275d4-e5)


These words find their resonance in the Second Letter. After enlightening Dionysius on the nature of the First (peri tês tou prȏtou phuseȏs, 312d6)), the King of all (peri ton pantȏn basilea,312e1), about which the human soul (hê anthrȏpinê psuchê) strives to learn (oregetai mathein, 312e4-5), Plato warns: ‘Beware, however (eulabou mentoi), lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people (mê pote ekpesêi tauta eis anthrȏpous apaideutous). For there are hardly any doctrines, I believe, which sound more absurd than these (toutȏn katagelastotera akousmata) to the vulgar (pros tous pollous), or, on the other hand, more admirable (thaumastotera) and inspired (kai enthousiastikȏtera) to men of fine disposition’ (pros tous euphueis, 314a1-5) … 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 that what is written down (ou gar esti ta graphenta) should not get divulged (mê ouk ekpesein).’ (314b7-c1, tr. Bury)


Phaedrus fully approves Socrates’ censure of the written word and Socrates turns his eyes to the spoken word: ‘But now tell me (Ti d’), is there another sort of discourse (allon horȏmen logon), that is brother to the written speech (toutou adelphon), but of unquestioned legitimacy (gnêsion)? Can we see how it originates (tȏi tropȏi te gignetai), and how much better (kai hosȏi ameinȏn) and more effective it is than the other (kai dunatȏteros toutou gignetai)? – Phaedrus: ‘What sort of discourse have you now in mind, and what is its origin (Tina touton kai pȏs legeis gignomenon)? – Socrates: ‘The sort that goes together with knowledge, and is written in the soul of the learner (Hos met’ epistêmês graphetai en têi tou manthanontos psuchêi); that can defend itself (dunatos men amunai heautȏi), and knows to whom it should speak and to whom it should say nothing (epistêmȏn de legein te kai sigan pros hous dei). – Phaedrus: ‘You mean no dead discourse, but the living speech, the original of which the written discourse may fairly be called a kind of image.’ Rowe’s translation is more long-winded, but more accurate: ‘You mean the living and animate speech of the man who knows (Ton tou eidotos logon legeis zȏnta kai empsuchon), of which written speech (hou ho gegrammenos) would rightly be called a kind of phantom (eidȏlon an tis legoito dikaiȏs).’ – Socrates: ‘Precisely’ (Pantapasi men oun). (275e6-276b1)

Socrates rounds off the discussion on the written and the spoken word with a message ‘to Lysias and all other composers of discourses, secondly to Homer and all others who have written poetry whether to be read or sung, and thirdly to Solon and all such as are authors of political compositions under the name of laws: to wit, that if any of them has done his work with a knowledge of the truth, can defend his statements when challenged, and can demonstrate the inferiority of his writings out of his own mouth, he ought not be designated by a name drawn from those writings, but one that indicates his serious pursuit.’ – Phaedrus: ‘Then what names would you assign him?’ – Socrates: ‘A name that would fit him would be “lover of wisdom” (philosophon).’ (278c1-d6)

In the light of the Phaedrus only a philosopher’s pursuit is a serious pursuit, and this pursuit has nothing to do with writing. If he writes, he does so by way of pastime (paidias charin, 276d2); he can’t be called a philosopher on account of what he has ever written. If therefore Plato maintains in his Second Letter that he has never written anything on the subject of philosophy, it is in full accord with what he says on this matter in the Phaedrus.

Let me note that Plato’s words in the Second Letter ‘I have never written anything on these subjects’  have a very different sound if they point to the Phaedrus, which according to the ancient biographic tradition was his first dialogue (Diog. Laert. III. 38), than if they hang in the void. Modern Platonic scholarship dates the Phaedrus after Plato’s Sicilian adventures. C. J. Row writes: ‘I believe … that the Phaedrus is certainly later than the Republic and other middle dialogues like the Phaedo and the Symposium; certainly later than the Timaeus, possibly or probably later than the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist and the Statesman; and probably earlier than the Philebus.’ (Rowe, p. 14) How Plato could have written in the Phaedrus his eulogy on the power of the spoken word after his disastrous attempt to transform Dionysius into a philosopher-ruler neither Rowe nor any other interpreter of Plato has ever asked.

When Plato in the Second Letter says: ‘I myself have never yet written on these subjects (ouden pȏpot’ egȏ peri toutȏn gegrapha), and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist (oud’ esti sungramma Platȏnos ouden oud estai), but those which now bear his name belong to a Socrates who became fair and young (ta de nun legomena Sȏkratous esti kalou kai neou genomenou, 314c2-4, tr. Bury),’ he wants to be understood in the light of the Phaedran discussion of the written and the spoken word. Yet the confidence with which Plato in the Phaedrus speaks of the power of the spoken word is missing in the Second Letter. Referring to what he has said ‘concerning the nature of the First’ (peri tês tou prȏtou phuseȏs, 312d7), he says: ‘It is through being repeated and listened to frequently (pollakis de legomena kai aei akouomena) for many years (kai polla etê mogis) that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold (hȏsper chrusos ekkathairetai), with prolonged labour (meta pollês pragmateias). But listen now (akouson) to the most remarkable result of all (ho de thaumastotaton autou gegonen). Quite a number of men there are (eisi gar anthrȏpoi) who have listened to these doctrines (tauta akêkootes) – 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 pantê pantȏs krinai) – and who have been hearers of mine for no less than thirty years (kai ouk elattȏ triakonta etê akêkootes) and are now quite old (gerontes êdê); and these men (hoi) now declare (nun arti sphisi phasi) that the doctrines that they once held to be most incredible (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 appears the opposite (nun tounantion).’ (314a5-b5, tr. Bury)

What Plato now emphasizes is the long philosophic intercourse lasting many years, not the power of the spoken word as such. In the Parmenides, which he wrote in preparation for his third Sicilian visit – as I have argued in my blog entry of January 10 ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ – and which thus belongs to the same period as the Second Letter, he speaks similarly concerning the Forms: ‘If someone should say that it doesn’t even pertain to the characters (ta eidê) to be known if they are such as we say they must be, one could not show him (ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai) he was wrong (hoti pseudetai) unless the disputant (ho amphisbêtȏn) happened to be a man of wide experience and natural ability, willing to follow many a remote and laborious demonstration (etheloi de panu polla kai porrȏthen pragmateuomenou tou endeiknumenou hepesthai).’ (133b4-c1, tr. R. E. Allen)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

An argument for the authenticity of Plato’s Second Letter

Arguing against the authenticity of Plato’s Second Letter Bury asks: ‘Can we imagine the real Plato … trotting out a long list of sages and potentates to suggest his own magnanimity and the magnificence of Dionysius?’ (Bury, Prefatory Note to the Second Letter, vol. IX. of the LCL edition of Plato, pp. 399-400). To consider his argument, let me begin with what Plato actually says in his letter to Dionysius:

‘Now as for you and me, the relation in which we stand towards each other is really this. There is not a single Greek, one may say, to whom we are unknown, and our intercourse is a matter of common talk; and you may be sure of this, that it will be common talk also in days to come, because so many have heard tell of it owing to its duration and its publicity. What, now, is the point of this remark? I will go back to the beginning and tell you. It is natural for wisdom and great power to come together, and they are for ever pursuing and seeking each other and consorting together. Moreover, these are qualities which people delight in discussing themselves in private conversation and hearing others discuss in their poems. For example, when men talk about Hiero or about Pausanias the Lacedaemonian they delight to bring in their meeting with Simonides and what he did and said to them (Bury notes: ‘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.’); and they are wont to harp on Periander of Corinth and Thales of Miletus, and on Pericles and Anaxagoras, and on Croesus also and Solon as wise men with Cyrus as potentate (kai Kuron hȏs dunastên). The poets, too, follow their example, and bring together Creon and Tiresias, Polyeidus and Minos, Agamemnon and Nestor, Odysseus and Palamedes; and so it was, I suppose, that the earliest men also brought together Prometheus and Zeus. 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 … I certainly think that, had it been in their power to rectify what was wrong in their intercourse, those men of the past whom I have mentioned would have striven to the utmost to ensure a better report of themselves than they now have. In our case, then - if God so grant - it still remains possible to put right whatever has been amiss in word or deed during our intercourse in the past. For I maintain that, as regards the true philosophy, men will think and speak well of it if we ourselves are upright, and ill if we are base.' (310d6-311e2, tr. Bury)

Plato’s appeal on Dionysius has bearing on the authenticity of the Second Letter. But to assess it properly, we must view it in the broader historical context and in the light of what is known about Dionysius’ last years.

In 357 B.C. Dion led a small expedition to Sicily (his soldiers numbered less than eight hundred, Plutarch, Dion XXII. 8) and succeeded in liberating Syracuse. Some four hundred and fifty years later Plutarch wrote: ‘Among the illustrations men give of the mutations of fortune, the expulsion of Dionysius is still to this day the strongest and plainest.’ (Dion L, tr. Bernadotte Perrin) In Timoleon Plutarch writes: ‘After Dion had driven out Dionysius the tyrant, he was at once treacherously slain, and those who had helped him to free Syracuse were divided among themselves. The city, therefore, was continually exchanging one tyrant for another … At last Dionysius, in the tenth year of his exile, collected mercenaries, drove out Nisaeus, who was at that time master of Syracuse, recovered the power again, and established himself as tyrant anew; he had been unaccountably (paralogȏs) deprived by a small force of the greatest tyranny that ever was, and now more unaccountably still (paralogȏteron) he had become, from a lowly exile, master of those who drove him off.’ (Plutarch. Timoleon I.) The Syracusans sent an embassy to Greece, asking Corinthians for assistance against Dionysius. Timoleon of Corinth arrived to Sicily with a small expeditionary force and Dionysius surrendered to him. Plutarch writes: ‘Dionysius … after he had been conveyed to the camp of Timoleon, where for the first time he was seen as a private person and in humble garb, he was sent off to Corinth with a single ship and a small treasure, having been born and reared in a tyranny which was the greatest and most illustrious of all tyrannies, and having held this for ten years, and then for twelve other years, after the expedition of Dion, having been involved in harassing struggles and wars, and having surpassed in his sufferings all his acts of tyranny. For he lived to see the violent deaths of his grown-up sons and the violation of his maiden daughters, and the shameful abuse of the person of his wife, who was at the same time his sister, and who, while living, was subjected to the most wanton pleasures of his enemies, and after being murdered, together with her children, was cast into the see (Bernadotte Perrin notes: ‘The cruelties described were committed by the revolting people of Locri, to whom Dionysius had made himself odious during his residence there from 356 to 346 B.C.’)

But as for Dionysius, after his arrival at Corinth there was no Greek who did not long to behold and speak to him … For that age showed no work either of nature or of art that was comparable to this work of Fortune (ouden gar oute phuseȏs ho tote kairos oute technês hoson ekeino tuchês ergon epedeixato), namely, the recent tyrant of Sicily in Corinth, whiling his time away at a fishmonger’s or sitting in a perfumer’s shop, drinking diluted wine from the taverns and skirmishing in public with common prostitutes, or trying to teach music-girls in their singing, and earnestly contending with them about songs for the stage and melody in hymns. Some thought that Dionysius did these things as an aimless loiterer, and because he was naturally easy-going and fond of licence (phusei raithumon onta kai philakolaston); but others thought that it was in order to be held in contempt (huper tou kataphroneisthai) and not in fear by the Corinthians (kai mê phoberon einai tois Korinthiois), nor under suspicion (mêd’ hupopton) of being oppressed (hȏs barunomenon) by the change in his life (tên metabolên tou biou) and of striving after power (kai pragmatȏn ephiemenon), that he engaged in these practices and played an unnatural part (epitêdeuein kai hupokrinesthai para phusin), making a display of great silliness (pollên abelterian epideiknumenon) in the way he amused himself (en tȏi scholazein).’ (Plutarch, Timoleon XIII-XIV, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

What bearing has all this on the authenticity of Plato’s Second Letter? Bury says in his ‘Introduction to the Epistles’: ‘We have it on Galen’s authority that good prices were paid by the libraries for letters signed with illustrious names. This put a premium upon forgeries, especially skilful forgeries; so that it was well worth while for an unscrupulous man of letters to study the style of a celebrated author such as Plato with a view to foisting on the learned world a plausibly fabricated epistle.’ (Bury, op. cit. p.391)

The question of plausibility is to the point. How could any skilful and unscrupulous man of letters impersonate Plato ‘trotting out a long list of sages and potentates to suggest his own magnanimity and the magnificence of Dionysius’ after what became of Dionysius II? And if he did, how could such a forgery be included in Plato’s Letters preserved by the Academy? In my view, the Second Letter was accepted as Plato’s only because its authenticity was indubitable.