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).’


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

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