Jonathan Barnes,The Hellenistic Platos

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Platonism was the dominant philosophy of late antiquity and the only pagan system which seemed capable of withstanding the insidious advance of Christianity...

Transcript of Jonathan Barnes,The Hellenistic Platos

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    The Hellenistic Platos Author(s): Jonathan Barnes Source: Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, Vol. 24, No. 2 (June 1991), pp.

    115-128Published by: De GruyterStable URL: 28-04-2015 07:02 UTC

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  • The Hellenistic Platos Jonathan Barnes


    Platonism was the dominant philosophy of late antiquity and the only pagan system which seemed capable of withstanding the insidious advance of Christianity. Heinrich Drrie, who died two years ago, was an authority on this phase of ancient thought: Der Piatonismus in der Antike, an ambitious and multi-voluminous project, is his monument. Der Piatonismus presents a copious selection of texts, accompanied by translation and commentary, to illuminate the philosophy of the impe- rial ntaxTcoviKoi: its substance, its background, its prehistory. The sec- ond volume, here under review,1 covers certain aspects of Platonism in the Hellenistic period.2

    There are 200 pages of text and 300 of commentary. The text divides into five main sections, and subdivides into 37 'Bausteine'.3 Drrie left the work unfinished at his death: the typescript has been prepared for publication by Matthias Baltes with the help of Annemarie Drrie and Friedhelm Mann. Baltes will oversee the continuation of the project.

    1 Heinrich Drrie, Der Piatortismus in der Antike: II Der hellenistische Rahmen des kaiserzeitlichen Piatonismus. Fromann-Holzboog, Stuttgart/ Bad Cannstatt, 1990. Pp. XV + 531.DM550.

    2 For some comment on volume I, and on the project in general, see Phronesis 32 (1 987) 360-63.

    3 Volume II contains Bausteine 36-72. In this review I shall follow Dome's own mode of reference: thus '42.2' refers to the second text in the forty-second Baustein.

    APEIRON a journal for ancient philosophy and science 0003-6390/91/2402 115-128 $3.00 Academic Printing & Publishing

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  • 116 Jonathan Barnes


    In the first section of the volume, Bausteine 36-46 document Plato's early fortunes outside the Academy. The story begins with hatred and ends with honour. An honoured text attracts scholarship: Bausteine 47-50 deal with the Hellenistic editions of Plato's dialogues, and with their incor- poration into the philosophical curriculum. Since the dialogues are works of literature as well as works of philosophy, their stylistic and aesthetic merit came up for assessment: to this assessment are dedicated items 51-57. And lastly, interest in Plato the man: the growth of the biographical legends is briefly illustrated (58-61); and the curious story of Plato's connexions with Eastern wisdom - Egyptians, Persians, Jews - is narrated at length (62-71). By the end of the Hellenistic period, Plato's status was assured: an anonymous epigram, which forms Baustein 72, 'points to a future which will recognize Plato, and Plato alone, as the standard for all philosophy7 (510).

    The texts are generously presented; the translations, where I have checked them, are accurate; there is a rich offering of supplementary references and a discriminating guide to the secondary literature; and the commentary provides numerous insights on controverted issues. (I may mention Dome's convincing rejection of the story that Panaetius athetised the Phaedo: the story that he did so is based upon a simple misunderstanding.4 Or again, I applaud Dome's insistence, against a common opinion, that Posidonius did not write a commentary on the Timaeus.5)

    4 320-3; the story is told in an epigram, Anth Pal IX 358 = Panaetius, fr 128 van Straaten = 45.5.

    5 329-32 (but Dorne ignores Sextus, M VII 93, the text most often cited for the common view). - PGen inv. 203 has been held to contain an abridgement of this putative commentary (so F. Lasserre, 'Abrg indit du commentaire de Posidonios au Time de Platon', in F. Adorno et al, Protagora, Antifonte, Posidonio, Aristotele, Studi e testi per il corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini 2 (Florence 1986)); but see W. Burkert, 'Xenarchos statt Poseidonios: zu Pap.Gen.inv.203', Zeitschrift fr Papyrologie und Epigraphik 67 (1987) 51-5. See further I.G. Kidd, Posidonius: II - the commentary, Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 14 (Cambridge 1988), 339-40.

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  • The Hellenistic Platos 117

    The selection and the arrangement of the texts may, however, cause some perplexity. For example, most of the passages assembled as Baustein 37 under the rubric 'literarische Diebstahl' have nothing to do with plagiarism. Again, the balance of texts is sometimes perverse.6 Again, by no means all of the texts refer to the Hellenistic background: most of the passages cited come, inevitably, from post-Hellenistic authors; and in many cases there is no reason to suppose that these authors are reporting or reflecting earlier material. Finally, the selection omits a number of items which any reader would, I suspect, wish to find.7

    And two more general grumbles. First, the texts are presented virtu- ally without critical apparatus. No doubt a compilation of this sort does not require a comprehensive scholarly apparatus. But a reader is entitled to be warned when the sense of a passage depends on a controverted choice of reading or on a conjecture. Der Piatonismus does not always give such warnings. The serious student of its texts must also have the pertinent scholarly editions to hand.

    Secondly, there is the matter of money. The book has been produced with a luxurious elegance rare among academic imprints. It is a pleasure to hold and a pleasure to read.8 But the elegance has its price - and 550 German marks will put the volume beyond the reach of most scholars and many libraries. Since a chief part of the scholarly utility of Der Platonismus lies in the fact that it assembles scattered and often inacces- sible texts, the question of cost is neither trivial nor vulgar. Der Platonis- mus will be of little use if it merely adorns the shelves of wealthy librarians. Let the publishers forgo luxury in their subsequent volumes and think rather of their readers' pockets.

    6 Thus 67 documents the connexions between Pythagoras and the magi: the texts are there only because Dome supposes - without any particular plausibility - that the link between Pythagoras and the Persians provided a model for the link between Plato and the Persians.

    7 Judgements of this sort ought no doubt to await the completion of the project; but future volumes will surely not contain the Epicurean texts whose absence I shall later lament.

    8 And understanding is aided by the idiosyncratic typography, which assigns a separate line to each separate colon. Prose thus has the outward appearance of irregular verse - and is prodigal with paper.

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  • 118 Jonathan Barnes

    Christmas is coming as I write, and I have no wish to be a grouse. Grim things can be said about most books. About this book I can also say things which do not hold universally: it is the product of a wise and learned scholar; it puts together a valuable collection of texts; it strives to accomplish something which no-one has accomplished before.


    In what follows I shall first say something about Plato's Hellenistic fortuna (in connexion with 36-46), and then make some remarks about the Hellenistic text of Plato (in connexion with 47-50).


    Here is a history. Plato was revered in his own school. The legend began early. Speusippus' IlepiSeutvov9 contained the story of Plato's semi-di- vine birth (Diogenes Laertius III 2 = 58.1); and Drrie plausibly ascribes to Speusippus the anecdote about Socrates' prophetic dream of the swan (418), and the tale of Plato's journey to Egypt (429 n.13).10

    9 On which see L. Taran, Speusippus of Athens (Leiden 1981), 228-35.

    10 Other items accrued later. Drrie is particularly concerned with the stories connect- ing Plato with Zoroaster and the magi: 'Plato's dependence on the wisdom of the Chaldaeans or magi is asserted only in late sources, and rarely' (453 - first in Pausanias, IV xxxii 4 = 66.1 and Pliny, nat hist XXX 8-9 = 66.2). Certainly the question of Persian influence was much disputed in the Imperial period (see 68). But - as Drrie himself notes (478) - there are very early connexions, which may even have a basis in fact, between Plato and the Persians: the Index Academicorum, III 34-43 reports that a Chaldaean was present at Plato's death (cf Seneca, ep lviii 31 = 60.3; anon., proleg 6.19-21 = 68.4b: see 418-19), and the report probably comes from Philip of Opus (see K. Gaiser, Philodems Acadmica, Supplementum Platonicum 1 [Stutt- gart/Bad Cannstatt 1988], 434-6). (Note too the report that a P