Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Version at BMCR home site
Maddalena Bonelli (ed.), Timée le Sophiste: Lexique platonicien. Avec une introduction de Jonathan Barnes. Philosophia Antiqua 108. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007. Pp. xiii, 668. ISBN 9789004158870. $209.00.
Reviewed by Joanna Komorowska, Paedagogical University, Cracow

Originally brought to scholarly attention by Ruhnke,1 the lexicon of Timaeus Sophista contains 468 entries and is consequently characterized by rather meager dimensions. Certainly, it is small when we think of the bulk of the Platonic corpus, and one cannot help noticing that the explanations the lexicon furnishes are at best cursory, sometimes limited to a single equivalent that hardly reflects the complexity of relevant semantic fields. Even more strikingly, in spite of its elevated claims (after all, we are dealing with a lexicon vocum Platonicarum), it takes account of a surprising number of non-Platonic words, deals with some issues of pure grammar (one may mention the appearance of positive, comparative, and superlative forms of ῥᾴδιον, 371-373), and refers to words or particles we would probably not deem worthy to include in a Platonic dictionary.

All this may prove rather confusing to anyone expecting a work of, let us say, more ambitious aspirations -- for such an individual, the lexicon might come as somewhat of a disappointment or, at the very least, surprise. Thus, it seems, the work does demand some explanation: given that the introductory letter clearly defines Timaeus' aim as that of providing an instrument which would facilitate a better understanding of the Platonic dialogues, it seems reasonable to assume that the voces non-Platonicae appeared in the course of transmission, as a result of the marginal notes penetrating into the archetype. With regard to the grammatical issues or the explanations concerning particles we may assume they were deemed necessary in view of the development of Greek language in the imperial era (after all, notes of similar character can be found in Neoplatonic commentaries).2 These assumptions, however, do not explain anything but the most general framework, leaving a reader with several nagging questions such as: where precisely did those non-Platonic lemmata come from and why were they introduced in the first place? Were there any other voces Platonicae and what was their fate? What was the original form of the text that became our lexicon? All those issues need to be considered if we want to have a clearer picture of the surviving work. As a result, commenting on the text proves to be an immense and exceptionally challenging task: it has to account both for the specific features of Timaean endeavor and for the surviving form of the dictionary.

The Leiden volume impresses by its sheer size: 47 pages of bilingual edition are accompanied by no fewer than 450 pages of commentary (which gives an approximate average of a page per entry) and preceded by an extensive (174 pages) introduction. Written by Jonathan Barnes, the latter is a nearly autonomous work in its own right, an exercise in both 'destructive' and 'constructive' scholarship. When dealing with the figure of Timaeus, problems of dating, etc., Barnes' conclusions are for the larger part negative: this is particularly manifest in the chapter devoted to the date of the work (pp. 22-31). Similarly, he seems bent upon emphasizing the complications related to the text we have, its truncated and interpolated state (pp. 86-101), which tends to put into perspective any idea of a faithful textual reproduction. Yet, in spite of those predominantly pessimistic conclusions, he is able to present a credible and highly impressive (if hypothetical) picture of the original text (pp. 101-122), a shadow of which we now possess.

While Barnes' introduction deals with generalities, details predominate in Bonelli's commentary: in spite of their relative independence, the two parts effectively supplement each other, one being highly synthetic, the other intrinsically analytic. In fact, the commentary deals with the apparent minutiae, firmly grounding Barnes' theoretical construction in the actual text. Where a Platonic word is concerned, the comments aim at reconstructing the original shape of the entry and the loci that may have been used in its explanation; in cases where a lemma does not appear in Plato, Bonelli strives to trace its possible origin and reasons for emergence in the given context. She also refers (almost constantly) to other lexicographical sources as well as to the Platonic scholia and, where appropriate, to the philosophical commentaries -- this framework is of particular importance, since one is presented with a comprehensive picture of the ancient interest in the given word. For many entries Bonelli's research results in valuable textual observation concerning Timaeus' text. One could invoke her carefully balanced comments on the word Ἄγιν, where she considers both the possibility of corruption of an original Platonic word and also that of a later interpolation from Herodotus (187), comments particularly laudable for their very inconclusiveness. Other comments open the way for further scholarly discussion (e.g. pp. 189-190, where the principal issue is the extent to which the Platonic epigrams were considered a part of the corpus). In general, Bonelli's commentary does a lot both for the clarity of the present text and also for the reconstruction of the original Timaeus, for she takes particular care to explain the reasons that may have motivated the inclusion of a given lemma or definition.

To summarize: this massive volume forms a fascinating and highly rewarding if not particularly easy read (four carefully assembled indices -lemmata, source texts, loci and verba potiora- are intended to facilitate reading, but even so the wealth of data seems overwhelming). For those whose principal interest lies in the study of Plato, the comprehensive introduction offers a crash course in Greek lexicography, its transmission, and reception, while the extensive commentary on the lemmata provides an insight into the appeal the Platonic text held for the ancient author. By contrast, for those interested in ancient lexicography, B.'s work will probably be a great exercise in the reconstruction of a rarely mentioned, largely lost, yet manifestly important lexicon, a welcome addition to the existing Fachliteratur.


1.   Timaei Sophistae Lexicon vocum Platonicarum ex codice Sangermanensi primum edidit atque animadversionibus illustravit David Ruhnkenius, apud Samuelem Luchtmanns et filios, Leyde 1754.
2.   One may invoke some examples of various linguistic explanations from Olympiodorus' In Platonis Gorgiam comm. 14.11; 14.16; 22.3; et al.

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