Thursday, July 25, 2013


Richard Patterson, Vassilis Karasmanis, Arnold Hermann (ed.), Presocratics and Plato: A Festschrift at Delphi in Honor of Charles Kahn. Papers presented at the festschrift symposium in honor of Charles Kahn organized by the Hyele Institute for Comparative Studies European Cultural Center of Delphi, June 3rd-7th, 2009, Delphi, Greece. Las Vegas; Zurich; Athens: Parmenides Publishing, 2012. Pp. xxix, 599. ISBN 9781930972759. $87.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alberto Bernabé, Universidad Complutense (

Version at BMCR home site


Charles Kahn is one of the best known specialists in ancient Greek philosophy, especially on Plato and the Presocratics. The European Cultural Center of Delphi in Greece hosted the international "Presocratics and Plato" Symposium in his honor in June 2009. This volume contains papers by friends, former students and colleagues, many of whom were present at this event.

The book is divided into four sections, preceded by a Foreword by Richard Patterson, a Preface called "Thoughts for Delphi" by Charles Kahn, and a Chronological Bibliography of this author.

The first part, 'The Presocratics', is composed of six papers:

1. Enrique Hülsz Piccone, 'Heraclitus on the Sun' (3-24), examines the very problematic evidence provided by column 4 of the Derveni papyrus for Heraclitus fragments B3 and B94, which are presented as forming a single continuous passage. He argues that the papyrus text (whose reading is itself very problematic) does not seem to make good sense of these fragments together as a unity.

2. Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, '"The Light of Day by Night" nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14' (25-58), deals with Parmenides frr. B14 and B15, i.e. the fragments where Parmenides seems to have discovered 'heliophotism' (the borrowing of moon's light from the sun). He first analyzes Plutarch's text, our source for B14. After a philological analysis of the history of Scaliger's emendation νυκτιφαὲς for νυκτὶ φάος, and of the possible meanings of this neologism, a very shrewd examination of the sense of νυκτιφαής in five parallel texts, and several considerations about consequences of this conjecture, Mourelatos concludes very convincingly that the lectio recepta νυκτὶ φάος must be defended and makes the conjecture νυκτιφαὲς unnecessary.

3. Diskin Clay, 'Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi' (59-77), analyzes the text of the Strasbourg Papyrus and the strange unity of Empedocles' philosophy, especially the unexpected texts (formerly attributed to Purifications but now shown to be parts of On Nature) that alter our opinion about Empedocles' cosmic cycle. Clay points out the polyphony of Empedocles' poem(s), marked in the new texts by the use of verbs in first person plural, and examines "distant echoes": Lucretius' Empedocles, Empedocles in Athens, Delphi and Panopolis. His comparison with Orphic gold tablets shows a lack of awareness of recent bibliography.1

3. Richard McKirahan, 'The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus' (79-110), makes a very interesting attempt to reconstruct the cosmogony constructed by the Derveni Author in his allegorical interpretation of a poem by 'Orpheus'. He points out that the Derveni Author makes a distinction between two kinds of entity: those that always exist (named 'things-that-are' τὰ ὄντα, τὰ ἐόντα) and those that do not always exist (named 'things-that-are-now' τὰ νῦν ἐόντα), and that he 'translates' the mythic theogony into a physical cosmogony, distinguishing pre-cosmic phases, a cosmogonic moment, and proposals for an eschatology. Although I disagree in some details,2 the proposal is very convincing.

4. John M. Dillon, 'Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up' (111-24), compares several texts dealing with Critias, with the aim of determining if we can judge Critias as a thinker. His conclusions are that he is a philosopher of some sort, but not a highly talented and well-informed Athenian intellectual.

5. Carl A. Huffman, 'Aristoxenus' Account of Pythagoras' (125-43), examines the evidence for Aristoxenus, focusing on fr. 25 which concerns Pythagoras' diet. He argues that this does not present a rationalizing view of Pythagoras, but an accurate account of philosopher's dietary habits.

The second part, 'Plato: Studies in Individual Dialogues' is composed of nine papers:

6. David Sedley, 'Plato's Theory of Change at Phaedo 70-71' (pp. 147-163), analyzes the Cyclical Argument (a theory of change between opposites) presented by Plato in Phaedo 70-71 to demonstrate the scientific respectability of the religious tradition about reincarnation.

7. Julia Annas, 'Virtue and Law in the Republic' (165-82), examines the place of laws in the ideally virtuous city presented in the Republic and in Laws, and concludes that both the Republic and Laws share the assumption that the ideally virtuous city will make the citizens virtuous and so happy.

8. Vassilis Karasmanis, 'Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato's Parmenides' (183-203), analyzes the relation of the Parmenides to the other Platonic dialogues, and the role of the hypotheses concerning the One. He points out that, in spite of the clear relationship between the Parmenides and the Republic, it is difficult to identify the One with the Good, but the Parmenides aims to give an answer to the central issue in the Republic: What is the right method of investigating first principles?

9. Arnold Hermann, 'Plato's Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides' (205-31), examines the question of Plato's theory of Forms and possible Eleatic influence on it, and concludes that many of the objections scholars have concerning the Forms (both in Plato's time and today) arise from a failure to distinguish between 'having a property' versus 'being a property'.

10. Lesley Brown, 'Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist' (233-54), tries to understand the 'greatest difficulty' of Sophist 257-259, that is, whether τὸ μὴ ὄν is the contrary of being. She argues that Plato introduced an important notion when he claimed that a negative term need not signify what is contrary, but 'only different'.

11. Sarah Broadie, 'Fifth-Century Bugbears in the Timaeus' (255-89), offers a view of the Timaeus as a Platonic response to pre-existent theories. She analyzes from this point of view the creation of mortal animals and the discussion of the 'receptacle'.

12. Satoshi Ogihana, 'False Pleasures: Philebus 36c-40e' (291-309), presents an interpretation of this passage, offering a new account of the mechanism that makes it the case that the pleasures of good people turn out to be true for the most part, and those of bad people false for the most part.

13. Susan Sauvé Meyer, 'Pleasure, Pain, and "Anticipation" in Plato's Laws, Book I' (311-28), examines a passage of Laws (644c4-d3) and the "fable" that follows it (645b2) in order to reconstruct a psychological theory. The main contribution of the paper is a re-evaluation of the role of the θυμώδης in the Laws.

14. Christopher J. Rowe, 'Socrates in Plato's Laws' (329-48), argues for the 'presence' of Socrates in the Laws, not only because the Athenian Stranger alludes repeatedly to things said by Socrates in other dialogues, but also because the Laws frequently refers to ideas that Plato associates with Socrates. Nevertheless the author concludes that there seems to be no room in Magnesia as constructed by the Athenian Stranger for individual inquiry, and that sounds positively anti-Socratic.

The third part, 'Themes in Plato' is composed of five papers:

15. Anthony A. Long, 'Slavery as a Philosophical Metaphor in Plato and Xenophon' (351-65), analyzes the use of the metaphor of slavery in the fifth and four centuries BCE.

16. Dorothea Frede, 'Forms, Functions, and Structure in Plato' (367-90), examines the possibility of a functional account of things to which Plato assigns forms.

17. Paul Kalligas, 'From Being an Image to Being What-Is-Not' (391-409), deals with the notion of image or copy (εἴδωλον) and the paradox at Sophist 240c (τὸ μὴ ὂν . . . εἶναί πως).

18. Tomás Calvo, 'The Method of Hypothesis and Its Connection to the Collection and Division Strategies' (411-27), examines Plato's conceptions of dialectic, concluding that 'the Method of Hypotheses and the Collection and Division strategies appear as the appropriate dialectic strategies in order to establish premises of hypotheses as well as to test them'.

19. Richard Patterson, 'Word and Image in Plato' (429-55), analyzes Plato's imagery as an alliance of word and image and the way in which he incorporates rational considerations into seductive verbal pictures.

The fourth part, 'Plato and Beyond' is composed of three papers:

20. Aryeh Kosman, 'Aristotle on the Power of Perception: Awareness, Self-Awareness and the Awareness of Others' (459-89), deals with Aristotle's views on perception as a mode of human awareness.

21. D. M. Hutchinson, 'Sympathy, Awareness, and Belonging to Oneself in Plotinus' (491-510) examines Plotinus' theory of consciousness, distinguishing συμπάθεια, an objective phenomenon involving a multitude of bodily parts and activities, from συναίσθησις, a subjective phenomenon in which the bodily parts and activities are one's own or belong to oneself.

22. Richard Sorabji, 'Moral Conscience: Contributions to the Idea in Plato and Platonism' (511-29), analyzes the multiple sources (Plato, Platonists, Pythagoreans, Epicureans and Stoics) which contributed to the development of the concept of moral conscience, which was subsequently developed by Christianity in a different way.

To sum up, this is a very important book written by some of the best scholars of Greek philosophy and containing many interesting papers about much-discussed topics in Presocratic and Platonic scholarship. A precious gift for one of the most influential teachers of these topics.


1.   Ch. Riedweg, 'Orphisches bei Empedokles', Antike und Abendland 41, 1995, 34-59; C. Megino, Orfeo y el orfismo en la poesía de Empédocles: influencias y paralelismos, Madrid 2005; A. Bernabé and A. I. Jiménez San Cristóbal, Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets, Leiden 2008.
2.   A. Bernabé, 'The Commentary of the Derveni Papyrus: Presocratic Cosmogonies at Work', paper presented in the Third Biennial Conference of the International Association for Presocratic Studies, CEPHCIS-UNAM (January 2012, Mérida, México), forthcoming.

1 comment:

  1. I thank Prof. Bernabe for his appreciative and useful review of the volume, but I would simply wish to demur, in the case of my own contribution, that my intention was rather to suggest that Critias was *not* so much a philosopher of any sort, as 'a highly talented and well-informed Athenian intellectual'. I must not have made that sufficiently clear!