Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Debra Nails, Harold Tarrant (ed.), Second Sailing: Alternative Perspectives on Plato. Commentationes humanarum litterarum, 132, 2015. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica / The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 2015. Pp. xi, 366. ISBN 9789516534094. Contributors: In Collaboration with Mika Kajava and Eero Salmenkivi.

Reviewed by R. Bensen Cain, Oklahoma State University (bensen.cain@okstate.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This collection of twenty essays is dedicated to Holger Thesleff for his ninetieth birthday. It celebrates the contributions that he has made to Platonic scholarship for more than fifty years. According to the editors, Debra Nails and Harold Tarrant, the book is not intended as a Festschrift, in keeping with Thesleff's wishes (p. iii). Instead, and in the spirit of exploration, the book adopts the Platonic metaphor of a "second sailing" for its title. The metaphor applies equally well to Thesleff's nautical career and to his alternative methodological approach to the problems of interpreting Plato, which expands beyond traditional analysis. In his studies on Plato's style of writing and on the chronology of his works, Thesleff makes practical use of philology, an expanding historical context, and the literary dimensions of the dialogues, including narrative. He also takes account of the likelihood that Plato revised some dialogues, and of the relevance of the Academy and Academic debate to Plato's purposes. Second Sailing is a collaborative effort by writers who are affiliated with Thesleff as a mentor, colleague, or friend. The book will prove itself as a valuable resource for researchers and may easily be used in conjunction with Platonic Patterns, A Collection of Studies by Holger Thesleff (Parmenides Publishing, 2009). Typically, citations of Thesleff's earlier works are combined with the pagination of Platonic Patterns.

All the articles are written in English. The book contains a brief preface by Mika Kajava, Paulina Remes, and Eero Salmenkivi. There is an Introduction written by the editors Debra Nails and Harold Tarrant, a bibliography, an index locorum, and a general index. The Introduction provides summary remarks on each essay and explains the rationale for the organization of the essays. The papers are arranged with an eye on the sequence of Thesleff's own publications.

One of the merits of Second Sailing is that it contains the work of international scholars whose publications are not readily available in English. A related feature is that most essays are written from the standpoint of authors who are engaged in their current projects and advocate a specific standpoint within Platonic scholarship. At the same time, the essays are in keeping with the "alternative perspectives" model of interpretation that Thesleff pioneered.

The leading essay is Dimitri El Murr's account of the paradigmatic method in the Statesman. Plato's introduction of the paradigm as a method of inquiry is recognized as an advance over the method of division. Yet, as El Murr argues, the epistemological significance of the paradigmatic method is in need of further investigation. Phillip Horky's essay is associated with Thesleff's earliest published work on Pythagoreanism and Hellenistic Philosophy (1961, 1965). The metaphor of a second sailing is highlighted since Horky builds on the relation of Plato to Pythagoreanism through a study of the protreptic writings of Pseudo-Archytas and Iamblichus' interpretation of them. Two papers, by Marco Tulli and A. Gabrièle Wersinger-Taylor, address Plato's style of presentation and his literary output. Tulli develops the implicit meaning of Archilochus' fable of the fox and hedgehog and applies it to Plato's multifaceted style of writing. Wersinger-Taylor discusses the interplay of style and content in interpreting an especially difficult passage wherein Socrates reaches a crescendo in his description of the nature of the Good, and Glaucon responds with a sense of awe (Republic 6, 509b-c).

Harold Tarrant picks up on Thesleff's interest in dialogues of contested authenticity and recognizes "the importance of studying not only authentic dialogues, but also those normally considered spurious" (59). His contribution concerns the Second Alcibiades and its discussion of the limitations of human knowledge and the need for prayer. In her essay, Debra Nails challenges three standard interpretations of Diotima's character and her role as "Plato's mouthpiece" in the Symposium. She throws into question the other-worldly mysticism of Diotima's teachings and contrasts it with the practically-minded views of Socrates and Plato's educational mission. The next two articles draw upon Thesleff's rethinking of the traditional assumptions about the order of composition of Plato's dialogues and the methods that scholars employ to address putative discrepancies within the corpus as a whole. In this regard, Michael Erler's essay argues for the importance of intertextuality and Plato's consummate skill in adapting argument to a specific context. Anne-Marie Schultz explores the possibility of an earlier version of the Theaetetus and its implications for understanding the changes that may have occurred in Plato's choice of narrative style. Mario Regali offers an interpretation of Socrates' character as a mask which he claims is used consistently by Plato throughout the dialogues.

The essays by Christopher Rowe and Francisco Gonzalez also criticize the practice of interpretation based on chronology and the all-too-narrow reading of the dialogues that relies heavily on developmental assumptions. Rowe discusses the passage in the Sophist (231b) that describes, in a puzzling manner, the method of purifying others of their ignorance. His analysis raises a series of core questions that leads to an extended and worthwhile investigation of the sixth account of sophistry (226a-231b). Gonzalez develops his critical thesis on chronology using the Phaedrus and six criteria which the dialogue offers for evaluating written works. Gerald Press expresses his indebtedness to Thesleff for freeing him from the academic habits of sterile analysis of Plato's views in terms of doctrines. Press emphasizes the importance of Plato's role as an educator as well as his versatility as a writer. He argues that Plato is the sort of "philosophy teacher . . . who guides his readers and means the dialogues to serve as occasions for or incitements to a particular kind of learning" (195). Press's essay makes a convincing case that the Plato of Plato's dialogues is an educator in the spirit of "paideia rather than didaskalia" (195).

The next sequence of essays reflect indirectly upon Thesleff's work on Plato's ontology of Forms and the "two-level model" (199). Rafael Ferber and Gregor Damschen present a "meta-ontological" and formal approach to the Idea of the Good. Rick Benitez tackles the time-worn interpretive problem of how to understand Socrates' claim in the Apology (40c) that death is "one of two things: either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is . . . a change and a relocating for the soul from here to another place" (trans. Grube). Benitez rejects the annihilationist reading which construes the alternatives as either: "no afterlife" or "afterlife" (205). Benitez draws on the position that Socrates takes in the Phaedo. He argues that the "no afterlife" alternative should be replaced a view about with "the aspiration to the attainment of wisdom, a condition removed from want, desire, pleasure, pain, and sensation" (222). In the Coda (224), he points out that his reading, if accepted, would imply a rejection of standard interpretive methods. Lloyd Gerson emphasizes the importance of interpreting Plato's metaphysical and ethical views in tandem with each other. He argues for a dual conceptualization of the Good: the good as a form that is coordinate with other forms, and the superordinate Idea of the Good that transcends the realm of forms.

Thomas Alexander Szlezák's article expands on his view that certain "deliberate gaps" in the content of Plato's dialogues cannot be explained as anything other than an indication that Plato left unwritten some of his most important doctrines. J. J. Mulhern presents a comparative analysis to show that Plato's awareness of how Homer allows his characters to speak for themselves can be applied to Plato's own authorial techniques. In the next essay, Jan Stolpe comments on the difficulties he faced in his project of translating Plato's dialogues into Swedish. Mitchell Miller takes as his subject Plato's complex relation to his culture when he offers, by means of the Symposium, what Miller calls Plato's "gift" to Athens "of his new conception of the divine" (293). Finally, Necip Fikri Alican presents a light-hearted and critical perspective on the significance of Plato's forms. He elaborates on Thesleff's proposal that Plato's forms are more fruitfully grasped as serving specific functions within the dialogues and are not part of a monolithic metaphysical position.

Current controversies are alive and well in Second Sailing, especially with regard to Plato's use of Forms and the ontological status of the Good. Another set of topics concerns the new ways in which scholars propose to handle the apparent discrepancies between the Socratic Plato, who espouses philosophical positions tied more closely with the "Socratic" dimension of Plato's dialogues, and the Platonic Socrates, who espouses positions associated with Platonist traditions of interpretation. This set of topics includes: Socrates' views on the value of death in the Apology and Phaedo; competing views on the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo and Symposium; distinct psychological models of desire in the Symposium and Republic; seemingly different accounts of pleasure in the Republic and Philebus; and interpretations on the methods of division and related issues in the Phaedrus, Statesman, and Sophist.

Many essays are far more nuanced than they might at first appear. It is not possible to convey such nuances in this review. The book's tribute to Holger Thesleff should initiate a new wave of discussion that will encourage the future generation of scholars to conduct research within a wider sphere of topics and with a wider array of methods of interpreting Plato.

Authors and Titles

Mika Kajava, Paulina Remes, and Eero Salmenkivi, Preface.
Harold Tarrant and Debra Nails, Introduction.
1. Dimitri El Murr, "Paradigmatic Method and Platonic Epistemology."
2. Phillip Sidney Horky, "Pseudo-Archytas' Protreptics? On Wisdom in its Contexts."
3. Mauro Tulli, "Plato and the Variety of Literary Production."
4. A. Gabrièle Wersinger-Taylor, "The Meaning of 'Ἄπολλον ... δαιμονίας ὑπερβολῆς' in Plato's Republic 6, 509b6-c: A New Hypothesis."
5. Harold Tarrant, "Dangerous Sailing: [Plato] Second Alcibiades 147a1-4."
6. Debra Nails, "Bad Luck to Take a Woman Aboard."
7. Michael Erler, "Argument and Context: Adaption and Recasting of Positions in Plato's Dialogues."
8. Anne-Marie Schultz, "Listening to Socrates in the Theaetetus: Recovering a Lost Narrator."
9. Mario Regali, "The Mask of Dialogue: On the Unity of Socrates' Characterization in Plato's Dialogues."
10. Christopher Rowe, "Plato, Socrates, and the genei gennaia sophistikē of Sophist 231b."
11. Francisco J. Gonzalez, "Erōs and Dialectic in Plato's Phaedrus: Questioning the Value of Chronology."
12. Gerald Press, "Changing Course in Platonic Studies."
13. Rafael Ferber and Gregor Damschen, "Is the Idea of the Good Beyond Being? Plato's epekeina tēs ousias Revisited (Republic 6, 509b8-10)."
14. Rick Benitez, "Like Being Nothing: Death and Anaesthesia in Plato's Apology 40c."
15. Lloyd P. Gerson, "Ideas of Good?"
16. Thomas Alexander Szlezák, "Are There Deliberately Left Gaps in Plato's Dialogues?
17. J. J. Mulhern, "Plato's Putative Mouthpiece and Ancient Authorial Practice: The Case of Homer."
18. Jan Stolpe, "Translating Plato."
19. Mitchell Miller, "Making New Gods'? A Reflection on the Gift of the Symposium."
20. Necip Fikri Alican. "A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course, but What about Horseness?"

1 comment:

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