Tbilisi State University Ivane Javakhishvili
Plato’s Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Context
Souls and bodies in the Epinomis
Sofia University “Saint Kliment Ohridsky”
29 May 2018
Some conjectures about the context: the problem of phronesis
In the very first lines of the late Platonic dialogue the Epinomis there is one word, mentioned twice. The word is phronesis – once it is in the genitive, and once in the accusative case (973 a 1-5): ΚΛ. Πρὸς μὲν τὸ τῆς ὁμολογίας ἥκομεν ἅπαντες ὀρθῶς, ὦ ξένε, τρεῖς ὄντες, ἐγὼ καὶ σὺ καὶ Μέγιλλος ὅδε, τὸ τῆς φρονήσεως ἐπισκεψόμενοι τίνι ποτὲ χρὴ λόγῳ διεξελθεῖν, ὃ τὴν ἀνθρωπίνην ἕξιν φαμέν, ὅταν διανοηθῇ, κάλλιστ’ ἔχειν ποιεῖν πρὸς φρόνησιν ὅσην δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ σχεῖν.
The hidden focus of the dialogue: not only wisdom and moderation, but also understanding: understanding, understood not only and solely in the strict epistemological sense, but also and primarily as the seed of the dianoetical virtue, which plays such an important role in the ethical treatises of Aristotle.
1. Debates about the authorship of the dialogue. Arguments and counterarguments for attributing the dialogue to Plato and Philip[i]; conjecture about the possible authorship of Aristotle. Werner Jaeger and many scholars have paid attention to the fact that all the members of the Academy had written dialogues. They had been obliged to do so by their tutor and master[ii]. Aristotle had written poetry and his dialogues did not concede in respect of the prosaic refinement to any of the belletristic masterpieces of Plato[iii]. On the other hand, we don’t know anything about other possible writings of Philip; his highest erudition in the mathematical astronomy and the tables of the correlation between the days in the calendar and the corresponding celestial phenomena, known as parepegmatics[iv]. (Festugière, A.-J. La révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste; van der Waerden, Лосев, D. R. Dick vs. Tarán and Hans-Jochan Krämer, Brisson).
2. The usual attribution of the dialogue to the hand of Philip and moreover the dating of the dialogue Epinomis in the decades after the death of Plato, fail to explain the author’s motive for composing it[v].
3. The greatest rival of the Academy and personally of Plato in the last two decades of his life was not anyone from the sophists. They had been traveling intellectuals, the best of them were no longer on the scene of life and if not all of them, at least some of them were good philosophers. The greatest rival to Plato and the Academy was Isocrates and his rhetorical school[vi]. The great competition between the two schools probably reached its extreme in the year 355 BC, when Isocrates published his enormous auto-apology Antidosis, in which he re-stated in a neat and systematic form his ideology about the nature of the general education, the higher education as he saw it and the respective disciplines in the curriculum: what is to be studied or not, for how long and for what purpose. The credo of his educational practices and teachings is confessed: the human nature is incapable of real knowledge and cognition[vii].
 I understand it quite simply. Since human nature cannot attain knowledge that would enable us to know what we must say or do, after this I think that the wise (sophoi ) are those who have the ability to reach the best opinions (doxai ) most of the time, and philosophers are those who spend time acquiring such an intelligence as quickly as possible.
4. De philosophia and Protrepticos[viii]; the Epinomis and the Academy in Plato’s last years. Several places in the Epinomis in which the phrase human nature is explicitly mentioned and germane (e.g. in 977 c2 the understanding of the humans is bounded with the ability to conceive of number).
5. Understanding, possible for everyone
6. Baby-maths will not suffice, as Burnyeat puts it, or correspondingly, some baby-science[ix]. What a mortal man must learn in order to be wise?[x] (973b). Those who strive to live as nobly as they can during their life and at the end to die a noble death have a good hope of attaining after they die everything for which they have striven (973 c).
* understanding phronesis is given in and attainable as a potentiality in every human being (974b So, the dialogue offers an understandable description: starting from the difficulties, endangering the conception of the fetus in the womb, passing through the structure of the Whole and the visible and invisible inhabitants in its realm, adding some new sketches to the explanation of the moving of the celestial dynameis, etc., and finishing with the trip to the Isles of the Blest after the physical death (992b-c).
7. the final book of the Laws[xi]; the exclamation of Clinias:
I hope that this is the goal of your laws, that people will sing hymns to the gods and live purer lives, and then meet with the end that is at once best and finest. (980b)
More impressive in the Epinomis is not this undeniable connection with the Laws and the aforementioned exaggerated failure to provide a legislature for something important, although the conversation happens as if on the following day. More remarkable is the general recapitulation of ontological and theological statements, which are fundamental in the previous dialogues. There is a short, but important micro dialogue-precision between Clinias and the Athenian guest (between 979d and 981 b) in which it is clarified that the chief concern of the dialogue is not the finalization of the Laws, but the ambition to sketch a decent account of the most important issues in theology and theogony, and man’s proper conduct, in order for his life to be pious and wise. After having asked for help in his prayer, the Athenian reveals:
Since people in the past have failed badly in describing the generation of gods and living things, it appears that I must begin by constructing an account based on my previous one, taking up again my attack on impious accounts, and declaring that there are gods who care for all things, great and small, who are inexorable in matters of justice. I suppose you remember, Clinias, since you have received a written record. What we said then was quite true. The most important point was that as a whole, soul is older than any body. Do you recall? You surely must remember. For what is superior, older and more godlike is obviously so in relation to what is inferior, younger and less honorable, and what rules or leads is in every way older than what is ruled or led. (980c-981 b)
The structure of the “beautiful bodies” in the Timaeus and the Epinomis
In respect of the material structure of the Whole, the Epinomis inherits, first, three great ontological axioms from the previously mentioned works, mainly from the Timaeus. 1. The fundamental dichotomy between the most divine entity, the soul of the cosmos, and the body of the cosmos; 2.The perfect unity between the soul and the body, which every living creature imitates, following the pattern of the beautiful symmetry between them on the cosmic level. This conjunction is needed in order every living being to be perfect, harmonious and healthy one. The soul and the body are initially distinct, but from a certain moment onwards they are inseparable in the created cosmos (36d-e). There are five elemental, stereometric bodies, accordingly to the eikos logos (981b3). The Epinomis is on the same conceptual track. The first entity, the soul, according to the Athenian guest, is older and invisible, intelligent and intelligible; it shares memory (here remains unspecified with whom or what, but probably with the gods and the invisible daimones), and also it is capable of calculating what is susceptible to odd and even.
*the five physical elements: fire, water, air, earth and ether. All living creatures reach perfection with one of these bodies ruling or dominating in their material compositions. (981c6-8). The living creatures, whose lives are bounded with the earth, are of course, the humans, the animals, possessing many legs, the reptiles and self-understandable, the plants. They all are genera of living creatures, in the composition of which all the material-corporeal ingredients are used, but under the domination of the earth in the mixture. (981d6) Next in the enumeration of the Athenian guest come the creatures, in whose composition the fire dominates, but also they contain some portions of earth and air, and some miniscule particles of the other (two) basic ingredients. The creatures with this type of corporeal composition are part of the entity of becoming, they are perceptible and visible. In conformity with the Timaeus, but also stepping a little bit aside, the Athenian guest determines that these are the celestial living beings in the divine genus of the stars. Let’s point out and emphasize that this refers to the stars, to the stellar constellations, whereas the movement of the planets requires and correspondingly receives another explanation – both in the Timaeus, and in the Epinomis. These divine and living celestial dwellers – the fixed stars and their constellations possess the most beautiful kind of body and they are endowed with the most blissful and best soul. (981e2-6). The celestial bodies have twofold ontological nature, which imposes the dilemma: whether they are either absolutely imperishable and immortal, or though not eternal in an absolute sense, they have such an eternal duration (from the point of view of the mortals) of their lives, that requires nothing more.
The perfectly moving celestial bodies are phronimoi. The constant and unchangeable order in their movement testifies that they are understanding. Again, this is in tune with what is said by Timaeus in the dialogue, named after him. There is one more stable bridge, connecting the Epinomis with the core values and the fundamentals of the ontology and the theology of the emblematic dialogues. The celestial bodies possess reason (nous) and the absolute necessity in this cosmic order is guarded by the three Moirai (982 b-c), as the myth of Er narrates in the final book of the Republic.
* striking differences between the dialogues in the aspect of the five bodies; the ether;
**important question. If this is the stereometrical figure of the All, or of the Whole, and as the mathematicians since Euclid has proved, even though it perfectly exhausts any given sphere, better than any other regular polyhedron, how this perfectly congruent dodecahedron correlates with the perfect sphere of the body of the cosmos, so much praised in many instances for its smoothness and evenness, for the conditions, which it creates for the incessant, regular and constant movement of the celestial sphere and the boundless running of time?
These questions most probably had been rigorously debated in the Academy, not only because Aristotle might have written some of the chapters of the De caelo still being a member of the school in the life-time of his tutor, but the Epinomis does not pose them at all. There is no stereometry and nothing about the structure of the five bodies is specified.
Conclusion: the invisible inhabitants of the bodies
The Epinomis holds a position at an equal distance from the spatial concept of the ether both in the Timaeus and in the De caelo and pretty much anticipates the Aristotelian idea of the symphyton pneuma.
Instead of mathematical details, the author of the Epinomis aimed at the understanding-phronesis and the believe of the readers: there are spiritual-and-material invisible creatures everywhere in all these spheres of the cosmos.
The ether is used in the first place and as a primary source for their creation.
We may suppose that soul fashions living things out of it which (like the other kinds of living things) are for the most part characterized by that substance, but which also possess smaller amounts of the other kinds in order to bond them together. After ether, soul fashions a different kind of living things out of air, and a third out of water… it is plausible that soul filled the entire heaven with living things, employing each according to its character, since all share in life.(984c)
***prototype of divine servants – the good ones, are depicted here, in the Epinomis.
The daimones, made of ether and air, are wholly imperceptible and invisible. (984e) The demigods, made of water, are “sometimes seen, sometimes hidden and invisible, provoking wonder through its dim appearance” (985c).
And the divine deeds of all these living, intelligent and sensitive assistants of the gods, shaped by the cosmic soul in all realms of the five beautiful bodies, really do happen, because:
They have a wonderful intelligence, being of kinds that learn quickly and have good memories, and we should say that they know all our thoughts and both love those of us who are noble and good and hate those who are extremely evil, since already with these kinds we are discussing beings that experience pain. (985a)
Text, interpretations and translations:
Text: Leonardo Tarán’s edition of the Greek text in:
Academica: Plato, Philip of Opus, and the Pseudo-Platonic Epinomis. (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society; v. 107). Philadelphia, 1975.
The one quoted all over in the paper: the English translation by Richard D. McKirahan, Jr, In: Plato. Complete Works. Edited, with introduction and notes by John M. Cooper. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/ Cambridge.
Novotný, Franciscus. Platonis Epinomis Commentariis Illustrata. Pragae 1960. In aedibus Academiae Scientiarum Bohemoslovenicae.
German translation: EPINOMIS. Anhang zu den "Gesetzen" . Nach der Übersetzung von Franz Susemih. On the internet: http://www.opera-platonis.de/Epinomis.html
The English translation by Lamb: http://www.ac-nice.fr/philo/textes/Plato-Works/29-Epinomis.htm
The Russian translation by A. N. Egunov: Диалоги Платона. Послезаконие. http://psylib.org.ua/books/plato01/31posle.htm
The French translation and the commentary of Édouard des Places. In: Platon. Oeuvres completes. Tome XII. Les Lois. Livres XI-XII. Epinomis. Paris, 1956, Les belles lettres.
First draft of the Bulgarian translation by Nikolai Gochev. Preprint publication: http://theepinomisofplato.blogspot.com/
Brisson, Luc. Platon. Timée. Critias. Traduction inédite, introduction et notes par Luc Brisson. Flammarion, Paris, 1992.
Brisson, Luc and Walter Meyerstein. Inventing the Universe. Plato’s Timaeus, The Big Bang, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge. State University of New York Press, 1995.
Brisson, Luc. Plato’s Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics. In : Gill, Mary Louis and Pierre Pellegrin (editors). A Companion to Ancient Philosophy. Blackwell Publishing. 2006. p. 212-231.
Brisson, Luc. Le programme d’études des membres du Collège de veille dans l’Epinomis. In : Epinomide. Studi sull’Opera e la sua ricezione. A cura di Francesca Alesse e Franco Ferrari con la collaborazione di Maria Cristina Dalfino. Bibliopolis, 2012.
Brisson, Luc. Epinomis : authenticity and authorship. In : Pseudoplatonica. Akten des Kongresses zu den Pseudoplatonica vom 6-9 Juli 2003, Bamberg. Hrsg. von Klaus Döring, Michael Erler, Stefan Schorn. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2005.
Burnyeat, Myles. Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul. In : Proceedings of the British Academy, 103, 1-81.
Burnyeat, Myles. Eikos mythos. In : Rhizai. Vol. II, No2, 2005, p. 143-165.
Burnyeat, Myles. The Theaetetus of Plato. With a translation of the dialogue by M.J. Levett. Hackett Publishing Company. Indianapolis Cambridge, 1990.
Cherniss, Harold. Die Ältere Akademie. Ein historishes Rätsel und seine Lösung. Heidelberg, 1966, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag. Übersetzt von Josef Derbolav from the original in English The Riddle of the Early Academy. University of California Press, 1945.
Gill, Mary Louis and Pierre Pellegrin (editors). A Companion to Ancient Philosophy. Blackwell Publishing. 2006.
Dick, D.R. Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle. Ithaca, New York. 1970.
Düring, Ingemar. Aristotle’s Protrepticus. An Attempt at Reconstruction. Göteborg, 1961. Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
Düring, Ingemar. Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition. Göteborg, 1957.
Düring, Ingemar. Aristoteles. Darstellung und Interpretation seines Denkens. Heidelberg, 1966.
Festugière, A.-J. La révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste. T. 1-4, Paris, 1950-1954.
Jaeger, Werner. Aristoteles. Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung. Berlin, Weidmansche Buchhandlung, 1923. English translation: Aristotle. Fundamentals of the History of his Development. Oxford. 1934.
Krämer, Hans Joachim. Grundbegriffe akademischer Dialektik in den biologischen Schriften von Aristoteles und Theophrast. In: Rheinisches Museum, 1968, 293-333.
Krämer, H.-J. Philippos von Opus und die “Epinomis”. Geschichte der Griechischen Philiosophie, vol. 3, S. 103-120.
Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. 16th printing, 2005.
Platonis Dialogi secundum Thrasylli Tetralogias Dispositi. Ex recognitione Caroli Friderici Hermanni, vol. I-VI. Lipsiae. In aedibus B.G. Teubneri. MCMXV-MCMVII. Reprinted photographically by D. Papadimas, Athens, 1977.
Rabinowitz, W. G. Aristotle’s Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. Göteborg, Berkeley and Cambridge, 1957.
Rose, V. Aristotelis Fragmenta. Leipzig, 1886. Teubner.
Ross, W. D. Aristotelis Fragmenta Selecta, Oxford, 1955. Clarendon.
Untersteiner, Mario. Aristotele. Della filosofia. Roma, 1963.
Van der Waerden. Title in Dutch; translated in English as Science Awakening* in German Die Erwachende Wissenschaft*; in Russian Пробуждающаяся наука.
Гоготишвили, Л. А. Платонизм в Зазеркалье ХХ века, или Вниз по лестнице, ведущей вверх. Приложение в: Лосев, А. Ф. Очерки античного символизма и мифологии. М., изд. „Мысль“, 1993, с. 922-942.
Лосев, А. Ф. Замечание о „Законах“ и „Послезаконии“. В: Очерки античного символизма и мифологии. М., изд. „Мысль“, 1993, с. 597-599.
Николова, Мария. Бележки относно Платоновите многостени. Послеслов в: Аристотел. За небето. За възникването и загиването. С., СОНМ, 2006. Превод на За небето и встъпителна студия Димка Гочева. Превод на За възникването и загиването Димитър Илиев.
The English translation all over the text: Richard D. McKirahan, Jr, In: Plato. Complete Works. Edited, with introduction and notes by John M. Cooper. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/ Cambridge The paper has been edited by Associated Prof. Svetla Slaveva-Griffin from the Florida State University.
[i] In the debates concerning the authorship my sympathies are on the side of É. Des Places in his commentary to the French translation in the edition of “Les belles letters” series from 1956, p. 97-105. The stylometric analysis also gives strength to this thesis: see the chapter of Leonard Brandwood ‘Stylometry and chronology’ in The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Ed. by Richard Kraut. 1995, 16th printing, 2005. p. 90-120. Elegant irony for those, who doubt the authorship of Plato, in the chapter, dedicated to Plato’s astronomy in D.R. Dick’s Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle, op.cit. in the bibliography. A third solution of the problem : Brisson, Luc. Epinomis : authenticity and authorship. In : Pseudoplatonica. Akten des Kongresses zu den Pseudoplatonica vom 6-9 Juli 2003, Bamberg. Hrsg. von Klaus Döring, Michael Erler, Stefan Schorn. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2005.
[ii] Jaeger, Werner, Aristoteles…op. cit. in the bibliography, S. 53-102.
[iii] Cicero had mentioned this in the lost dialogue of his Hortensius. See Jaeger, op.cit., loc.cit.
[iv] D. R. Dick. Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle. Ithaca, New York, 1970. P. 84-85.
[v] Hans-Jochan Krämer. Philippos von Opus und die “Epinomis”. Geschichte der Griechischen Philiosophie, vol. 3, S. 103-120.
[vi] Myles Burnyeat qualifies Isocrates as the arch-rival in Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul, op.cit., p. 3 and the following. For opposite commentaries see Mauro Tulli and Maddalena Vallozza.
[vii] Isocrates. The quotation in Greek, which follows, is from the TLG edition. The translation in English is the one by Yun Lee Too in The Oratory of Classical Greece. Series editor Michael Gagarin. Isocrates. Translated by David C. Mirhady and Yun Lee Too. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2000. I am indebted also to the comments and the introductions to the different speeches in the Bulgarian translation, made by Violetta Gerdjikova and Nikolai Sharankov in the edition Изократ. Речи. 2008, Колекция Архетип. Фондация за българска литература. But the ironic comments in respect of Isocrates are entirely my responsibility.
[viii] Editions of the fragments of the early writings by Aristotle: in the books by Rabinowitz, Ross, Rose, Düring аnd Untersteiner in the bibliography.
[ix] Burnyeat, Myles. Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul. In : Proceedings of the British Academy, v. 103, ed. Timothy Smiley, p. 4.
[x] All the quotations from the Epinomis in the paper are from the translation of Richard McKirahan, Jr.
[xi] The place is the same, the dramatis personae are the same, and the conversation continues as if on the following day(s).