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Re: [neoplatonism] Ps-Plat Def.

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  • Michael Chase
    Nice to get a response from one of the world s leading experts in the field. One thing, though : I was surprised not to see the names of Xenocrates and
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 6, 2004
      Nice to get a response from one of the world's leading experts in the
      field. One thing, though : I was surprised not to see the names of
      Xenocrates and Speusippus among those who may have influenced the
      Definitions. Do these display no Old Academic influence whatsoever ?

      Best, Mike.

      Michael Chase
      CNRS UPR 76/
      l'Annee Philologique

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • vaeringjar
      Thanks very much, Prof. Tarrant, for this information - I find these rather curious for their form - somehow gnomic utterances drawn together like this in a
      Message 2 of 3 , May 22, 2004
        Thanks very much, Prof. Tarrant, for this information - I find these
        rather curious for their form - somehow gnomic utterances drawn
        together like this in a group do not seem very Platonic to me. They
        are more reminiscent I think of the Principal Doctrines and Vatican
        Sayings of Epicurus. Is this an argument for a 2nd-1st century
        provenance? I am not aware personally of any gnomic genre as a
        specific philosophical literary form. I guess we would though have
        to include the verses of Pythagoras - they are likely Hellenistic
        also, aren't they? (Porphyry's Sententiae and Proclus' Elements of
        Theology are hardly gnomic, I would think.)

        A little more about the particular Definition that was cited by
        Segonds in his translation of Porphyry's History of Philosophy (book
        4, 220F Smith, from Cyrillus contra Iulianum I) - it is 414e9:

        agathon to aition soterias tois ousin: to aition pantos tou pros
        hauto, aph'hou symbainei ha chre hairesthai.

        which I would (hopefully!) translate as "the Good is the cause of
        preservation for all things that are: the real cause of everything,
        from which things that must be grasped result." (did I get that

        So we are at least discussing a truly Platonic concept in this
        definition, and obviously a very important one. Unlike most the
        others, I would add, which hardly sound all that Platonic to me in
        their content.

        One thing I found curious here was the use of "soteria" which I
        don't think is a particularly common early Platonic term (a quick
        look in the big Liddle & Scott as I recall showed it used by him in
        more of a politicial sense than ontological, as in "preservation of
        the state"). But a related term is used by Porphyry in this fragment
        and other Neoplatonists, Plotinus and Proclus. Here is the fragment:

        Porphyrios de phesin in biblioi tetartoi Philosophou historias
        doxasai te ton Platona kai men kai phrasai palin peri enos theou,
        onoma men autoi meden epharmottein mede gnosin anthropinen auton
        katalabein, tas de legomenas prosegorias apo ton husteron
        katachrestikos autou kategorein. <<ei de holos ek ton par'emin
        onomaton chre ti tolmesai legein peri autou, mallon ten tou henos
        prosegorian kai ten tagathou takteon ep'autou. To men gar emphainei
        ten peri auton haploteta kai dia touto autarkeian: chreizei gar
        oudenos, ou meron, ouk ousias, ou dynameon, ouk energeion, all'esti
        panton touton aitios. tagathon de paristesin, hoti ap'autou pan
        hotiper agathon estin, apomimoumenon kata to dynaton ton allon ten
        ekeinou, ei chre phanai, iditoteta kai di'autes soizomenon.>>

        Porphyry says in the fourth book of his History of Philosophy that
        Plato believed and specifically stated concerning the one god, that
        no name could be applied to him, nor that any human knowledge could
        grasp him, and those things called "denominations" from lesser
        beings apply to him in a way that falls short. [Porphyry's actual
        words now:] "if it is necessary at all to dare to speak of him in
        words of our everyday language, rather one should assign to him the
        denomination of the One, and [the denomination] of the Good. For the
        first denomination shows the simplicity concerning him and through
        this his self-sufficiency. For he needs nothing, no parts, no being,
        no potentialities, no actions, but is the cause of all of these. The
        Good suggests that all that is good is from it, since all other
        things mimic, as best they can, if we have to put it in words,
        the 'intrinsic property' of the Good, and through that 'property'
        are preserved."

        (I hope I didn't mangle this too much - I really was working from
        Porphyry himself, but of course Segonds' translation is
        indispensable. I kept thinking while working on this passage of that
        saying "words cannot name him, nor tongue soil..." or however it
        goes. Where is that from anyway?)

        A number of points here, drawn or prompted from Segonds' excellent
        notes and some in Smith: first, Segonds cites the Definition above
        in connection with the use of "soizomenon," "preserved" (as I
        translate it - "salvation" is not really appropriate, as Segonds
        points out). So I suppose it is possible that Porphyry was aware of
        the Definition. Plotinus and Proclus also use the same language -
        see Proclus Element of Theology 13, "ei gar to agathon esti sostikon
        ton onton apanton," "for if it belongs to the Good to preserve all
        that exists" (Dodds' translation).

        I personally find this satisfying, since I have always wondered
        exactly how the Good and the One were to be equated, and the answer
        I came up with on my own was that the Good was not to be interpreted
        morally, rather as a sort of highest desideratum, the highest that
        anything could aspire to, that which would draw and keep everything
        together. Rather like ontological glue, to be crude, that which
        keeps everything from falling apart. So I believe that is the sense
        of these passages.

        Other interesting points - I translated "prosegoria"
        as "denomination," working from Segonds' notes and despairing of any
        English word that may have been given to what he notes is a
        technical term, which curiously enough also appears in the
        Commentary on the Parmenides that Hadot attributed to Porphyry. I
        gather it had life later in a Christian context also. Also "idiotes"
        is of interest, and again a sort of technical term, that Hadot also
        discusses in his book on Porphyry and Victorinus ( vol 1 p374);
        again my translation is probably a counsel of despair, sincs I am
        not familiar with any proper English philosophical term for the

        There is a lot packed in this bit of Porphyry - the language verges
        on the apophatic; it seems clear that he is not really placing the
        One in the highest position, that the highest is in fact ineffable
        and can only be for the sake of human communicability called the One
        or the Good, drawing form the Parmenides and the Republic obviously.
        This is certainly consistent with the bits of the Parmenides
        Commentary attributed to Porphyry that I looked over, since they
        were referred to by Segonds (I assume this passage from the History
        of Philosophy provides Hadot some of his evidence for attributing
        the Commentary to Porphyry - I haven't actually read all his book).

        But I thought that Porphyry was supposed to be in agreement with
        Plotinus in placing the One as highest, and that Iamblichus reacted
        against both and insisted on an ineffable highest - ? This passage
        in the History seems to place Porphyry squarely with Iamblichus, not
        against. The Commentary is very clear on this as well, whoever wrote
        it, but even without that evidence, valid or not, this passage seems
        quite clear on its own in this regard. (Wallis in <Neoplatonism>
        p114 ff feels strongly the Commentary is at least by a follower of
        Porphyry, so that it may as well be his own.)

        Am I missing something?

        Dennis Clark
        San Francisco

        --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, Harold Tarrant
        <Harold.Tarrant@n...> wrote:
        > Dear recipients,
        > One great merit of the Plato: Complete works, edited by John
        Cooper with Doug Hutchinson is that it takes the spuria
        (Hutchinson's responsibility) a bit more seriously than usual. There
        are introductions of about a page in length to all these works,
        including Definitions, which summarise much of what is known, or
        rather speculated, about them. If only we could feel more confident
        of contexts for some of them we might be able to plot the history of
        Platonism more securely. In this case Hutchinson inclines towards a
        fourth century date, while apparent influence of Aristotle and the
        Stoics point others towards the 'eclectic' age, perhaps around the
        first century BC. Recent work has shown that much of what we
        associate with such eclecticism probably went back to the fourth
        Head of the Academy, Polemo (late fourth, early third), influenced
        by Aristotle, but an influence on Zeno of Citium. Since the
        collection seems to have been added to (see Hutchinson), it is not
        impossible that it had gone on being added to, and subtracted from,
        for quite some time. These definitions seem to have been known to
        the writer Alcinous (2nd century AD), though they also seem to have
        no special authority for him. They are not even a tool for reading
        Plato, for some of the terms defined are not found elsewhere in the
        corpus, especially the authentic corpus. If others can be more
        definite (no pun intended) than I can be, I should not be averse to
        > Best, Harold Tarrant
        > Prof. Harold Tarrant,
        > School of Liberal Arts,
        > University of Newcastle,
        > [Cricos provider number 00109J]
        > NSW 2308 Australia
        > Ph: (+61) 2 49215230/49215227
        > Fax: (+61) 2 49216940
        > *Eu Prattein*
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