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Ernesto Paparazzo_Why five worlds. Plato´s Timaeus 55c-d

Ernesto Paparazzo_Why five worlds. Plato´s Timaeus 55c-d

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 Why Five Worlds? Plato
s
Timaeus
55C
D
*
E
RNESTO
P
APARAZZO
Istituto di Struttura della Materia,Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Roma, Italy  paparazzo@ism.cnr.it
In the
Timaeus,
Plato says that the hypothesis of there being five worldscasts a reasonable doubt. Neither ancient commentators of Plato nor mod-ern scholars have succeeded in unveiling the meaning of this hypothesis. I propose that five is the number of combinations with which the five pla-tonic solids can be arranged in sets of four, each set making up a world. Idiscuss the question of whether Plato
s mathematical skills made him equalto the task of calculating the correct number of combinations, as well as the possible reasons why he rejected the hypothesis of there being five worlds.
Keywords:
Plato; Timaeus; Platonic solids; Dodecahedron
At
Timaeus
55C
D, immediately after the account of the five
Platonicsolids
(pyramid, octahedron, icosahedron, cube and dodecahedron), thereis a passage which reads as follows:
Now if anyone, taking all these things into account, should raise the pertinentquestion, whether the number of worlds should be called indefinite or limited, he would judge that to call them indefinite (
πε
ί 
ρους
) is the opinion of one who isindeed indefinite (
πε
ί 
ρου τ 
ί 
 ν
ς
) about matters on which he ought to be definitely informed (
μπειρον
). But whether it is proper to speak of them as being really oneor five, he might, if he stopped short there, more reasonably feel a doubt. Our own verdict, indeed, declares the world to be by nature a single god, according to the probable account; but another, looking to other considerations, will judge differ-ently. He, however, may be dismissed.
1
apeiron, vol. 44, pp. 147
162© Walter de Gruyter 2011 DOI.1515/apeiron/2011.011
* Dr. Anna Marmodoro read a previous draft of the present article, and I should liketo express my warm thanks to her for her illuminating comments and encourage-ment. I express my gratitude to Ms. Anne Thomson (Newnham College, Cambridge)for her kind concern in providing me with the information about A. T. Nicol. I amalso grateful to a reader for
Apeiron
for evaluation and criticisms.
1
Cornford (1937: 219
220). Unless otherwise noted, all the passages of the
Timaeus
discussed in the present paper are after the English translation by Cornford (1937and 1959).
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Plato discusses two distinct issues here. The first is whether the number of  worlds is limited or indefinite: he endorses the former view, and dismisses
even with some irony 
the second option. The second issue is whetherthe limited number of worlds is one or five; his response is that there isonly one world, but he finds that
though wrong 
the hypothesis of five worlds casts a reasonable doubt. Both issues somehow remind us of the passage at
Ti.
31A 
B, where he wonders whether the world is one, or whether there are many worlds and indefinite in number.
2
The main em- phasis in these questions is on the world of Forms rather than the sensible world, and they state much of the same doctrine that we find in our pas-sage, but with no mention at all of the hypothesis of the five worlds. Todate the sense of this hypothesis remains obscure
in fact, among themany obscurities of the
Timaeus
,
3
a notable case. As we shall see, somescholars have proposed that there is a relationship between this hypothesisand the dodecahedron, although to my mind the force of this relationshiphas never been demonstrated with a convincing justification.The aim of this article is to suggest an explanation of the passage. Imake no claim that my proposal stands as the only possible interpretationof it, because my argument stems from the much less ambitious goal of calling attention to some notions in the general framework of Plato
s doc-trine and
especially 
in the context of the doctrine he expounds in the
Timaeus
, which, I think, make the hypothesis of there being five worlds worthy of reasonable doubt. I, too, shall focus on Plato
s treatment of thedodecahedron and his hypothesis of the five worlds, and I shall try to un- veil the reasons why the former is the interpretative key to understand thelatter. I suggest that Plato implies a dodecahedron-shaped
genus
, and thatthe combination of that
genus
with other
genera
in sets of four, makes upthe five worlds.There are several scholars who have commented on Plato
s views of the dodecahedron, whereas the hypothesis of the five worlds has receivedmuch less attention. Dillon
4
notes that the actual name of the dodecahe-dron first appears in Timaeus Locrus 98d, and that in the surviving litera-ture its construction is first given by Plutarch (
 Moralia
1003d) who, prob-ably under the influence of Theodorus of Soli, emphasizes its closeness toa sphere, the most perfect figure for Plato.
5
In his commentary of the
2
Have we, then been right to call it one Heaven, or would it have been true rather tospeak of many and indeed of an indefinite number?
Cornford (1937: 41)
3
Lloyd (1968: 86).
4
Dillon (1993: 119).
5
[Pl.]
Ti.
33B.
Its shape (
 sc.
of the world) rounded and spherical, equidistant every  way from centre to extremity 
a figure the most perfect and uniform of all; for he(
 sc.
the god) judged uniformity to be immeasurably better than its opposite
. Corn-ford (1937: 54).
Ernesto Paparazzo
148
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Timaeus
, Brisson
6
gives just a brief mention of the dodecahedron, and hedoes not even address the hypothesis of the five worlds. Claghorn men-tions the passage under study here only to recall that
some have identifiedthe fifth element with ether
although, he notes that
Plato designated it with a variety of air, not a separate element
.
7
Kotrc devotes an entire study to the dodecahedron in the
Timaeus
,but he does not treat at all the question of the five worlds. His majorinterest is in arguing that by 
διαζωγραφω
 ν
Plato meant
delineating 
,
8
andnot
making a pattern of animal figures
as in Cornford
s translation.
9
Kotrc also wonders what is
the utility 
if any [the dodecahedron] has inthe formation and continuing function of the material universe
, a ques-tion which he finds
not wholly amenable to solution
.
10
Indeed, refer-ences to Xenocrates
s interpretation (
 apud 
Simp.
in Ph.
VIII, 1165.33) of the dodecahedron as the solid of a fifth
genus
(or element) is more rele- vant to Aristotle
s cosmology (
Cael 
. 268 b11
269 a 19) than to Plato
sdoctrine, as also is the aristotelizing view of the dodecahedron given by the unknown author of the
Epinomis
at 981C.
11
Nor does the passage at[Pl.]
Phd.
110B
which emphasizes the closeness of the dodecahedron tothe sphere
seem to offer viable interpretation clues.
12
Kotrc concludesthat the dodecahedron
 visibly incorporates in itself all the surfaces thatcombine and recombine to form the other from regular solids of Platonic physics. In so doing it constitutes a geometrical matrix in the formation of the physical universe
.
13
Cleary notes very briefly that Plato
s hypothesis of the five worlds con-flicts with the
cogent logical argument at
Ti.
31B for the uniqueness of the All
, and this is a sign of 
unresolved tensions in the dialogue betweenthe realms of Reason and Necessity 
(14).
14
Cleary, however, does not ex- plain why such a tension would arise from the view of exactly five worlds.Apart from Cornford
s work, the annotated translations of the
Ti-maeus
I am aware of have given only a marginal attention, if any, to our passage. Just to name a few cases, Bury,
15
Lozza,
16
as well as Zeyl
17
all note
6
Brisson (1974: 367).
7
[Pl.]
Ti.
58D. Claghorn (1954: 22).
8
Kotrc (1981: 216).
9
Cornford (1937: 218).
10
Kotrc (1981: 216, n. 11).
11
See also Cornford (1937: 221).
12
Kotrc (1981: 215).
13
Kotrc (1981: 222).
14
Cleary (1995: 68).
15
Bury (1929: 134, n. 2).
16
Lozza (1994: 170, n. 193).
17
Zeyl (2000: 47, n. 68).
 Why Five Worlds? Plato
s
Timaeus
55C-D
149
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