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Sharples_Anamnesis

Sharples_Anamnesis

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PHRO/62/Sharples/1-5

11/25/99 3:50 PM

Page 353

Discussion Note

More on ÉAnãmnhsiw in the Meno
BOB SHARPLES

ABSTRACT John Glucker, “A Platonic Cento in Cicero”, Phronesis 44 (1999) 30-44, argues that the account of the mind’s experiences at Cicero, De divinatione 1.115 derives from an unknown Platonist’s combination of Plato, Meno 81c5-d1 and Republic 10 614d3-615a5. G.’s connection of what is said by Cicero with these two passages of Plato is persuasive; but in concentrating on the surface references to souls’ memory of their experiences in previous lives the Ciceronian account fails to do justice to the underlying signiÞcance of both passages. It is also questionable whether an unknown Platonist needs to be invoked as a source; the interpretation of the two Platonic passages could be Cicero’s own.

In his paper “A Platonic Cento in Cicero”1 John Glucker (henceforth “G.”) argues that the account of the mind’s experiences at Cicero, De divinatione 1.115 derives from ‘some contemporary or slightly earlier Pythagoreanizing Platonist’ combining the references to souls’ previous experiences in Plato, Meno 81c5-d1 and Republic 10 614d3-615a5. That the passage in Cicero reßects these passages in Plato seems entirely convincing, and G.’s reference to a “midrash” (39) is very much to the point, though there may be room for doubt concerning the “Pythagoreanizing Platonist”, an issue to which I will return at the end of this discussion note. How the passages may have been read in antiquity, and how they should be read, are however two different issues.2 In his 37 n. 15 G. argues that
What our two sections of different myths do have in common is that they maintain, in their literal sense, that the soul, in the many periods when it is outside its successive earthly bodies . . . has learned all things, pãnta xrÆmata, on earth and in the other world. Neither of them refers to Ideas, or even to the aÈtÚ kayÉ aÍtÚ formula. Cicero’s source Ð whatever his view of the Theory of Forms may have been Ð seems to have taken this detail in Plato’s myth more literally than most modern Platonists. Accepted June 1999 1 Phronesis 44 (1999) 30-44. 2 G. indeed (35 n. 13) explicitly disavows any attempt to interpret the account of énãmnhsiw in the Meno in its own right: “my concern here,” he says, “is not with Plato’s dialogue, but with the way it was read by a later source”. But his remarks at 37 n. 15, quoted below, do seem to be directly concerned with the interpretation of Plato’s text. Ð G. might indeed claim that, although a non-literal reading of the Meno © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 1999 Phronesis XLIV/4

comm. . 13.). . Sharples (ed. and in criticism of such an approach he instructs us For some of the controversies and confusions resulting from taking ‘Plato’s Theory of Recollection’ seriously as a philosophical doctrine which must be considered with similar ‘doctrines’ in the various other dialogues. And to that extent I am certainly committed to holding that Meno 81cd has implications for types of knowledge other than that resulting from experience of sensible particulars in previous lives. 4 Ibid.. .). in G.3 I did indeed also insist that we should not go to the other extreme and suppose that Plato in the Meno is entirely innocent of all distinctions between different types of truths or realities4 and what is involved in knowing them. Warminster 1991. But in that case it is difÞcult to see why he thinks he and I are in disagreement. a mistake to read a reference to the Forms into this passage.PHRO/62/Sharples/1-5 11/25/99 3:50 PM Page 354 354 DISCUSSION NOTE Immediately before this he observes that modern commentators have not connected the two passages because they have connected the Meno passage rather with recollection of the Forms in the Phaedo.. thus we should not assume that the example of the Road to Larisa implies that all knowledge is in all respects similar to direct acquaintance with particulars perceptible by the senses. 3 Sharples (1991) 12-13. and that by unintentionally and unconsciously exposing the difÞculties of such an interpretation I provided evidence against such a reading malgré moi. I have discussed this point elsewhere: in a review of S. any more than we should infer the same from the example of the jurymen at Theaetetus 201ac. And here a comparison with the Republic myth may be instructive. n. where ‘the doctrine of reincarnation’ and ‘the theory of recollection’ are taken in full seriousness.’s view. and 7-9 . Plato: Meno. trans. There can be no doubt at all that this is to be read on two different levels.5 On the speciÞc issue that con- passage is irrelevant for the purposes of his discussion. (ii) it is. 147-148. he has no quarrel with a nonliteral reading as such.’s description of it as a myth. . 147-149 .. only with one that introduces the Theory of Forms. and his reference to a “literal sense” in the passage already quoted. I would simply point out that my discussion cited by G. See also below. 8. They also indicate more deÞnitely that. That brings us to the much more important question whether 81cd is to be read entirely at face value. as G. as a matter of fact. indeed imply. see R. or whether on the contrary it is to be interpreted on two levels. 5 And that in order to interpret the myth it is vital that these two levels be kept distinct.W. As far as (i) is concerned. Taken together these two passages could be taken to imply that (i) my discussion supposed that this passage of the Meno refers to apprehension of the Forms. Plato: . Halliwell (ed. is followed by the argument that the Theory of Forms as found in the Phaedo and Republic is not developed in the Meno and should not be read back into that dialogue.

the account of the views of the priests.’s discussion makes clear. I would contend.7 without referring that experience to knowledge of general truths Ð which. or rather the filÆkooi. for example.8 This may indeed have been the emphasis of the doctrine of reincarnation in the form in which Plato Þrst encountered it. one’s own and others. by introducing as a condition not only moral choice but also the luck of the lot (in contradiction to 619b3-6) indicates the difÞculty of supposing that a given soul will escape Hades altogether and take the “heavenly route” on every occasion. and on one level a reference to experiences in previous lives certainly is to be understood. in my commentary I took 81c5-d5 too much as Socrates’ interpretation of what the “priests and priestesses who have made it their concern to be able to give an account of their practices. So the “Pythagoreanizing Platonist”’s reading of the Republic only gets part of the point. means knowledge of Forms Ð would be operating on the level of the filoyeãmonew. it is enough to point out that a reader of the Republic will come to the myth in book 10 after reading book 5. but Republic 10 619d3-e5 at least. Pindar and many others of the poets” say. at 175-176. But because I then regarded 81c5-d5 as interpretation of the myth rather than as a continuation of it. the question arises whether or not Plato thought that in an inÞnity of rebirths a soul would undergo all possible experiences. rather than on that of the filÒsofoi. Admittedly. and .PHRO/62/Sharples/1-5 11/25/99 3:50 PM Page 355 DISCUSSION NOTE 355 cerns us here. 6 Assuming that the Republic. there would be parts of “Hades” which it would never have seen’. priestesses and poets extends all the way from 81a10 to 81d5. rather than as part of it. 7 G. as G. Since in the Republic myth the cycle of incarnations seems to be everlasting. in the Meno. rather than with the surface level on which Cicero and G. and in ‘Plato. concentrate. at Journal of Hellenic Studies 110 (1990) 226-7. with no reference to a beginning and none to an eventual escape (by contrast with Phaedo 114c and Phaedrus 249a).6 and that in terms of the distinction drawn at the end of book 5 anyone who thought that moral understanding could be achieved simply by experience of the events of previous lives. . my discussion was concerned with interpretation of the underlying meaning of the “myth”. . 8 At Sharples (1991) 147-148 I raised the question whether “recollection of previous experiences on earth” is “of central importance for Plato’s own argument”. Warminster 1988. Plotinus and Evil’. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 39 (1994) 171-181. Similarly. (37) draws attention to the souls’ hearing of each others’ experiences (614e4615a4) as a solution to the problem that ‘if. That question is unanswerable. a certain soul has been. in all its incarnations. Socrates’ exposition of the myth however makes it explicit that filosof¤a is needed if we are consistently to escape punishment in the afterlife: 619d8-e1 (cf. in the Republic. . Pythagoras himself was notable for having been able to remember his soul’s previous Republic X. In fact. a just soul. also 619d1). whether or not it originated as a single composition (which I think it probably did) is at any rate to be treated as one in the form which it now has.

13) notes that énãmnhsiw is presented as an intellectual process at Meno 98a3-4. and that is made explicit at 81d4-5. After all. G.11 Even if we were to suppose that the slave’s ability to distinguish (when sufÞciently prompted) between correct and incorrect answers12 reßects nothing other than the fact that in an inÞnity of past lives he is bound to have been taught geometry at some point (or to have met and conversed with someone who has been Ð if that is different from being taught). 1. even if it was so for the Pythagoreans (above. simply a matter of remembering a large number of individual past experiences. Republic 6.13 And that is a rather different matter from simply amassing experience of events that occur to oneself or to others in the ordinary course of life. as part of the mythical account beginning at 81a10. Pyth. if it has recollected one thing Ð what people call learning Ð from discovering all other things”. it is worth emphasising that Cicero was himself familiar at Þrst hand with a range of Plato’s writings. 2. but that “what people call learning” at 81d1-2 is “recollecting the one thing” that starts the process. I leave aside here questions of whether the “slave-boy experiment” is to be taken at face value. As for the “Pythagoreanizing Platonist”. was proud enough of his translation of the argument for immortality in the Phaedrus to use it twice. Plato is using the reference to the beliefs of the priests. it must be admitted. refers rather to the importance of memory for knowledge and experience and wisdom. or “if one had more leisure” those of the day before as well. nothing prevents it. indeed. 165 = DK 58D1. he translated a considerable part of the Timaeus. Socrates does after all say that “since all nature is akin. Vit. But the preceding reference to having previously learned all things as what makes the process. See also above. 10 9 . and this suggests that 81c5-d5 is to be read on two levels. (35 n. Iamblichus. Iamblichus. (35 n. Phaedrus 245ce. 85b8-c8. Disp. by extension. Cicero.14 Heraclides of Pontus fr. 13) notes that this aspect is absent from Cicero’s version. Recollection here is not. n.4-5. in other words. possible shows that this process must also itself be thought of as part of the process of recollection. the words quoted seem to indicate a recognition on Plato’s part of the fact that geometrical understanding is systematic and that from awareness of some things one can work out others.53-54. 89 Wehrli = Diogenes Laertius 8. 13 G. but also as pointing forward to the geometrical experiment and the possibility of achieving understanding in mathematics.PHRO/62/Sharples/1-5 11/25/99 3:50 PM Page 356 356 DISCUSSION NOTE identities. and the soul has learned all things. 14 Plato. 10). 11 81c9-d2.27 and Tusc. 12 Cf. of discovering other things from the one thing initially recollected. was intended to improve one’s ability to recall actions and events earlier in one’s present life and ultimately.10 Nevertheless. and of whether it actually establishes what Socrates claims it does.9 and it is a not implausible supposition that the practice described by Iamblichus of recalling the previous day’s events in sequence before getting out of bed in the morning. in previous lives as well. n. priestesses and poets to make a point which the following geometrical experiment with the slave is meant to demonstrate.

). at De senectute 7 ff.115.g.. Cf. especially at 279-280. 1995. But can we rule out the possibility that the interpretation in De divinatione 1.F. ‘Cicero’s Translations from Greek’.15 It is indeed highly probable that his reading of Plato was inßuenced by interpretations current among Platonists in his time. 39).328d ff. in id. 273-300. and its extraction from Meno 81cd and Republic 10 614d-615a.G. Cicero the Philosopher. Republic 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press. translated by Cicero at De divinatione 1. might simply be Cicero’s own contribution? University College London 15 E. (ed. . Republic 9 571c3-572b1. Powell.PHRO/62/Sharples/1-5 11/25/99 3:50 PM Page 357 DISCUSSION NOTE 357 and includes versions of other Platonic passages in his own works as well.60-61 (noted by G. J.

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