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The Grammar of Being Author(s): Seth Benardete Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 30, No.

3 (Mar., 1977), pp. 486-496 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 01/02/2013 19:59
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(Reidel: 1973) is the sixth part of a series edited by J. W. M. Verhaar with the overall title, The Verb "Be" and its Synonyms: Philosophi cal and Grammatical Studies; but it differs from the others by its being devoted to a single language. This privilege is due to the link, which is still sensed as indissoluble, between philosophy proper and ancient Greek philosophy. To the Greek philosophers themselves, seems link this to have been of no importance, and itwould however,
have come as a surprise to most of them that grammar and philosophy

could be thought to overlap. They spoke of logos; we speak of language; and whereas for them Greek or Persian exemplified the
conventional, to distinguish the verb they among are for us "natural the parts languages." of speech only noun Plato was content (as actor whose and verb

and action respectively), theme

Eleatic tion,

a distinction that plainly did not cover either

"being"; and he did so in a dialogue with same,

"to be" or the noun

is the problem

of being

(Sophist 261e4-8).

Indeed, as the
other, mo and imagina

stranger and rest, while


being belongs with belongs opinion,

tion (266a5-6); and it is one of the sophist's delusions which he seeks to impose upon others that the problem of speech coincides with the Aristotle's problem of being. pejorative use of logikos (Met. 1029b13, 1030a25) is fully in accord with Plato's understanding of the
"weakness of speeches."

Kahn is more than sympathetic with the ancients' view; he be lieves in theWhorfian hypothesis only to the extent that the threefold
function existential, of the and root *es?as Indo-European Parmenides and his veridical?gave inherited copulative, successors an

easier access to the problem of being than would have been the case if truth, predication, and existence were handled in Greek by three wholly distinct verbal roots. When Euripides' Eteocles replies to his brother's appeal to the simplicity of truth, he asserts that only in
words is there equality among mortals, "but the deed is not this"

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(Phoenissae ?dTLv T?Se If T?8e 502). Whether eartv in a sentence or veridical the sentence

like to 8' epyov ovk is an idle question. has the form which

is copulative, by

is replaced

existential, "as men say,"

Kahn calls veridical;1 but one can just as easily express the thought existentially; "Equality does not exist" (or, more literally, "Equality
is not the case"), and there is nothing in the structure of the sentence

as such that distinguishes it from the copulative construction. Kahn readily acknowledges this kind of three-in-one; but he denies, in opposi tion to a widespread view, that it led Plato to ignore the difference
between, Kahn, for example, "Zeus is not" what is sub specie graecitatis and "Socrates is mortal." is sub For specie a matter of fact


a necessity.


is a unity in the diversity

the relations But one may among

of eivaL that

however truly reflects, imprecisely, of truth, and existence, predication.

the concepts whether question

to make rary

in his eagerness
too many

to vindicate Greek philosophy,

to certain fashions

does not have


source He does not cite any ancient thought. to be meant of the ancient meaning of elvac "For the Greeks, terization a to be orto be a predicate for rational discourse and true state subject

of contempo for his own charac

ment" (p. 404).

agree with

It is hard to see how Aristotle,

of being that must

let alone Plato, could

exclude from being is as

a characterization

those beings about which falsehood is impossible

Kahn's procedure is inseparable from

(Met. & 10).


his results.

neutral to the evidence as, itmight be thought, a grammar is obliged to be. Kahn himself often refers to his syntactical structuring of
eivaL as a "myth." In order to see how different modern linguistics

is from traditional philology, it isworthwhile to begin with a quotation from J. H. H. Schmidt's Synonomik der griechischen Sprache (1878),
vol. 2, pp. 528-529: The sentence ?o-tl Toj/jlt) "Rome exists" and its expanded form eari and T?/jar) 7t?Xic "The city Rome exists" are, we assume, complete a a substantive with But statements, adequate complete predicate. should we say 'p?/xr) 7ro\i? ixrr?v "Rome is a city," it no longer appears to us that ?o-t?v is the actual but 7r?Xic alone statement, is, and we usually as or kcrriv sentence-binder. designate "copula," With what If we stress justification? 7roXi?, kcrTiv looks sec 1

I am not sure whether Kahn would count this as a variant of ovk ?cTTLTaOra, of which he says he found no extra-philosophical examples fr. (p. 366); but cf., Euripides AIcestis 1126; Ion 341; fr. 978,5; Antiphanes fr. 9, 4. Since Kahn seems to put Xenophon 56, 1 K; Aristophon among the one should cite Oeconomicus XIX. 17. non-philosophers, perhaps

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of the ondary; we can omit it without obscuring^ our understanding sentence. But if the sentence were Tw/xr] i)v, eorcu or even yiyveTaL, (paiveTaL, Kake?TaL 7roXi?, the main stress would still be on the predi a different cated noun, unless logical constraints required emphasis. but kvT?v, t)v, yiyveTaL, 7roXi? is not the statement, Accordingly, KaXevraL etc. is, and 7r?Xic is only a closer determination of the predi . . . Tedafi/xevoL eLcriv laetus advenio. cate, as laetus in the sentence "They are buried" is the same as Ionic TeB?<paTaL. Is this a new use of If that were the case, we should have a wholly other use in a elvaCl sentence like ovro? ? kt)7to? tov ?ao-iXcc?c ?ctt'lv, and another one in turn in &ttl /xot In all these cases, however, the essence of k^7to?. the verb is not distinct; it means (Vorhandensein), being present or adverbial and this verb shares nominal existence, supplements with a great number of other verbs, which designate either an action or a condition that can be expressed that can be expanded differently, in in different ways. The concept of action or condition is not distinct as sub the cited examples; them different, only the additions make . . . But or adjectives, stantives adverbs, oblique cases, participles since existence is the totality of all actions and conditions, and con one most the at nearest and the sequently concept, general lying self-evident and least important, hand, its use seems to us the most and we speak therefore of a copula or an "auxiliary verb," as merely a formal part of the sentence, which, it is not at all. however,



is all the more

revealing with Kahn's.


the primitive "stative" and


ing which
etymology, German



to eivaL, on the basis


of a specious


of Kahn

are comprehended

by Schmidt

in the


one may think of Schmidt's

and variety articulated the syntactic nor unified. Grammar to generate plan was of

intuition, it is still nothing

structures which eivaL on the other hand, Kahn, the of Zellig version (in a in from a regular way

intuition, admits of is neither the use


of Transformational to a large Kahn's extent

Harris), eivaL

is able

posited notion of "kernel sentence" all the Greek sentences

occurs. original "to correlate every

in which

difference of meaning in the use of elpi with a formal description of the corresponding sentence-type" (p. 251), but he admits that he cannot always do so. Whether this is a failure inherent in Trans
formational moment of the be failure Grammar left aside. of the itself, or in the version Kahn an example First, as Kahn technique, of the practices can for the uses, success and another it, are in order.

Kahn formulates the rule for the recognition of periphrasis somewhat as follows: eivaL is used periphrastically with the participle if and only if it is impossible to obtain two kernel sentences, one of which has a finite form of eivaL and the other a finite form of the participle, but

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if two kernel sentences can be so obtained, of Greek grammar. the usage The

is not periphras how


This rule is both simple and elegant;

a standard part

it will no doubt become


in time

ever, which mathematical

case [not] of another someone

clarity can cast is best illustrated

?cttls It looks like the

in the
is exis

construction, (ovk) ?cttlv . . who .") is not uncommon.

. . . ("There

tential operator of modern logic, and the fact that it occurs far more often with ovk than without seems to be, linguistically, irrelevant. Now, Kahn asserts that, though he looked hard for examples, he could only find one (inPlato) inwhich the second clause has the copula, and he offers a proof as to why this should be the case (p. 299, n. 61).
He is mistaken. 864; (Hecuba Zevs Euripides cf., fr. 150N), 1278; has ovk earn dvr)T&v oori? kol oi)8?v and Sophocles 737), and ?or' tovtcov ?Xevoepo? o tl ?jlj) several


cf., Antigone



examples in just one passage of Plato's Charmides (167elff.). The Sophoclean example is important since it illustrates a double "zeroing"
for traditional grammar ofeLvaL, and whereas are treated as primary, with the insertion use of Transformational in Kahn's development, tion between more the presence an apparent to designate or the absence such nominal as sentences a secondary of ?or? no distinc Grammar can be allowed.

of the verb

For deep structure,

than ing is said

the verb is always present,

paradox presence, that can

and it might be no

mean a verb, whose primitive in its absence make its presence

equally felt. Can a verb which is almost always eliminable be the word for reality and truth? Or is it because "being" is the only word that cannot be just aword that it can so easily be suppressed in speech?
If a distinct ing of eivaL, context-free then syntactic the goal structure could be found of machine-translation In accordance with could for every mean be achieved: Kahn had


this goal,

to begin by treating eivaL as if it were any other verb, but since he admits his failure, it is proper to ask whether he was bound to do so precisely because it is not like any other verb. Is not the colorless
ness of the copula no less a sign ?xev ovv of the wholly context-bound character

of being than is the fact that existence

Aristotle eart

is not a predicate?
tolovt?v tl,


8e kol 77 av8pe?a says, k?yovTaL KaTa Tr?vTe rp?7rovc is of this (EN 1116a15?17)?"Courage ?TepaL are means in of other five but kinds here sort, spoken ways"?ecrri

"in its being" only because of X?yovTaL8e, etc.; without

clause, the beingness of ?crri vanishes. One might

the contrasted
suspect, then,

that the degree

of negativity

in the context

of eivaCs occurrence

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determines necessarily Kahn does, means its meaning. is so, and Being the is context-bound of eivaL syntactic often

non-being as be dismissed, forms do not alter re because

on the grounds it occurs

negation that the


gardless of whether
to be alive

they are affirmed or denied. When

far more negatively comes

eivaL by itself

as "to be dead"; to light not


it does mean
asked over have and whether

to be alive, it usually
so-and-so is dead.

is the case that it has just



for philosophers
eivaL could are




and ("Learn

for which what


Kahn upon which yiyvecrdaL, cited Pindar's ?crai olos yevoC it"), does not affect ovk god, the



/xadcov human priority

you of motion

over rest.
oeo? kyo) ("I appear

Euripides' Achilles
Tr?(piqv? crot/^?yicrro?, to you as the greatest

says to Clytaemnestra

(IA 973-4),

o/acoc yevrjoropiaL H)v, ?XX' not being so, but nevertheless and some therefore of the other men do not

I shall become so"), and Aristotle

thought assign to be motion being-at-work to non-beings,

remarks that "motion is especially


(energeia), but (only)

(Met. 1047a32-4). Kahn cites Achilles' words at Iliad XXIII, 103-4 as "perhaps the most 'philosophical' use of eipi inHomer" (p. 274). Achilles is speak
o> ttottol, of Patroclus' rj p? t? ghost: ing out loud on the departure ' ecTTL KOLL kv Ki8ao ("So it is true after all ?o/xoicri ipvxv Kai e?8(okov even are in of Hades").2 the house that soul and wraith something By finding Kahn fails here to of the example just another stress what is truly astonishing "locative-existential," this passage. about


is suddenly forced to acknowledge what we would have Homer's heroes believed implicitly, that the soul truly exists thought
in Hades. Soul, Achilles says, is not, any more than Hades is, just a

manner of speaking. This is in a sense the culmination of the Iliad, for the poem, which ends with the burial of Hector's corpse, had begun with Homer's assertion that Achilles' wrath had cast forth into Hades many stout souls of heroes and left themselves (avrov?) to be the prey for dogs and birds. The significance of Achilles' speech for the Iliad is confirmed by the fact that only on the occasion of Patroclus' and Hector's deaths does Homer himself say that the soul
rt? in line 103, it qualifies If one reads, with Kahn, ifwxy, "some sunt aliquid manes is just one of several sort of soul is etc."; but Propertius' the lectio difficilior. that seem to guarantee considerations 2

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at the


to Hades,
start that

and its significance for us would be that it establishes

eivaL primarily means "to be something."

If Greek literature begins with a question about the being of soul, the questioning of the being of the gods cannot be far behind.
seems to deny however, this, "to be alive" from the strictly meaning Kahn, Socrates' tion which ov8' ecrT?v Zevs same for he wishes existential to separate meaning which, the he

claims, first occurs at the end of the fifth century.

(Clouds at the time represents is semantically novel: evidence does not 367)


a syntactic innova "eon as existential

operator has been isolated from the operand sentences

normally bound" (p. 304). The bear

to which
this out,

it is

since Kahn might further mislead the reader into believing that the issue of the gods' being is only to be found in the few passages he cites, I think it would be helpful to give a fuller account. First, two
centuries fi?v ovk there Aristophanes, 89 "Epco? ota ecTTL, ix?pyo? before is Alem?n [77a??] fr. 58, 7ra?a8eL 9A(ppo8?Ta is ("Aphrodite 1 P:

not, but rampant Eros like [a child] sports"). Whether Alem?n means to distinguish between the sudden lust of Eros and the serious
passion anes'. of Aphrodite Second, is not clear, but the syntax is the same as Aristoph and more to keep the gods and soul importantly,

or life apart obscures what is involved in the denial or the assertion of the existence of the gods. The absence of life is often just what is
meant "In comparison by "non-being." "to share (de gen. animal. 731a35-b4), with only Aristotle says thinking," in touch or taste is thought

to be as itwere nothing, but in comparison with the plant or stone it is wonderful; for it would then be thought desirable to obtain even this kind of knowledge and not lie dead and [as] a non-being (KeladaL
TeOvebs the Kai /xi} bv)." The slogan, "God is dead," should It have no less than the

modern physicists'
"half-life" more warrant makes

speaking of the "life" of elementary particles

substances), on Kahn's part. denial of becoming the question soul been is life and implausible.


of radioactive caution

to enough life that only

the pre-Socratic

In Plato's Phaedrus,
Boreas, should monsters Socrates puts that

when asked whether


he believes the myth of

of centaurs

of the existence

and the like until he has come to know himself; he thus implies that if it
turn out the cannot be precluded. is a monster, the existence of other X is, of course, Laws the plainest

proof that life and gods can constitute one problem, and in Sophocles' Electra the Chorus say (245-250):

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ei yap ? pkv Baviov y? Te Kai ov8ev
Ke?aeTaL r?Xac,


?l 8? /xi) ttcxXlv
8o)crovo"' eppoL aTt?vTi?v otvrupovov? r' av at?w? r' evak?eLa ?t/ca?, SvaTwv.

and they [Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus] will not pay back with blood
for blood, the reverence and piety of all mortals are gone.")

("If the hapless




lie [as] earth

and non-being,

The belief in the existence of the gods and the belief in the existence of the soul apart from body thus stand or fall together.
Some Herodotus, instances early in discussing of the existential source eivaL Kahn mentions has missed. the sug of the Nile,

gestion of some that it is Ocean, but, he says, this does not admit of refutation, "for I do not know of any river Ocean that is" (ov yap
TLva eyorye oi8a irora/xov 'ClKeavbv e?vra, 11.23). And later, in the

same book (174), he tells the story of Amasis, who before he became king was a thief, and when his victims brought him before various
oracles, he was that no less often were oracles." acquitted than convicted; ?>? akiqd?cu? examples so Amasis, Oe v eovr might on

becoming king, sacrificed only where

grounds and gave "these truly not-false gods These

he had been convicted,

on the
v)3 give

(tovt?ov Herodotean

the impression that existential eari always has a theological dimen sion, but Thucydides shows that it is not restricted to that: "And the
four-hundred because of this were not willing 1.3.2). has its source in the for the five-thousand

either to be or to make
/xi) bvTa? between ?tj?ov? his

it plain that they were not" (oihe eivaL ovre

cf., cort,

eivaL, VIII.92.11; view that

In his discussion

of Socrates' denial that Zeus is, Kahn wavers


and the possibility that Socrates "intends to "locative-existential" be truly said of Zeus, that he is a possible that could anything deny subject for any reliable elementary statements: the stories of priests and poets are all a pack of lies" (p. 319). This second formulation, which I think, is near the truth (cf., Socrates' words at line 365),4 conceals something which is most remarkable, that since Zeus is a It is not, fictive being, eivaL by itself now means "to be by nature."
3A is ?kr}6?(ov. variant reading 4 it in this Even though Socrates might be imagined as understanding Socrates' does not; for in explaining teaching to his son, he way, Strepsiades cf., says that Zeus is not since Dinos is lang, having driven Zeus out (1470-1, to the poets', whereby Socrates' He thus assimilates 380-1). teaching

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then, the syntactic form which is innovative, but the packing into what is apparently the emptiest and most general of words a distinc
tion. The importance of this can hardly be overestimated: being

must now be qualified, explicitly or implicitly, whenever it is extended outside its strict boundaries. What is first for us, Aristotle says, "has
or no being" Met. 1029b9-10). (?xLKpbv r) ovdev e'xet T?v wro?, a Kahn's earlier that existential eivaL arises from proposal of the in "locative-existential" for dismissed, generalization little

the Clouds, in a passage which Kahn rather surprisingly does not mention, Just Speech and Unjust Speech have this exchange (902-6):
I deny that Justice is at all (ov8? y?p eivaL ir?w U.S.: <pr)pi Alkt}v). J.S.: You say she is not? U.S.: Well, where is she then? J.S.: Among the gods. If Justice U.S.: is (At/oj? oiiarj?) how come Zeus did not perish when he bound his father?

This last exchange brings out that the denial or the assertion
existence of gods is never a statement of bare existence, but

of the

that the being of a god involves the effective power of the god to maintain morality (cf., Euripides fr. 292, 7 N; Hecuba 799-801;
Cyclops 354-5). To be means to be at work, for one does what one is.

Kahn nowhere discusses this meaning of being, though it is one of the four main meanings Aristotle gives to being (Met. 1017a35-bl).
In Euripides' Heracles Oeo? /x?v ov8a/xov), (r? is punished"; (Heracles) Iris (841-2), and mortal and "Or the gods are nowhere unless he be great things will a in the gods' being and the fragment, says:

gods' strength are identified (fr. 154 Austin):

o) 6vr)TOL7rapa(ppovi)ixaTy o? ipao-LV eivaL tt)v tv\Vv
co? ov?ev ierre Ke? keyeiv

avOp?m??v, p?Tiqv, ^XX' ov Oedv?.

?o/cetr? tl.

ei jx?v y?p
et ?' ot 0eot


(ttlv ovSev 8e? Oeaxv,

oi)8ev tj tvxV

("Oh the delirium of men! They say that chance is and not the gods. even if you think you are talking sense. You know nothing For if chance is, there is no need of gods; but if the gods have strength, chance is nothing.")

no more is not" means than "Zeus is no longer"; and that in turn are that and life identified. The Chorus inAeschylus' implies being virtually in the same way: ov?? Xe^erat irplv Hjv (170) speak of Uranus Agamemnon ("He will not even be counted, being before"). "Zeus

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The problem of the gods intrudes in another way, and it lends some plausibility to the view that grammar might have something to do with philosophy. Kahn distinguishes between first and second
order group, The nomin?is there (e.g., man a is "nuclear as opposed to mortal), of personal sub-class and within nouns, defined the first by the

possibility of co-occurrence with first and second person forms" (p. 93).
person, he says, "is an extra-linguistic subject that can speak

or be spoken to" (p. 92). On this basis Kahn classifies gods as persons.
in Greek of the gods function the gods and the names Do, however, one in the same way as men and their names? Perhaps ought to leave is no vocative aside the fact that there of the singular 0eoc, and per

haps it is unimportant that for "mythopoetic thought and speech all nouns are (at least potentially) personal" (p. 91, n. 8). But a line like
"0 gods! For Helen's, one wonder 560), makes "Mythopoetic speech" even friends to recognize one understands whether a verb can be is a god" (Eur. Hel. a god is for what a "person." When it

if even

comes to the gods, at least, the distinction between and to be personified is obscure. The indeterminacy
cated by the constant use of the phrase oort?

to be a person of 0eoc is indi


eort*> in speeches

the gods, and though it no doubt began as a sacral formula in order to avoid giving offense to a god if one happened to address him with
the wrong name, its use was soon extended fr. 480 oi8a the gods. about Euripides ignorance stances: Ze?? ocrrt? ? Zeu?, ov y?p to express is just one one's of many total in

Trkr?v k?yq)

(cf., Aeschylus

Ag. 160; Eur. HF 1263;Hel. 1137;Hipp. 359). Now the question of the person would not be very important if it did not impinge on the
Socratic between to distinguish, t? ecrT?. Kahn wants question, it and the question, rt? eo-T?v (el). He notes that and rightly "Who so, is?"

have Diotima cited

often prompt a genealogical

Plato's who Symposium, of Eros the parents that Plato where are

reply (p. 125), and he might

the right asks Socrates young she has explained after

what power Eros has (203a9).

account, one can say

In light, however,
presents Socrates

of Diotima's whole
as having learnt

from Diotima the difference between "Who is" and "What is" (cf., In the Apology of Socrates, Socrates seems to instruct 199c5). Meletus in that difference. He asks Meletus who (t?c) makes the Athenians better, and when Meletus says it is the laws, Socrates says, "I'm not asking this, but what human being, who knows this very thing, the laws?" (24dl0-e2). Meletus' second answer (the jury), how
ever, is not necessarily more profound than his first, for at the end of

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GRAMMAR OF BEING the Crito Socrates

"personified," has his poets, is?Zeus as we revenge.


hears himself rebuked by the laws themselves,

would That for the the spokesman say. Meletus, on Plato's being, moreover, dialogue that Who and What remain for

should begin with Socrates' telling Theodorus who the stranger really
in disguise perhaps?shows

Plato problematically distinct to the end. It is not for want of reflec that Plato lacks a tion, as Kahn seems to believe (pp. 415-419), philosophy of the person.
Kahn's influenced discussion by modern a word of veridical logic, eivaL seems over to me certain to be features for he passes unduly of its

ancient use that are of some interest.

that otkr)deLa, "for subjective


is puzzled by the fact

truthfulness later

and personal

became the general term for truth" (p. 365), but inasmuch as truthful ness and justice are commonly believed to belong together (cf., Herodotus 1.138.1), and Hesiod explicitly connects the truthfulness of Nereus with his justice (Theogony 233-6; cf., 231-2), the semantic
development Chorus of "truth" seems strange warn only if one looks at veridical

eivaL by itself and apart from its legal and political

in Aeschylus' Agamemnon Agamemnon

on his return


the insincerity of his subjects

7ToXXot ?? ?poTwv irpoT?ova?


to 8oKe?v eivaL

8?kt]v irapa?avTec once they transgress a passage justice, honor what seems before

("Many mortals, what is.") Kahn himself,



from Herodotus



353-354), where the people learn that Deioces' judgments (r?? ?t/ca?) turn out Kara to k?v; but he does not notice that the latter phrase replaces /cora to bpdbv (96.3). The ambiguity of "right" is likewise
revealing. eivaL function Calchas usually sometimes of 8vvaadaL that not he knew means "to signify"; II.59.2). it then When takes Homer over says the of

(e.g., Herodotus ra r' ebvTa ra that


r' ecrcrbfxeva to know for a soothsayer truth.5

it is rrpb t' ebvTa, means the present of

that he can read the future in the present.

meaning of r? ebvTa, their

Calchas knows the hidden



aki)deLa is therefore not as arbitrary as Kahn believes

For the difference between see Plato Sophist 234c2-e2. 5 the beings

(p. 364); indeed,

of the beings,

and the truth

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Kahn cites three passages
e?v refers to the correct (VI.37.2), in the second

SETH BENARDETE from Herodotus, in the first of which to

utterance of an enigmatic interpretation once name that is at to a proper it refers given

an ominous significance (VI.50.3), and in the last to Xerxes' inability to understand that the Spartans' combing their hair at Thermopylae meant that they were preparing to kill and be killed (VII.202.1). The policy that Kahn adheres to throughout, of using non-philo sophical literature (especially Homer), has its drawbacks. Although it does give an air of neutrality to his results, it prevents him from discussing those authors who reflected most deeply on what they were saying. Would it not have been more illuminating, for example, if in Kahn had discussed his analysis of the "locative-existential,"
Socrates' derivation is the of Hestia, the goddess of one's own place, from

eoTti; (Cratylus 401c-d)?

where Hestia only

It would have led him to the Phaedrus,

god who stays at home and never contem

plates the ideas. From there he could have discussed x^Pa or "place" in the Timaeus (with a back reference to Cratylus 412d3),
and then gone on to the ordinary would term for real estate, (pavep? ovcr?a.

Such a procedure would have been no doubt less systematic,

gain in precision. in suggestiveness have more than made up

but the

for any

New York University.

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