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Festschrift at Delphi
in Honor of Charles Kahn

Papers presented at the

Festschrift Symposium in Honor of Charles Kahn
Organized by the HYELE Institute for Comparative Studies
European Cultural Center of Delphi
June 3rd–7th, 2009
Delphi, Greece

Edited by
Richard Patterson, Vassilis Karasmanis,
and Arnold Hermann

Las Vegas | Zurich | Athens

Las Vegas | Zurich | Athens

© 2012 Parmenides Publishing

All rights reserved.

This edition published in 2012 by Parmenides Publishing

in the United States of America

ISBN soft cover: 978-1-930972-75-9

ISBN e-Book: 978-1-930972-76-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Presocratics and Plato : festschrift at Delphi in honor of Charles Kahn

: papers presented at the festschrift symposium in honor of Charles Kahn
organized by the Hyele Institute for Comparative Studies European Cultural
Center of Delphi, June 3rd/7th, 2009, Delphi, Greece / edited by Richard
Patterson, Vassilis Karasmanis, and Arnold Hermann.
      p. cm.
 Includes bibliographical references (p.         ) and indexes.
 ISBN 978-1-930972-75-9 (pbk. : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-930972-76-6
1.  Plato--Congresses. 2.  Pre-Socratic philosophers--Congresses.  I. Kahn,
Charles H. II. Patterson, Richard, 1946- III. Karasmanis, V. (Vassilis) IV.
Hermann, Arnold.
 B395.P73 2012

Typeset in Adobe Garamond and OdysseaUBSU (Greek)

Printed and lay-flat bound by USBookPrint |

Table of Contents

Richard Patterson
Preface: Thoughts for Delphi xiii
Charles Kahn
Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography xix

I. The Presocratics
1. Heraclitus on the Sun  3
Enrique Hülsz Piccone
2. “The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos,
Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14 25
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos
3. Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi 59
Diskin Clay
4. The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus 79
Richard McKirahan
5. Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up? 111
John M. Dillon
6. Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras 125
Carl A. Huffman

II. Plato: Studies in Individual Dialogues

7. Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71 147
David Sedley
8. Virtue and Law in the Republic165
Julia Annas
9. Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides183
Vassilis Karasmanis
10. Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem
of Self-predication in the Parmenides205
Arnold Hermann
11. Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist233
Lesley Brown
12. Fifth-Century Bugbears in the Timaeus255
Sarah Broadie
13. False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e 291
Satoshi Ogihara
14. Pleasure, Pain, and “Anticipation” in Plato’s Laws,
Book I 311
Susan Sauvé Meyer
15. Socrates in Plato’s Laws329
Christopher J. Rowe

III. Themes in Plato

16. Slavery as a Philosophical Metaphor in Plato
and Xenophon 351
Anthony A. Long
17. Forms, Functions, and Structure in Plato 367
Dorothea Frede
18. From Being an Image to Being What-Is-Not 391
Paul Kalligas
19. The Method of Hypothesis and Its Connection
to the Collection and Division Strategies 411
Tomás Calvo
20. Word and Image in Plato 429
Richard Patterson
IV. Plato and Beyond
21. Aristotle on the Power of Perception: Awareness,
Self-Awareness and the Awareness of Others459
Aryeh Kosman
22. Sympathy, Awareness, and Belonging to Oneself
in Plotinus 491
D. M. Hutchinson
23. Moral Conscience: Contributions to the Idea
in Plato and Platonism 511
Richard Sorabji

About the Contributors 531

Bibliography 539
Index Locorum 565
General Index 583
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Richard Patterson
A Festschrift celebrating the work of Charles Kahn might well
include an enormous diversity of papers, on topics reaching far
beyond the Pre-Socratics and Plato. Nonetheless it is for his work on
the Pre-Socratics and Plato that Charles is best known. Indeed, it is
difficult to think of anyone else who has achieved such distinction
in both of these daunting areas of philosophical scholarship. For
this reason, and also to lend coherence to the collection, the papers
in this volume focus for the most part on these two topics.
Charles Kahn is a native of New Iberia, Louisiana, “Queen
City of the Bayou Teche” (distinguished also as the birthplace of
Tobasco sauce). At age seven, following the death of his father,
Charles entered his Wanderjahre, moving from New Iberia to Los
Angeles, then to Tulsa and, at the age of sixteen, to the University of
Chicago, in the archonship of John Maynard Hutchins. (Hutchins
was convinced that American high school was largely a waste of
time, and that bright teenagers would be just as well off without it.)
After graduation, Charles remained at the University of Chicago for
graduate work and an MA from the Committee on Social Thought.
Having by this time developed a primary interest in philosophy, and
in Ancient Greek philosophy in particular, and being convinced that
scholarship in this area required serious study of Greek and Latin,
Charles spent two years at the Sorbonne, practicing the traditional
“explication de texte,” which he would in due time impart to graduate
students at the University of Pennsylvania. He then returned to
the United States to complete a Doctorate in Classics at Columbia
University (1958). His dissertation became Anaximander and the
Origins of Greek Cosmology (Columbia University Press, 1982;
reprinted by Hackett, 1994), now a “classic” in its own right. Degree

— ix —
Richard Patterson

in hand, he joined the faculty in Classics at Columbia, where he

taught until 1965.
It was then that Philosophy called—from Philadelphia, and in
the voice of the distinguished and just-retiring Plato scholar, Glenn
Morrow, who persuaded Charles to join the Philosophy Department
at the University of Pennsylvania. There Charles has taught for the
last 47 years, serving as Chair from 1975–78, and contributing
energetically to related programs such as the Graduate Group in
Classical Studies at Penn, the American School of Classical Studies
in Athens, where he served as Visiting Professor in 1974–75 and as
a member of the managing committee from 1964–2000, and the
Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, serving as President from
1976–78. From a still broader perspective, Charles has long been a
mainstay of the international community of Platonists, developing
scholarly ties and warm friendships around the globe (along with a
knowledge of where the best food and drink are to be found, from
Athens to Tokyo), and serving as North American Representative
of the International Plato Society from 1992–95. These decades
also saw an accumulation of honors, including research grants from
the American Council of Learned Societies (63/64 and 84/85), the
National Endowment for the Humanities (1974/75 and 1990/91),
and the Guggenheim Foundation (1979/80). In 2000 Charles was
elected Fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Meanwhile work on his second book had begun not long after
Charles’s arrival at Penn. As it turned out, the book was quite
ambitious in scope—a linguistic and philosophical study of questions
concerning being and the verb “to be” that are fundamental to the
background, and often the foreground, of Greek philosophy. The
work was scheduled to appear in Reidel’s series of monographs, The
Foundations of Language, most volumes of which had been rather
narrowly focused and quite slender. By contrast, The Verb “Be” in
Ancient Greek grew into a magisterial work tracing the evidence
for and history of the main uses of the verb from Homer on, in
a considerably more nuanced manner than had been customary
among students of Greek philosophy. In the process, Charles put
on the map important uses of “to be” that philosophers and classi-
cists—as opposed to the linguists Charles was studying at the


time—had not appreciated; for example, the “locative” or “locative

existential” use of “to be.” As Charles demonstrated, this use was
extremely common and important in Ancient Greek, even though
it had hardly been mentioned in modern discussions, which tended
to focus exclusively on the triumvirate of existential, copulative, and
identificatory “is.” The book was published in 1973 and stirred up
a good deal of discussion on this and many other points. Charles’s
own responses and further contributions to the investigation of being
and “to be” have now been collected and published under the title
Essays on Being (Oxford University Press, 2009). In the meantime
royalties from the original book proved sufficient to finance a trim
sailboat, the EINAI, in which Charles sailed with Jason (his Golden
Retriever), if not to the far shores of the Black Sea, then certainly
to the wine-dark seas off Porto Rafti and Poros.
Work on two other key areas of interest, the fragments of
Heraclitus and the nature of the Socratic dialogue, led to The Art
and Thought of Heraclitus: A New Arrangement and Translation of the
Fragments with Literary and Philosophical Commentary (Cambridge
University Press, 1979), and Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: the
Philosophical Use of a Literary Form (Cambridge University Press,
1996). The former, along with Anaximander and a lengthening list
of important articles, established Charles as a leading scholar of the
Pre-Socratics; he has since published a masterful and admirably
compact study of Pythagoreanism down to Kepler: Pythagoras and
the Pythagoreans: A Brief History (Hackett, 2001).
Plato and the Socratic Dialogue is probably the single most
discussed and influential work in the field of Plato studies since
Gregory Vlastos’s 1954 paper on the Third Man Argument. It is
safe to say that the dust has not yet settled on Charles’s “proleptic”
theory of most of the so-called early and middle dialogues, on which
reading all roads lead to (Republican) Rome and were constructed
from the start to lead the reader in that direction. Besides developing
in detail a broad, original vision of Plato’s philosophical and literary
program, the book contains a wealth of insight into the birth and
maturation of the Platonic dialogue and its interplay and competition
with contemporary genres. Here again Charles brings to the fore
important but neglected material—to mention only one example,

— xi —
Richard Patterson

the early history of “Socratic logoi” including such practitioners as

Phaedo, Antisthenes and others. The book exemplifies especially
clearly the combination in Charles’s work of a deep knowledge of
the broader culture from which Greek philosophy, Plato, and the
Socratic Dialogue emerged, a mastery of the fundamental ancient
texts along with the major traditions of commentary, and the intellec-
tual creativity to see something new and vital in soil that had been
tilled by so many, for so long, and so often to so little effect beyond
producing ever finer and drier dust.
What does such a one do for an encore? As it happens we will
soon see the sequel to Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, due to appear
this year from Cambridge University Press, and bringing matters
down through the “late” dialogues. This discussion will not, however,
include the Laws; thus one might naturally wonder whether there are
plans for a third and final Plato volume. Charles’s response appears
simple and direct, but like the utterances of Heraclitus, may conceal
more than it reveals: “Don’t hold your breath.”

The contributions to this volume have, like an “overflow from

the Good,” somewhat exceeded the bounds suggested by the title. We
have imposed only a loose order on this bounty, grouping papers into
those focusing on the Pre-Socratics, those centering on specific works
of Plato, those addressing broadly important themes in Plato, and
finally three articles looking back to Plato but concerned primarily
with later Platonists and Platonism. The papers have virtually all
been written especially for this volume and were with few exceptions
presented at a productive, memorable, and most enjoyable conference
in Delphi in June of 2009. We gratefully acknowledge the HYELE
Institute for Comparative Studies and Starcom AG for their generous
sponsorship and organization of the conference, and Parmenides
Publishing for the publication of this volume.

— xii —
Thoughts for Delphi
Charles Kahn
I want to take this occasion to share with you some thoughts on
how I came to Greek philosophy. But first a word on how happy I
am that we are meeting in Delphi. I first came to Delphi in 1951,
exactly 58 years ago this month (June 2009). It was a much simpler
place, in a simpler world. But the setting is still the same, the most
magnificent setting I know, both natural and supernatural.
I came to Greek philosophy much earlier. In high school I read
Breasted’s History of the Ancient World and Will Durant’s The Story
of Philosophy. So when I came to the University of Chicago at the age
of 16 I was ready to take on the Classics, which we read of course
in translation. My teacher was David Grene, the translator himself,
and I soon realized that I would have to learn Greek in order to
be able to argue with him about interpreting a text. Grene was by
nature dramatic, an amateur of the old Abbey Theater in Dublin.
He made Sophocles and Shakespeare come alive. He also warned
me that although Plato was a wonderful writer, his later dialogues
were not so much fun.
I was a graduate student in the Committee on Social Thought,
but before the days of Leo Strauss. My philosophy tutor was a French
Thomist, Yves Simon. I did not share his enthusiasm for Thomas
Aquinas, but I did learn from him to take philosophical issues and
arguments very seriously. Simon thought I should be trained both
in systematic philosophy and in history. For systematic philosophy I
was to begin with logic, that is, with Aristotle’s Organon. That was a
bit strange: I was reading Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione
while Rudolph Carnap was teaching logic at the same time in the
same university. (Simon did not send me to Carnap.) For history

— xiii —
Charles Kahn

of philosophy I was referred to Burnet and Zeller, to begin philos-

ophy with the Presocratics. Aristotle’s logic left me cold, but the
Presocratics lit a fire that has kept me warm ever since.
My Master’s dissertation was on Parmenides and on the passage
from myth to reason. I had been introduced to mythic thought by
the writings of Henri Frankfort, in the Chicago lectures that became
The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, later published as Before
Philosophy. This made me see the Presocratics in a different light.
Burnet and Zeller had admired the ancients from a positivist or
Hegelian viewpoint. They thought: how clever the Greeks were to
prepare the way for modern science and philosophy! Frankfort, like
Karl Reinhardt, Hermann Fränkel and other continental scholars
of that generation, had more respect for archaic modes of thinking
in their own right. From this perspective I came to see that with
Parmenides and his fellows something tremendous was going on,
something that the positivists and neo-Hegelians had not fully
But to deal with these texts I needed philological tools. So in
my two years in Paris, and then two years at Columbia under Kurt
von Fritz and Ernst Kapp I got the classical training that made it
possible to do serious research. In Paris I learned more about archaic
thought from Georges Dumézil, and more about the history of
philosophy from Etienne Gilson. Gilson’s lectures on Duns Scotus
were too esoteric for my taste, but his commentary on Descartes’
Discours de la Méthode opened my eyes to historical work in philos-
ophy, and gave me a model for what it means to take the measure
of an intellectual revolution against its historical background. But
how was one to get the intellectual background for measuring the
revolutions of the sixth century bce? It seemed that the key to archaic
Greek thought had to be found in Homer and Hesiod. That was the
guideline for my doctoral dissertation, which became Anaximander
and the Origins of Greek Cosmology.
For my philological training I was above all indebted to the
German tradition, as represented at Columbia by Kapp and von
Fritz. But one advantage of my Paris years was the exposure to the
French tradition in linguistics, and in particular to the work of
Émile Benveniste. Several papers of Benveniste alerted me to the

— xiv —
Preface: Thoughts for Delphi

peculiar features of the Indo-European verb to be. This acquaint-

ance with historical-comparative linguistics gave me the basis for
the later assimilation of some elements of formal linguistics in the
Philadelphia school of Zellig Harris.
In 1965 I moved from Columbia to the University of
Pennsylvania, and from Classics to Philosophy. In New York I had
begun work on a textbook history of the Presocratics, to replace
Burnet. (This would have been essentially the kind of book that
Richard McKirahan has since published.) My problem was that
each chapter tended to become an independent book. The chapter
on the Milesians was easy to do, because I had already written that
book. But my chapter on Heraclitus soon outgrew the textbook plan
and eventually became The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. (A book
on the Pythagoreans developed much later.) To write a chapter on
Parmenides turned out to be more difficult. I had originally intended
to devote my doctoral dissertation to Parmenides, whom I saw (and
still see) as the deepest influence on Plato, as well as an important
influence on Aristotle. The study of Anaximander, which in fact
became the dissertation and the book, was originally intended to be
only the introductory chapter, preparing the way for Parmenides.
The problem was that, now that it finally came time to deal directly
with Parmenides, I had first to clarify his use of the verb to be. I
did a preliminary study of the verb during my first sabbatical, in
Greece in 1963–64. That was before I came to Philadelphia and
got acquainted with the Harris linguistics that provided me with a
modern analysis of sentence structure. It was in Philadelphia that
I began the big book on To Be. I compiled the Homeric statistics
in Paris during my second sabbatical in 1968–69, and the book
was finally published in 1973. The task of counting occurrences of
the verb would presumably be much easier today with a computer,
although judging constructions of einai would still have to be done
on a case-by-case basis. I should add that my syntactic analysis of
the verb was not satisfactory in 1973. It was obvious that the copula
use was in some sense more fundamental, although apparently not
older. It is only in returning to the problem for a second edition (in
the Hackett reprint in 2003) that I was able to draw a clear theoret-
ical distinction between the first-order, copula use of the verb and

— xv —
Charles Kahn

the second-order, semantic uses (for existence, instantiation and

truth), all of which presuppose the copula construction. In actual
occurrences, of course, a given use of einai may combine several
constructions; but the theoretical description, and the fundamental
role of the copula, is now (I think) finally clear.
Overwhelmed by the verb to be, I abandoned the project of the
textbook on the Presocratics. And I have also given up the commen-
tary on Parmenides’ poem, and published instead my collected Essays
on Being (Oxford, 2009).
Teaching in a philosophy department after 1965, I began to give
annual seminars on Aristotle and published often on Aristotelian
texts, beginning with the De Anima on sense perception but includ-
ing the Categories (from a linguistic point of view) and several papers
on the Metaphysics. I was particularly intrigued by the problem of
understanding what the systematic role of the Prime Mover would
have been if Aristotle had completed his project of First Philosophy.
Against the prevailing anti-metaphysical trend of much Aristotelian
scholarship in those years (the 1970s and early 80s) I sketched a
view of Aristotle’s intended metaphysics in 1985 that was not unlike
the interpretation offered a few years later by Frede and Patzig. In
the end, however, Aristotle was not my favorite terrain, and in the
last twenty years all my scholarly efforts have been devoted to a
unitarian reading of Plato.
When Plato and the Socratic Dialogue was published in 1996,
several friendly colleagues asked me why I stopped at the Phaedrus.
They wanted to know what I would have to say about the late
dialogues. My initial reaction was that I had nothing more to say.
My goal in the Plato book was, first of all, to do justice to the literary
dimensions of the dialogues and to their rich surface diversity, while
at the same time keeping in view a unified philosophical intention. I
saw it as my mission to bring together the literary and philosophical
approaches. My aim was to show that attention to the literary context
and to the character of the interlocutor was an essential element
in the philosophical interpretation. My second cause was to fight
against the tendency to read the so-called Socratic dialogues as if
they represented a philosophical position essentially different from
that of mature Platonism­—against the view of Socrates as a separate

— xvi —
Preface: Thoughts for Delphi

philosopher that got its strongest statement in Gregory Vlastos’ book.

My notion of prolepsis was perhaps not the best device for drawing
attention to this underlying unity in Plato’s thought. Today I would
argue the same case in developmental terms, without any assump-
tions of authorial intent. We can see the aporetic dialogues (such
as the Euthyphro and the Meno) as an intermediate stage between
the early dogmatism of the Apology-Crito-Gorgias, on the one hand,
and the later dogmatism of the Symposium-Phaedo-Republic, on the
other hand. Looking back from the later perspective of the Phaedo-
Republic, we can see that the moral basis for mature Platonism was
established in the Apology-Crito-Gorgias, whereas the technical
basis for the doctrine of Forms was worked out in the dialogues of
definition, centering on the notion of essence as the target of the
What-is-X? question.
As for the late dialogues, I have been lucky to live long enough
to overcome my initial reluctance, and have now sent to CUP my
second volume, Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue. Return to the
Philosophy of Nature. My hesitation in undertaking this project
was due in part to the very different literary character of the late
dialogues. By this I mean both their highly technical content and
their relative lack of the dramatic interaction with the interlocutor
that is so characteristic of the earlier works. My first teacher, David
Grene, used to say that Plato had an incomparable literary gift, as
the greatest writer of Greek prose, but that he killed it in himself in
his later work. The conversation in these dialogues does tend to be
stiff, and the interlocutor is often a yes-man. Nevertheless, Plato is
still Plato, and my view will remain unitarian, but of course with a
difference. Beginning with the Parmenides and with Plato’s recoil and
self-distancing from his doctrine of Forms, I see the reformulation of
his metaphysics in the Theaetetus and the Sophist as a preparation for
his final undertaking, namely, to integrate the study of nature—the
original home of Greek philosophy—within his own philosophical
scheme. Throughout his later work, and above all in the cosmologies
of the Philebus and Timaeus, I see Plato returning to the territory
of the Presocratics and re-appropriating their subject matter into
his own philosophy. One of my problems with Gwil Owen, despite
my admiration for his work and his great and beneficial influence

— xvii —
Charles Kahn

on our discipline, was his attempt to radically change the date of

the Timaeus and remove it from its traditional place at the end of
Plato’s life. But perhaps the truth shines brighter once it has been
contested. At all events, I think it is clear to me that (leaving aside
his work on legislation) all of Plato’s later dialogues are leading up
to the cosmological enterprise of the Philebus and the Timaeus, with
their application of mathematical structures to the interpretation of
nature. The fuller cosmology of the Timaeus is not only Plato’s contri-
bution to peri phuseos historia, his summing-up of the Presocratic
tradition; it is also the completion of his own system, the extension
of the doctrine of Forms, by way of mathematics, to include the
philosophy of nature. This is the theme of my forthcoming book.

— xviii —
Charles Kahn:
A Chronological Bibliography

“Anaximander and the Arguments Concerning the Apeiron at Physics 203b4–15.”
In Festschrift Ernst Kapp: zum 70. Geburtstag am 21. Januar 1958 von Freunden
und Schülern überreicht, edited by Hans Diller, 19–29. Hamburg: Marion von
Schröder Verlag, 1958.

Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1960. Translation into Modern Greek, 1982. Reprinted by Hackett, 1994.
“Religion and Natural Philosophy in Empedocles’ Doctrine of the Soul.” Archiv
für Geschichte der Philosophie 42 (1960): 3–35. Reprinted in Essays in Ancient
Greek Philosophy, edited by John P. Anton, 3–38. Albany, NY: State University of
New York Press, 1971. Reprinted also in The Pre-Socratics: Critical Essays, edited
by Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, 426–456. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1974.

Review of Plato’s Cretan City, by G. R. Morrow. Journal of the History of Ideas
22 (1961): 418–424.
“Plato’s Funeral Oration: The Motive of the Menexenus.” Classical Philology 58
(1963): 220–234.

“A New Look at Heraclitus.” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 1, no. 3
(1964): 189–203. Bobbs-Merrill reprint, 1964.

“Sensation and Consciousness in Aristotle’s Psychology.” Archiv für Geschichte
der Philosophie 48 (1966): 41–81. Reprinted in Articles on Aristotle, Vol. 4:

— xix —
Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift in Honor of Charles Kahn

Psychology and Aesthetics, edited by Jonathan Barnes, Malcolm Schofield, and

Richard Sorabji, 1–31. London: Duckworth, 1979.

Articles “Anaximander” and “Empedocles” in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
edited by Paul Edwards. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company & The
Free Press, 1967.
“The Greek Verb ‘to be’ and the Concept of Being.” Foundations of Language 2
(1966): 245–265. Bobbs-Merrill reprint, 1968.
Review of Parmenides. A text with translation, commentary, and critical essays, by
Leonardo Tarán. Gnomon, 40 (1968): 123–133.
Review of Plato’s Progress, by Gilbert Ryle. Journal of Philosophy 45 (1968):
“Stoic Logic and Stoic Logos.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 51 (1969):
Review of Empédocle, by Jean Bollack. Gnomon 41 (1969): 439–447.
“The Thesis of Parmenides.” Review of Metaphysics 22 (June, 1969): 700–724.
“More on Parmenides. A Response to Stein and Mourelatos.” Review of Metaphysics
23 (December, 1969): 333–340.

“On Early Greek Astronomy.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 90 (1970): 99–116.
Review of Die Offenbarung des Parmenides, by J. Mansfeld. Gnomon 52 (1970):

“The Terminology for Copula and Existence.” In Islamic Philosophy and the
Classical Tradition: Essays presented by his friends and pupils to Richard Walzer on
his seventieth birthday, 141–158. London: Luzac (for Cassirer, Oxford), 1973.
“The Meaning of ‘Justice’ and the Theory of Forms.” Journal of Philosophy 49
(1972): 567–579.

The Verb “Be” in Ancient Greek. Foundations of Language, Supplementary Series,
Vol. 16, edited by J. W. M. Verhaar: Philosophical and Grammatical Studies,
Part 6: The Verb “Be” and its Synonyms. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1973. Reprinted with
a new introductory essay by Hackett, 2003.

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Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography

“On the Theory of the Verb ‘To Be’.” In Logic and Ontology, edited by Milton
K. Munitz, 1–20. New York: New York University Press, 1973.
“Pre-Platonic Conceptions of Human Nature.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas,
edited by Philip P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.
“Language and Ontology in the Cratylus.” In Exegesis and Argument: Studies in
Greek Philosophy presented to Gregory Vlastos. Phronesis Supplement Volume I,
edited by E. N. Lee, Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, and R. M. Rorty, 152–176.
Assen: Van Gorcum, 1973.
Review of Kleine Schriften, by F. Solmsen. Gnomon 45 (1973): 737–745.

“Pythagorean Philosophy before Plato.” In The Pre-Socratics: Critical Essays, edited
by Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, 161–185. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1974.

Review of Hyle: Studien zum Aristotelischen Materie-Begriff, by H. Happ. Gnomon
47 (1975): 645–652.

“Plato on the Unity of the Virtues.” In Facets of Plato’s Philosophy. Phronesis
Supplement Volume II, edited by W. H. Werkmeister, 21–39. Assen: Van Gorcum,
“Why Existence does not emerge as a distinct concept in Greek philosophy.”
Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 58 (1976): 323–334.

“Linguistic Relativism and the Greek Project of Ontology.” In The Question
of Being, edited by Mervyn Sprung, 31–44. University Park and London:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978. Also published in Neue Hefte für
Philosophie (Göttingen) 15–16 (1978): 20–33.

The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An edition of the fragments with translation and
commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Paperback, 1981.
“Questions and Categories: Aristotle’s doctrine of categories in the light of modern
research.” In Questions, edited by H. Hiz, 227–278. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1978.

“The Role of Nous in the Cognition of First Principles in Posterior Analytics
II.19.” In Aristotle on Science: The “Posterior Analytics,” edited by Enrico Berti,
385–414. Padova, Italy: Editrice Antenore, 1981. Italian translation published in

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Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift in Honor of Charles Kahn

Aristotele e la Conoscenza, edited by G. Cambione and L. Repici, 313–41. Milan:

Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 1993.
“Aristotle and Altruism.” Mind 90 (1981): 20–40.
Review of The Presocratic Philosophers, by Jonathan Barnes. Journal of Philosophy
78 (1981): 279–287.
“Some Philosophical Uses of ‘to Be’ in Plato.” Phronesis 26 (1981): 105–134.
“Did Plato Write Socratic Dialogues?” Classical Quarterly 31 (1981): 305–320.
Earlier French version: “Platon a-t-il écrit des dialogues socratiques?” in Bulletin
de la Société Française de Philosophie 74 (1980): 45–77. Reprinted in Essays on the
Philosophy of Socrates, edited by H. H. Benson, 35–52. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1992). Reprinted again in Antike Philosophie Verstehen; Understanding
Ancient Philosophy, edited by Marcel van Ackeren and Jörn Müller, 110–130.
Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006.
“The Origins of Social Contract Theory in the Fifth Century B.C.” In The
Sophists and their Legacy, edited by G. B. Kerferd, 92–108. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner,
Verlag, 1981.

“Arius as a Doxographer.” In On Stoic and Peripatetic Ethics: the Work of Arius
Didymus, edited by W. Fortenbaugh, 3–13. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
Books, 1983.
“Philosophy and the Written Word: Some thoughts on Heraclitus and the early
Greek uses of prose.” In Language and Thought in Early Greek Philosophy, edited
by Kevin Robb, 110–124. Monist Library of Philosophy, 1983.
“Drama and Dialectic in Plato’s Gorgias.” In Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy
1, edited by Julia Annas, 75–121. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

“Democritus and the Origins of Moral Psychology.” American Journal of Philosophy
106 (1985): 1–31. An earlier, shorter version appeared in Proceedings of the 1st
International Congress on Democritus, published in Xanthi, Greece, 1984.

“On the Intended Interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.” In Aristoteles, Werk
und Wirkung, Paul Moraux gewidmet, Vol. I, edited by J. Wiesner, 311–338.
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 1985.
“The Beautiful and the Genuine: a discussion of Paul Woodruff, Plato Hippias
Major.” In Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 3, edited by Julia Annas, 261–287.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography

“Plato and Heraclitus.” In The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, Vol.
I, edited by John J. Cleary, 241–258. Lanham: University Press of America, 1985.
“The Place of the Prime Mover in Aristotle’s Teleology.” In Aristotle on Nature
and Living Things: Philosophical and Historical Studies Presented to David M.
Balme on His Seventieth Birthday, edited by A. Gotthelf, 183–205. Pittsburgh
& Bristol: Mathesis Publications, 1985.

“Retrospect on the Verb ‘to be’ and the Concept of Being.” In The Logic of Being,
edited by S. Knuutila and J. Hintikka, 1–28. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1986.
“Plato’s Methodology in the Laches.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 40
(1986): 7–21.

“Plato’s Theory of Desire.” Review of Metaphysics 41.1 (1987): 77–103.
“Les mots et les formes dans le Cratyle de Platon.” In Cahiers de Philosophie
ancienne No. 5: Philosophie du langage et grammaire dans l’antiquité, edited by
Henri Joly, 99–103. Brussels: Editions Ousia, 1987.

“Plato and Socrates in the Protagoras.” Méthexis (Buenos Aires) I (1988): 33–52.
“Plato’s Charmides and the Proleptic Reading of Socratic Dialogues.” Journal of
Philosophy 85 (1988): 541–549.
“Being in Parmenides and Plato.” La Parola del Passato (Naples), 43 (1988):
“From Philosophy of Being to Philosophy of Human Beings.” In Metaphysik
nach Kant? Stuttgarter Hegel-Kongreß 1987. Edited by D. Henrich and R. P.
Horstmann, 528–540. Frankfurt am Main: Klett-Cotta Verlag, 1988.
“Discovering the Will: from Aristotle to Augustine.” In The Question of
“Eclecticism,” edited by John M. Dillon and A. A. Long, 234–259. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988.
“Socrates and the Rule of Law.” In Philosophy of Law in the History of Human
Thought, Proceedings of 12th World Congress IVR, 11–16. Stuttgart: F. Steiner
Verlag, 1988.
“On the Relative Date of the Gorgias and Protagoras.” In Oxford Studies in
Ancient Philosophy 6, edited by Julia Annas, 69–102. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1988.

— xxiii —
Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift in Honor of Charles Kahn

Articles “Plato” and “Aristotle” in the International Encyclopedia of Communications,
edited by E. Barnouw. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
“The Historical Position of Anaxagoras.” In Ionian Philosophy, edited by K. J.
Boudouris, 203–210. Athens: Ionia Publications, 1989.
“Problems in the Argument of Plato’s Crito.” In Nature, Knowledge, and Virtue.
Essays in Memory of Joan Kung, edited by T. Penner and R. Kraut. Apeiron 22,
no. 4 (Edmonton: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1989): 29–43.

“The Normative Structure of Aristotle’s Politics.” In Aristoteles’ “Politik,” edited
by G. Patzig, 369–384. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.
“Comments on M. Schofield.” In Aristoteles’ “Politik,” edited by G. Patzig, 28–31.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.
Review of Die Philosophie der Antike, Band 3, edited by Ueberweg-Flashar.
Gnomon 62 (1990): 397–404.
“Plato as a Socratic.” In Hommage à Henri Joly. Recherches sur la philosophie et
le language 12, edited by P. Bourdieu, et al., 287–301. Grenoble: CNRS, 1990.
Republished in Studi italiani di filologia classica, 3rd series 10 (1992): 580–595.

“L’argumentation de Platon dans les dialogues socratiques.” In L’argumentation,
Colloque de Cérisy, edited by A. Lempereur, 1–10. Paris: Editions Mardaga, 1991.
“Some Remarks on the Origins of Greek Science and Philosophy.” In Science
and Philosophy in Classical Greece, edited by A. C. Bowen, 1–10. New York and
London: Garland Publishing, 1991.
“La Physique d’Aristote et la tradition grecque de la philosophie naturelle.” In
La physique d’Aristote et les conditions d’une science de la nature, edited by F. De
Gandt and P. Souffrin, 1–9. Paris: J. Vrin, 1991.
“In Response to Mark McPherran.” In Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 9,
edited by Julia Annas, 161–168. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

“Presocratic Greek Ethics.” In Encyclopedia of Greek Ethics, Vol. I, edited by L. C.
Becker, 457–461. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1992. Republished
in History of Western Ethics, edited by L. C. Becker, 1–8. New York and London:
Garland Publishing, 1992.
“Aristotle on Thinking.” In Essays on Aristotle’s “De Anima,” edited by M.
Nussbaum and A. O. Rorty, 359–379. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography

“Werner Jaeger’s Portrayal of Plato.” In Werner Jaeger Reconsidered. Illinois Studies

in Classical Philosophy, Supplement Vol. 3, edited by W. M. Calder, 359–379.
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992.
“Vlastos’ Socrates.” Review of Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosophers, by Gregory
Vlastos. Phronesis 37 (1992): 233–258.
Review of The Chronology of Plato’s Dialogues, by L. Brandwood. Classical Journal
88.1 (October, November, 1992): 89–91.

Pitagora e i pitagorici. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1993. Italian
translation of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.
“Plato’s Ion.” In Nomodeiktes. Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, edited by
R. Rosen and J. Farrell, 369–378. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Foreword to reprinting of G. R. Morrow, Plato’s Cretan City, xvii–xxviii.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
“Proleptic composition in the Republic, or why Book I was never a separate
dialogue.” Classical Quarterly N. S. 43 (1993): 131–142.

“Aeschines on Socratic Eros.” In The Socratic Movement, edited by P. Vander
Waerdt, 87–106. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

“The Place of the Statesman in Plato’s Later Work.” In Reading the Statesman.
Proceedings of the III Symposium Platonicum edited by C. J. Rowe, 49–60. Sankt
Augustin: Academia Verlag, 1995.
“A New Interpretation of Plato’s Socratic Dialogues.” Harvard Review of Philosophy
(1995): 26–35.

Plato and the Socratic Dialogue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
“George Grote’s Plato and the Companions of Socrates.” In George Grote Reconsidered:
A 200th Birthday Celebration with a First Edition of His Essay “Of the Athenian
Government,” edited by W. M. Calder, 43–58. Hildesheim: Weidman, 1996.
Short articles on “Anaximander,” “Anaximenes,” “Pythagoras,” “Thales,” and
“Xenophanes” in the 3rd edition of Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1996.

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Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift in Honor of Charles Kahn

“Was Euthyphro the Author of the Derveni Papyrus?” In Studies on the Derveni
Papyrus, edited by A. Laks and G. W. Most, 55–63. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1997.
“Critical Comment on Richard B. McKirahan, Jr. Philosophy Before Socrates.”
Ancient Philosophy 17 (1997): 159–164.
“Religion and Philosophy in the Sisyphus Fragment.” Phronesis 42 (1997):
“Pre-Platonic Ethics.” In Companions to Ancient Thought 4. Ethics, edited by S.
Everson, 27–48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Articles on “Sophists,” “Protagoras,” “Gorgias,” “Hippias,” “Prodicus,” and
“Socratic Dialogue,” in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London and
New York: Routledge, 1998.
Article, “Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.” In The Oxford Companion to
Classical Civilization, edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1998.

“Greek Philosophy from the Beginning to Plato: A Critical Notice of C. C. W.
Taylor (ed.), Routledge History of Philosophy, Vol. I.” In Oxford Studies in Ancient
Philosophy 17, edited by David Sedley, 325–341. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1999.

“Some Puzzles in Plato’s Euthydemus.” In Plato: Euthydemus, Lysis, Charmides:
Proceedings of the V Symposium Platonicum, edited by Thomas Robinson and Luc
Brisson, 88–97. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2000.

Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans. A Brief History. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001.
“La Philosophie de Socrate selon Platon et Aristote.” In Socrate et les Socratiques,
edited by G. Romeyer-Dherbey and J.-B. Gourinat, 207–220. Paris: J. Vrin, 2001.

“Forms and Flux in Plato’s Timaeus.” In Le Style de la Pensée. Recueil de textes
en homage à Jacques Brunschwig, edited by M Canto-Sperber and P. Pellegrin,
113–131. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2002.
Review of Anaximander and the Architects, by R. Hahn. Ancient Philosophy, 22
(2002): 149–152.

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Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography

“On Platonic Chronology.” In New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient.

Center for Hellenic Studies Colloquia 6, edited by Julia Annas and C. J. Rowe,
93–127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.
“Parmenides and Plato.” In Presocratic Philosophy. Essays in Honour of Alexander
Mourelatos, edited by V. Caston and D. Graham, 81–99. Aldershot: Ashgate
Publishing, 2002.

“On the Philosophical Autonomy of a Platonic Dialogue: The Case of
Recollection.” In Plato As Author: The Rhetoric of Philosophy, edited by Ann N.
Michelini. Cincinnati Classical Studies New Series, 299–312. Leiden/Boston:
Brill, 2003.
“Writing Philosophy. Prose and Poetry from Thales to Plato.” In Written Text
and the Rise of Literate Culture in Ancient Greece, edited by H. Yunis, 139–161.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
“Por qué la doctrina de la reminiscencia está ausente en los libros centrales de la
República?” In Los Similes de la República VI-VII de Platón, edited by R. Gutiérrez,
145–154. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2003. A French version
of this article was published as “Pourquoi la doctrine de la réminiscence est-elle
absente de la République?” In Études sur la République de Platon, Vol. 2, edited
by M. Dixsaut, 95–103. Paris: J. Vrin, 2005.
“Socrates and Hedonism.” In Plato’s Protagoras. Proceedings of the Third Symposium
Platonicum Pragense, edited by A. Havlicek and F. Karfik, 165–174. Prague:
OIKOYMENH, 2003. This article was also published in Socrates: 2400 Years
since his Death (399 B.C.—2001 A.D.), edited by V. Karasmanis, 111–115. Athens:
European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2004. And again in Remembering Socrates,
edited by L. Judson and V. Karasmanis, 50–58. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2006.

“From the Republic to the Laws.” Review article of C. Bobonich, Plato’s Utopia
Recast, in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 26, edited by David Sedley,
337–362. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
“Plato on the Good.” In Was ist das für den Menschen Gute?, edited by J. Szaif,
1–17. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004.
“A Return to the Theory of the Verb be and the Concept of Being.” Ancient
Philosophy 24 (2004): 381–405.

Review of The Way and the Word. Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece,
by G. Lloyd and N. Sivin. Classical Review 55 (2005): 183–186.

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Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift in Honor of Charles Kahn

“Aristotle versus Descartes on the Concept of the Mental.” In Metaphysics, Soul

and Ethics. Essays for Richard Sorabji, edited by R. Salles, 193–208. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2005.
“The Philosophical Importance of the Dialogue Form for Plato.” New School
Graduate Faculty Philosophical Journal 26 (2005): 1–16.
“Parmenides and Being.” In Frühgriechisches Denken, edited by G. Rechenauer,
217–226. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005.

Article “Plato” in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition, edited by Donald M.
Borchert. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2006.
“Plato on Recollection.” In A Companion to Plato, edited by Hugh H. Benson,
119–132. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

“Prolepsis in Gorgias and Meno?” In Gorgias–Menon. Selected Papers from the
Seventh Symposium Platonicum, edited by Michael Erler and Luc Brisson, 325–332.
Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2007.
“Why is the Sophist a sequel to the Theaetetus?” Phronesis 52 (2007): 33–57.

Jezyk I ontologia (“Language and Ontology”). Kety: Antyk Marek Derewiecki,
2008. Five essays on Being and to be, in Polish translation by B. Zukowski.
“Some Thoughts on Personification in Plato’s Psychology.” In In Pursuit of
Wissenschaft: Festschrift für William M. Calde III zum 75. Geburtstag. Spudasmata,
Bd. 119, edited by Stephan Heilen, 201–210. Hildesheim/New York: Georg
Olms Verlag, 2008.
“A New Interpretation of Plato’s Socratic Dialogues.” In The Space of Love and
Garbage: And Other Essays from the Harvard Review of Philosophy, edited by S.
P. Upham, 229–239. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2008.

Essays on Being. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
“The Myth of the Statesman.” In Plato’s Myths, edited by Catalin Partenie,
148–166. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

“Dialectic, Cosmology and Ontology in the Philebus.” In Plato’s Philebus. Selected
Papers from the Eighth Symposium Platonicum, edited by John M. Dillon and Luc
Brisson, 56–67. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2010.

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Charles Kahn: A Chronological Bibliography

“The Place of Cosmology in Plato’s Late Dialogues.” In One Book, The Whole
Universe: Plato’s Timaeus Today, edited by Richard D. Mohr and Barbara M.
Sattler, 69–77. Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2010.

Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue. Return to the Philosophy of Nature. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

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Heraclitus on the Sun
Enrique Hülsz Piccone
In the first part of this brief approach to the solar fragments, I will
propose a different reading of B6, recovering the truly Heraclitean
idea that the sun is “always new,” which I will interpret along
more Platonic than Aristotelian lines as having a metaphysical
import (rather than being merely a piece of physical doctrine). The
second part revisits briefly Column IV of the Derveni papyrus,
questions the unified version of B3 and B94, and, keeping closer
to Plutarch’s version of the latter, finally suggests a less physicalistic
scenario as a better-fitting context for the text of the solar fragments
themselves, bringing them together through B16’s cryptic reference
to an ever-shining analogue of the sun.


Among Heraclitus’ fragments, [DK] B6 (“The sun is new
every day”) has been long recognized as authentic.1 Possibly just a
paraphrase and not a verbatim citation,2 it is transmitted by Aristotle,

  I am referring to modern editors and interpreters, at least since Ingram
Bywater, whose work is earlier than Hermann Diels’s (our fragment 6 corresponds
to number 32 in his edition Heracliti Ephesii Reliquiae (Oxford: 1877). It is
crucial to have in mind that all Heraclitus’ fragments have come to us only
through doxographical tradition, which is indirect by definition.
  Cf. M. Marcovich’s classification, Heraclitus, Editio Maior (Mérida,
Venezuela: 1967, from now on referred to as HEM), which specifies the status
of each fragment according to its probable degree of accuracy by the variables
of quotation [“cita”] (C), paraphrase (P), and reminiscence (R). See also S.
Mouraviev, Heraclitea III.3.B/i, ii, iii (Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2006),
whose version differs from Diels-Kranz (DK) only in word order, and who takes
notice of, and differs from, my own point of view (cf. below, note 13). It should
not be forgotten that in the ancient tradition, the difference between indirect
quotation and paraphrase is a matter of degree, not of nature; cf. Charles H.

Enrique Hülsz Piccone

who refers explicitly to Heraclitus by name at the end of a passage

in the second book of his Meteorology. Most recent interpretations
have read it as a relatively straightforward statement of “physical”
doctrine, taking for granted that a cosmological (astronomical
and meteorological) scenario must be the appropriate one, rather
than seeing it as an illustration of a general truth, or even as a
critical reflection on the temporality of human life and experience.
Almost all have agreed what the extent of the quotation is.3 It will
be instructive to remember here Kirk’s cautious but optimistic
conclusion, at the end of his long and detailed discussion: “When
all is said, we still do not know the exact purpose of the declaration
that the sun is new every day; but the number of possible purposes
has been substantially limited,” 4 and contrast it with Marcovich’s
remarkable confidence: “The meaning of the fragment seems to
be clear enough if we bring it together with Theophrastus’ account
on Heraclitus’ meteorology,” 5 an opinion further supported by
interpreting the saying as an “intended attack on the popular belief
in the sun’s divinity.”
To begin with, I reproduce the Aristotelian passage in full:

This is why all of those who came before are ridicu-

lous too, for they supposed that the sun is nurtured
by the moist. And some say that this, too, is why
solstices happen. For the places of the solstices are
not always capable of providing nourishment for
the sun. But it is necessary that this happens, or the

Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (Indianapolis: Hackett,

1994), 172. One should not dismiss Proclus’ version (in Tim. Vol. 3, 311, 42nd):
νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἥλιος, “new every day is the sun,” which differs only in word
order from Aristotle’s, the version preferred in DK. Cf. Agustín García Calvo,
Heraclito. Razón Común [HRC] (Madrid: Lucina, 1985), 190–192.
  There are some exceptions to this generalized tendency: A. García Calvo,
HRC; Marcel Conche, Héraclite. Fragments (Paris: P.U.F., 1986); Jean Brun,
Héraclite, ou le philosophe de l’éternel retour (Paris: Seghers, 1969), ad B3, among
others. The line I will pursue is actually considered by G. S. Kirk, Heraclitus.
The Cosmic Fragments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 266, but
dismissed implicitly.
 Kirk, Cosmic Fragments, 264–279.
 Marcovich, HEM, 316 and 318.

Heraclitus on The Sun

sun would be destroyed. Because the visible fire, as

long as it has nourishment, to that extent it lives,
and the moist is the only nourishment for fire. As
if the moist that goes upwards could reach to the
sun, or as if its ascent was like that of the flame,
when this is produced! Because they assumed that
the flame is alike, they supposed it likely that the
same would happen in the case of the sun. But this
is not so. For flame is produced by the continuous
interchange of the moist and the dry, and it is not
nurtured (because, so to speak, it never stays the
same), but in the case of the sun it’s impossible that
this would happen, since, if it were nourished in
the way they say it is, it’s evident too, as Heraclitus
says, that the sun is not only new every day, but
always new, continuously (δῆλον ὅτι καὶ ὁ ἥλιος
οὐ μόνον καθάπερ Ἡράκλειτός φησιν, νέος ἐφ’
ἡμέρῃ ἐστίν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ νέος συνεχῶς) .6

Interpreters have stressed the need to take the whole passage as

a unity to make good sense of Heraclitus’ words, so—for the sake
of the passage’s internal logic—Aristotle’s presentation of the saying
has been sometimes considered to imply that Heraclitus himself
must be included among those who believed that the sun (a) is
fiery, and (b) is nurtured by moisture.7 Now, this claim could in
principle be challenged, wholly or partially, especially since neither

 Aristotle, Meteorology B 2, 354b33ff.
  Harold Cherniss, Aristotle’s Criticism of Presocratic Philosophy [ACPP], (Balti-
more: The John Hopkins University Press, 1935), 134 with n541), maintained
that Aristotle’s reference to Heraclitus and his followers is exclusive (a thesis
that seems excessive). Marcovich (HEM, 312–318) accepts that an allusion to
Heraclitus is intended (315), as do Kirk (HCF, 265–266), and R. Mondolfo,
Eraclito. Testimonianze e Imitazioni (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1972, 119–123
with n156), but they all leave other possibilities open. Inclusion of Anaximander,
Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Antiphon, and perhaps Alcmaeon does not preclude
this notion from being a common belief, “in the air,” so to speak, in pre-Aristote-
lian times. Hippocratic treatises also provide evidence for the view that the moist
“feeds” the hot. Now, whether Heraclitus held a similar view or not is, of course,
arguable. There is a case to be made for the negative possibility.

Enrique Hülsz Piccone

of these two theses is actually found in any of Heraclitus’ authentic

fragments (but only in the Theophrastean doxography of Diogenes,
Hyppolitus, and Aetius, which is arguably ultimately dependent on
Aristotle himself). Besides, Aristotle’s final criticism requires only
the premise that the sun is fiery (and, perhaps, the notion that it is
being extinguished and rekindling always), but not necessarily the
nourishment, the exhalation, and the heavenly “bowls” (σκάφαι)
theories, these last three being suspect.
Now, as to Heraclitus’ notions about Helios, besides the solar
fragments themselves, one of the earliest testimonia comes from Plato.
This particular passage of the Republic (VI, 498b, with scholion to
498a) seems to provide the grounds for the assumptions implied in
the standard current reading of the Meteorology passage, that the
fiery sun is kindled and quenched daily, in a cycle that forever repeats
itself. In the immediate context, it is significant that the framework
of Socrates’ invocation of Heraclitus’ sun is a failed analogy between
the cosmic and the human:

Those who now engage in philosophy are young

men just out of boyhood, in the interval before
taking on management of the household and
money-making, who approach its hardest part—I
call its hardest part dialectics—and then drop it.
Regarded as accomplished philosophers in their
later age, when invited to discuss with others,
if they accept to be hearers, as if it were a great
thing, it is because they think one should deal
with this as something accessory. And in old
age, except for a few, they are extinguished more
than the Heraclitean sun, in so far as they aren’t
kindled ever again (ἀποσβέννυνται πολὺ μᾶλλον
τοῦ Ἡρακλειτείου ἡλίου, ὅσον αὖθις οὐκ

  Republic 497e9–498b1.

Heraclitus on The Sun

The scholiast’s take on the relevant point is quite straightforward:

Heraclitus the Ephesian, a physicist, said that the

sun, as it comes to the Western sea, sinks in it and
is extinguished, then it goes under the earth and
as it reaches above the Eastern horizon it kindles
again, and this happens forever.9

More is going on here than meets the eye. First, it is noteworthy

that the scholiast’s point of view is considerably more explicit than
Plato’s, and brings with itself the whole Aristotelian-Theophrastean
physicalistic interpretation of Heraclitus. The Republic passage is
centered on the key words “extinguished” (ἀποσβέννυνται) and
“kindled” (ἐξάπτονται), which imply only that the fiery Heraclitean
sun was cyclically quenched and re-kindled (but not necessarily that
the sun dives into the sea, or that it continues unlit under the earth on
its way back to the East). So, even if there was in Heraclitus’ lost book
some statement to the effect that the sun dies out and is re-kindled,
it is still doubtful whether it really belonged in an astronomical-
meteorological model of explanation such as the scholiast describes.
A second relevant observation is that Plato’s allusion to the
sun-theme is subtly framed10 to fit within a proportional triadic
relationship between cosmos, polis, and individuals, which looks
quite Heraclitean, and which Plato appropriates as the backbone
of the alternate, “utopian” philosophic model. Plato’s allusion
to B6 is quite oblique, but he seems to intentionally recall the
language of fragments B30 and B26 (which deal respectively with
the fiery cosmos eternally going out and again re-kindling, and
the proportional relationship of the waking man, the sleeper, and
the dead). The brief reference to the Heraclitean sun anticipates
the famous set of analogical images: the Platonic sun, the divided

  Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος, φυσικὸς ὤν, ἔλεγεν ὅτι ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τῇ δυτικῇ
θαλάσσῃ ἐλθὼν καὶ καταδὺς ἐν αὐτῇ σβέννυται, εἶτα διελθὼν τὸ ὑπὸ γῆν
καὶ εἰς ἀνατολὴν φθάσας ἐξάπτει πάλιν, καὶ τοῦτο αἰεὶ γίγνεται.
  It is not often remarked that the verbs Plato playfully uses here, ἅπτω and
ἐξάπτω, in the double sense of “touching,” “being in contact with,” “set fire to,”
and “inflame,” recall the language of Heraclitus B26, and not only B30.

Enrique Hülsz Piccone

line, and the cave. So it seems that Plato’s information is likely to

be true, which provides a meaningful complement to the “new sun”
(ἥλιος νέος) of B6. In the case of the scholiast, the function of the
sun-symbolism within Heraclitus’ philosophical framework could
still have been missed. A fragment from Democritus might also
echo Heraclitus’ B6 in a non-cosmological context,11 suggesting a
connection with B17,12 and so could perhaps be a useful counter-
point to the physicalistic perspective on the Heraclitean sun.
Up to now, a minimalistic estimate of the actual extent of B6
(ὁ ἥλιος νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἐστίν) has been the predominant trend
among scholars, a reading thought to be backed by the so-called
internal logic of Aristotle’s argument.13 Taken on its merits, however,
the argument is not a particularly good one. The notion attributed
to Heraclitus, taking the whole passage as a unity (and leaving
aside, for the moment, the details of the conjectured mechanics
of the process) is that, assuming that the fiery sun is born as it
is kindled at dawn, and dies out as it is quenched at night,14 it
  DK 68B158 (Plutarch, De Latenter Vivendo 5, p. 1129e): “νέα ἐφ’ ἡμέρηι
φρονέοντες ἄνθρωποι” (“Men have new thoughts every day”).
  DK 22B17: οὐ γὰρ φρονέουσι τοιαῦτα πολλοί, ὁκόσοι ἐγκυρεῦσιν, οὐδὲ
μαθόντες γινώσκουσιν, ἑωυτοῖσι δὲ δοκέουσι. (“Many don’t understand such
things as those they encounter, nor do they know them once they have learned,
but think themselves they do.”) Cf. also DK 22B72: ὧι μάλιστα διηνεκῶς
ὁμιλοῦσι <λόγωι τῶι τὰ ὅλα διοικοῦντι>, τούτωι διαφέρονται, καὶ οἷς καθ’
ἡμέραν ἐγκυροῦσι, ταῦτα αὐτοῖς ξένα φαίνεται. (“That which they meet
most frequently <the logos that governs all>, from this they differ, and the things
they meet every day, these seem foreign to them.”)
 Cf. Mouraviev, Heraclitea III.B.iii (2006), 14: “Certains auteurs [. . .] inclu-
ent οὐ μόνον et ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ νέος συνεχῶς (contexte d’Aristote) dans la citation, ce
qui semble confirmé par Plotin (ἀεὶ καινὸν γίνεσθαι). Cette opinion ne résiste
toutefois pas à l’analyse du contexte aristotélicien où la conception d’un soleil
en renouvellement permanent joue le rôle de reductio ad absurdum d’une appli-
cation simultanée au soleil de la théorie (qu’Aristote critique) d’un soleil de feu
nourrissant sa flamme d’exhalaisons humides et de la théorie (aristotélicienne)
selon laquelle la flamme serait un échange perpétuel entre l’humide et le sec.”
  Both Kirk and Marcovich thought it likely that B6 was preceded or followed
by some such assertion about the sun’s extinction and rekindling. This is stage
one in Kirk’s interpretation of Aristotle’s argument; stage 2 is represented by the
σκάφαι theory, stage 3 by the ἀναθυμίασις theory. These are followed by the only
explicit piece of reasoning in the Meteorology passage, climaxing in the quotation
given in note 6 above. David Sider has proposed a different reconstruction: “Her-
aclitus in the Derveni Papyrus,” in Studies on the Derveni Papyrus [SDP], (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1977), 129–148, on which see further below, note 43.

Heraclitus on The Sun

can be said that it is νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ, “new” or “young” at dawn,

because regularly quenched and reignited according to fixed temporal
successive periods. The earlier thinkers mentioned by Aristotle,
denounced for having supposed the sun is nourished by moisture,
have sometimes been thought to include Heraclitus, but this is
doubtful. And anyway, even if we do set aside the attribution of
the nourishing of the sun on moisture (along with the single or
double “exhalation” [ἀναθυμίασις] doctrine) to Heraclitus, we are
still left with the notion that the sun is fiery, and, because of this,
it is new not only every day (at dawn), but always. So, according to
the usual reading, Aristotle would be charging Heraclitus with not
being radical enough. For when he said “the sun is new every day,”
he should have realized that this is a gross understatement of what
is metaphysically needed within his own framework which—as
interpreted by Aristotle—would be an extreme form of the “all
things flow” (πάντα ῥεῖ), the “rheontological” model. Pointing to
Heraclitus’ shortcomings, Aristotle would be putting forward his
own criticism, correcting the saying with what Heraclitus should
have said: that the sun is “always new” (ἀεὶ νέος).
There is some indication (in the relevant doxography, though
not in the authentic fragments themselves) that such a conception
of a daily different sun was held by Xenophanes. His reported
view was that a fiery sun15 is generated literally “every day” (καθ’
ἑκάστην ἡμέραν), from small sparks in the clouds, so an entirely
different sun shines over and warms each morning the earth below,
the old one becoming lost from our view in the infinite distance it
travels in a straight line, being substituted by an entirely new one
the next day.16 Xenophanes’ thesis entails the successive existence
of an infinite number of suns, each irreducible to the others; each
sun, corresponding to each day, can thus be said to be new (that
is, “other than,” or “different from” the others). Heraclitus’ few
relevant so-called “physical” or “cosmic” fragments are undoubtedly
hard to assess, but one might question the likelihood of a primarily
cosmological and doctrinal interpretation of his thinking, rather

  DK 21A32, DK 21A33, DK 21A38.
  DK 21A41a.

Enrique Hülsz Piccone

than simply take for granted that the details of just that sort of
account have not reached us. That he stated nothing clear17 about
these matters represents a more credible possibility.
We know from the fragments themselves that Heraclitus was
extremely critical of the reputedly wise men from the distant past and
from his own time, and that he explicitly denied that Xenophanes
understood anything, even if he qualified as a polymath (B40).18
That Heraclitus held a similar belief in infinite suns (parallel to the
sequence of days) is an unlikely hypothesis, not just because of his
manifest disdain of Xenophanes, but also in virtue of something that
is implied in his criticism of Hesiod, who, according to B57, did not
even know Night and Day, “for they are one.”19 In B106, Hesiod’s
ignorance concerns not only the unity of Night and Day, but also
the single nature (φύσις) common to all days.20 This suggests that
the Heraclitean sun (recognized as the cause of daylight, B99),21 too,
is one and the same every day, and it has a distinctive φύσις of its
own. The upshot is that Heraclitus thought of the sun as a single and
persistent being which retains its selfhood through its change, just
as he thought of the same river as a flux of ever different waters.22
The Aristotelian passage implicitly suggests several possible
Heracleitean theses. The most basic assumption I label
  Cf. e.g., DL 9.8: σαφῶς δ’ οὐδὲν ἐκτίθεται (“he doesn’t set forth anything
clear”); ibid. 9, 11: περὶ δὲ τῆς γῆς οὐδὲν ἀποφαίνεται ποία τίς ἐστιν, ἀλλ’
οὐδὲ περὶ τῶν σκαφῶν (“he doesn’t show anything clear about what sort of
thing is the earth, nor about the bowls”).
  DK 22B40: πολυμαθίη νόον οὐ διδάσκει· Ἡσίοδον γὰρ ἂν ἐδίδαξε καὶ
Πυθαγόρην αὖτίς τε Ξενοφάνεά τε καὶ Ἑκαταῖον (“Much learning doesn’t
teach intelligence. For it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras and, again,
Xenophanes and Hecataeus”).
  DK 22B57: διδάσκαλος δὲ πλείστων Ἡσίοδος· τοῦτον ἐπίστανται
πλεῖστα εἰδέναι, ὅστις ἡμέρην καὶ εὐφρόνην οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν· ἔστι γὰρ ἕν
(“Teacher of most men is Hesiod. They think he knew plenty, he who didn’t
recognize day and night: for they are one”).
  DK 22B106: ἀγνοοῦντι φύσιν ἡμέρας ἁπάσης μίαν οὖσαν (“[Hesiod] ig-
nored that the nature of any day is one”).
  DK 22B99: εἰ μὴ ἥλιος ἦν, ἕνεκα τῶν ἄλλων ἄστρων εὐφρόνη ἂν ἦν (“If
there were no sun, for the sake of the other stars it would be night”).
  DK 22B12: ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμβαίνουσιν ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα
ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ (“On those who step into the same rivers other and other waters

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Heraclitus on The Sun

(0) The sun is fire, or fiery, or made of fire.

Other theses extend this fundamental idea:
(1) The sun feeds on moisture.
(2) Solstices are explained on this basis.
(3) The (false) grounds for this view are:
(3a) A supposed analogy of sun-fire with everyday,
ordinary fire, and
(3b) an assimilation of the ascent of atmospherical
vapor, on the one hand, and the upward movement
of flame in combustion, on the other.

After a denial en bloc of the truth of all this, Aristotle concludes

critically that

(4) Heraclitus, in saying the sun is new merely every

day, failed to reach the necessary conclusion that it
would have to be always new (that is, not the same
at any moment).

Some comments are in order. First, that Heraclitus and his

alleged followers (but who are they?) are alluded to in the reference
to all those earlier thinkers “who assumed the sun was nourished
by the moist” (πάντες ὅσοι τῶν πρότερον ὑπέλαβον τὸν ἥλιον
τρέφεσθαι τῷ ὑγρῷ) seems to be unanimously accepted. It should
be noted, though, that strictly speaking this remains an inference,
for neither Aristotle nor any of the preserved fragments actually
states just that. On the further assumption that “the moist is the only
nourishment for fire” (τὸ δ’ ὑγρὸν τῷ πυρὶ τροφὴν εἶναι μόνον),
we arrive at the conclusion that the sun lives at the expense of (sea)
moisture, which ascends and feeds the fire of which the sun is made.
(As to the extinction during night-time, the doxographical report
ἐπὶ μέρους in Diogenes Laertius links night and the “dark exhala-
tion” [IX, 11]). The Heraclitean fragments that seem to be echoed
are B31 (both parts), B36, and (for the idea of nourishment) B114.
Strangely enough, none of them deals with the sun, but instead,
respectively, with the “turnings of fire” (πυρὸς τροπαί), the cycle

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Enrique Hülsz Piccone

of birth and death of soul (ψυχή), and the nurturing of all human
laws (νόμοι) on the single divine one, common to all (the Logos as
lex naturae). The unity-in-opposition theory, construed as a narrow
physicalistic explanation, is also in play, although only obscurely
hinted at in Aristotle’s interpretation. The grounding of this in
Heraclitus seems very vague, but it might further reflect B60 and
B126. A somewhat slighter anomaly would seem to be that the
moist requires as contrary the dry (not the sun). Insistence on the
exclusive relationship between contraries (each thing has only one
contrary) is reminiscent of Plato, but not of Heraclitus.
Secondly, as to solstices being explained in this way (that is, solely
on the view that the sun is nurtured by moisture), by Heraclitus
in particular, this point seems especially far-fetched. Perhaps the
closest we can get to solstices in Heraclitus is B94 (“The Sun will
not overstep its measures [ μέτρα]”) and B100.23
In the third place, 3a and 3b seem to be entirely due to Aristotle’s
own conjecture. Perhaps there is a fusion here of other sources—
Heraclitus’ B16 and B54 immediately come to mind—not exclud-
ing views in other authors. The “theory” implied in 3b could be a
historical antecedent of Aristotle’s own exhalation doctrine, but it
is more likely than not that there was no such thing in Heraclitus’
view—in spite of the commonplace physicalistic interpretation of
the way up and down (ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω) of B60. Heraclitus’ own
approach to such meteorological phenomena (in B31, B36) seems
hardly usable for restoring Aristotle’s credibility. Some form of vapor
(ἀτμίς), however, is quite possible in Xenophanes.
And last, with all this in mind, we may appreciate that Aristotle’s
final move (charging Heraclitus with not being radical enough) can
do without the assumptions just listed as 1–3. The only premise really
needed is that the sun is fiery. Aristotle’s dissent from Heraclitus,
which is the immediate basis for actually mentioning him by name
and quoting him, need not be interpreted within a meteorological
framework, and makes perfect sense when limited to the very basic
notion of the sun as fiery. Besides the well-known metaphysical

  DK 22B100 (Plutarch, Quaestiones Platonicae 8. 4,1007d) “ὥρας αἳ πάντα
φέρουσι” (“the seasons, bringers of all things”).

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Heraclitus on The Sun

hostility to the allegedly “Heraclitean” Universal Flux, for Aristotle

himself (according to at least one interpretation),24 the sun is made
of “ether” (αἰθήρ), not fire, and is neither hot nor dry. A simpler
reading of the final statement presents itself: if one assumes (with
Heraclitus) the sun’s fiery nature, then one should go on to say
(as does Heraclitus) that “the sun is not only new every day (as
Xenophanes said), but it is always new.” Read in this way, Aristotle’s
final point turns out to be, not a criticism, but the actual report of
Heraclitus’ extreme, but self-consistent (even if false) view.
It could be conjectured that Heraclitus is reacting to Xenophanes
and, expressing in his own coinage the true view, brings out the sun’s
nature by calling it “always new.” This recalls ἀείζωον (“ever-living”)
from B30 and farther still, the “ever real logos,” λόγος ἐών αἰεί,
of the Proem). It is well to remember that B99 proves Heraclitus’
awareness of the sun being the true cause of night (by absence) and
(by presence), of day, too. If the nature of all days is one (B106), it
would be natural enough for Heraclitus to think of the sun as being
endowed with a permanent identity. So the Heraclitean sun is, as
the fiery eternal cosmos (κόσμος), “the same for all,” or, as in B89,
“one and the same” (for those who are awake).
It is not so easy to assess with confidence what the limits of
Aristotle’s quotation are. If his rendering of Heraclitus is close, we
could expect an expanded original along these lines: οὐ μόνον νέος
ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἐστιν ἥλιος, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ νέος (καὶ ὡυτός) (“the sun is not
new only every day, but it is always new and the same”). A simpler
alternative could be, perhaps, ἥλιος νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἐστίν˙ ἀεὶ νέος
(καὶ ὡυτός) (“the sun is new every day: always new and the same.”
My preferred conjecture would be something like ἥλιος οὐ μόνον
νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ νέος ἐστίν (the sun is not only new every
day, but it is new always”). What is most important is not to pass
silently over Heraclitus’ characteristic style, of which there could

  Already known to Plotinus, who alludes to τὸ πέμπτον σῶμα, see below,


note 26. For Aristotle’s theory of a πρῶτον σῶμα, cf. De caelo 269bff.

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Enrique Hülsz Piccone

be traces in Plato,25 Plotinus,26 and Lucretius.27 My point is that

a reasonable version of B6 should include the formula ἀεὶ νέος.
These last two words, just by themselves, actually make an excellent
synthesis of Heraclitus’ philosophy as a whole, and describe perfectly
the sun’s φύσις, which mirrors the whole κόσμος. So I conclude
that Heraclitus’ basic assertion is that the sun is forever the same
precisely in that it is always new, persistently changing every day and
at every given moment: just as the flux of the river constitutes its
dynamic identity, and just as the κόσμος itself is “ever-living fire,”
so Heraclitus’ presentation of the nature of the sun symbolically
harmonizes sameness and difference.


In 1981, almost twenty years after the Derveni papyrus
was discovered, Walter Burkert gave a short paper in the Chieti
Symposium Heracliteum in which he presented the text reconstructed
by Parássoglou and Tsantsanoglou and made publicly known the few
lines in column IV containing the Heraclitus quotation.28 Until then,
the dominant approach to these two Heraclitean solar fragments,
[DK 22] B3 and B94, was to treat them separately. Of course, the
fact that both deal (although in very different ways) with Helios

  Symposium 207d3: . . . ἀεὶ καταλείπει ἕτερον νέον ἀντὶ τοῦ παλαιοῦ
(. . . always leaves behind a different new creature instead of the old one”; 207d7:
ὁ αὐτὸς καλεῖται, ἀλλὰ νέος ἀεὶ γιγνόμενος (“It’s called the same, but it be-
comes always new”). Cf. also Cratylus 409b5–8: Νέον δέ που καὶ ἕνον ἀεί ἐστι
περὶ τὴν σελήνην τοῦτο τὸ φῶς [. . .] κύκλῳ γάρ που ἀεὶ αὐτὴν περιιὼν νέον
ἀεὶ ἐπιβάλλει (“The light about the moon is always new and old [. . .] for in its
course around it, the sun always sheds on an ever new light”).
  Ennead II, 1, 2, 10–13: Συγχωρῶν καὶ ἐπὶ τούτων δηλονότι τῷ
Ἡρακλείτῳ, ὃς ἔφη ἀεὶ καὶ τὸν ἥλιον γίνεσθαι. Ἀριστοτέλει μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲν
ἂν πρᾶγμα εἴη, εἴ τις αὐτοῦ τὰς ὑποθέσεις τοῦ πέμπτου παραδέξαιτο
σώματος (“He [sc. Plato] evidently agrees with Heraclitus, who also said that the
sun is always coming into being. For Aristotle there would be no problem, if one
admits the theories of the fifth body”).
  De natura rerum, V, 662: (semina . . . ardoris) . . . quae faciunt solis nova
semper lumina gigni.
  W. Burkert, “Eraclito nel Papiro di Derveni: due nuove testimonianze,” Atti
del Symposium Heracliteum, vol. I (Rome: Edizioni dell’ Ateneo, 1983), 31–42.

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Heraclitus on The Sun

naturally invited a connection, but as the texts of B3 (from Aetius)

and B94 (one among several versions in Plutarch) were presented in
Diels-Kranz, mere juxtaposition did not seem appealing to editors,
commentators and interpreters. With the partial publication of the
Derveni papyrus, things took a different direction. A new line of
interpretation relied on the possibility that the author of the papyrus
intended the quotation as a continuous unity.29 But even after
the “official” publication, which benefitted greatly from applying
multi-spectral imaging to the remains, finally came out in 2006,
the papyrus’ bad physical shape still left enough room for almost
total uncertainty about some parts within the quotation itself (a
fact that has led to several versions, which differ in their proposed
conjectures and supplements).
In Gábor Betegh’s version, lines 7–9 of column IV read:

ἥλι ̣[ος. . .]τ̣ου κατὰ φύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πηΐου] ε ̣ὖρος ποδὸς [ἔστι] 7

τοὺ ̣[ς οὔρου]ς ̣ οὐχ ὑπε ρ̣ βάλλων· ει.[. . . . . ]ρουσε[ 8
[ἐ]κ ̣[βήσετα]ι ̣, Ἐρινύε[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου ̣[σι, Δίκης ἐπίκουροι.] 9

The sun . . . according to nature is a human foot in width, 7

not transgressing its boundaries. If . . . 8
oversteps, the Erinyes, the guardians of Justice, will find it out.30 9

  Cf. D. Sider (1997), “Heraclitus in the Derveni Papyrus,” who refers
to a paragraph at the beginning of line 7, indicating a quotation (“at least in
intention”), reinforced by the apparent lack of space for ἥλιος in lines 8 and
9, and suggesting that “B3+B94 formed a connected thought in H.’s original
text” (131); but see G. Betegh, The Derveni Papyrus. Cosmology, Theology and
Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 326n3. A.
Lebedev did overstate his case when he wrote: “Any serious edition of Heraclitus
to come will cite B3 and B94 only as testimonia under the most complete and
authentic verbatim quotation of PDerv.” (“Heraclitus in P. Derveni,” Zeitschrift
für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 79 (1989): 42.) S. Mouraviev (2006), and A.
Bernabé, De Tales a Demócrito. Fragmentos Presocráticos, 2nd ed. (Madrid: Alianza,
2001) have followed this general line of interpretation in their editions of
Heraclitus, treating B3 and B94 as a single continuous fragment.
  Gábor Betegh, The Derveni Papyrus, 10–11.

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Enrique Hülsz Piccone

There are some other possibilities (not exhaustive). First, the

long awaited official reading by Kouremenos, Parássoglou and
ἥλι ̣[ος. . . ].ου κατὰ φύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πηϊου] ε ̣ὖρος ποδός [ἐστι,] 7
τὸ μ ̣[έγεθο]ς ̣ οὐχ ὑπε ρ̣ βάλλων· εἰκ ̣[ότας οὔ]ρους ε[ὔρους] 8
[ἑοῦ· εἰ δὲ μ]ή, Ἐρινύε[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου ̣[σι, Δίκης ἐπίκουροι.] 9

The sun in the nature of . . . is a human foot width, 7

not exceeding in size the proper limits of its width. 8
or else the Erinyes, assistants of Dike, will find it out . . .31 9

Janko’s version:
ἥλι ̣[ος ἑωυ]τ̣οῦ κατὰ φύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πείου] ε ̣ὖρος ποδός [ἐστι,] 7
τοὺ ̣[ς οὔρου]ς ̣ οὐχ ὑπε ρ̣ βάλλων· εἰ γ[ὰρ τι εὔ]ρους ἐ[ωυτοῦ 8
[ἐ]κ ̣[βήσετα]ι ̣, Ἐρινύε[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου ̣[σι, Δίκης ἐπίκουροι.] 9

The sun, in accord with its own nature, is in breadth the size 7
of a human foot,
and does not surpass its limits; for, if it surpasses its own 8
breadth at all,
(the) Erinyes, (the) allies of Justice, will discover it.32 9

L. Schönbeck’s proposal:

ἥλι ̣[ος νέο]ς ̣ ̣οὐ κατὰ φύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πείου] ε ̣ὖρος ποδός [ἐστι,] 7
το ̣ῦ ̣[σκότου], οὐχ ὑπε ̣ρβάλλων εἰκ ̣[ότας ὅ]ρους ἐ[φ̕ ἡμέρῃ (ἀεὶ)] 8
[φ]α ̣[εῖ, εἰ μ]ή ̣ Ἐρινύε[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου ̣[σι, Δίκης ἐπίκουροι] 9

  Theokritos Kouremenos, George M. Parássoglou, Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou,
The Derveni Papyrus. Edited with Introduction and Commentary [TDP] (Florence:
Leo S. Olschki, 2006), (Greek text of lines 7–9 apud Laks’s review in Rhizai
2007, vol. IV, 1: 153–162, at 155).
  Richard Janko, “The Derveni Papyrus: an interim text,” ZPE 141 (2002):
1–62, and “The Derveni Papyrus (‘Diagoras of Melos, Apopyrgizontes Logoi’?):
A New Translation,” Classical Philology, Vol. 96, No. 1 (Jan. 2001), 1–32. Greek
text of col. IV apud Mouraviev (2006). This is also Bernabé’s reading (Poetae epici
graeci: testimonia et fragmenta (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007); Pap. Derv. col.
IV: 188–192).

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Heraclitus on The Sun

The new sun is not by nature the width of a human foot, 7

from darkness, not ever surpassing its proper limits every day, 8
it shines, if not, the Erinyes, Justice’s helpers, will find him out.33 9

Finally, Mouraviev’s alternative reconstruction of the passage

and his French translation:34

ἥλι[ος δ ̕ ὅδ]ε ̣ οὗ κατὰ φύσιν ἀν̣θρω[πείου] ε ̣ὖρος ποδός 7

το ̣ὺ ̣[ς οὔρου]ς ̣ οὐχ ὑπε ρ̣ βάλλων· εἰ γ[ὰρ ἐξ εὔ]ρους 8
ἐ[ξίηι, Δίκης
[ἐ]π ̣[ίκουρο]ι ̣ Ἐρινύε[ς] νιν ἐξευρήσου ̣[σι˙ ἐπίσκοποῦσι γὰρ] 9

<Ce?> Soleil, dont par nature la largeur (est) d’un pied 7

d’homme, <luit / avance (?)>
sans outrepasser ses limites, car s’il <sortait de sa lar>geur (?), les 8
Furies,<servantes de Justice,> le recaptureraient. 9
Car elles veillent . . . 35

The importance of the discovery has perhaps been somewhat

exaggerated,36 at least concerning Heraclitus (as opposed to
Orphism). Nevertheless, the papyrus is certainly one of the oldest
testimonia on Heraclitus, possibly even predating Plato’s writings
(of which the Derveni author does not show any knowledge). The
identity of the Derveni author is still very much a matter of debate
and conjecture,37 but there is no doubt he is commenting on an

  Loek Schönbeck, “Heraclitus Revisited. Pap. Derveni col. I, lines 7–11,”
ZPE 95, 1993: 20.
  Serge Mouraviev, Heraclitea, II.A.1 (Sankt Augustin: Academia, 1999; con-
tained also in Supplementum Electronicum n. 1 [CD, 2001]), ch. 12, 56–59.
  My translation: “This sun here, whose size by nature is of a human foot,
<shines/moves (?)> not overstepping its limits, for if he <went beyond his> size
(?), the Erinyes, Justice’s servants,> would catch him.”
  For instance, R. Janko wrote: “The Derveni papyrus is the most important
text relating to early Greek literature, science, religion and philosophy to have
come to light since the Renaissance” (BMCR 2006.10.29, Review of TDP).
  The papyrus itself has been dated about the middle of the fourth century
BCE, but the actual writing could have taken place decades earlier, or even in

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Enrique Hülsz Piccone

Orphic poem, and that he shows the influence of Anaxagoras and

Diogenes of Apollonia (whom, however, he does not actually quote).
Although the acquaintance of the commentator with Heraclitus’
text confirms the authenticity of B3 and B94, it is not obvious at all
that both fragments must have formed a single continuous passage
in the original, and the possibility that they have been joined by
the commentator himself (prompted by the common thread of the
sun-theme) cannot be set aside.
In Aetius’ version, DK 22B3 consists merely of three words:
εὖρος ποδὸς ἀνθρωπείου, which betray a dactylic rhythm,38 and
could be connected to the enunciation of the subject (ὁ ἥλιος)
and the verb ἐστι. The version from the papyrus (line 7) differs in
word order (ἀν̣θρωπείου ε ̣ὖρος ποδός) and includes the adverbial
phrase κατὰ φύσιν, “by nature,” used elsewhere in Heraclitus (B1,
B112). The papyrus has a lacuna at this crucial point, immediately
after ἥλι ̣[ος. . . ], where no less than six readings have been put
forward (tau, epsilon, zeta, xi, gamma and sigma) for the faded
letter preceding the more clearly legible omicron and ypsilon (ΟΥ).
If these are read either as a relative pronoun (οὗ, Mouraviev), or as
a genitive ending of a reflexive pronoun such as ἑωυ]τ̣οῦ (Janko),
the assertion would appear to take on a stronger, more dogmatic
sense: the sun’s size is “by nature” that of a human foot.39 However,
we would get the opposite meaning if the same letters were read as
a negation (οὐ): “the sun is not by nature the size of a human foot”

the last years of the fifth century. Several hypotheses have been put forward
about the identity of the Derveni commentator. C. H. Kahn proposed someone
like Euthyphro (“Was Euthyphro the Author of the Derveni Papyrus?,” SDP,
55–63). D. Sider suggested someone in the circle of Metrodoros of Lampsacus
(“Heraclitus in the Derveni Papyrus,” SDP, 137–138.); R. Janko (“The Derveni
Papyrus (‘Diagoras of Melos, Apopyrgizontes Logoi’?): A New Translation,”
Classical Philology, Vol. 96, No. 1 (Jan. 2001): 1–32) defended the authorship of
Diagoras the atheist; Gábor Betegh thinks he may have been a religious expert
and an Orphic (The Derveni Papyrus, 87). W. Burkert considered Stesimbrotos
(“Der Autor von Derveni: Stesimbrotos Περὶ Τελετῶν?,” ZPE 62 (1986): 1–5).
  This feature has been interpreted both as a reason for doubting its authentic-
ity and as a good basis for attributing it to Heraclitus.
  A dogmatic interpretation already implied in Diogenes Laertius IX,1,42: ὁ
ἥλιός ἐστι τὸ μέγεθος οἷος φαίνεται (“The sun is the size it appears to be”).

— 18 —
Heraclitus on The Sun

(Burkert, Schönbeck).40 The conjecture κόσ]μ ̣ου (Lebedev) after

ἥλι ̣[ος in line 7 (preceded by his supplement [ἄρχει] at the end of
line 6, yielding “the sun rules by nature the universe”) is interest-
ing, but more risky. One conjectured supplement in particular for
the lacuna at the start of line 7 is appealing, given the reading of
B6 sketched above: ἥλι ̣[ος νέο]ς ̣ οὐ (Schönbeck).41 This would
yield something like “the new sun is not by nature the size of a
human foot,” which, if correct, would strengthen the likelihood
that the commentator is paraphrasing freely, and fusing not two,
but three different Heraclitean passages (one could go all the way
with Schönbeck’s conjectured reconstruction, and read ἐ[φ̕ ἡμέρῃ
(ἀεὶ)] at the end of line 8). If the negative reading is right, we could
further interpret εὖ̣­ ρος as “width,” and speculate whether Heraclitus
could be critically reacting to previous theories, such as Anaximenes’
view on the flatness of the earth and the heavenly bodies—the sun
in particular, which he described as “riding on air,” “fiery,” and
“flat like a leaf.”42 Or, alternatively, we could wonder if Heraclitus
was raising the question of the elementary fallacy of judging the
sun to be a small object, because one can cover it with one’s foot.43
But, regardless of how one chooses to deal with these questions, and
whether one is tempted to credit Heraclitus with a naïve thesis on the
size/width of the sun or not, it is hard to see how this notion could

  A possibility emphatically denied by Lebedev: “the reading οὐ κατὰ φύσιν
is out of the question” (“Heraclitus in P. Derveni,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und
Epigraphik 79 [1989], 46).
  L. Schönbeck, “Heraclitus Revisited (Pap. Derveni, col. I, lines 7–11),”
Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 95 (1993): 7–22, at 17–20.
  Cf. DK 13A7 (Hippol. Ref. I, 7): ἐποχεῖσθαι τῶι ἀέρι. DK 13A15 (Aet. II
20, 2); (Aet., 22, 1): Ἀ. πλατὺν ‘ὡς πέταλον’ τὸν ἥλιον (= DK 13B2a).
  In his reconstruction of the Heraclitean context of the solar fragments, D.
Sider (1997) abandons this non-literal line of interpretation and takes B3’s state-
ment as equivalent to the idea of the sun being of a fixed size; he then connects
B94 to B43 (about quenching ὕβρις), interpreting that the sun’s transgression is
the so-called “moon illusion,” which was then punished by the coming of night,
and followed by B6. To this it may be objected, (1) that what B94 actually states
is that the sun “shall not” overstep or surpass its limits, and (2) that the “moon
illusion” would apply also to dawn, not only to sunset (cf. Betegh, The Derveni
Papyrus, 328n4: “the Erinyes should quench the sun already at dawn”).

— 19 —
Enrique Hülsz Piccone

be the same as, or equivalent to, the reference to the boundaries or

limits (οὔροι) the sun does not transgress or overstep.
In lines 8 and 9, there are significant differences from Plutarch’s
text, which reads: Ἥλιος γὰρ οὐχ ὑπερβήσεται μέτρα· εἰ δὲ μή,
Ἐρινύες μιν Δίκης ἐπίκουροι ἐξευρήσουσιν (“The sun will not
overstep his measures; if he did, the Furies, servants of Justice,
will find him out”).44 Apart from the syntax, the use of the verb
ὑπερβαίνω (“overstep”) instead of the verb ὑπερβάλλω (“pass over,”
“exceed”), some wordplay involving οὔρους-εὔρους, and a slight
variation in word order in the final clause, perhaps the most notice-
able change in the papyrus reading is the use of the ionicism οὔροι
(“boundaries”) instead of μέτρα (“measures”), and even that makes
little difference in meaning. The general sense in most reconstruc-
tions of line 8 seems sufficiently close to the pre-Derveni reading,
whether one reads τὸ μ ̣[έγεθο]ς οὐχ ὑπερ̣ βάλλων· εἰκ ̣[ότας οὔ]ρους
ε[ὔρους] (KPT), or τοὺ ̣[ς οὔρου]ς οὐχ ὑπερ̣ βάλλων· εἰ γ[ὰρ τι εὔ]
ρους ἐ[ωυτοῦ (Janko, Bernabé), or τοὺ ̣[ς οὔρου]ς ̣ οὐχ ὑπερ̣ βάλλων·
εἰ γ[ὰρ ἐξ εὔ]ρους ἐ[ξίηι, Δίκης (Mouraviev). For on any of these
readings the essential meaning still is “the sun will not transgress
or overstep its limits or boundaries.”
Structurally, B94 (Plutarch’s version) consists of two different
and complementary assertions. First, we have a categorical proposi-
tion, “Helios will not overstep the measures” (or: “the boundaries”),
and then a hypothetical negative clause, which reinforces the point:
“if not, the Erinyes, Justice’s servants, will find him out.” From
the point of view of form, Plutarch’s version seems more likely to
be authentic. In point of content, it is not immediately clear what
exactly the reference of μέτρα (or ὅρους) is (the same is true for the
restored οὔρους in the papyrus)—whether it refers to the increasing

  DK 22B94 comes from Plutarch, De exilio. 11, 604a. There is a different ver-
sion in De Iside et Osiride 370D3–10, in oratio obliqua, with two variants, ὅρους
(“boundaries”) instead of μέτρα (“measures”), and Κλῶθάς (“Spinners”) instead
of Ἐρινύες: Ἡράκλειτος [. . .] φησί [. . .] ἥλιον δὲ μὴ ὑπερβήσεσθαι τοὺς
προσήκοντας ὅρους· εἰ δὲ μή, Κλῶθάς μιν Δίκης ἐπικούρους ἐξευρήσειν
(“Heraclitus says the sun will not go beyond its proper boundaries; if not, the
Spinners, servants of Justice, will find him out”). Κλῶθάς is an emendation of
the manuscripts’ presumably corrupt γλώττας (“tongues”). For other possibili-
ties, see D. Sider, “Heraclitus in the Derveni Papyrus,” 143n42.

— 20 —
Heraclitus on The Sun

size of the circle of the sun itself (the so-called “moon illusion,”
which happens when the sun is nearer the horizon), rather than to
the extreme southern and northern points marking the solstices. But
the main idea is common to both Plutarch and the Derveni author,
and clear enough: illustrated here by the sun’s constant abiding of
the orderings of Justice, Heraclitus’ cosmos is “governed by law.”45
In spite of Lebedev’s vehement assertion, it is quite unlikely that,
for Heraclitus, the sun, even if viewed as a god, is the ruler of the
κόσμος.46 He may be the cause of day and night, as B99 implies,
but as B94 itself makes clear, he is presented not as a king, but as
an obedient subject in a realm where Justice (Δίκη, who is identi-
fied with ἔρις in B80) reigns supreme. The bold personifications
of Δίκη, the Furies (Ἐρινύες) and the sun (Ἥλιος), which have
other parallels in the authentic fragments,47 look somewhat paler
and diluted in the Derveni version.
So, to conclude this brief approach: the evidence provided by
the Derveni papyrus on Heraclitus’ text is very problematic, to say
the least. It does not seem to add much to what we already knew
from other later sources, but merely serves as confirmation of the
authenticity of the same old solar fragments. In particular, the
contention that B3 and B94 formed a single continuous passage
remains possible, but even the most authoritative versions of the
reconstructed text of the papyrus do not seem to make good sense
of the passage as a unity.

  I borrow this phrase from Kahn’s treatment of Anaximander’s fragment.
  A. Lebedev, “Heraclitus in P. Derveni,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und
Epigraphik 79 (1989): 39–47, at 43ff. The notion of the sun as supreme ruler
of the cosmos may be perhaps attributed to the Derveni commentator, but as
Lebedev himself acknowledges: “The initial words [ἄρχει] ἥλι̣[ος κόσ]μ̣ου
κατὰ φύσιν are not attested elsewhere in a verbatim quotation” (43). The alleged
“evidence” in the “Heraclitean tradition” is not always focused on the sun, but
on fire, and it has little weight against the fragments themselves, in which we
find that it is Πόλεμος who is called “the king of all” (πάντων βασιλεύς, B53),
though Αἰών is also depicted as such (B52), which might suggest they are the
  The classic instances include (besides the two just referred to in the previous
note) Πόλεμος, Ἔρις and Δίκη in B80, and Κεραυνός in B64, all of them
consistently characterized by their governing functions.

— 21 —
Enrique Hülsz Piccone

Although the point is overstated, I sympathize with Lebedev’s

claim that “Heraclitus’ view of the Sun has nothing to do with
natural science.”48 The idea that the character of Heraclitus’ thought
as a whole is fundamentally misrepresented by physicalistic interpre-
tations of the crucial fragments is nothing new. Although the histor-
ical impact of Aristotle’s interpretation of Heraclitus as a φυσικός is
huge, modern tributaries of this view seem to be running rather dry
nowadays. Some recent interpreters (Betegh, Finkelberg, Mouraviev)
have pursued physical-eschatological lines of interpretation, which
remain open, but it would be hard to consider any results as conclu-
sive, at least in what concerns Heraclitus’ sun. Much ado has been
made about Orphic influence on Heraclitus, but the opposite and
complementary possibility (a Heraclitean influence on later Orphic
writers, such as the Derveni commentator) has not been sufficiently
explored. As for the general nature of Heraclitus’ views on the
sun, I would say they are more “metaphysical” (I mean, ontologi-
cal, because they concern the sun’s nature or genuine being) than
physical, without denying they have some relevance in the latter
field. Looking at our three fragments once again, they do not seem
to cohere with one another in a dogmatic fashion, as if they were
parts of a wider astronomical theory. But the way Heraclitus presents
the sun, and especially the idea that its movement and change are
rationally grounded on its own nature and on universal regularity,
certainly provide a solid basis for physical science. At least, relying on
the fragments themselves (rather than on doxographical reports and
interpretations), it does not seem that Heraclitus is very interested
in the detailed mechanics of cosmic processes. Instead, he is rather
conspicuously committed to finding out and expressing the φύσις of
things and the workings of λόγος as the single unifying universal law.
His interests lie in what could be called the ontological framework
that is the necessary basis for human knowledge and human action.
I will end by quoting Heraclitus once more. I propose that there
is another solar fragment of sorts that we ought to take into account.
What Heraclitus says here is enigmatic, but it is also undoubtedly
relevant and suggestive for my chosen theme:

  Lebedev, “Heraclitus in P. Derveni,” 44.

— 22 —
Heraclitus on The Sun

How could anyone be unaware of that which never

This question suggests the strange image of a source of light
more constant than the sun, a hyper-sun, so to speak: τὸ μὴ δῦνόν
ποτε, “what never sets,” which constitutes an unmistakable contrast-
ing reference to the setting sun. B16 also connects, again by way
of a contrast, this absolute presence with lethargic human experi-
ence, so it sounds like a warning not to overlook the evident. Now,
reproaching most men for their epistemic negligence and contrasting
this with the sufficiency of the absolute, divine point of view, is a
recurrent theme in the fragments; so perhaps the λόγος, interpreted
as the law of the fiery cosmos itself, is the object of the allusion and
the intended symbolic counterpart of the Heraclitean sun.50 The
contrast is more complex and intricate than it would seem at first
sight, since it not only suggests a cluster of referents which stand for
ontological rationality (λόγος, κόσμος, φύσις), but it may also imply
an analogous link between human nature and the Heraclitean sun.51
And this brings us right back to some of the contents of our three
basic texts: B3 can be aptly described as a voicing of a measurement
of the sun according to an all-too-human standard; B94 states Helios’

  DK 22B16: τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε πῶς ἄν τις λάθοι if there is some ambiguity
in the sense of λανθάνω, one could alternately translate: “How could anyone ever
be hidden from that which doesn’t set?” Cf. Hesiod, Erga 267–268: πάντα ἰδὼν
Διὸς ὀφθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας /καί νυ τάδ, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσ, ἐπιδέρκεται,
οὐδέ ἑ λήθει (“The eye of Zeus, seeing all things and understanding all / looks
upon these things too, if he wants to, and fails not to notice”). Cf. Homer, Il.,
  In the Cratylus, Socrates voices a humorous and anonymous objection to the
contention that justice (δίκαιον) is in fact ἥλιος (413b4); for then, there would
be nothing just among men after the sun has set (οὐδὲν δίκαιον [. . .] ἐν τοῖς
ἀνθρώποις ἐπειδὰν ὁ ἥλιος δύῃ, 413c1). This looks like an echo of B16 and
implies a connection between ἥλιος and justice. This objection is embedded in
a longer passage (412e–413d), which focuses on a seemingly Heraclitean collec-
tion of ideas (featuring cosmic change effected by a single and constant agent,
qualified as λεπτότατόν and τάχιστον (“lightest” and “swiftest,” 412d5) and
described as passing through all things, διὰ τοῦ ὄντος ἰέναι παντός, 412d6),
and concludes, after explicit identification of justice and fire, that “this is hard to
understand” (τοῦτο δὲ οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστιν εἰδέναι, 413c2).
  On the face of B94 together with B43, it is clear that Helios (unlike human
beings) is not prone to ὕβρις.

— 23 —
Enrique Hülsz Piccone

submission to Justice (who must stand for objective and univer-

sal rationality), within the framework of an analogy between the
cosmic and the human; and B6, by stressing continuous alteration,
focuses on the permanent identity of the sun’s nature, as a universal
paradigm. Under the light of B16, a pattern of proportional relation-
ships begins to take shape: human incomprehension, the sun as
mirror of the cosmos, and the all-encompassing unifying law. My
last point will seem far-fetched to some—I grant that, in any case,
it would take at least another paper to develop it more fully—but
I will take the risk of insisting on a possible connection of all this
with the famous Platonic image of the sun in the Republic.52 For, if
there really is such a connection, it might turn out (in spite of the
dominant trend of interpretation) that Plato’s Heracliteanism is not
after all limited to the flux of Becoming, but reaches deep into the
theory of Forms. And Plato’s use of this Heraclitean image might
prove useful for a better understanding of its earlier philosophical
use in the fragments themselves.53

  This very connection has been suggested on a different basis and with dif-
ferent implications by A. Lebedev (“Heraclitus in P. Derveni,” 44), for whom
Heraclitus’ sun “is rather comparable with the Sun metaphor of Plato’s Politeia
(the humorous remark about Ἡρακλειτείος ἥλιος in Respublica 498b seems to
be a masked recognition of Plato’s debt).”
  I wish to express my gratitude to Charles Kahn and all participants at the
Delphi Symposium for their observations, comments and objections. I am
especially indebted to Richard Patterson and an anonymous reader, whose
suggestions have helped to clarify the final version of the text.

— 24 —
“The Light of Day by Night”:
nukti phaos, Said of the Moon
in Parmenides B14*
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos
The earliest securely attested record of the discovery that the moon
gets its light from the sun is in the second part of Parmenides’ poem,
the “Doxa”: in the one-line fragments B14 and B15.1 In an earlier
study, I have used the term “heliophotism” as a succinct reference

*  The essay is dedicated to Charles H. Kahn with deep admiration for his work,
with decades-long personal affection, and in gratitude for his friendship. We
sometimes speak of “Academic Father” in reference to one’s supervisor in grad-
uate study. I cannot claim Charles in that role; but he has certainly been to me
in many ways the wise Academic Older Brother. At the early stages of my pro-
fessional career, Charles strongly encouraged me in my post-doctoral project of
a book on Parmenides; and he gave me detailed and helpful comments on drafts
of what ultimately became that book. In those early years, Charles’ Anaximander
and the Origins of Greek Cosmology was my prized model; and in my later studies,
Charles’ The Art and Thought of Heraclitus was again and likewise the model. I
have learned enormously much from studying his monumental The Verb “Be”
in Ancient Greek. Indeed, through all stages of my career to the present day,
reading his work on any of the many subjects of his scholarship and engaging
in discussion with him has been cherished paideia and a sheer joy. And—what
may surprise many readers of this note—it was Charles who introduced me to
the academic community of my country of origin. Last but not least, I owe him
a big debt for the strong and generous support he has given over the years to my
own students and to the Joint Classics-Philosophy Graduate Program in Ancient
Philosophy at my university. Εἰς πλέονά τε καὶ εὐτυχῆ ἔτη ἀδελφὲ Κάρολε.
  See Daniel W. Graham, “La Lumière de la lune dans la pensée grecque
archaïque,” in Qu’est-ce que la Philosophie Présocratique, eds. André Laks and
Claire Louguet (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2002),
351–380, esp. 363–378; see also Graham’s Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian
Tradition of Scientific Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006),

— 25 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

to the correct explanation of lunar light;2 and for convenience I

shall use the neologism again here. Daniel W. Graham has made
a strong case in favor of the claim that the two fragments present
heliophotism as a discovery made by Parmenides himself.3 The more
widely held view is that B14 and B15 simply cite a fact that had come
to be known before Parmenides memorialized the discovery in his
poetry.4 There is even the older skeptical or deflationary thesis, that
neither B14 nor B15 constitutes a statement of heliophotism. That
skeptical thesis has not gained wide favor over the last half-century,
yet it still has advocates—for example, David Gallop, not too long
ago, who writes, “It is not clear whether either line [B14, B15] implies
that the moon borrows its light from the sun.”5 My concern in this
study is not with the issue of attribution of the discovery but quite
narrowly with the correct reading of the text in B14. Nonetheless,
as I hope to establish, once the correct reading is determined, the
deflationary position will be decisively undercut. Moreover, the
correct reading will give us a statement that is semantically more
  “Xenophanes’ Contribution to the Explanation of the Moon’s Light,”
Philosophia (Athens), 32 (2002), 47–59. In that publication, as well as in The
Route of Parmenides (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970. 2nd ed. Las
Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2008), 224–225, I had uncritically accepted the
emendation nuktiphaes, which is what I dispute in the present essay.
  See references to Graham in note 1 above.
  So in several of the editions of the Parmenides fragments: Leonardo Tarán,
Parmenides: A Text with Translation, Commentary and Critical Essays (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1965), 245–246n40; Ernst Heitsch, Parmenides: Die
Anfänge der Ontologie, Logik und Naturwissenschaft (Munich: Heimeran, 1974),
46–47, 190–191; A. H. Coxon, The Fragments of Parmenides (Assen: Van Gor-
cum, 1986. Revised and expanded ed. Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2009),
244–246(1986) = 373–376(2009); Marcel Conche, Parménide—Le Poème:
Fragments (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1966. 2nd ed. 1999. Reprinted
2004), 234–238; Giovanni Cerri, Parmenide di Elea: Poema sulla natura: intro-
duzione, testo, traduzione e note (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1999; 2nd
ed. 2000), 275; Alberto Bernabé, Jorge Pérez de Tudela, and Néstor-Luis Corde-
ro, Poema, Fragmentos y tradición textual: Parménides, edición bilingüe (Madrid:
Istmo, 2007), 30–31, 215.
  Parmenides of Elea, Fragments: A Text and Translation with an Introduction,
Phoenix supplementary volume 18 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984),
85. The skeptical-deflationary thesis has been advocated by some highly influ-
ential scholars—Hermann Diels, Paul Tannery, and T. L. Heath. For criticism,
see Tarán (preceding note, loc. cit.); Coxon, Fragments, 244–245(1986) = 374–
375(2009); Conche, Poème, 235.

— 26 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

nuanced, superior in astronomical accuracy, and rhetorically and

poetically more expressive.
B15 will come up for supporting quotation later in the present
essay. But the important amplification it provides for B14 needs to
be kept in mind throughout. So, let me first cite the text of this other
fragment, which fortunately poses no textual problems, together
with my translation and brief comment:

αἰεὶ παπταίνουσα πρὸς αὐγὰς ἠελίοιο.

Always, always keeping its gaze turned toward the
radiance of the sun. (B15; quoted twice by Plutarch,
in Quaestiones romanae 76.282b, and in De facie in
orbe lunae 16.929b)

I have doubled “always” in my translation of aiei 6 so as to capture

a metrical effect of transparent and major semantic import. The
sequence of five long syllables at the start of the line (ai-ei-pap-tai-
nou) is obviously intended to heighten the emphasis on the initial
aiei.7 Parmenides’ remark has a three-step rationale, representing
three logical stages in the process of the discovery of heliophotism.
In the first instance, (α), B14 records the salient observations that
led to the discovery: when both the sun and the moon are visible in

  To allow access to this essay by readers who do not have facility with Greek, I
use Greek font for translated extended citations, or for long sequences of Greek
words, and in three other cases: to represent accurately the reading in the MSS;
to represent Greek stems in word searches (when this appears helpful); and in
connection with the two distinct words φῶς, “light,” and φώς, “man, fellow,”
both of which would otherwise be misleadingly represented by phôs.
  I give an analysis of B15 in my “Xenophanes’ Contribution,” 52–53; and also
in “Parmenides, Early Greek Astronomy, and Modern Scientific Realism,” in
Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome: Proceedings of the International Symposium,
ed. Néstor-Luis Cordero (Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2011), 175–177.
I should have pointed out, and I am happy to correct this oversight here, that
Conche had previously emphasized the importance and the significance of the
adverb aiei in B15: “Qu’il s’agisse de la pleine lune, de la lune ovale, de l’un des
quartiers ou du croissant, la partie lumineuse est toujours tournée vers le soleil.
En particulier, la convexité du croissant est tournée toujours du coté des rayons
solaires . . . Parménide savait ce que beaucoup de peintres, qui ont orienté le
croissant à l’envers, ont, semble-t-il, ignoré” (Poème, 238, adding my emphasis
on “toujours”).

— 27 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

the sky, the illuminated portion of the lunar disk is always oriented
toward the sun. Moreover, ( β), B14 implies the modest inductive
inference that the moon maintains its fixed gazing on the sun at
Waxing Crescent even after the sun has set; and B14 also implies
the likewise modest inductive anticipation that the moon, late in
Waning Crescent, has its gaze fixed on the sun even before the sun
rises—the “horns” of the lunar meniscus, either waxing or waning,
are at both these phases turned away from the sun. Finally, (γ), the
adverb aiei, “always,” of B14 serves to project a bolder theoretical
extrapolation: the moon still keeps its gaze fixed on the sun at night,
when only the moon is visible, and even—in defiance of common
belief concerning the “death” or “darkness” of the luminary at New
Moon—when neither sun nor moon is visible in the sky.8


Editions of the Parmenides fragments—to my knowledge with
one exception I shall cite presently—print B14 with an emended
reading at the start of the line: νυκτιφαές, usually translated
“resplendent (or ‘brightly shining’) in the (or ‘by’) night.” In all
the manuscripts, however, of Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem (Moralia
1116a), which is our only source for B14, the reading is as follows:

νυκτὶ φάος περὶ γαῖαν ἀλώμενον ἀλλότριον φῶς

(The) light of day by night (or “for the night”),
wandering around the earth, a light from elsewhere.

The collocation ἀλλότριον φῶς is famously wordplay on the Homeric

formula ἀλλότριος φώς, “a fellow from elsewhere, someone not
known, a stranger.” The phrase is brilliantly suited to express the
thought that the moon is illuminated by a light that “has traveled far

  Conche fails to distinguish the stages (α), (β), and (γ) implied in B15. Ac-
cordingly, he needlessly concedes an “exception” to the aiei: “[L]a lune . . . ‘re-
garde’ nécessairement vers le soleil, et cela toujours, aiei, c’est à dire quelle que
soit la phase considérée, à l’exception de la ‘nouvelle lune’ ” (Poème, 238–239).
For another curious and unwarranted restriction stated in Conche’s account, see
below at note 63.

— 28 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

from its home and origin,”9 and also to contrast with the alternative
that the moon might be thought to possess ἴδιον φῶς, “its own
light.”10 The full context in Plutarch is as follows:

ὥσπερ οὖν ὁ λέγων Πλάτωνα μὴ εἶναι τὴν εἰκόνα

τὴν Πλάτωνος οὐκ ἀναιρεῖ τὴν ὡς εἰκόνος
αἴσθησιν αὐτῆς καὶ ὕπαρξιν, ἀλλ’ ἐνδείκνυται
καθ’ αὑτό τινος ὄντος καὶ πρὸς ἐκεῖνο ἑτέρου
γεγονότος διαφοράν, οὕτως οὔτε φύσιν οὔτε
χρῆσιν οὔτ’ αἴσθησιν ἀνθρώπων ἀναιροῦσιν οἱ
κοινῆς τινος οὐσίας μετοχῇ καὶ ἰδέας γινόμενον
ἡμῶν ἕκαστον εἰκόνα τοῦ παρασχόντος τὴν
ὁμοιότητα τῇ γενέσει προσαγορεύοντες. οὐδὲ γὰρ
ὁ πῦρ μὴ λέγων εἶναι τὸν πεπυρωμένον σίδηρον
ἢ τὴν σελήνην ἥλιον, ἀλλὰ κατὰ Παρμενίδην
“νυκτὶ φάος περὶ γαῖαν ἀλώμενον ἀλλότριον
ἀναιρεῖ σιδήρου χρῆσιν ἢ σελήνης φύσιν, ἀλλ’ εἰ
μὴ λέγοι σῶμα μηδὲ πεφωτισμένον, ἤδη μάχεται
ταῖς αἰσθήσεσιν, ὥσπερ ὁ σῶμα καὶ ζῷον καὶ
γένεσιν καὶ αἴσθησιν μὴ ἀπολιπών. (Plutarch
Adv. Col. 1115f–1116a)11

Breaking up Plutarch’s complex periodic style into more easily

intelligible units, I translate:

The fellow who says that the picture of Plato is

not Plato does not deny its existence as image and
its perception as an image. Rather, he points to
something that exists on its own, and (also points)
to the difference from the latter of something else
[the image] that has come into being in relation
  Cf. “light not originating in the places through which it travels,” Coxon,
Fragments, 245(1986) = 374(2009).
  Cf. Cerri, Poema, 275.
  Except for retaining the reading νυκτὶ φάος of the MSS, I cite the text as
in Plutarch’s Moralia, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 14, eds. Benedict Einarson and
P. H. De Lacey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 240–241.

— 29 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

to it [the original]. This applies likewise to those

who call each of us, inasmuch as we come-into-be-
ing, an “image” of that which has provided the
resemblance in the generative process [i.e., of the
form of Man], by virtue of [our] participation in a
shared reality and form. They too do not deny either
the nature [of man], or the use [of the term “man”],
or human perception.12 And it applies correspond-
ingly in the case of one who says that iron that has
undergone firing is not fire; or the one who says
that the moon is not the (or “a”) sun but rather, to
quote Parmenides,
“The light of day by night (or ‘for the night’),
wandering around the earth, a light from
In the former case, one is not denying the use [we
make of iron], nor, in the latter, the nature (or
“reality”) of the moon. If, however, one were to say
that there is no body [in the case of iron], or no
illuminated object [in the Parmenides case], one
certainly would be going against the evidence of
the senses, as would likewise anyone who has not
left standing in the world either body, or animal,
or coming-to-be, or perception.

Manifestly, Plutarch’s sole interest in this passage is in citing examples

to explicate a Platonizing doctrine of ontological dependence–
independence: both A and a exist; and the name “A” can be used with

  Einarson and De Lacey translate mot-à-mot: “the reality or use or perception
of men.” But this is difficult to understand, and perhaps misleading. How does
the “use of men” come into the argument? Are men “being used,” or are they
“making use” of something not specified? It is rather likely that the three nouns,
phusin, chrêsin, aisthêsin, flag three aspects of the argument: metaphysical-onto-
logical; linguistic-semantic; and epistemological. Plutarch collapses three differ-
ent construes of the genitive anthrôpôn: the nature of men; language use by men;
the faculty of perception possessed by men. The second aspect, that of language
use, is strongly represented in the cited text by the series legôn, prosagoreuontes,
chrêsin, legôn, legoi; then it remains prominent in the immediate sequel of the
passage (1116b, not cited above) with prosagoreuein, tois onomasi, prosêgorias.

— 30 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

reference to both; but A exists independently, whereas the existence

of a depends on A. More narrowly, he explicates the dependence–
independence in terms of the relation of an image or resemblance
to its original: Plato’s portrait is not Plato, but it does have being
as a resemblance of Plato himself; iron that has been subjected to
firing is not fire, but it does actually have the appearance of fire; the
moon is not the sun, or a sun (i.e., a luminary that has idion phôs),
but its light is an actual reflection of the sun’s light. Finally—what
is most relevant for Plutarch—a man who has come into being,
distinct as he is from the Platonic form of Man, is an actual image
of the latter; both should be said to exist; and both may properly
be referred to by the term “man.”
Many modern readers of this passage would demur at Plutarch’s
selecting a passage from Parmenides’ “Doxa” for the purpose of
illustrating ontological dependence–independence. Plutarch,
adhering to a middle-Platonist reading of the relation between
“Doxa” and “Truth,” objects vehemently to the view held by his
target of criticism, Colotes, that Parmenides would have purged
body, animal, etc., from the world. But the themes of Parmenides’
metaphysics and of the relation between the two parts of Parmenides’
poem are also ones that lie outside the scope of the present essay.
My quoting and translating the fuller context of B14 in Plutarch
aims solely at exhibiting evidence that could point us to what may
have been the original reading.
Upon even the closest examination, one finds nothing in the
Plutarch context that intrinsically requires, or prompts, or even
suggests the need for emendation. The adverbial use of nukti, “by
night,” or “at night,” is very common, well-attested from Homer
onwards.13 The text is perfectly intelligible as it stands in the MSS.
In fact, the parallel between “fire-like appearance present in [my
emphasis] the incandescent iron” and “the light of day nukti”
(allowing for all possible renderings of the dative, viz., “by night,”
or “at night,” or “in the night,” or “into the night,” or “for the night”)

  Examples drawn from the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG; see below,

note 27): Odyssey 15.34 νυκτὶ δ’ ὁμῶς πλείειν; Sophocles Electra 644 ἃ γὰρ
προσεῖδον νυκτὶ τῇδε φάσματα; Xenophon Cyropaedia Bk. 1 ch. 5, 12.2
ὑμεῖς δὲ νυκτὶ μὲν δήπου ὅσαπερ οἱ ἄλλοι ἡμέρᾳ δύναισθ’ ἂν χρῆσθαι.

— 31 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

appears prima facie to support the reading of the MSS. How, then,
did it happen that the emendation gained universal acceptance?


To my knowledge, the text appeared in unemended form for
the first and perhaps also for the last time14 in Henri Estienne’s
(or Henricus Stephanus’) Ποίησις φιλόσοφος/Poesis philosophica
([Geneva], 1573), p. 45.15 The first of two appendixes to the
book does list, however, nuktiphaes (217) as one of eleven possible
emendations to the fragments of Parmenides—these eleven having
been proposed to Estienne by his fellow French scholar, Joseph
Scaliger.16 The emendation nuktiphaes was eventually picked
up by early editors of Plutarch’s Moralia,17 and subsequently by
nineteenth-century editors of the Parmenides fragments.18 Not all
of the emendations proposed by Scaliger have survived as standard
readings in twentieth-century editions of the Parmenides fragments
(six out of the eleven have). No doubt, in the case of B14, the fact
that the suspected epsilon-into-omicron corruption (from -phaes to
phaos) is palaeographically slight helped make the emendation seem
irresistible. In any event, Scaliger’s stature as an authority on textual
matters was enormously enhanced after his unpublished papers were
first fully examined, long after his death, in 1835. For it then came
to be known that Scaliger had compiled, though he had desisted

  The manuscript reading has now been adopted (albeit with a translation
that seems closer to nuktiphaes rather than to nukti phaos) by Fernando Santoro,
who has stated to me that he was persuaded by my presentation at the second
meeting of the International Association for Presocratic Studies. See his Filósofos
Épicos I, Xenófanes e Parmênides, fragmentos (Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Biblioteca
Nacional/Hexis, 2011), 112–113.
  Though it is sparsely found even at major world libraries, a good copy of
this rare book is at the Harry Ransom Center Book Collection, The University
of Texas at Austin.
  Similar notes by Scaliger were included by Estienne for other parts of the
book (Poesis, 216–219).
  See Denis O’Brien with Jean Frère, Le Poème de Parménide, texte, traduction,
essai critique [=Études sur Parménide (sous la direction de Pierre Aubenque, I]
(Paris: Vrin, 1987), 69, 100 (at Méziriac), 98 (at Hutten).
  See Néstor-Luis Cordero, “La Version de Joseph Scaliger du poème de Par-
ménide,” Hermes, 110 (1982), 392–398, especially 392.

— 32 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

from publishing, his own collection of the fragments of Parmenides.

And it turned out that Scaliger’s collection was more complete than
any that had been available before the early nineteenth century.19
Estienne’s Poesis philosophica includes both B15 and B14, in
that order; so, Scaliger knew Parmenides’ other moon fragment as
well. Not in Estienne’s collection, however, and perhaps therefore
not known to Scaliger either, is the direct imitation of B14 found
in Empedocles:

κυκλοτερὲς περὶ γαῖαν ἑλίσσεται ἀλλότριον φῶς.

Round-shaped, a light from elsewhere, (it) makes
spiraling turns around the earth. (B45)

The corrections on Empedocles readings Scaliger offered to Estienne

are nearly double the number he offered on Parmenides readings.
Many of these corrections are on quotations found in Plutarch,
which may therefore have validated the license Scaliger felt he had
in correcting the MSS of Adversus Colotem in the case of B14.20 Of
textual parallels that may have been noted by Scaliger specifically
for nuktiphaes, I have no knowledge. Learned and sophisticated
Hellenist that he was, he may have known that ἥλιος ἄστρον
ἡμεροφανές, “the sun is a luminary (or ‘star’) visible by day,” is
one of the commonplaces of ancient philosophical discourse. For
it is one of the pseudo-Platonic definitions (411b1); and it is cited
by Aristotle as an example of a circular definition (inasmuch as
hêmera means “period of sunshine,” Topics 142a35–b1).21 Worth
notice in this connection is that in Alexander’s commentary on the
Topics, apropos the commonplace definition of the sun disputed by
Aristotle, the reading is not ἡμεροφανές (scil. ἄστρον) but rather
ἡμεροφαές (without the nu).22 Scaliger might have quite plausibly

  Cordero, “Scaliger,” 392, 395–396.
  M. Laura Gemelli Marciano conveyed to me in correspondence a cautionary
comment concerning the frequency of errors in the MSS of Adversus Colotem.
  A search of the TLG (see below at note 27) yields eight distinct occurrences
of the commonplace, plus another five in metaphorical contexts.
  In Aristotelis topicorum, 387, lines 16 and 18; 442, line 15. On the difference
between -phaês, -es compounds and -phanês (with nu), -es compounds, see below
under nuktiphaes as neologism.

— 33 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

thought of nuktiphaes, said of the moon, as the likely conceptual

complement of either hêmerophaes or hêmerophanes said of the sun.
Later editors have cited only one parallel for nuktiphaes, a line
from an Orphic hymn (probably 2nd or 3rd century ce)23 to Dionysus’
companion, the Satyr Silenus:

ὄργια νυκτιφαῆ τελεταῖς ἁγίαις ἀναφαίνων.

[You] who reveals nuktiphaê rites in (or “through”)
holy ceremonies. (Orphica, Hymni 54.10)

The collection of eighty-seven hymns to which the text above

belongs is approximately dated by M. L. West to “the second or
third century of our era”; and West also conjectures that these
hymns “were composed somewhere in western Asia” and “used by
members of a private cult society who met at night in a house and
prayed to all the gods they could think of, to the light of torches.”24
So, clearly in the context of the above text the compound adjective
is best explained, as Cerri has done, with the paraphrase: “rites that
‘shine in the night’ (as they are illuminated by torches).”25
One other text has been cited as an indirect (or, more properly
“virtual”) parallel: Aristotle, Metaphysics VII.15, 1040a31. There, in
the context of disputing attempts to provide definitions of individual
substances through definite descriptions, Aristotle cites two examples
in reference to the sun: peri gên ion (scil. astron), “(luminary) going
around the earth”; and nuktikruphes, “hiding by night.” Might
the latter poetic-sounding epithet be a quotation by Aristotle of
Parmenides? If so, we would have another appropriate complement
for nuktiphaes said of the moon,26 and thus some more indirect
evidence in support of Scaliger’s emendation.

  Pérez de Tudéla (in Bernabé et al., Poema, 215) appears to be alone in allud-
ing to “otros lugares,” but he gives no citations.
  The Orphic Poems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 28–29.
  Poema, 274: “riti splendenti nella note . . . illuminati dalle torce.”
  See Werner Jaeger, “Ein verkanntes Fragment des Parmenides,” Rheinisches
Museum, 100 (1957), 42–48. Jaeger’s thesis is criticized by Coxon, Fragments,
246(1986) = 376(2009).

— 34 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14


In fact, as a search of the database of the Thesaurus Linguae
Graecae (TLG) can easily elicit,27 there are more parallels for the
adjective nuktiphaês, -es,28 in one or another of its grammatical forms,
than have been known to editors of the Parmenides fragments.29
In particular, searching the TLG for the string (word fragment)
νυκτιφα- yields a total of another seven distinct occurrences not
previously noted—excluding, of course, the Plutarch and Parmenides
contexts (for which TLG prints the Scaliger emendation).30 Dates
for several of these texts are uncertain; but the range appears to be
between the second and sixth century ce. Remarkably, five of the
seven are markedly superior to the Silenus hymn passage as parallels;
for they use the adjective specifically of the moon. One from a magical
papyrus is worth quoting in full immediately, because it expressly
refers to heliophotism. I shall be quoting the other four later in this
essay; and to facilitate reference I shall mark each, starting with this
magical-papyrus text, by a lower-case Roman numeral.

(i) χαῖρε, ἡλιακῆς ἀκτῖνος ὑπηρετικὸν κόσμου

ιεο υηω· ιαη αϊ ηωυ οει,

  The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae is hereby acknowledged as the source and
base for the results of searches of the corpus of Greek literature that are reported
throughout this paper. It is also the source for the quotation of the five texts
which, below in this section and in later sections, I have numbered (i)–(v). TLG
material is copyrighted by TLG and the Regents of the University of California.
  I use the masculine-feminine form nuktiphaês in speaking broadly of the
use of the adjective (including uses of the neuter). And I also use the masculine-
feminine form more narrowly of uses in which the adjective modifies either a
masculine noun (e.g., hêlios, “the sun”) or a feminine noun (e.g., selênê, “the
moon”). In connection with Parmenides B14, however, I use the form in the
neuter, since it applies to the neuter noun φῶς, as in Scaliger’s emendation.
  Even though the TLG was already widely available in the early 1990s,
Conche, whose edition of Parmenides was first published in 1996, states “on
ne connait qu’une seule autre occurrence du mot nuktiphaês, in Orphei Hymni,
54.10” (Poème, 234–235). Cf. Cerri, Poema (1999/2000): “L’aggetivo ricorre
solo qui e in Orph. Hymn. 54.10” (274).
  I speak of “distinct occurrences” inasmuch as I do not count more than once
cases in which a later author B copies from earlier author A, or perhaps A and B
draw on the same source that is older than either.

— 35 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

χαῖρε, νυκτιφαοῦς μήνης ἀνισολαμπὴς κύκλος.

(Magica, Papyri magicae, Preisendanz number 4,
lines 1130–1131)
Hail to you, who serves the world as a reflection
of the sun’s glow,
[incantatory exclamation],
Hail, unequally effulgent disk of the night-
resplendent moon.

No less remarkably, a search of the TLG for the strings φαε

and φαη collects a set of eight compound epithets that occur fre-
quently in contexts that advert to lunar phases:

ἀρτιφαής, πρωτοφαής, “first crescent, new moon”

αὐξιφαής, “waxing”
πλησιφαής, “gibbous before or after full moon,”
or “full moon”
ὁλοφαής, παμφαής, πληρηφαής (also πληροφαής),
“full moon,”
ἀμφιφαής, “reversing its shining [in the change
 from waxing to waning, and vice versa],” or
perhaps “shining both by day and by night.”

As in the case of the Silenus-hymn and of the five new texts in which
forms of nuktiphaês are found to occur, these astronomical uses of
-phaês adjectives are from authors and contexts of later antiquity. Still,
the semantic pattern that is articulated by these uses in reference to
lunar phases is of obvious relevance and of high potential signifi-
cance in interpreting nuktiphaes in its possible use by Parmenides.
On the whole, then, given poor readings elsewhere in the
Plutarch MSS, and given this now amply enriched fund of actual
or virtual parallels, might it not be said that the case for Scaliger’s
emendation is clinched?

— 36 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14


We should not rush to answer Yes to the question just raised
before we also address and answer more fundamental questions
concerning poetic-rhetorical quality and philosophical or astronomi-
cal content. With respect to both texts, foremost that of Parmenides,
but also in the first instance that of Plutarch, the question that needs
to be addressed is this: Which reading is thematically better? That
of the MSS, or that with Scaliger’s emendation?
The exegetic considerations that have been offered, or might
be claimed, in support of Scaliger’s emendation are, as I see it, five:
(1) The lexical components in the adjective
nuktiphaês are precisely the two constitutive forms
in Parmenides’ “Doxa,” phaos and nux (cf. B9.1
πάντα φάος καὶ νύξ). The compound adjective
very aptly reflects at the lexical level the pervasive
mixis, “composition, mixing, blending,” of contrar-
ies, which is the “governing” mechanism of genera-
tion in the cosmos (B12.4–5 mixios . . . migên, B16.1
krasis, B18.1 and 3–5 miscent . . . permixto semine
. . . permixto in corpore; cf. B12.3 kubernâi, A37
kubernêtin).31 Indeed, nuktiphaes is in an eloquently
suggestive foil to nuktos aphantou at B9.4.32
(2) The compound adjective nuktiphaes gives a
tighter syntactic structure to the line by correcting

  I was myself impressed by this consideration when I first analyzed B14. See
Route, 224: “Parmenides wants to tell us that there is some kind of unreality,
inauthenticity, or falsehood about the moon. He prepares us by characterizing
the moon by an adjective that combines the predicates of darkness and light.
This mild oxymoron . . . .” Cf. Mario Untersteiner, Parmenide: testimonianze e
frammenti, introduzione, traduzione e commento (Florence: Nuova Italia, 1958),
64 ad loc.: “ossimoro, che per altro presenta una profonda significazione nell’am-
bito della Δόξα.” More recently, Jean Bollack, Parménide, de l’étant au monde
(Lagrasse: Verdier, 2006), 269: “Grammaticalement et sémantiquement, voire
symboliquement, la portée de cette double nature de l’astre . . . s’approfondit. La
Lune est déchirée et contradictoire, représantative de la mortalité et de l’existence
des hommes ‘mortels’.”
  Cf. Untersteiner, Parmenide, cxcii.

— 37 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

what otherwise would be the loose apposition, in

asyndeton, of nukti phaos and allotrion phôs.33
(3) The Empedocles parallel, B45, has kukloteres at
exactly the same position in the line where in the
Plutarch MSS we have nukti phaos. This makes it
likely that the corresponding line in Parmenides
started with an adjective. The adjective nuktiphaes
differs by only one letter from what is found in
the MSS.34
(4) The emendation nuktiphaes, even if it is
Parmenidean neologism, definitely has a poetic ring
to it. The reading of the MSS seems, by compar-
ison, rather flat and prosaic. So, the compound
adjective is more likely to represent Parmenides’
original writing.35
(5) There is rhetorically-poetically unattractive,
even “unacceptable,” redundancy in the sequence
phaos . . . phôs found in the reading of the MSS.36

I shall henceforth be referring to these exegetic considerations as

“arguments,” and individually by the numbers (1)–(5) above. Of
these, arguments (1) and (2) are, in my judgment, weak and can
be set aside expeditiously. Argument (3) has obvious merit; but I
believe it is not decisive. Longer discussion will be needed with
respect to (4) and (5).

  I am not sure that anyone has framed the observation in just this way. But
consideration (2) is certainly implicit in Cerri’s appreciative analysis of the “lexi-
cal, syntactic, and rhythmic” structure of the line (Poema, 274), and also in Jean
Beaufret’s frequently and aptly quoted characterization of the line as “un des plus
beaux vers de la langue grecque”: Le Poème de Parménide (Paris: Presses Universi-
taires de France, 1955), 8. Cf. my own appreciative analysis in Route, 224–225,
which includes mention of the admiration for the line expressed to me by the
American poet George Oppen.
  Both this consideration and the one which immediately follows here, (4),
were conveyed to me in correspondence by M. Laura Gemelli Marciano.
  See previous note.
  Cf. Cerri, Poema, 274–275: “La tradizione manoscritta . . . inaccettabile per
la ripetizione grossolana che viene a creare tra inizio e fine di verso.”

— 38 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

What can be said immediately with respect to (1) is that there

is absolutely no loss in the connection with the dualistic cosmology
of the “Doxa” if we should accept the reading of the MSS. In fact,
the rhetorical play against nuktos aphantou is clearer, more direct,
and more emphatic with nukti phaos (pair against pair, word against
word). It is very telling in this respect that Bollack, in the course
of explicating nuktiphaes with such phrases as “un seul mot qui se
transforme” and “un jour nuit-et-jour,” also adds, “C’est le jour
dans la nuit,”37 which is precisely a translation of the reading of
the MSS—even though Bollack fails to note this fact. The only
effect that would be lost is that of having the compound nature
of the moon mirrored in lexical synthesis. And yet, this composite
and even ambiguous nature of the moon comes through clearly
and securely enough without the use of a compound adjective. On
the basis of the reading of the MSS, no less so than with Scaliger’s
emendation, the moon is Night, inasmuch as it is inherently dark,
solid, and opaque (cf. B8.59 νύκτ’ ἀδαῆ, πυκινὸν δέμας ἐμβριθές
τε); and it also is Light, inasmuch as it picks up “the light of day”
from the sun.
With respect to argument (2), it suffices to note that there
are many other cases of apposition in asyndeton in Parmenides’
poetry, most prominently—and apropos B14 very pertinently—in
listing the dunameis, “powers,” of the two constitutive forms in
“Doxa” (for “Light” at B8.56–58; for “Night” at 8.59, with noun–
noun apposition, nukt[a] . . . demas).38 Nor do I see any loss in
poetic quality in reading nukti phaos. In fact, one could say there
is some rhetorical overload in the triad of adjectival expressions,
nuktiphaes–alômenon–allotrion. The sequence found in the MSS
strikes me—even prima facie—as more effective poetically: first a
pairing of time and space in the two adverbial expressions, nukti, “by
night” and peri gaian, “round about the earth”; then the alliterative
pairing of alômenon–allotrion; and finally, in a sort of cadence,

  Bollack, L’Étant, 269.


  Other cases: B1.19–20, participles, eilixasai, arêrote; B6.7, participle +


noun, tethêpotes, phula; B8.43–44, adjectives, enalinkion, isopales.

— 39 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

wordplay involving the near-homonyms, φῶς (perispomenon) and

φώς (oxytone or barytone).
Argument (3) has the merit of simplicity. But it can also be
turned against itself. The fact that Empedocles B45 starts with an
adjective does not compel us to assume that Parmenides B14 started
with an adjective. After all, B45, after the main caesura has a verb
(helissetai), whereas B14 at the same place has an adjectival participle
(alômenon). There is also this salient difference in the respective
styles of Parmenides and Empedocles. In the latter’s poetry we have
a veritable profusion of compound adjectives of the relevant type—
ones in which the first component derives from a noun, adjective,
or descriptive adverb—e.g., hudromelathros, oxubelês, pheresbios,
opsigonos. In Parmenides, by contrast, leaving out the emendation
nuktiphaes,39 such compounds are strikingly rare. We have three
occurrences, and in all these the first component is quite abstractly
descriptive: palintropos, mounogenes, isopales. The one close parallel
would be the dubiously attested one-word fragment 15a, hudatorizon,
“rooted in water,” the authenticity of which is sometimes supported
by citing just what is at issue here, viz., Scaliger’s emendation.40


I turn now to the more tangled skein of issues implied in
argument (4). Given that all the relevant parallels are late, we would
have to posit that nuktiphaes is a neologism, one that was introduced
by Parmenides but which was not picked up by other authors before
several centuries had lapsed. How likely is it that Parmenides might
have coined this compound adjective? As I pointed out apropos
argument (3), compound adjectives of the relevant type are much
more in the style of Empedocles rather than that of Parmenides. But

  Leaving aside, of course, also extremely common formations, viz., α-negative
compounds, their correspondingly antithetical eu-, pan-, and poly- compounds,
as well as compounds with prepositions (e.g., empleon, epideues).
 Coxon, Fragments, 247(1986) = 376(2009): “For the trenchant neologism
[of hudatorizon], cf. nuktiphaes, fr. 14.” Two other recent Parmenides editors
accept B15a as a one-word fragment: Giovanni Reale and Luigi Ruggiu,
Parmenide, poema sulla natura (Milan: Rusconi, 1991), 116–117 and 352–253;
also Conche, Poème, 239–242.

— 40 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

even if we should entertain the possibility of neologism, the adjective

nuktiphaes implies thematic oddities that have been overlooked.
Let me begin by correcting a crucial mistake in the translation of
the term. Coxon, taking issue not (as perhaps he should have done)
with the departure from the MSS but only with the usual translation of
the adjective, observes: “The analogy of other noun compounds with
- φαής, (e.g., φοινικοφαής, κεραυνοφαής, ἠλεκτροφαής,
χρυσοφαής) suggests that the sense is rather ‘shining like night.’ ”41
On that basis, Coxon has Parmenides propounding a “paradox of
a darkness which shines.”42
Coxon’s observation concerning word-formation is true, but
only half-true.43 The pattern cited by Coxon is the one that involves
combinations of -phaês, -es with nouns. True, in those cases the sense
is: “having the bright appearance of N,” or “shining like N,” where
“N” stands for some noun. Indeed, there is also a similar pattern
with adjectives, e.g., kainophaês, “having the bright appearance of
something new/shining new,” or leukophaês, “. . . of something
white/. . . shining white.” I view these two patterns as jointly consti-
tuting a type of lexical composition I shall call “attributive.” But by
far the largest number of -phaês, -es compounds falls in a different
pattern, constituting a type I shall call “adverbial.” For in accordance
with this latter pattern, the first component functions more like an
adverb, qualifying directly the manner or the scope or the circum-
stances of the shining. Thus dêmophaês does not mean “having the
bright appearance of the (or ‘a’) dêmos”; it means “illustrious among
the people.” Correspondingly, euriphaês, “shining broadly”; pamphaês,
“. . . to all”; prôtophaês, “. . . for the first time”; têlephaês, “. . . from
afar, at a distance”; and so on for nearly forty such cases. The sense
Coxon has proposed for the compound adjective might possibly
have been served by nuktophaes, which however would require two
changes vis-à-vis the reading of the MSS. Assuming that Parmenides

  Coxon, Fragments, 245(1986) = 375(2009).
  Coxon, Fragments, 246(1986) = 376(2009).
  The criticism and the typology of word-formation in what follows is based
on my examination of all occurrences of -phaês compounds in the TLG (with
separate searches for the strings φαε, φαη, and φαο).

— 41 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

had used nuktiphaes, the default reading for the compound adjective
would undoubtedly have to be adverbial.44
To be sure, there are -phaês, -es compounds which, because of
inherent ambiguity, can appear under either the attributive or the
adverbial type. Thus euphaês can mean either “brightly appearing
as excellent”; but it could also mean “shining strongly.” But of the
two adjectives that have major relevance in the present discus-
sion, it is only hêmerophaês that admits of this ambiguity. It can
mean “having the bright appearance of the light of day”; and it
can also mean “appearing bright by day.” By contrast, in the case
of nuktiphaês, “having the bright appearance of night” goes beyond
poignant philosophical paradox; it lapses into blatant and perplexing
contradiction. Assuming that Parmenides had used the compound
adjective, the only morphologically and semantically coherent sense
for it is: “brightly shining by (or ‘at,’ or ‘in the’) night.”45
There is yet another ambiguity that needs to be sorted out
before we are firmly in position to assess the thematic appropriate-
ness of nuktiphaes. Earlier I cited Aristotle’s criticism of the use of
hêmerophanês as the differentia (with astron, “luminary,” as genus)
in a definition of the sun. I also pointed out that Alexander (if we
go by the readings in the Alexander MSS), in his comment ad loc.,
reproduces the term at issue as hêmerophaes (without the nu). There is
little doubt that in the medieval MSS for ancient texts (and doubtless
even in the ancient originals or archetypes) there is occasional
confusion of -phaês, -es compounds and -phanês, -es compounds
(referred to henceforth as *pha- and *phan- compounds, respectively).
After all, the two groups have common etymological ancestry.46
  Cf. Cerri, Poema, 274: “In tutti composti del tipo nukti-, il primo elemento
significa ‘di notte’ (complemento di tempo).” Not surprisingly, nuktophaes (with
omicron infix) is a hapax legomenon. It occurs only in Origen, Contra Celsum
VI.31.21, used as an epithet for someone otherwise described as “chief of hidden
mysteries” and “lord of death.”
  Bollack was rather too diffident in preferring the adverbial interpretation
merely as an alternative to Coxon’s “shining like night”: “Les formations par-
allèlles qu’il [Coxon] cite ne sont peut-être pas concluantes et ne permettent pas
de rejeter une valeur locative . . .” (L’Étant, 270). Graham too allows Coxon’s
translation as an acceptable alternative: “Lumière,” 363n35; Cosmos, 179n86.
  See Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque: histoire
des mots, 4 vols. (Paris: Klincksieck, 1968–1980), vol. IV–2, s. vv. φάε/φάος/
φῶς and φαίνω.

— 42 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

Nonetheless, it is important to note that the *pha- adjectives largely

retain the connection with the idea of phaos, “light,” especially the
“bright light of day,” whereas the *phan- adjectives are in the first
instance connected to the perceptual-cognitive uses of the verbs
phainô, “to show, to display,” and phainomai, “to appear.” Not
surprisingly, given this semantic alignment, compounds of the
second type are by far more common than those of the first type:
the TLG tracks only 62 *pha- adjectives, but 167 *phan- adjectives
(proper names omitted in both cases). And in the latter group, the
large majority of adjectives convey the sense of “appearance” in
a fairly neutral way, without the extra theme of “shining” that is
typically present in the *pha- adjectives. Indeed, in a large number of
instances of attributive composition of *phan- adjectives, the implica-
tion of “shining” is inherently excluded or irrelevant. Out of scores
of relevant instances, let me cite here five that involve attributive
composition, viz., agriophanês, “appearing wild”; anthrôpophanês,
“having human appearance”; doulophanês, “slave-like”; xylophanês,
“wood-like”; ptôchophanês, “poor in appearance.” And there is at
least one unambiguous instance with respect to which “shining” is
excluded even in adverbial composition, viz., hypnophanês, “appear-
ing in one’s sleep.”
Keeping in mind now the distinction in sense between *pha-
adjectives and *phan- adjectives, let us consider what Parmenides’
options might have been, on the assumption that he was intent on
using a Light–Night compound adjective with reference to the moon.
We do have an occurrence of the similar adjective nuktiphantos,
in the sense of “appearing by night,” in a text by an author who is
(relatively speaking) not too far chronologically from Parmenides,
Euripides (at Helen 570). That word would not, of course, have
been available to Parmenides: it does not fit the dactylic meter
of his poetry.47 His options, therefore, would have been between
nuktiphanes (with nu), “appearing by night,” which is perfectly
possible metrically, and nuktiphaes, “brightly shining by night.” One
might speculate that phaos, the first half of the “Light–Night” pair,

  Also out of consideration for metrical reasons is nuktiphôton, which, besides,


appears to be of much later coinage.

— 43 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

would have forced the choice, by virtue of favoring the *pha- variant
of the compound. But the same can be said for the *phan- variant,
which is pointedly represented at B9.3 by nuktos aphantou, “invisible
Night.” So, then, going along with the assumption that Parmenides
had the motivation to use a compound adjective, he would have
been choosing between two neologisms: the *pha- word nuktiphaes,
which conveys the vividly descriptive strong sense “resplendent”; and
the *phan-word nuktiphanes, which conveys the blander, generic,
or formulaic, sense of “appearing by night” or “visible by night.”
Which, if either of these, is right for Parmenides will emerge after
we investigate some more issues implied by argument (4).


At this point, it is relevant for us to examine closely all the five
overlooked parallel texts, late though they are, of nuktiphaês as an
epithet of the moon.48 In the case of nuktiphaous in the magical
papyrus text already quoted above, marked as (i), it should be noted
that “night-resplendent” is immediately followed in the next line
by “unequally effulgent disk.” In a magical text, one would expect
mention of temporal restrictions to the efficacy of an incantation. In
the case of conjuring the powers of the moon, which is presumably
what we have in text (i), reference should be to a specific period in
the moon’s monthly cycle. The use of the two descriptions, when
these are taken together, provides precisely this narrowed-down
specificity. To remind us what the moon’s phases (all capitalized
henceforth) are:
(a) New Moon;
(b) Waxing Crescent;
(c) Half-Moon or First Quarter;
(d) Waxing Gibbous;
(e) Full Moon;
(f) Waning Gibbous;

  On my use of the distinct spellings nuktiphaês and nuktiphaes, see above,


note 28.

— 44 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

(g) Last Quarter, or Second Half-Moon;

(h) Waning Crescent.

The moon is “unequally effulgent” during only four of these phases:

(b), (d), (f), and (h). If, however, we add “night-resplendent,” that
further narrows the reference to phases (d) and (f). For it is hardly
apt to call the moon “night-resplendent” at phases (b) and (h),
when the period of nocturnal lunar visibility, in any given month,
is about one fourth of what it is for that same month at Full Moon,
and when the intensity of moonlight is correspondingly lower. In
other words, text (i) cites two crossed determinants: “unequally
effulgent” (D1); and “night-resplendent” (D2). Taken together, the
two determinants serve to specify that the magical conjuring alluded
to in text (i) is efficacious only at the two gibbous phases. (I shall
correspondingly use the “Dn” notation in explicating the crossing
of determinants in the case of other parallel texts.)
We find similar astronomical specificity implied by the use of
distinct determinants in three of the other four parallels; and in one
of these three we find a third determinant added. I now quote the
three texts here; and I also quote the fourth, in which we do not
have such specificity. I mark the texts with small Roman numerals,
continuing the series in accordance with which the magical papyrus
was earlier cited as (i):

(ii) Σειρίου ἀντέλλοντος, ὅτε σκυλακόδρομος ὥρη

νυκτιφαής τ’ ἄστροισι θεὰ πλήθουσα Σελήνη
δέρκηται . . . .
At the time of the dog days [of summer], when
Sirius is rising, and the divine Moon may be seen
shining bright by night among the stars as it waxes
. . . .(fragment from [Anonymous], De viribus
herbarum, 3rd century ce)

(iii) ἢν δ’ ἄρα νυκτιφαὴς [scil., Σελήνη] ἐπέχῃ

κλυτοῦ Ἀρνειοῖο ἀστέρας, ἢ Ταύροιο κατ’ εὐκεράοιο
πολεύῃ, μὴ σύγε μοι μνώοιο πολυκτεάνων

— 45 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

[Astrological advice concerning marriage.] If (the

moon) shining bright by night should occupy the
region of the stars of so-called Arneius [the Ram,
i.e., Aries], or moves into well-horned Taurus, you
are, my dear, to give no thought to a marriage that
should yield many offspring. (Maximus Astrol.,
2/4th ce, Περὶ καταρχῶν, Περὶ γάμου)

(iv) καὶ δὲ καὶ ὁππότ’ ἂν . . . νυκτιφαὴς δὲ

Σεληναίη Πυρόεντι συνάπτοι, δουλοσύνης ζυγὸν
αἰὲν ἐπ’ αὐχέσιν οἷσι φέρουσιν.
And again when . . . night-shining moon should
come to be in conjunction with the Fiery One [the
planet Mars], they always bring to the neck, as it
were, the yoke of slavery. (Manetho Astrol., 3rd ce
[?], Apotelesmatica, Book 6, lines 708–709)

(v) Ἑπτὰ πολυπλανέες κατ’ Ὀλύμπιον ἀστέρες

οὐδὸν εἰλεῦνται, καὶ τοῖσιν ἀεὶ κανονίζεται αἰών.
νυκτιφαὴς Μήνη, στυγνὸς Κρόνος, Ἥλιος ἡδύς
Seven much-roaming stars wind their circuits going
against the Olympian course [the rotation of the
fixed stars], and it is through them that time is
ordered: night-shining Moon, and gloomy Saturn,
and cheer-giving Sun . . . [continuing with names
and epithets for the other four planets]. (Vitae Arati
et Varia de Arato, Sphaera, section 2, lines 1–3)

The botanical and astrometeorological text (ii) is the one which uses
nuktiphaês as one of three determinants: (D1) in the summer; (D2 )
when the moon is waxing (plêthousa); (D3) when it is “shining bright
among the stars,” i.e., not when its period of nocturnal visibility is
relatively short and its light relatively weak. Putting the three Dns
together, the astrometeorological advice is: in the summer, in the
Waxing Gibbous phase.

— 46 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

The warning against marriage in the astrological text (iii) applies

to times when the moon is in Aries or moves into Taurus (D1),
but exclusively during phases (d), (e), and (f), when the moon is
nuktiphaês (D2 ). Now, suppose the moon is in Taurus at phase (b).
Then, given the speed of the moon’s eastward motion through the
zodiac (it traverses one zodiacal sign in a bit more than two days), it
will have moved out of Taurus—let alone well beyond Aries—even
early in phase (d). So, then, according to text (iii), the circum-
stances just described would not necessarily constitute a bad time
for marriage. Correspondingly, if the moon is in Aries at phase (h),
it will have cleared out of Taurus before phase (d). That too would
not be a bad time for marriage. The adverse fate predicted concerns
only those times at which the moon meets both the criteria (D1)
and (D2 ) stated above.
In the case of the other astrological text, (iv), it is well to
remember that an astrologer can easily determine times when the
moon is in conjunction with Mars even by day, when Mars of course
is not visible but the moon might well be visible, i.e., at phases (b),
(c), (g), and (h). Those conjunctions are not at issue in (iv). Two
conditions must be met for the adverse fate predicted: (D1) the moon
is in conjunction with Mars; (D2) the moon is nuktiphaês. Crossing
the two determinants, we have a warning referring selectively to
phases (d), (e), and (f).
It is only in text (v) that nuktiphaês fails to convey specificity
about a period in the lunar month. This excerpt comes from Sphaera,
a short tract in folk astronomy and folk astrology. In its section I,
Sphaera gives mythologically embellished descriptions of the stars
and constellations, together with folk etymologies of their various
names. The brief section II (only thirteen lines), after giving the
names and formulaic epithets of the seven planets, posits facile and
hackneyed associations between the planets and human psychological
states: the sun brings mirth; Saturn, tears; the moon, sleep; and so
on. This is not a text with respect to which there would be authorial
motive for precisely descriptive use of nuktiphaês.
Once we set aside the astronomically trivial text (v), here is
what we learn from the other four texts. In the astronomy, astrol-
ogy, and the magical practices of the late Hellenistic and Roman

— 47 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

era, nuktiphaês has its own special semantic home. It belongs to

that cluster of *pha compounds I listed earlier, each of which picks
out one phase, or two or more phases, in the lunar cycle. Just as
plêrêphaês or plêrophaês mean “full moon,” nuktiphaês picks out both
Full Moon and the two Gibbous phases before and after Full Moon.
During this period of about ten successive nights, the luminary
is indeed “resplendent by night,” maximally bright, enough so to
reduce the visibility of many stars and constellations; and it also
has its longest period of nocturnal visibility. It is only in looser uses,
in texts of the genre of (v), that the compound adjective might be
appropriated, by metonymy as it were, as a formulaic epithet for the
moon regardless of phase.


What could we learn from this pattern of late uses of nuktiphaês
with respect to Parmenides’ possible use of the term? Surely the
terminology that is firmly in place in the Hellenistic-Roman era
would just barely have started being developed in Parmenides’ time.
Nonetheless, given the simple fact that both the later authors and
Parmenides spoke Greek, it is likely that he would have felt the
same pull they felt toward “bright-shining, resplendent” in the case
of *pha- compounds; and it is also likely that he would have been
sensitive to the distinction between *pha- and *phan- compounds.
Moreover, informed and even sophisticated as he was on matters
of observational astronomy,49 had he heard someone speaking of
nuktiphaês Selênê or astron nuktiphaes in reference to the moon, let
alone had he himself coined such uses, he would have understood
nuktiphaes in the same way in which astronomically minded authors
of a later era understood it: as a term aptly deployed with reference
to lunar phases (d)–(f). He would therefore have found the term
much too restrictive and irrelevant in the context of a statement of
the new doctrine of heliophotism. B14 speaks about the moon’s light
generally, at all times, in reference to all its phases. B15 reinforces

  See Graham, “Lumière,” 370–378; Cosmos, 179–182. Cf. Mourelatos, Route,


2nd ed., xxxviii–xlii; also my “Scientific Realism,” 174–180.

— 48 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

this point with discernible emphasis: “Always, always keeping its

gaze turned toward the radiance of the sun.”50
But perhaps Scaliger was wrong by just one letter. Perhaps
Parmenides in fact chose the other of the two nukti- words available
to him, the *phan- word nuktiphanes, “visible by night, appearing by
night.” Might he not, then, have intended the compound adjective
as an antonym to the collocations astron hêmerophanes or astron
nuktikruphes (luminary visible by day/hiding by night) said of the
sun? And who could say that either or both of these epithets for
the sun might not already have been introduced, perhaps even by
Parmenides himself?
In fact, nuktiphanes fares no better than does nuktiphaes vis-à-vis
B14. Let us seek to be clear concerning the logic of the opposition
the above hypothesis of antonymy envisages between the relevant
pairs of epithets for the two astra, “luminaries,” respectively:
Sun : hêmerophanes/nuktikruphes, “visible by day/
hiding by night”;
Moon : nuktiphanes/hêmerokruphes, “visible by
night/hiding by day.”

In the case of the sun, the two epithets apply with the force of
universal quantification: assuming no blockage by- clouds or a solar
eclipse, the sun is visible only by day, it is always hiding at night, is
never visible by night, is visible always by day. The two epithets, of
course, apply to the sun “analytically,” with logical necessity, precisely
because of the circularity Aristotle detected—since “day”/“night” are
defined by the presence/absence of sunlight. The moon, by contrast,
is visible nearly as long by day—on average over the year—as it is
by night. Over its phases it can be visible both by day and by night,
or it is visible only by night, or it hides both by day and by night.
So, in contrast to the strong universal quantification tautologously
built into hêmerophanes/nuktikruphes when these epithets are applied
to the sun, either of the two corresponding epithets for the moon
would apply to it in a weak circumstantial sense. The moon is

  Mourelatos, “Xenophanes’ Contribution,” 52–54. See also “Scientific


Realism,” 175–177.

— 49 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

hêmerokruphes for a few days on either side of New Moon as well

at Full Moon.51 The corresponding nuktiphanes in reference to the
moon is yet weaker and circumstantial in sense, and even indefinite.
It could mean “when visible at night (as well as by day),” or “when
mainly visible at night,” or “when only visible at night.”
As I pointed out earlier in briefly adverting to B15, the astronom-
ical breakthrough into heliophotism involves three stages: (α) the
daytime and near-daytime (dusk or dawn) observation that the
luminous part of the lunar disk is always turned toward the sun; ( β)
the inductive inference that this relation between the two luminaries
holds also when only one of them is up in the sky; and (γ) the extrap-
olation that the relation holds even when neither luminary is up in
the sky. It makes very poor sense that Parmenides, in the context of
proclaiming heliophotism, should have intrinsically characterized the
moon either by the *pha- epithet nuktiphaes, “resplendent by night,”
which applies to the moon just at Full Moon and for the days before
and after Full Moon, or by the *phan- epithet nuktiphanes, “visible
over some stretch of the night (and possibly also by day).” Indeed,
in at least one case, nuktiphaes (but a corresponding comment could
be made vis-à-vis nuktiphanes) has misled a modern interpreter into
attributing to Parmenides a blatant astronomical falsehood: “when
the sun shows itself, the moon hides itself, and vice versa.”52
One third possibility remains to be set aside. It might be
suggested that nuktiphaes does bear the sense “resplendent/effulgent/
bright-shining in the night (or ‘by night’),” but not—as its use in
later sources suggests, and as I have argued here—as a distinct
component in the terminology of lunar phases but simply as an
epithet that conveys the marked contrast in luminosity between
the moon and the stars. For, except for the last appearances of the
lunar meniscus before New Moon or the first appearances after
New Moon, the moon outshines every star in the night sky, and
even at thinnest crescent it is markedly conspicuous. No doubt
many scholars who have accepted the Scaliger emendation with the

  Cf. below, note 64.


  Ruggiu, in Reale and Ruggiu, Poema, 351: “Luna e Sole . . . sono considerati

polarmente, siché quando il Sole si manifesta, la Luna si nasconde, e vice versa.”

— 50 —
“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

correct sense of “resplendent” or like synonyms had in mind that

nothing more sophisticated is at issue than this familiar property
of the moon’s marked luminosity.
What, to my mind, rules that possibility out is the objection
long ago put forward by Coxon: “ ‘shining in the night’ [is] a
commonplace for which Parmenides would hardly have coined a
new epithet.”53 The objection gains added force for any reader of
the Parmenides fragments who takes seriously, as I have done in the
present study, the astronomical content of the “Doxa.” No false view
but also nothing astronomically significant is imported by nuktiphaes
if the latter is understood as “brighter at night than any star.”
In sum, even if one were to allow poetic attractiveness either to
nuktiphaes or to nuktiphanes, one would also have to concede that
neither epithet is well-suited to proclaim with precision or even to
memorialize effectively the momentous discovery of heliophotism. By
contrast, as I proceed to show in the section that immediately follows
here, nukti phaos does make a distinctly germane contribution.


The reading of the Plutarch MSS has one enormous advantage
over nuktiphaes: the collocation nukti phaos can serve all by itself
to state the doctrine of heliophotism. The core meaning of phaos is
“the light of day,” often and characteristically “the bright (lampron)
light of day,” occasionally also the first light of dawn or the last light
of dusk. Paradigm uses are with the preposition es or eis, “to come
out to the light of day,” or “to bring someone to the light of day,” or
with the verb horaô and its synonyms, “to see the light of day” (to
be alive), and correspondingly with the verb leipô, “to depart from
the light of day” (to die). Extended uses—for example, in reference
to the stars, the moon, other forms of nocturnal luminescence, the
glow of fire, the eyes (or the faculty of vision), torches or lanterns—
are by far less frequent than uses with reference to the sun and
daylight. Metaphorical uses are transparently connected with the
core sense: as in the expression of endearment “my light,” addressed
to a person; or in the “light of fame.” The formulaic collocation
  Fragments, 245(1986) = 375(2009).

— 51 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

phaos êelioio, “the light of the sun,” is conspicuously represented by

scores of occurrences in Homer, Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, and
the lyric poets of the Archaic period.54 By contrast—a fact that is
surprising yet highly significant for the argument in the present
essay—a search for cases of collocation of any grammatical form
either of the uncontracted phaos or of the contracted phôs with any
grammatical form of selênê (or of the variants selana or selênaiê),
“moon,” yields only one definitely early use: Pindar Olymp. 10.75
σελάνας ἐρατὸν φάος, “the lovely phaos of the moon.”55 (We also
have phaos selanas in fragment 37 from the lyric poet Corinna,
whose dating is uncertain.) Clearly, in early Greek authors, the term
phaos is too firmly connected with the sun to make “phaos of the
moon” admissible, in any of the possible grammatical variants or
combinations of the two terms, into anything other than a special
sophisticated context or one of hyperbole (as in “moonlight as bright
as daylight”).
It is not out of the question that the Pindaric phaos selanas may
not be hyperbole but such a special context. After all, Parmenides and
Pindar are contemporaries. Regardless as to whether heliophotism
is Parmenides’ discovery or one made by another contemporary, or
other contemporaries, or made yet earlier, Pindar’s phrasing may
reflect that lyric poet’s awareness of new knowledge that it is precisely
the “lovely” phaos of sunlight and daylight that we see on the moon.
Certainly there is no motive for hyperbole in the astronomical
context of Parmenides B14. What the philosopher is telling us is
that the phaos which shines on the world when the sun is up in the
sky, and which also ostensibly shines upon the moon at the times
when both sun and moon are visible in the sky by day, is retained
and brought back into the world by the moon at night. This happens
in different measures, strong or weak, long or short, depending on
the moon’s phases; yet always, always (cf. B15 aiei) moonlight is a
reflection of that same phaos of the sun, the very light that humans
enjoy and cherish by day. The compound nuktiphaes could not
  In the latter case, we may find the post-Homeric ἡλίου (rather than, ἠελίοιο)
or the dialect-variants ἀελίου, ἀλίω, ἀελίω for the genitive, “of the sun.”
  And, in all likelihood, the Pindar text was penned after heliophotism came
to be widely known among cultured Greeks.

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“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

serve to convey heliophotism as effectively and unambiguously as

is done by nukti phaos. For even though nuktiphaes, like other *pha-
compounds, alludes to phaos-like brilliance, it inevitably imports two
obvious senses either of which would blunt or distort the message
Parmenides intends to convey. The sense “having phaos-like brilliance
when seen at night” hardly applies to early First and late Fourth
Quarter; and the sense “having phaos-like luminosity only when
seen at night” belies the daytime luminousness of the moon in the
two Gibbous phases.


Argument (5) is probably the one that has been most effective
in blocking consideration of the text of the MSS. My own comment
in the preceding section might almost seem to exacerbate the
redundancy. For if heliophotism is already conveyed by nukti phaos,
why add allotrion phôs, “a light from elsewhere”? There is no disput-
ing that φάος and φῶς are the same word, the latter being simply
the contracted form that becomes standard in prose but is also
acceptable in fifth-century poetry from Aeschylus and beyond.56 The
contracted form does not occur at all in Homer, who employs only
the morphologically unrelated near-homonym φώς, “man, fellow.”
In countering argument (5), I want to point out that Parmenides
has good reasons first to say φάος at the start of the line before he
exploits the near-homonymy of φώς– φῶς at the end of the line.
The wordplay with Homer’s ἀλλότριος φώς is not sufficient all by
itself to convey heliophotism. If the line is read as starting either
with Scaliger’s nuktiphaes or, for that matter, with any other generic
epithet used merely for poetic effect (say, nuktauges, “shining by
night,” or hêduphaes, “of pleasant glow,” or hupsiphanes, “visible
high above,” or aitherion, “high in the sky”), it would have been
perfectly possible and right for Parmenides’ hearers and readers to
understand allotrion phôs as referring merely to the “strangeness” of
the moon. And it would have been natural for these same hearers

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1324–1325 ἡλίου δ’ ἐπεύχομαι πρὸς ὕστατον


φῶς. There is an occurrence of φῶς ἠελίοιο in Theognis Elegiae I.1143; but the
dates of poems in the Theognid corpus are uncertain.

— 53 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

or readers to wonder: Did this author perhaps intend to reproduce

the Homeric formula exactly, with the -os ending, in masculine
gender? And even if this author deliberately altered the Homeric
ending to the neuter -on, might he not have been speaking of that
lunar “stranger,” the “man in the moon” or (as the Greeks prefer
putting it) “the face (to prosôpon, neuter gender) in the moon”?57
Does he not, after all, also play with using kuklôpos in referring to
the moon at B10.4: “round-faced” or “round-eyed,” but also Cyclops
or Cyclopean?58 Associations and questions along these lines would
tend to lend support to the deflationary reading of the fragment,
i.e., the reading which disputes that the line states heliophotism.
At this point it might be objected that the absence of phaos
does not prevent Empedocles from proclaiming heliophotism in
B45. But the passage of time has made a big difference. In the
intervening years (a decade or decades) that separate Parmenides and
Empedocles, heliophotism will have captured—if not the popular
imagination—certainly the imagination of interested hearers and
readers of poetry and prose concerning the meteôra, “the things seen
up high.” The point of Parmenides’ cleverly poetic modulation of
Homer’s ἀλλότριος φώς, “man from elsewhere,” into ἀλλότριον
φῶς, “light from elsewhere,” will have become familiar, perhaps even
famous. Reflecting these advances, Empedocles in B45 can afford to
employ markedly more sophisticated terminology. The moon is not
just kuklôps, “round-faced” or “round-eyed,” but kukloteres, “(fully)
rounded.” In other words, Empedocles can confidently allude to the
inevitable corollary of heliophotism, viz., that the moon is spherical
in shape.59 Moreover, Empedocles does not say simply alômenon,
“wandering”; he accurately describes the moon’s movement in the
course of its sidereal month as a spiral, the arcs or loops of which
oscillate between the moon’s most northerly and its most southerly
course in the sky: helissetai, “makes spiraling turns.”

  Cf. Conche, Le Poème, 237.
  My uncritical adoption of nuktiphaes in Route (225) prompted me to cite
these associations as a poetically relevant subtext to B14.
  See Graham, “Lumière,” 368, Cosmos, 180.

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“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

At an earlier stage, when heliophotism is still a novel conception,

Parmenides is less technical; but he also has to be more explicit.
It is precisely so as to make it immediately clear to his hearers or
readers that the pun on phôs is intended that Parmenides has to use
phaos before he uses the contracted form phôs. Crucially relevant in
this connection is the fact that outside the at-issue context of B14,
Parmenides adheres to the Homeric pattern in his use of phaos/
phôs. He uses the uncontracted phaos for “the light of day” (B1.10)
or for the quasi-element “Light” in “Doxa” (B9.1, and 9.3); and well
before the pun of B14, at the start of the poem, he uses φώς in the
standard Homeric way, B1.3 εἰδότα φῶτα, “the man who knows.”
There are two other considerations that show the phaos-phôs
reduplication in B14 as felicitous. There can be no doubt that
Parmenides knows that φάος is the uncontracted, older, and original
form, whereas φῶς is the contracted, newer, and derivative form.
As soon as we focus on these simple grammatical facts, we realize
that by pairing the two forms of the word, Parmenides succeeds
in mirroring lexically the astronomical breakthrough that is being
proclaimed or memorialized in this one line of poetry. The sun
has (or is) φάος, something authentically original, independent,
strong, far-reaching, broadly expansive.60 The moon, by reflecting
the sun’s φάος, brings something of that original light into the
night; but moonlight itself is derived, dependent, weak, much less
far-reaching—contracted or pursed, as it were, a φῶς.61 Linguistic
contraction is exploited by Parmenides as a metaphor of physical
and metaphysical derivativeness.62 This additional rhetorical-po-
etic conceit is every bit as brilliant as the tour de force of stating
heliophotism by appropriating the formula Homer had used for “a
fellow from elsewhere.”

 Cf. meg’ araion, “very lax, expansive,” said of “fire” in metonymy for φάος at
B8.57. For a good defense of retaining ἀραιόν rather than ἤπιον (in what would
otherwise be an unmetrical line), see Maia Todoua, “Sur l’improbable Douceur
du feu dans la cosmologie de Parménide (v. 57 du Fr. 8 DK),” Revue des Études
Grecques, 120 (2007), 395–341.
  In parallel to meg’ araion said of “fire”at B8.57 (see previous note), we have at
B8.59 pukinon demas, “dense, compact body,” said of Night.
  I am happy and grateful to borrow this formulation from written comments
sent to me by André Laks on an earlier draft of this essay.

— 55 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

And here is the other point worth notice. The reduplication

φάος-φῶς and the pun with φῶς-φώς balance and reinforce one
another. By borrowing the Homeric formula, Parmenides gives
a broad hint that there is also homonymy in the use of φάος in
reference to the moon. For it is only the “pure, effulgent torch of
the sun” (B10.2–3) that is non-homonymously φάος. Pindar and
other poets are free to speak of the “lovely phaos of the moon”; but
they do so in homonymous and catachrestic use of the term phaos.
We can now also see how aptly and elegantly B14 fits the
Plutarch context from which it has been retrieved. Regardless of the
tendentiousness of Plutarch’s interest in Parmenides’ line, the three
pairs Plutarch has selected to place in parallel to the Parmenidean
pair of sunlight-moonlight are quite well chosen. As is shown in the
table below, the whole set of four pairs forms a logically coherent
scheme of coordinate affinities and contrasts. My guess and my
suggestion is that Plutarch’s ear also picked up the relevance of the
fifth pair, the lexical pairing of φάος and φῶς.

Original Entity Derived Entity Homonymy

• Plato • Image of Plato • “Plato” used of either
• Fire (pur) • Iron that has under- • “pur”/“pepurômenon”
gone firing used of either
• ANTHRÔPOS as the • A human being • “anthrôpos” used of
Platonic form either
• Strong and broadly • Weaker, pursed, and • “phaos” used of either
expansive light of the sun reflected light of the
(phaos) moon (cf. selas, selênê)
• Older and uncontracted • Newer and con- • “phaos”=“phôs”
term “phaos” tracted term “phôs”


Given the inveterate long standing of Scaliger’s emendation
(almost half a millennium), my argument in defense of the reading
in the MSS had to be correspondingly ample. To recapitulate: There
is nothing in the Plutarch context intrinsically that requires or even
suggests the need for emendation. On the contrary, the reading nukti
phaos is supported firmly and elegantly by Plutarch’s other examples

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“The Light of Day by Night”: nukti phaos, Said of the Moon in Parmenides B14

of a relation of dependence or derivation. Since B14 undoubtedly

represents a statement of heliophotism, any accompanying charac-
terization of the moon must be in terms that apply to all phases
of the lunar cycle. By that standard, nuktiphaes is inaccurate and
irrelevant, either in its proper sense, “resplendent by night” (i.e.,
when shining most brightly by night), or in the weaker sense of
“(mostly) visible by night,” or the merely poetic-suggestive “shining
by night.” The seeming redundancy of phaos/phôs is actually a case
of felicitous reduplication, an effect that is both needed thematically
and rhetorically justified.
But I suspect that a certain misconception, just barely below
conscious reflection as one encounters B14, may also have played a
mischievous role in leaving Scaliger’s emendation unchallenged over
the span of five centuries. We can be sure that Scaliger himself, who
lived at a time when humans were much more keenly cognizant of
phenomena in the sky than we generally are today, was aware of
the fact that the moon is visible in part by night and in part by day
over most of its cycle of phases. And it is only right to make that
assumption also with respect to historians of science or of philosophy
who have discussed B14 and B15, and indeed with respect to editors
either of Plutarch or of Parmenides.63 Nonetheless, within the larger
community of students of Parmenides, even many attentive readers
of B14 may not have kept all the relevant astronomical constraints
in mind as they pondered the meaning of the fragment. Indeed,
surfing Web sites for such key phrases as “moon visible during the
day” or “daytime moon” will disclose astonishingly widespread
ignorance of the facts concerning the moon’s daytime visibility or

  But there are occasional lapses, as in the case of Ruggiu’s attributing to
Parmenides the view that sun and moon do not ever appear in the sky together
(above, note 52). Surprisingly, even Conche, who otherwise comments very
perceptively about the relevance of lunar phases apropos B14 and B15,
incautiously at one point explicates nuktiphaes by stating that the moon “brille
‘pendant la nuit’ . . . ou, tout simplement, ‘la nuit,’ . . . c’est à dire seulement
[his emphasis] la nuit” (Le Poème, 235). The comment by Pérez de Tudela
(in Bernabé et al., Poema, 215), if not intended to refer to the commonplace
superior luminosity of the moon in comparison to the stars, likewise comes close
to attributing an astronomically uninformed belief to Parmenides: “Esta luz
«robada» [stolen by the moon off the sun], sin embargo, no habrá de brillar en
cualquier momento, sino justamente en la Noche.”

— 57 —
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

even puzzlement over actual daytime sightings of the moon. In

response to such “frequently asked questions,” a UCLA astronomer
corrects that common misconception on his department’s Web site:
“Even many adults do not realize that the moon is often visible in the
daytime. The moon is visible sometime during the day for most of
the month . . . .”64 The fact that we mostly notice the shining of the
moon at night has probably allowed many readers of the Parmenides
fragments to pass over nuktiphaes without questioning its logic.65

  Arthur Huffmann, “Art’s Observational Astronomy Pages,” UCLA De-
partment of Physics and Astronomy,
daymn.html.—Yet another of the many corrections by scientists and educators
of the common misconception is at the Madison Metropolitan School District
Planetarium Web site, “Day-time Moon Observations,” https://planetariumweb. “Almost everybody has seen the
moon at night, but most people have never noticed that the moon is often [my
emphasis] visible in the daytime sky.”
  On the occasion of the Charles Kahn celebration at Delphi in June 2009, I
made a different presentation, on the theme “The Eleaticism of the Eleatics.” An
earlier draft of the present essay was read and discussed at the second conference
of the International Association for Presocratic Studies, held at the University of
Edinburgh in July 2010, and in October 2010 at a Classics colloquium at The
University of Texas at Austin. I thank the participants in the discussion on these
two occasions for helpful comments. For written comments on working drafts,
I thank Dan Graham, André Laks, M. Laura Gemelli Marciano, and especially
Richard McKirahan. For sharp-eyed assistance with proofreading, my thanks to
Sally Jackman.—See also above, note 27, for acknowledgment of the use of ma-
terial drawn from the TLG.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi
Diskin Clay


Empedocles was a first person philosopher, as we are now reminded

by parts of his poem preserved in two Strasbourg papyri. He is also
a philosopher of many lives and many voices, who, unlike other
Greek philosophers, was also a god. He is polyphonic, but he is
reduced to a single alien voice in the texts collected in the B section
of Hermann Diels’s Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. All these derive
from citations of Empedocles by another author. By the good fortune
that presides over the Greek texts preserved in the dry climate of
upper Egypt, we have from Achmim (ancient Panopolis), a text that
is not embedded in the alien text and the voice of another author.
And, by good luck, we have discovered a revealing context for the
fate of Empedocles, as his poem had transmigrated from Akragas
in Sicily and the generation of his Sicilian incarnation to travel to
Egypt and enter the grave in which the Strasbourg papyrus was
deposited. (I say papyrus because it is increasingly likely that we are
dealing with a single papyrus roll.) The purpose of this brief study
and tribute to Charles Kahn is to join some things that have become
disassociated and caused considerable strife. I write in the spirit of
Empedocles’ Aphrodite who joins and unites, and in the spirit of
Charles Kahn’s writings on Empedocles and Greek philosophy. I
will first describe the fragments of the papyrus and then make some
preliminary observations on the context that assured their preser-
vation. My main concerns are the polyphony of these texts and the
strange unity of Empedocles’ philosophy, Empedocles’ doctrine of
reincarnation, his transmigration from Sicily to Plato’s Athens and

— 59 —
Diskin Clay

Lucretius’ Italy, and finally we will encounter Empedocles as he

might have appeared at Delphi.
Fragments of Empedocles’ poem (or poems) were bought at
Achmim (ancient Panopolis on the upper Nile) by Otto Rubensohn
in November of 1904 for the German Papyruskartell in Berlin; from
Berlin they were transferred to the Papyruskartell of Strassburg
(which became Strasbourg after World War II) where they were
stored. They were rediscovered there and identified as Empedocles’
by Alain Martin only in the spring of 1994, ninety years after they
were first acquired. They were published by Martin and Primavesi
more than a decade ago. Their editors assign them to Books 1
and 2 of Empedocles’ On Nature.1 The papyrus gives us 52 single
fragments of text; 47 of these pieces join into six “ensembles.” The
papyrus does not yield a single complete hexameter line. Ensembles
a–d yield words of 74 lines of text. Ensembles e–k yield very little
text but are important for a reconstruction of the papyrus.
Ensemble a yields a text of what we can now place securely as
lines 245–300 of the first book of Empedocles’ On Nature. To a
great extent, the gaps in the text of ensemble a can be supplemented
by the 35 lines long known as DK 31B17 (from the Physics treatise
as it has been named).2 The new and longer text of B17 (which had
been composed from quotations of Plutarch, Simplicius, and Aetius)
picks up with letters from line 14 (= 245) and yields fragments from
seven lines of the text (= 324–330). The Strasbourg papyrus allows
us to continue Empedocles’ rehearsal of his “Double Tale” of the
evolution and destruction of our present world and worlds like it
for another 34 lines.3 Ensemble b gives us only letters from the six
  Alain Martin and Oliver Primavesi, L’Empédocle de Strasbourg (P. Strasb. Gr.
Inv. 1665–1666), (Berlin and New York: Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire
de Strasbourg, Walter de Gruyter, 1999).
  For the convenience of the reader and to illustrate the long standing division
of Empedocles into the Physics or On Nature and Purifications, I cite Empedocles
in the edition of Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokra-
tiker, 10th ed. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1961), where he figures as entry 31 in volume
1. Diels’s Physics extends from fragments 1–111; his Purifications from 112–157.
I acknowledge M. R. Wright, Empedocles: The Extant Fragments (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1981), but I have no occasion to cite the new
fragments found there.
  To line 300, identified by the letter Γ.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

lines of B39. The new text of Ensemble c reproduces letters from

a first line from what had counted as fragment B20. Ensemble d
preserves many even more fascinating letters from nineteen lines
that reproduce the two lines (from Porphyry) that were represented
as B139 (5–6). The editors assign these to Book 2 of On Nature.
Ensembles e–k preserve only letters that the editors were not able
to connect with known fragments from Empedocles.
These fragments from the Panopolis papyrus contain texts that
no reader of the “old Empedocles” could have imagined in any
hypothetical reconstruction of the poem On Nature. They radically
alter our understanding—not of the much vexed and rotating
question of Empedocles’ cosmic cycle—but of the relation between
his On Nature and the mysterious poem known as the Purifications.
It might now be safe to say that, even after the publication of the
Strasbourg fragments, the question of Empedocles’ “cosmic cycle”
will continue to turn without traction in a rut of controversy. Yet I
believe that David Sedley’s reconstruction of Empedocles’ cosmic
cycle with its “double zoogony” might have freed this wheel from
its rut at last.4 Once again, we are confronted with the religious
theme of the reincarnation of the soul as we attempt to assign a
new text or a citation long familiar to either the poem On Nature
or the Purifications.5
  Set out in Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity, 31–74.
  Martin and Primavesi, L’Empédocle de Strasbourg characterize the question
as it stood before they published the papyri in 1999, 114–119. Here is not the
place to say more than this: Plato and Aristotle (who quotes from the Katharmoi
in the Poetics B138) do not distinguish between the two poems, nor does Sextus
Empiricus who is our source for fragments both from the On Nature (Περὶ̣
Φύσεως or Φυσικά), to give it the conventional title, and the Purifications
(Καθαρμο̣ί). Diogenes Laertius distinguishes between his On Nature and
Purifications, and cites the B112 as the beginning of the Katharmoi (8.54 and
8.62); he adds that both poems comprise some 5000 hexameter lines (8.76).
Simplicius in his massive commentary to Aristotle’s Physics speaks only of his
Physika, and in one comment he identifies a passage as coming from Book 2
of Ta Physika (B62). He speaks of the beginning of B17 as coming from Book
1 of Ta Physika, but oddly he speaks of lines 1–2 of his citation as coming
from the beginning of the poem (quoting B17.1–2). Plutarch speaks of B8 as
coming from the first book on On Nature, and B115 (long lodged among the
Purifications) as “coming at the beginning of his philosophy.” David Sedley has
made a strong case that it comes from Empedocles’ On Nature in Lucretius and
the Transformation of Greek Wisdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

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Diskin Clay

Before we reach the new Empedocles and the old problem of

his philosophical poem or poems, something should be said of
the context that yields the damaged text of these new fragments.
I will return to this context in conclusion. The fragments of the
New Empedocles do not come from an author like Aristotle,
Theophrastus, Plutarch, Hippolytus of Rome, or Simplicius. These
authors cite Empedocles for reasons of their own. The Panopolis
papyrus comes from a book copied in an elegant book hand in
Upper Egypt probably at the end of the first century ce. Rubensohn,
who purchased the fragments, realized that his papyri had been
reemployed to serve as a headband for a wreath on which copper
leaves had been pasted. An X-ray analysis confirmed his reading of
the traces of copper oxide and also revealed traces of gold.6
The question that comes first to mind is not philosophical; we
ask rather: “Who wore this wreath (described by Rubensohn as a
collar) of Empedocles’ poetry?” “Was there any significance in the
text of Empedocles for the deceased and his (or her) family?”7 The

1998), 8–10. John Tzetzes (twelfth century) speaks of B134 as coming from
Book 3 of On Nature, which is taken since Karsten to be a description of the
Katharmoi. (He also refers to Empedocles in his commentary to the Iliad, A66
and is our ambiguous source for B50). What one can conjecture about these
citations is that a text of Empedocles circulating in late antiquity divided his
poem into the two poems now familiar, the On Nature and Purifications. These
references are symptomatic of the problems we confront today in understanding
Empedocles. Four years before the publication of the Strasbourg Empedocles,
Peter Kingsley made a vigorous case for the separation of the “esoteric” On
Nature addressed to Pausanias, and the “exoteric” Purifications addressed to the
citizens of Akragas, in Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and
the Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 363–366, but that
was before B139 with Ensemble d migrated from the Purifications to On Nature.
  Martin and Primavesi, L’Empédocle de Strasbourg, 27–32, 331–333, 339 and
Documents 1–3.
  I add “her” not out of any scruple over correctness and inclusiveness but to
register the fact that many of the gold tablets were found in the graves of women,
according to a survey of the tablets by Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, in
Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Orphic Gold Tablets (London:
Routledge, 2007). A striking example is their text 1 (from Hippinion) where
a woman speaks in the underworld, yet she identifies herself as “a son of the
Earth and starry Heaven” and refers to herself as being thirsty in the masculine
gender (lines 10–11), meaning that the language of the text was not originally
designed for the woman’s grave. We will return to this text in what follows. Fritz
Graf gives a table showing the gender (where known) of those buried with gold

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

answer I will propose is that the content of this papyrus text explains
why it was converted into a funerary wreath. Indeed, the Greek
from Egyptian Panopolis (the Greek city of Zosimos and Nonnus)
was buried in imitation of the living and reincarnate Empedocles,
who described himself in what has counted in the beginning of
the Purifications as “wreathed with fillets and flowering wreaths”
(τα ̣ίναις τε περί ̣στεπτος στέφεσί ̣ν τε θαλεί ̣οις, DK 31B112.6).
The text of the “new Empedocles” is not entirely new. To give
the reader some orientation, I will reproduce the English translation
of the old and new texts provided by Martin and Primavesi. Their
supplements are not indicated. The first passage represents the
continuation for perhaps 41 lines of the 35 lines long familiar as
Diels-Kranz 31B17; then we have lines that connect with fragments
20 and 139 in Diels-Kranz. B139 (from Porphyry) Diels placed in
the Purifications. Martin and Primavesi assign it to Περὶ ̣ Φύσεως Β.
Richard Janko has argued persuasively, I think, that the ensemble
Martin and Primavesi assign to the second book of On Nature is in
fact the immediate continuation of the lines that partially reproduce
and continue B17.8 The language I put in italics catches my eye. We
begin with what is new (lines 267–300):

a(i) 6–b6.
But under Love we unite together to form a single
ordered whole, whereas under Hatred, in turn it
(i.e., the ordered whole) grew apart, so as to be many
out of one, out of which (i.e., many things) come
all beings that were and that are and that will be
hereafter: trees sprang forth and men and women,

leaves, “Dionysian and Orphic Eschatology,” in Masks of Dionysus, eds. Thomas

H. Carpenter and Christopher A. Faraone (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1993), 257–258.
 “Empedocles, On Nature I 233–364: A New Reconstruction of P. Strasb. Gr.
Inv. 1665–1666,” ZPE 150 (2004), 1–26. On pp. 14–22, Janko produces a new
text, apparatus, and translation of what he counts as lines 233–364 of Empedocles’
poem. David Sedley provides an acute philosophical and philological reading
of the old and the new Empedocles in Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), ch. 2. For his guidance with the
problems I take up here I thank him—once again.

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Diskin Clay

and beasts and birds and fishes nurtured in the

water, and also gods of long age and preeminent in
their honours. Under her (i.e., Hatred) they never
cease from continuously shooting in all directions
in frequent whirls . . . without pause, and never
and many generations . . . before passing over from
them. . . . And they never cease from continuously
shooting in all directions: for neither the sun . . .
the onrush full of this . . . nor any of the other
things . . . but, as they change, they shoot in all
directions in a circle. For at that time the (then)
impassable earth runs, and the sun, and the globe
of the heavens, as large indeed as even now it can
be judged by men to be. And in just the same way
all these things (i.e., the elements) were running
through one another and, having been driven away,
each of them reached different and peculiar places,
self-willed; and we were coming together to the middle
places, so as to be only one. But whenever Strife has
reached the depths, thus violated, of the whirl, and
Love has come to be in the midst of the eddy, then
under her (i.e., Love) all these things unite so as
to be only one.

Strive eagerly so that my account not only reach as

far as your ears, and behold the clear signs that are
around as you hear them from me: I will show you
to your eyes too?, where they (i.e., the elements)
find a larger body: first the coming together and
the unfolding of the stock, and as many as are
now still remaining of this generation, on the one
hand among the wild species of mountain-roving
beasts, and on the other hand among the twofold
offspring of men, and in the case of the produce
of root-bearing fields and of the cluster of grapes
mounting on the vine. From these accounts convey

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

to your mind unerring proofs; for you will see the

coming together and the unfolding of the stock.

Here the scribe has entered the letter Γ, meaning that he has
transcribed 300 lines and expected to be paid for his work.
We move on to b + B76 only to note that three of its six lines
come in a different order than as cited by Plutarch and must come
much closer to the beginning of the poem than has been thought.
Possibly they are lines 324–330 of the papyrus.

b + B76.
On the one hand in mussels, dwelling in the sea,
with heavy backs and in the . . . who live in the
rocks: there you will see earth lying on the surface of
the flesh­— on the other hand the cuirass of strong-
backed . . . and above all of sea-snails with stony
hides and of tortoises . . . the spears of horned stags
. . .—but I would not come to an end if I were to
enumerate all.

I turn next to Ensemble c for something we observed in our

first new text: a verb in the first person plural:

c + B20.
To devise works of change, on the one hand in the
case of the glorious bulk of human limbs; at one
time, through Love, we all come together into one as
limbs which have acquired a body at the height of
their flourishing life; while at another time, again,
torn asunder by baneful contentions they (i.e., the
human limbs) wander each one apart on the brink
of life. In the same way, on the other hand, for
shrubs and water-dwelling fishes, and for beasts
whose bodies are in the mountains and for birds
moving with their wings.

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Finally and most dramatically we find a first person account of

the horrors that await the carnivore in death, as they would await
even Empedocles’ δαίμ̣ ονες. It is clear from d 10–11 that the voice
we hear is that of Empedocles. (I italicize the significant pronouns.)

d + B139.
To fall apart from one another and then to meet
their fate, as they (i.e., the limbs), much against
their will, are made to rot away by bitter necessity.
And whereas we now have Love and Goodwill,
the Harpies with the lots of death will be with
us (hereafter). Alas that the merciless day did not
destroy me sooner, before I devised with my claws
terrible deeds for the sake of food. But now in
this storm I have in vain drenched my cheeks; for
we are approaching the very deep Whirl, I perceive,
and, though they do not wish it, countless griefs
will be present to men in their minds—but we
shall make you enter once more into the former
account; when an inextinguishable flame occurred
. . . bringing upwards a mixture of much woe . . .
beings capable of reproduction were engendered
. . . even now daylight beholds their remains. . . .
I went to the uttermost place . . . with a scream and a
cry . . . attaining the meadow of Doom . . . again,
the earth around.


Many novelties claim our attention. What I (and others) find
most striking in the text of the new Empedocles is the person in the
verbs of Ensembles a–d. Here we encounter once again the problem
of Empedocles’ many voices. On the face of the evidence available
before the publication of the New Empedocles it would seem that
in On Nature Empedocles addresses a reader, call him Pausanias, as
does Empedocles (B1), and invokes both the gods and a virgin Muse
of the white arms B3.1–8; cf. B4.2). By contrast, in the Purifications

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the poet addresses the citizens of his native Akragas and speaks
to them as a god and, strangely, it seems, as if he were a stranger
(B112). He also invokes the Muse Calliope (B131). He seems to
lament his own fate (B118 and 119) and addresses a wretched human
audience (B124, 136, and it would seem 141). The new texts make
this neat distinction between the two poems problematic even as
they weaken the barriers that have hermetically sealed Empedocles
the philosopher of nature, from Empedocles the initiate, who in
his other lives had experienced metempsychosis (or metensomatosis).
The first entirely new line of the “New Empedocles” continues
at B17.35 in Diels-Kranz. It comes in Ensemble a(i) 6. It has only
fifteen letters. The first three preserve ]μεθ’—the first person
plural. “But under Love we unite together to form a single ordered
whole.” Here we confront the now notorious problem of “the three
thetas.”9 The correction of the Panopolis papyrus’ editor or reader
of theta by nu seems reasonable, since the neuter plural participle
with the final alpha elided before a vowel seems natural in a poem
describing the effect of Love and Strife on the four elements of
Empedocles’ world. We find an obvious parallel for the neuter
participle in ἄλλοτε μὲν Φιλότητι συνερχόμεν’ ε ̣ἰς ἕνα κόσμον
(B20.2; cf. B26.5 and B35.5). But we find another first person plural
in what counts as fragment B109 of On Nature in Diels-Kranz; we
perceive like by like (γαί ̣ηι μὲν γὰρ γαῖ ̣αν ὀπώ ̣παμεν). This must
mean that Empedocles is enunciating the principle of perception
that “we” human beings recognize like by like. In another case, the
editors of the Strasbourg papyri print the clear first person plural
in their c 3 where we find the neuter participle in the citation of
Simplicius (B20.2, and in the correction of the papyrus by a second
hand). We find the accusative of the first person singular in their d
5 (B139.1), as we do in Porphyry. The passage had belonged to the
Purifications. Martin and Primavesi assign it to Book 2 of On Nature.
  Other than the reasonable skepticism of some of the reviewers of the “new
Empedocles,” the most vigorous attempt to justify the correction of theta by
mu is that of Simon Trépanier, “Empedocles on the Ultimate Symmetry of the
World,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24 (2002), 1–57. I would note that
the editors of the Strasbourg papyri accept the other corrections to their text by
a second hand. These corrections are recorded in their transcription of the text
on pp. 155–157.

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It was immediately vindicated for the Purifications by Jean Bollack,10

and then more plausibly reassigned to Book 1 of On Nature by
Richard Janko, as we have seen (note 5 above). What we are faced
with is the problem of understanding Empedocles’ many voices and
the problem of the transmigration of fragments from the Purifications
to On Nature.
Convinced by the accuracy of the Panopolis scribe in all but a
single case, Martin and Primavesi have introduced the first person
into some gaps in their text of the Strasbourg papyri. In one case,
already noticed, they have the authority of the undisputed text
of Porphyry’s De Abstinentia for the “me” ( με) in what seems to
be either Empedocles’ statement about himself or the anguished
words of a carnivore who has met his grim fate in death (B139 = d
5). Primavesi has argued that the first person plural of the papyri
represent the words of the daimones who are rejected by the cosmic
masses of earth, water, air, and fire (in B115) for having participated
in the works of Strife and sundered the “limbs” brought together
by the joining of Aphrodite.11 The purchase one can gain for this
view is offered by Porphyry’s allegoresis of Homer’s description of
the cave of the Nymphs in Odyssey 13 (102–112). In quoting the
line “we arrived under the roof of this cave,” Porphyry comments:
“in Empedocles the powers that conduct the souls say . . . ” (α ̣ἱ
ψυχοπομποὶ ̣ δυνάμεις, B120); he also recalls the cave of Plato,
Republic VII 514a–517a. And it is not certain that the voice of
the first person singular in B115 and 116, or of 139, is that of the
poet; possibly the first person plural indicates the poet’s memory of
being torn from a state of union of the “self,” meaning the soul and
elements of the body, by the incursion of Strife. This dramatic voice
cannot belong to the nameless divinities (δαίμονες) that conduct
the soul to its fate in death, as do the daimones in Plato’s Phaedo
(107d–108c) and Republic.

  First in his review of the new Empedocles, “Voir la Haine,” Methodos 1
(2001), 173–185, Bollack publishes the text as the long familiar fragment 139
in his long awaited edition of the Purifications, Empédocle Les Purifications: Un
projet de paix universelle (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2003) as his fr. 139.
  L’Empédocle de Strasbourg, 347.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

The problem is that we would not expect to find Empedocles

lament his fate as a carnivore in his poem On Nature. Possibly, this
is not what we find. In his adoption of the first person singular or
plural to describe his experience of the history of cosmic union
and dissolution, Empedocles—or his reader in Panopolis (who
knew more of Empedocles’ poem than do we)—has entered in the
processes described in his own poem. From other passages in On
Nature, we find the poet addressing, indeed, hectoring, Pausanias;
“I will tell you something more” (B8.1), but this voice is radically
different from “we come together,” or “Alas that the merciless day
did not destroy me sooner, before I devised with my claws terrible
deeds for the sake of food” (B139 = d 5–6).


Empedocles speaks in many voices, as did Lucretius after him.
Lucretius invented an addressee for his De Rerum Natura—call him
Memmius—and he directs his argument to him throughout his
poem. But the voice of Natura is also heard in his poem (3.933–949
and 955–962). Strains of the Horatian lament of Romans facing
death are also audible, as is Lucretius’ stern response to it (3.894–
908). More importantly, by invoking Empedocles’ immortal Muse,
Calliope (B131), at the end of his De Rerum Natura (6.92–95)
Lucretius is following the lead of Empedocles and thereby he seems
to indicate that he knew a single poem of the divine poet who hardly
appears to spring from the human race (1.726–733). In Book 5,
Lucretius had already transformed Empedocles’ statement on the
remoteness of gaining a true conception of the gods to convey just
how difficult it would be for his Roman reader to conceive of the
end of the world.12 As did Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, Empedocles’
poem began with an invocation—not to Venus but to the gods and

  An invocation usually assigned to the Purifications as B133. The imitation
and transformation of Empedocles’ language comes as Lucretius evokes the
Roman conception of the world as divided into three masses: earth, water, and
air and evokes the language of B133 in order to apply Empedocles’ statement
of how difficult it is to attain a notion of divinity to the difficulty of his Roman
reader, Memmius, as Lucretius confronts him with the possibility of a collapse of
his world (5.91–104).

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a Muse who remembers many things (B3); as Empedocles came to

present his theology at the end of his poem, he invoked the Muse
Calliope (B131).13 The four lines of his invocation to Calliope (B131)
are assigned to the Katharmoi by all modern editors of Empedocles,
except Brad Inwood, who places them as his fr. 10 and refuses to
distinguish between the two poems.14 In antiquity the confusion
over how many poems Empedocles wrote anticipates our modern


In the case of Empedocles, Diels appended a paragraph from
Plato’s Phaedrus (248b–249b) in the section he set apart for later
echoes (Anklänge) of his Presocratics (C), as he had for Xenophanes.
This passage he took to be a sustained echo of Empedocles. Echoes
are not the same as citations. They do not reproduce a text; they
allude to it and often transform it. One obvious example is Heraclides
of Pontos’ treatment of what has figured as the last of our fragments
in the On Nature (B111)—the extraordinary promise Empedocles

  David Sedley first treated the relation between Empedocles and Lucretius in
his essay, “The Proems of Empedocles and Lucretius,” Greek Roman and Byzantine
Studies 30 (1989), 269–296, and then a year before the Strasbourg papyri were
published in Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom, ch. 1. He was
then already aware of the texts Martin and Primavesi were soon to publish. The
fact that the Muse Empedocles invoked in B3 is called the “virgin” who will send
him a chariot (3–8; cf. Lucretius 6.92–94) and that in his invocation he begins
by addressing the gods, makes it unlikely that his poem began with an invocation
to Aphrodite, and that Lucretius’ invocation to Roman Venus (1.1–49) can help
us reconstitute the beginning of his poem.
  The Poem of Empedocles: A Text and Translation with an Introduction (rev. ed.,
Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2001).
  As for the Strasbourg papyrus, there is a novelty. Martin and Primavesi
recognized that Lucretius 2.1091–93 is a direct translation of a (ii) 26–28,
L’Empédocle de Strasbourg in their apparatus and on p. 232. There are three
other passages in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura that acknowledge and at the
same time transform the language in what has been counted as the words of the
Purifications: the description of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia in 1.84–101 is inspired
by Empedocles’ B137.1–4 (on the slaughter of one’s kin), and the praise of the
Graius homo in 1.62–79 by Empedocles’ unmistakable praise of Pythagoras
in B129. They were all sighted by David Furley, “Variations on Themes from
Empedocles in Lucretius’ Proem,” London Institute of Classical Studies 17 (1970),
55–64. The single line in 5.226 (in context) clearly reflects Empedocles B118.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

makes to Pausanias that, among the other wonders he will perform,

he will “lead the spirit of a dead man up from Hades.” This was
enough of an incitement to the passion for reading poetry as biogra-
phy to inspire Heracleides’ Περ̣ὶ τ̣ῆς ἄπνου (On the Woman who
stopped breathing), a dialogue in which Empedocles played a leading
Plato’s description of the journey of the soul in death during a
period of a thousand years and the lives it will enter depending on
its vision of reality (Phaedrus 248b–249b) is, perhaps, an “echo” of
Empedocles, who among his many extraordinary claims says that he
had been “a boy and a girl, a bush, a fish, and a bird” (B117). Such
a claim could never be made by an “Orphic” initiate but it suites
the later biographical tradition that came to surround Pythagoras.17
Signorelli’s extraordinary “portrait” of a poet in the Cappella San
Brizio of the Duomo in Orvieto, often (and I think justly) identi-
fied as the youthful Empedocles emerging from a wellhead meant
to represent Etna, is a tacit recognition of this claim. Empedocles
would have been purified by his element of fire, as was Heracles on
Mt. Oeta and Peregrinus Proteus at Olympia in 165 ce.18 The soul
that loses its wings in the Phaedrus can enter the body of an animal
or conversely the soul that had inhabited the body of an animal
can enter the body of a human being. In confronting Empedocles’
claims to a memory of past existences one is reminded of Pythagoras,

  Herakleides Pontikos, Die Schule des Aristoteles, ed. Fritz Wehrli (Basel: Benno
Schwabe & Co, 1958), frs. 76–89. The tradition is reflected in DL 8.60. For
the necrology Empedocles seems to have written for himself, see Ava Chitwood,
Death by Philosophy: The Biographical Tradition in the Life and Death of Archaic
Philosophers (Empedocles, Heraclitus, and Democritus), (Ann Arbor, MI: The
University of Michigan Press, 2004), ch. 1.
  Pythagoras is said to have recalled only a number of human lives: first as
Aithalides, the son of Hermes, then he was Homer’s Euphorbos who (with Apollo)
killed Patroclus and was wounded by Menelaos, and after other reincarnations
he became Pythagoras of Samos. He also migrated into plants and animals and
recalled his sufferings in Hades (DL 8.4–6). The passage from Xenophanes that
has him forbid a man from beating a puppy because he recognized in his yelp the
soul of a friend (DK 21B7) would seem to indicate this possibility. Christoph
Riedweg has made an argument for an “Orphic” element in Empedocles,
“Orphisches bei Empedocles,” Antike und Abendland, 41 (1994), 34–59.
  It is shown on the cover of Bollack’s Émpedocle: Les purifications (note 6
above), without explanation but, I think, with justification.

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but also the “Hell scrolls” of imperial China and the tenth Gate
to the afterlife: after drinking the tea of Forgetfulness the dead
follow one of the six streams of rebirth to become in sequence—an
insect, bird, human, noble, animal, or fish. All these future states
are marvelously illustrated.
I think it is possible to catch sight of the “new Empedocles”
in another Platonic dialogue: this is the Republic and its conclud-
ing Myth of Er. At the end of the Republic we are presented with
Socrates’ amazing doctrine of the immortality of the soul as it is
illustrated by the experience of Er, the son of Armenios of Pamphylia
(Republic 10.614b–621d). For ten days after his death in battle, Er
witnessed the afterlife and the fates of those who are rewarded for
their virtue or punished for their crimes. Er was assigned by the
higher powers of death to be the messenger to the living and report
all he had observed in the afterlife. One of the crimes not provided
for in Plato’s “myth of judgment” is that of eating meat, but there
are some echoes of the “old Empedocles” audible in this Platonic
“myth of judgment.” One that comes first to mind is the choice
Ajax makes as he picks the lot of a lion rather than a human for his
next life. In a quotation that comes from Aelian, Empedocles states
that the best form of the transmigration of the soul from a human
to an animal or plant is to become a lion among animals and a
laurel among plants (B127). In Er’s report, Ajax—in his loathing
for human kind—chooses the life of a lion (Republic 10.620a–b).19
There is much more to comment on. In the dramatic passage I
have given in translation, Empedocles speaks of the emergence under
the rule of Philia of “trees and males and females, beasts and birds
and fish and the long-lived gods” and the disruption of these unions
by Strife: “Under her they never cease from continuously shooting

  Martin and Primavesi restore the “Meadow of Disaster” in their Ensemble d
17 + B139. If they are right, this Meadow might be the Meadow in the afterlife
that we find in Gorgias 524a and Republic 10.614d–e. It is significant, I think,
that Proclus in his commentary on the meadow of the myth of Er, quotes two
lines of Empedocles (B139) to illustrate the symbolism he finds in otherworldly
meadows, and preserves the phrase “the Meadow of Disaster” (In Platonis Rem
Publicam Commentarii II 157 Kroll). This meadow would be the opposite of the
“the meadows and groves of Persephone” that we find on a lamella from Thurii
(3.6–7), Graf and Johnston, Ritual Texts, 8–9.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

in all directions in frequent whirls . . . without pause (a(i)7–a(ii)3).”

The verb “to shoot” or “dart” (ἀί ̣ττω) describes the souls darting
up and down “like shooting stars” in Plato’s Myth of Er (Republic
10.621b). It is a rare verb in the Platonic corpus,20 but in Empedocles
the compound κατaΐττω describes the role of aither in respiration
(B100.7), the shoulders that dart up from divinity, and the divine
mind as it darts through the entire world (B135.2–5)—one might
say in Greek ἅμα νοήματι (at the speed of thought).21


The new evidence of the Panopolis papyri will take some time
to assess. I am sure that its assessments will not arrest the dispute
over Empedocles’ cosmic cycle or, perhaps, change many minds on
the question of Empedocles’ poems: did he write a single poem (as
the On Nature and the Purifications) or two separate poems (now
divided with the wisdom of Solomon as On Nature followed by the
Purifications). But I am equally sure that the “new Empedocles”
will no longer appear as the split personality severed between the
mystic and religious thinker of the Purifications and the philoso-
pher of nature of the radically different poem On Nature. The old
Empedocles was not a split personality. New interpretations have
weakened the barriers that have long divided the two poems, and
there is no need to review at this prophetic navel of the earth the
unitarian arguments of Charles Kahn, Catherine Osborne, or the
new and revised edition of the fragments by Brad Inwood.22
  The verb occurs elsewhere in both in Meno 100a and Republic 3.386d in a
quotation from Odyssey 10.495, where it describes the souls of the dead in Hades
(with the exception of Teiresias) flitting about.
  This reminds one of Heraclitus’ “A gleam of light is the dry soul, wisest and
best,” fragment CIX (reading αὐγή for αὐή, “dry”), in Charles H. Kahn, The
Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An edition of the fragments with translation and
commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
  I think of Charles Kahn’s “Religion and Empedocles’ Doctrine of the Soul,”
first published in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 42 (1960), 3–35, and
reprinted in a shorter version with retractions in The Presocratics: A Collection of
Critical Essays, ed. Alexander P. D. Mourelatos (New York: Anchor Press, 1974),
426–456; Osborne’s Rethinking Early Greek Philosophy: Hippolytus of Rome and
the Presocratics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 24–32 and 108–
131; and Inwood’s revised The Poem of Empedocles (of 2001).

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The reader used to the dispensation of the fragments by Diels

will be unsettled to find as fragment 1 in Inwood’s edition what has
long stood as the opening of the Purifications. This is fr. B112 DK,
the address of the divine Empedocles to the hospitable citizens of
Akragas, who treat him as a god, as he deserves, but also, it seems,
as a stranger. There is a tradition that Empedocles was actually
exiled from Akragas and found refuge in Syracuse. Thus, in the
biographical tradition that grew up nurtured by his first person
statements, he could speak of himself as a stranger as he returned
from exile to his native city in B112.23 My own sense of the situation
created by the Panopolis papyri is that we are confronted, again, as
we have been in the past, not only with the migration of fragments
of the Purifications into the On Nature but the destruction of the
religious and scientific barriers between the two poems.
The Strasbourg papyrus of Empedocles from Panopolis brings
us finally to Delphi. The papyrus bearing the poem of Empedocles
was converted into a crown for a Greek who lived and was buried
in Panopolis, a city well known for its library of Greek texts.24 The
person who wore the crown evidently found in the philosoph-
ical poem of Empedocles a prescription for his (or her) fate in
death. Very few of the papyri discovered in tombs or burnt during
a burial have any eschatological meaning for the deceased. The
recycled Greek elegiac poetry of The New Poseidippos was simply
converted to provide the pectoral for a mummy; the erotic epode of
Archilochos—now in Köln—served to embrace the body of another
mummy. But the Derveni papyrus with its laborious commentary
on a cosmogony of “Orpheus” offers the clearest precedent for the
connection between a text and the pious hopes for the afterlife of
the deceased.25

  This tradition, which Diogenes Laertius takes back to Apollodorus’ Chronicles
(8.52), seems inspired by the language of B112.1–4.
  The evidence is presented by Roger Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 103; also in a fuller context in
Panopolis: An Egyptian Town from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquests, eds.
A. Egberts, B. P. Muhs, and Jan van der Vliet (Leiden: Brill, 2002).
  The significance of this context is well stated by Gábor Betegh, The Derveni
Papyrus: Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2004), 56–59 and 65–73.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

Other grave texts (as they can be called) spring immediately to

mind.26 These are the inscribed lamellae or blades found in graves,
either directing the deceased in the afterlife or proclaiming his or
her immortality.27 In shape, they sometimes resemble the leaves of an
oak, olive, or laurel. They are usually of gold, the least destructible
of the four metals known to Hesiod (Works and Days, 109–201).
We know Empedocles’ reverence for the laurel (B140). These texts,
as we now know, are very wide spread: we find them in Macedonia
at Pella,28 Thessaly, Southern Italy, and even in Rome. In a gold
plate from Hipponion (Vibo Valentia in Calabria), the occupant
of the grave is instructed to say: “I am the son of Earth and starry
Ouranos.” He goes to the Lake of Memory and then joins other
initiates and devotees of Dionysos on a Holy Path.”29 A very similar
text incised in gold and deposited in a cinerary urn has come to rest
in the Getty Museum. In recently discovered texts from Thessaly, the
deceased proclaims himself as a god and no longer human, exactly
the claim Empedocles makes to the citizens of Akragas (B112.4–5):

ἐγὼ ̣ δ’ ὑμ ̣ῖν θεὸς ἄμβροτος, οὐκέτι θνητός

Πωλεῦμαι μετὰ πᾶσι τετιμένος, ὥσπερ ἔοικα.

In an Orphic lamella from Thurii, the person who bought this

gold leaf and had it inscribed is told that as he enters the Meadows
and Groves of Persephone he will have become a god, no longer a
human being: θεὸς ἐγένου ἐξ ἀνθρ̣ώπου (DK 1B20.4, Graf and

  They are cited as the immediate and most obvious parallels for the
posthumous use of the Panopolis papyri by Martin and Primavesi, L’Empédocle
de Strasbourg, 36–38. The Lake of Memory is perhaps best explained by Circe’s
description of the mental state of Teiresias who Persephone allowed to keep his
wits while the souls of the dead flit incessantly about him (Odyssey 10.487–495,
note 20 above).
  These have now been edited, illustrated, and commented on in the collection
of Graf and Johnston, Ritual Texts, 2007.
  I put the golden leaves from Pella in their larger context in Archilochos Heros:
The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
2004), 84–86.
  Conveniently but partially reproduced in Kirk, Raven, & Schofield, The
Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983),
29, and now in Graf and Johnston, Ritual Texts 1, 4–5.

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Diskin Clay

Johnston, Ritual Texts 1, 4–5). The difference in the two cases is

that Empedocles has come back to life as a god.
It might seem strange that Empedocles should greet his fellow
citizens as if he were a “stranger” (B112.3), but the philosopher
who recalls that in previous existences he has been “a boy and a
girl, a bush, a bird, and a fish” (B117) is a permanent stranger to
this world and, in his strange epic dialect, he speaks as one.30 At
least one reader of Empedocles in Panopolis seems to have made
no distinction between the Empedocles of the On Nature and the
Empedocles of the Purifications. A poet who was—or had become—a
god (as he proclaims himself already in B23.11) and had an access
to the divine narrative of life beyond death, provided this Greek
with his guide to the future. Like Apollo, for whom he is said to
have written a hymn (DL 8.57), Empedocles represents himself as
a prophet (as in B15).31 And the papyrus crown, with its gold and
copper leaves, replicated, as we have seen, the crown of Empedocles,
revered as a god in distant Akragas, “crowned with fillets and flower-
ing wreaths” (B112.6). Inevitably, this first person pronouncement
became part of the biographical tradition. In Philostratus’ Life of
Apollonius of Tyana, Apollonius declares to the emperor, Domitian,
that “Empedocles would tie a fillet of deep purple around his head
and stride majestically along the roads of the Greeks composing a
hymn to proclaim that from a human he would become a god.”
He came to be associated with the Panhellenic site of Olympia. As
a victor in a horse race (as a proper aristocratic Sicilian), he is said
to have “sacrificed” for the sacred delegates who had come there to
observe the games a bull confected of honey and barley meal; the
rhapsode Kleomenes is said to have recited his Katharmoi there.32

  His dialect is not Doric but Ionic and Homeric, as is proper for a “Presocratic”
writing in the tradition of Xenophanes (who migrated from Colophon to Zankle
[Messana] and Catana in Sicily), and Heraclitus and he provides his readers with
strange morsels such as καμαοῆ̣νες, meaning fish (in B72 and 74). The novelties
of his poetic diction are set out by Andreas Willi, Sikelismos: Sprache, Literatur,
und Gesellschaft im griechischen Sizilien (8.–5. Jh. v. Chr.), (Basel: Schwabe Verlag,
2008), 202–212.
  This is how Lucretius represented him (and others who believed in a world
made up of four elements), De Rerum Natura 1.726–740.
  DL 8.71 and 63.

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Empedocles at Panopolis and Delphi

Favorinus has him shod with bronze sandals and wearing a Delphic
wreath as he “moves majestically in the company of boys.”33 The
laurel was the shrub that Empedocles most revered (B127) and, as
did Apollo, he wore a wreath of it about his head. Empedocles also
carried a staff wreathed in Apollo’s wool and wore the headband
of a priest.34

  VA 8.7 = A18 and DL 8.73. The use of wool and the purple yielded by the
murex shell would have offended Pythagoras and Apollonius himself.
  The Delphic part of the title of this essay honors both the conference
assembled and organized by the HYELE Institute at the European Cultural
Centre at Delphi, 3–7 June 2009, and my long friendship with its honoré,
Charles H. Kahn. We first became friends on a trip of the American School
of Classical Studies at Athens to Delphi in the fall of 1963, and we stopped to
discuss the Homeric Hymn to Demeter in the striking ruins of the precinct of
Athena Pronaia below the crags of Parnassos. This written version of my talk in
Delphi preserves some memory of the setting where it was delivered.

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The Cosmogonic Moment
in the Derveni Papyrus
Richard McKirahan


The Derveni papyrus is widely acknowledged to contain a text of

great importance for the history of Greek literature, religion and
philosophy, to mention only three of the many disciplines that have
stakes in the papyrus and its interpretation. The text it contains is
a commentary on and an interpretation of an Orphic poem (which
I shall call the Derveni Poem or “DP”) which narrates a mythic
cosmogony. The author of the commentary (whom I shall call
the Derveni Author or “DA”) bases his interpretation closely on
DP, which he quotes frequently. But although the interpretation
is based on the text of DP, it is an allegorical interpretation which
ascribes to Orpheus, the supposed author of DP, a cosmogony of
a very different kind from that which DP contains. The situation
is somewhat similar to what we might find if Anaxagoras gave an
allegorical interpretation of Hesiod’s Theogony according to which
the account of the births of the gods in that work turns out to be
a cosmogony identical to Anaxagoras’ own. In effect, DA finds in
DP a presocratic-style account of the origin of the cosmos.
In the account of DA, the first event in the development and
history of the cosmos was the creation of the sun. Before this event
things existed, but their disposition and activities were not such
as to count as a cosmos. After the creation of the sun the cosmos
developed into the world around us. In fact, that was the triggering
event that enabled our world to develop. It was a necessary although
not a sufficient condition for this development to take place, and

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Richard McKirahan

it was the first in the causal chain of events that produced our
cosmos. In this paper I will explore a number of questions that arise
in connection with this primary event, with the hope of contrib-
uting to the understanding of the event itself and its significance
in cosmic history, and also to the understanding of some puzzling
passages in the text contained in the Derveni papyrus, which I shall
call the Derveni text.
I will refer to a number of presocratic cosmologies for purposes
of reference and possible clarification, but I will not have much to
contribute to the debate on DA’s sources and intellectual affilia-
tions. My intention is to discuss DA’s cosmogony, not the Orphic
poem DA is interpreting, or DA’s interpretive methods, or even the
consistency of DA’s cosmogony and cosmology with the contents of
DP. This is not to say that I regard these matters as unimportant for
understanding the Derveni text or indeed for understanding DA’s
cosmogony. I have simply restricted the scope of my project in an
attempt to keep it to a manageable size.
My discussion is based on the text established by Tsantsanoglou
and Parassoglou,1 although I do not always follow their proposals
about filling lacunae. The translations are my own. I am in general
less willing than Kouremenos2 seems to be to base my interpreta-
tion on highly conjectural restorations. The starting points for my
interpretation are the pioneering discussions in Betegh3 and KPT.
This paper is an attempt to treat DA’s (not DP’s) cosmogony in
a way frequently employed with the fragments of presocratic philos-
ophers. My goal is to understand the cosmogony and make sense of
it, applying the kinds of criteria and standards used in attempting
to piece together the systems of, say, Empedocles or Anaxagoras.
This typically involves identifying questions that are invited by the
surviving text, but whose answers are not given there, and attempt-
ing to find answers that make sense in terms of the information
provided by the surviving text and by the wider context in which
  Kouremenos, T., Tsantsanoglou, K. and Parassoglou, G. M., The Derveni
Papyrus (Florence, Italy: Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki, 2006). Hereinafter KPT.
  In his commentary on the papyrus in KPT.
  Betegh, G., The Derveni Papyrus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

the text was written. But however appropriate this approach may be
to the fragments of a presocratic cosmological work, it is not clear
how appropriate it is for a text like the one found in the Derveni
papyrus. Anaxagoras appears to have aimed to set out his views in a
consistent and systematic fashion and to have done so in a cultural
and intellectual context in which theories were debated on rational
grounds, objections were raised, and rival theories needed to be kept
in mind. On the other hand, since the Derveni text purports to be an
allegorical interpretation of an Orphic poem, and since it is unique
of its kind and for its date, it is unclear what standards of intellectual
rigor we can expect of DA. Obviously there is much more that can
be said on this matter. My point here is simply to acknowledge some
of the presuppositons of the approach I adopt in this paper and in
consequence some of the limitations of its conclusions.
An opportunity I was recently afforded to visit the Archaeological
Museum of Thessalonica and study the Derveni papyrus at first
hand has made it clear to me how terribly tentative any interpre-
tation of the text it contains must be, not only because the text is
incomplete but also because of the uncertainties connected with
restoring missing letters and words, because of the difficulties
involved in reading and restoring incomplete letters and sometimes
even in deciding whether or not a trace of a letter exists, and above
all because of the difficulties of reconstructing the text of the 26
partially surviving columns from almost 300 papyrus fragments
(some containing no more than a letter or two) that are preserved
between pairs of sheets of glass, where they are divided into groups
without reference to their original order.


DA makes a fundamental distinction between two kinds of
entities: those that always exist and those that do not always exist.
The text frequently refers to “things-that-are” (τὰ ὄντα, τὰ ἐόντα)
and “things-that-are-now” (τὰ νῦν ἐόντα) and less frequently to
“things-that-exist” (τὰ ὑπάρχοντα), “things-that-come-to-be” (τὰ
γινόμενα, XIX.6) and “things-that-will-be” (τὰ μέλλοντα, XIX.6).
It is not difficult to fit each of these latter descriptions to one of the

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Richard McKirahan

two kinds of entities mentioned above. The key claim that things-
that-are existed always and the things-that-are-now come to be
from things-that-exist (XVI.2, 8) shows that what DA refers to as
“things-that-are” are things that always exist and “things-that-are-
now” and “things-that-come-to-be” are things that do not always
exist. “Things-that-will-be” is most easily taken as a description of
entities in the latter category: they are “things-that-come-to-be” that
have not come to be yet. Finally, in its two occurrences the expres-
sion “things-that-exist” seems to be used as a synonym (perhaps for
stylistic reasons, to avoid repetition) of “things-that-are.”
The distinction between things-that-are and things-that-come-
to-be is the basis of an argument that goes as follows:

It existed before it was named. Then it was named.

For air was a thing-that-is before the things-that-
are-now were formed and it always will be. For it
did not come to be but it was. (XVII.1–3)

This passage is part of a column in which DA identifies Zeus as air

and explains that air existed before it received the name Zeus. The
argument presupposes the contrast between things-that-are-now,
which “were formed” and have “come to be,” and things-that-are,
which were “before the things-that-are-now were formed,” “always
will be,” and “did not come to be” but were. The gist of the argument
is that (a) if a permanent entity received a name at some time, it
existed prior to receiving the name, (b) air is a permanent entity,
therefore (c) air existed before receiving the name “Zeus.”
DA thus has a relatively simple two-level ontology like those of
Empedocles, Anaxagoras and the Atomists, an ontology that is quite
at home in the mid and late fifth century. There are (1) permanent
entities, things-that-are, and (2) transient entities, things-that-are-
now. The latter entities come to be from the former, but the former,
which always exist, continue to exist when the latter entities do. I
take it that DA is referring to individual cases, not kinds. Just as
Empedocles’ permanent elements fire, air, water and earth persist in
the individual compounds into which they are combined, so DA’s

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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

things-that-are persist in the things-that-are-now that are formed

from them.
Things-that-are are said to “combine” (συνίστασθαι [middle
voice]—IX.6) or “be compounded” (συμπήγνυσθαι—IX.8), and
things-that-are-now are said to “come to be” (γίνεσθαι—XVI.2, 8)
or “be formed” (συνίστασθαι [passive voice]—XVII.2, 8; XXV.9)
from things-that-are, which form them by being mingled together
( μίσγεσθαι—XXI.9). For this process to occur, the appropri-
ate things-that-are need to “come together” (συνιέναι—XXV.7;
συνέρχεσθαι—XXV.8). In some cases, simply the fact of proxim-
ity enables things-that-are to join into compounds. In other cases
compound formation is not simply aggregation; the resulting
thing-that-is-now is a compound of different kinds of things-that-
are which have been mixed so as to combine to form an entity
that is different from any of its ingredients. DA likens this process
to sexual union (XXI.7–10), but since he does so in the course of
explaining some of the divine names of Zeus, it is unclear how
literally he intends the image or how widely he intends it to apply.
It would press the evidence too hard to insist that DA made a clear
distinction between aggregation and combination, in other words
that by “combining,” “being compounded,” “being formed” and
“being mixed together” he meant something different from simple
“coming together,” but it is reasonable to say that his different
ways of expressing the relation between ingredients and products
are not necessarily intended to be synonymous and suggest that
he recognized or at least made room for different ways in which
products can be formed.
When a product has two or more things-that-are as ingredients,
the appearance of the product—alternatively, what the product is
called—is determined by which of the ingredients “dominates”
(ἐπικρατεῖν). As there are different ways in which “domination”
occurs, I will defer discussion of this concept until later in the
paper. Another topic that I defer for the same reason is the nature
of causation—what makes the things-that-are move and unite.

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Richard McKirahan


DP presents an Orphic theogony in which a prominent feature
is a succession myth. Ouranos was the first to rule.

Ouranos, son of Evening, who was the first of all

to reign. (XIV.6)
He was followed in turn by Kronos and Zeus.

After him in turn <reigned> Kronos, and then Zeus

wise in counsel. (XV.6)
The transitions of rule were violent. Kronos

did a great deed to Ouranos, since he deprived him

of the kingship. (XIV.8–9, cf. 5)
Presumably he castrated him.

Zeus from his father took the prophesied rule

and the strength in his hands. (VIII.4–5)

This act seems to have involved swallowing the penis of Ouranos,

which Kronos had presumably kept because it was the object that
conferred the strength/power to rule. I assume that in both cases
the transfer of the penis was a violent act.


DA’s cosmogony contains a rationalizing allegorical interpreta-
tion of the transition to the reign of Zeus. Zeus is identified with
intelligent air (XIX with XVIII.1–10), while the name “Kronos”
is etymologized as “Mind that Strikes” (κρούων νοῦς, XIV.7), and
“Ouranos” as “Mind that Defines” (ὁρίζων νοῦς, XIV.12).
The pre-cosmic state is characterized by the domination of fire,
which DA connects with Kronos. Evidence for this is found in cols.
IX and XIV–XV.
In col. IX, DA interprets the claim in DP that “Zeus took the
strength from his father” as meaning that Zeus removed fire from

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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

the mixture so that it could no longer prevent the things-that-are

from combining.

Knowing that when fire is mixed up with the other

things it agitates the things-that-are and prevents
them from combining because of fomentation, he
<i.e., Zeus> removed it <i.e., fire> far enough for it
not, once it is removed, to prevent the things-that-
are from being compounded. (IX.5–8)

Further DA says that Kronos as “Mind that Strikes” was the

cause of the things-that-are striking against one another (XIV.2–4).
I take it that the agitation referred to in IX.6 is the motion of the
things-that-are in the pre-cosmic state described there, and that this
is caused by their striking against one another through the action of
the dominant fire, which by heating (fomentation) prevents them
from aggregating or forming compounds. On this account the rule
of Kronos is the allegorical name for the pre-cosmic condition of
things marked by the dominance of fire.
KPT, however, hold that it was during the reign of Ouranos,
not of Kronos, that fire dominated. “The ‘reign of Ouranos,’ is the
fire era in the history of the universe, when air/Mind was causally
inert and all other basic entities were mixed together under the
action of the highly energetic fire on them.” The reign of Kronos
is “characterized by the collisions that took place when air/Mind
caused the constituents of the primordial mixture to separate on the
large scale and condense around a focal point of the nascent cosmos,
their particles moving in different directions and bumping on one
another as they were sorting like to like; air/Mind is called Cronus
because, having caused the breakup of the primordial mixture, it
also causes these collisional events. . . . By DA’s lights, the ‘reign of
Cronus’ (the cosmogony) is evidently the first part of the air/Mind
era in the history of the universe . . . [while] ‘the reign of Zeus’ . . .
stands for the entire air/Mind era.”
The distinct roles given to Kronos and Zeus both in DP and in
DA’s interpretation make the final claim in the preceding extract
hard to accept, since it makes the reign of Kronos identical with part

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Richard McKirahan

of the reign of Zeus. To be sure, DA insists that Mind has always

existed (XVII.1–3 with XVIII.9–12), and that Kronos is a phase
in the history of Mind, as is Zeus (and, on the text of col. XIV.12
translated above, Ouranos too). But both the myth in the DP and
DA’s allegorical interpretation of the myth seem to prohibit the
identification or partial identification of the divine figures and the
periods in the history of the universe that they are taken to represent.
Moreover, since Mind is an active entity with great causal efficacy,
it is hard to understand how it could ever have been “causally inert.”
The surviving fragments of the Derveni text give little informa-
tion about the rule of Ouranos. At the end of this paper I offer a
conjecture about the state of affairs in that phase.
According to DA’s interpretation, the poem is saying that Zeus
created the present cosmos out of things-that-are that already existed in
some form under the reign of Kronos. I conclude that as DA interprets
DP, prior to the formation of the cosmos the things-that-are were
dominated by fire. Since a thing is called after what dominates in it
(XIX.1–2), the entire mass of existent material would have been called
fire by a hypothetical observer; it would have appeared to be a single,
uniform gigantic fire. It seems that DA believed that heat imparts
motion to the things heated, and the greater the heat applied the more
rapid the motion. In this condition the things-that-are were unable to
combine either to form aggregates of a single kind of thing-that-is, or
compounds of more than one kind; in their agitated state, all that the
particles of various types could do was to strike against one another in
a series of essentially random collisions. Presumably the particles of fire
were imparting this motion to them by rushing around in amongst
them. Fire dominated the other things by being mixed with them
(ἀναμεμειγμένον—IX.5), clearly by being mixed with them as the
dominant partner in the mix. The result was a fiery magma in which
minute particles of fire moved rapidly among the minute particles
of other kinds and agitated them by pushing or stirring. As a result,
the other things-that-are are mixed (μίσγεται—IX.9) as well, not
only with fire but also with one another (τοῖς ἄλλοις—IX.5–6), but
not mixed so as to form compounds. DA holds that a thoroughgoing
random and rapidly changing mixture of microscopic particles of all

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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

kinds is no basis for an orderly cosmos; aside from the fact that fire is
dominant throughout, there is no order or organization of any kind.
In one sense there is a history of the period of fire’s domination,
but in another sense it has no history. Since during that period all we
have is minute particles in motion, we can conceive of its history as
the sum of the histories of all the minute particles, a record of their
positions at different times. There cannot be motion without time,
and the period in question is marked by an abundance of motion.
But from the viewpoint of a hypothetical observer, it always appears
the same: a huge mass that appears to be pure fire since the other
components are overwhelmed by the dominant fire. The particles
are invisible, no discernible events occur, and so a perhaps crude
application of the principle of the identity of indiscernibles will lead
to the conclusion that there was no change; therefore there were no
discernibly different states, and hence no discernibly different times
either. Clearly enough, this condition, left to its own devices, could
have continued ad infinitum. And clearly enough, it did not. The
pre-cosmic stage came to an end and the cosmogony began in what
I call the cosmogonic moment.


Since the predominance of fire and heat in the primal state
prevented the formation of compounds, let alone of a cosmos, the
most important thing that had to be done to render cosmogony
possible was to bring that dominance to an end. We can imagine
a number of ways in which this might come about, but one that is
ruled out is the annihilation of all or even some of the fire.
We saw above that the argument that air always exists is based
on the claim that air is a thing-that-is. The surviving text makes it
clear that fire has this same status; it existed before the things-that-
are-now. In addition, fire’s dominant role prior to the formation of
the cosmos corresponds to the dominant role of air in the formation
and maintenance of the cosmos. It would be entirely contrary to fifth
century thought for DA to have assigned such a role to a derivative
entity. But since fire is a thing-that-is, it will always be; it cannot
perish (cf. XVII.1–3).

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Richard McKirahan

This last claim must hold not only for fire (or any other
thing-that-is) in general (that is, there must always be some fire
in existence) but also for the total amount of fire as well as every
individual particle of fire, as is the case for Empedocles’ four roots
(for example). DA holds that when a certain amount of a thing-that-is
is an ingredient of a thing-that-is-now, it continues to exist qua the
thing-that-is in question while it is a component of the thing-that-
is-now (XV.8–10). But if he insists on this point in a case where
one might reasonably hold that the amount of a given thing-that-is
that is an ingredient of a certain thing-that-is-now ceases to be such
when it joins to form that thing-that-is-now (in the way that it would
be reasonable to say that when water is formed out of hydrogen
and oxygen, first there are hydrogen and oxygen and no water and
afterwards there is water but no hydrogen or oxygen: the hydrogen
and oxygen have ceased to be)—in other words, in a case where one
might reasonably suppose that the certain amount of the thing-that-is
perishes at least temporarily—it is hard to imagine him supposing
that any amount of a thing-that-is could perish in any other way.
The post-Parmenidean atmosphere that pervades the Derveni text
also strongly discourages this possibility.
Since fire dominated in the primal state by being mixed with
the other things-that-are, an obvious way to remove the obstacle that
fire presents to cosmogony is to remove the excess fire. And this is
what DA tells us happened. I suppose that the sun is DA’s allegorical
interpretation of the “glorious divinity” which the Orphic poem says
Zeus took from his father (VIII.4–5). DA further understands the
genital organ which Zeus swallows in the Orphic poem to be the
sun (XVI.1). Taken together, these two passages indicate that Zeus/
air/Mind removed (what became) the sun from the fiery state of
affairs that obtained in the pre-cosmic magma. The removal of the
fire to a distant (but not too distant) place is specifically mentioned
in the following passages:

Knowing that when fire is mixed up with the other

things it agitates the things-that-are and prevents
them from combining because of fomentation, he
<i.e., Zeus> removed it <i.e., fire> far enough for it

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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

not, once it is removed, to prevent the things-that-

are from being compounded. (IX.5–8 )
When the sun was being separated and confined
in the middle <Mind> coagulated them and it
holds them fast, both those above the sun and those
below. (XV.3–5)

The first of these passages says that the fire is removed to an appropri-
ate distance, and the second points out that it was “separated” (that
is, extracted from the primal mixture), specifies where it is located
(“in the middle”), and reassures us that it is confined there by Mind,
so we need not fear a return to the primal state. (I shall have more
to say about Mind below.)
By putting the sun “in the middle,” Mind made it possible for
things-that-are-now to be compounded. But the sun is not only set at
an appropriate distance, it is also set in motion. The sun’s motion is
the cause of the alternation of day and night, a phenomenon which
DA mentions in the following passage:

The depth of the night is “never setting” (ἄδυτον).

[For] it does not set as the light does, but the
sunlight overtakes it as it remains in the same place.

Further, the alternation of the sun’s warmth during the day

and the cool of the night promotes the formation and dissolution
of compounds, as the following passage shows:

Whatever the sun dissolves [by heating] the night

[combines by cooling] . . . whatever the sun heated.

These passages make it reasonable to hold that in DA’s cosmog-

ony the creation of the sun involved not only removing it to the
right distance but also endowing it with the correct diurnal motion
for the processes of the cosmos to take place.
One of the questions that has been raised regarding the assertion
that the sun is “in the middle” (XV.4) is whether the Derveni

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Richard McKirahan

cosmology is heliocentric. This would be an unexpected and truly

extraordinary view to encounter in a document of the nature and
date of the Derveni papyrus, so there has been an understandable
reluctance to adopt this interpretation. But the argumentation against
the heliocentric reading has not always been convincing. Indeed if
the phrase “in the middle” means “in the center of the cosmos,”
the conclusion seems inescapable.
But “middle” need not mean “center,” and the sun when formed
can hardly be in the middle of the cosmos, because there is not yet
any cosmos. The second of these points is not strong. Compare
Anaximander’s claim, “a kind of sphere of flame from this grew
around the dark mist about the earth like bark about a tree” (DK
12A10), referring to a stage in the cosmogony when the earth had not
yet been formed. The first point, however, has considerable weight.
I suppose that by saying that “the sun was being . . . confined in the
middle,” DA is simply saying that it is not at the edge, or extremity.
As we learn in X.11–13, translated shortly above, the heat of the
sun continues to play a role in the formed cosmos; the heat that
composes the sun is needed to maintain things as they now are;
so not only was it impossible to destroy the excess fire, it was also
contrary to the intention of the cosmic Mind to banish the excess
fire to a location so remote that it would have no further effect on
the world. Placing it at the extremity might seem to banish it in
this unacceptable way, so instead it was placed “in the middle” (not
too near and not too far) in a place where it could continue to play
its crucial role in the economy of the cosmos, as described in the
following passage:

Seeing that people believe that generation depends

on the [genital organs] and that without the genital
organs there is no coming to be, he used this
<word>, likening the sun to a genital organ, since
without the sun it would be impossible for the
things-that-are to come to be as they are. (XIII.7–11)

The sun is necessary for generation of things throughout the


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The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

If the god did not want the things-that-are-now to

exist, he would not have made the sun. (XXV.9–10)

Further, if, as seems certain, DA believed that the sun plays its
role in generation through its heat, and if, as seems equally certain,
DA supposed the amount of heat with which it affects something
has some kind of inverse relation to its distance from that thing
(hence the need to remove the sun a certain distance), then having
the sun “in the middle” in some vague sense of that expression
is a way to ensure that the right amount of heat for generation is
distributed widely in the cosmos. I think that it is unprofitable to
press the topography, the geometry or the thermodynamics of the
situation further than this.
A question that immediately arises is just how fire was separated
from the primal mixture and removed to the middle. What was
the agency and what was the mechanism? The Derveni text gives
little specific information aside from the crucial fact that the state in
which fire dominated came to an end that marked the beginning of
the period in which air dominates. Previously in the violent random
motion that characterized the rule of fire, which did not permit any
thing-that-is to aggregate, air (like the other things-that-are) did not
exist in a way that would have been discernible by a hypothetical
observer. After the rule of fire ended, air was discernible. However,
DA insists that air (qua thing-that-is) existed prior to the cosmos;
but because at one time it came to be discernible, it was wrongly
thought to have come to be and not to have existed previously.
This information is given in the following passage in which DA
rationalizes the myth of Zeus’ birth:

It existed before it was named. Then it was named.

For air was a thing-that-is before the things-that-
are-now were formed and it always will be. For it
did not come to be but it was. Why it was called
air has been shown above. It was thought to have
come to be because it had been named Zeus, as if
it previously were not a thing-that-is. (XVII.1–6)

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So Zeus is identified not simply with air, but as air that is dominant
in the present cosmic phase. In this way DA preserves Zeus’ primacy.
Even though air has not always ruled, Zeus took command as soon
as he was born; air became predominant as soon as enough of it had
aggregated, as soon as it had become Zeus.
DP’s graphic description of Zeus’ seizure of power from
Kronos by swallowing Ouranos’ genital organ, which Kronos had
severed when seizing power for himself, is hard to cash out in sober
cosmological terms. But DA interprets the violent transfer of power
mentioned in the verses quoted in VIII.4–5 as the change from
the dominance of fire to the dominance of air. In fact, air masters
(dominates) the fire that had prevailed before by separating some
of it and removing it from where it had been, isolating it, limiting it
in size and establishing it in a particular location and preventing it
from leaving that place. The event that constituted the cosmogonic
moment is the very act by which air established its dominance over
fire and thereby over the totality of things-that-are. That not all
the fire in the pre-cosmic magma was separated out and removed
is a further indication of air’s dominance; the intelligent air, which
“dominates all things as much as it wishes” (XIX.3–4) evidently
did not wish to place all the fire in the sun. Some fire is found on
earth, while other bits of fire constitute the stars, which the air
prevents from joining together or with the sun, as the following
passage describes:

Each of them <i.e., the particles of fire> floats in

necessity in order for them not to come together
with one another. Otherwise all that have the same
property as those from which the sun was formed
would come together in a mass. (XXV.7–9)

Air wished things to come to be and perish as they do; for this
to happen it needed to cause a certain amount of fire (no more and
no less) to separate, remove it to a certain distance, keep it there,
and ensure that it was not increased by the accretion of additional
fire and that no other sizeable fiery mass arose elsewhere in the
heavens. It is likely that fire during its dominance had nothing to

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correspond to this intelligent, purposive, volitional and possibly

benevolent character of air. Fire just permeated the minute particles
of the other things-that-are and kept them from uniting. There was
no room for volition, no planning and no choice, since there was
no change and no prospect for change.
The passage under discussion suggests that left to themselves,
the particles of fire now floating “in necessity” would come together
in a mass, and perhaps join with the sun, with catastrophic results
for the cosmos. Elsewhere DA shows that the tendency of like to
come together with like is widespread:

By saying “jump” he shows that divided up into

small pieces, they were moving and jumping in
air, and as they were jumping the pieces of each
kind were set together with one another. They
continued to jump until each of them came to its
like. (XXI.1–5)

This seems to describe the state of affairs after the sun had been
formed and put into its right place. The dominance of fire in the
pre-cosmic mix had overwhelmed this tendency, but upon the
removal of most of the fire and heat, the tiny particles of things-that-
are that had been in random motion in the fiery magma continued
to move in the now-dominant air, but since the air did not impede
this tendency they were able to aggregate each to its like. This
seems to indicate a period of aggregation prior to the formation of
The text does not make clear whether all the particles of each of
the kinds of things-that-are came together, so that all the microscopic
particles of water, say, were aggregated in one place and all the
particles of earth in another, or whether there came to be a plurality
of aggregations of particles of each kind of thing-that-is, perhaps a
large number of small macroscopic collections. The former possibility
would resemble the state of the dominance of Strife in Empedocles’
cosmic cycle, where the totality of each element is gathered together
in one separate mass. But in Empedocles this is an extreme state (not
an intermediary one), and it occurs under the dominance of one of

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the two opposing motive entities in the system. In fact, the cosmos
as we know it exists neither in the period of Strife’s total dominance
nor in that of Love’s. Our cosmos is a temporary (although recurring)
by-product of the movement of the four elements under the influence
of Love and Strife as they reciprocally wax and wane in power. By
contrast, DA’s cosmology has only one dominant motive entity—
air—and it is this that brings the cosmos into being and maintains
it. There is not the same motivation for an extreme state of separation
as we find in Empedocles. I find these considerations against the
first possibility powerful if not conclusive.
On the second possibility, if we suppose that DA is saying that
the totality of each of the things-that-are was aggregated into a
plurality of homogeneous macroscopic bundles, then it is possible
further to suppose that DA held that those bundles contained the
amount of aggregation needed to form compounds. (The idea
here would be that the microscopic particles of a thing-that-is are
individually unable to enter into compounds.) Such uncompounded
bundles might be said to “float” (αἰωρεῖν) in the dominant air, as
DA describes the stars:

There are others <i.e., other particles of fire> too

now in air floating far from one another, but by
day they are invisible because they are dominated
by the sun, while at night it is evident that they are.
They are dominated on account of their smallness.
Each of them floats in necessity in order for them
not to come together with one another. Otherwise
all that have the same property as those from which
the sun was formed would come together in a mass.

The kind of interaction that brings about compounds requires a

critical mass of each ingredient thing-that-is.
The question remains how air came to dominate where fire had
dominated before—how the domination passed from fire to air. The
answer depends on what it is to “dominate” (ἐπικρατεῖν). There
has been much discussion of a possible link to Anaxagoras, in whose

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theory there is a large and arguably infinite number of kinds of stuffs

and qualities intermixed with one another—a portion of everything
in everything, with no minimum-sized portions. Anaxagoras held
that “each single thing is and was most plainly those things that
are present in it in the greatest amount” (DK 59B12)—a lump of
gold contains portions of all kinds of things, but contains more gold
than anything else; hence it “is most plainly” gold. The surviving
fragments of Anaxagoras do not contain the word ἐπικρατεῖν, but
Simplicius uses it twice in reporting Anaxagoras’ theory. The word
is as old as Homer and was commonly used in the fifth century by
Anaxagoras’ contemporary Herodotus.
The meanings of ἐπικρατεῖν range from the very concrete to the
abstract. In Homer it means “rule over,” “hold power,” and “prevail
in battle”; in Herodotus, “prevail over” an enemy, “become master
of” a situation or of the sea, and generally “be superior.” According to
LSJ, the use of the word to mean “prevail” in a “metaphorical” sense
begins with Plato, and all but one of the passages cited for that use are
from philosophers. If the word appeared in Anaxagoras’ fragments, it
would have been the first recorded usage in this “metaphorical” sense.
Since I believe that there are serious problems in making sense
of this part of Anaxagoras’ theory I will not go into that matter
here. I will just point out that there is no reason to think that
DA held anything like Anaxagoras’ theory of matter, apart from
his prominent and frequent use of the word ἐπικρατεῖν. There is
nothing to suggest infinite divisibility of matter; to the contrary, “the
things-that-are” are microscopic particles (“divided up into small
pieces,” XXI.2). There is no indication that there are an infinite
number of kinds of “things-that-are.” And there is no reason to
suppose that DA believed that there is a portion of everything in
everything (DK 59B6).
If we give up on an Anaxagorizing interpretation and return to
uses of ἐπικρατεῖν attested before Plato, a different picture emerges.
When fire dominates, that must mean that fire is superior (in
some way or another) to everything else. When air dominates, that
means the corresponding thing for air. Air’s taking over the mastery
from fire means that air came to rule over fire and everything else,
whereas previously fire was ruling over air and everything else. In

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mythological accounts regime change can be the result of a battle

(as in Hesiod’s account of the battle between gods and titans), but
in more sober cosmogonies there is no place for battles, and not
infrequently the cause and nature of the cosmogonic event is left
unclear. (Anaximander’s cosmogony is a good example of this; also
Anaxagoras’.) As far as the evidence goes, this may well have been
the case for DA’s cosmogony too.
The word ἐπικρατεῖν is general enough that fire and air need
not dominate in the same way. I have already suggested as much.
If my suggestion is right, domination fire-style consists of being in
among everything else and violently making the other things move
around in a random way so that they cannot become organized.
Air-style domination is something different, involving intelligence
and choice, and also causing things-that-are to join together to form
things-that-are-now and causing such compounds to perish. Some
things air dominates by keeping them apart.
The present passage tells us that the stars are prevented from
uniting into a large mass of fire for a purpose—and this purpose
must be air’s purpose in maintaining the cosmos in its present
constitution. We learn here as well that in certain cases other things
than air dominate; air’s purpose is not to dominate everything, but
to dominate certain things at certain times. The stars are dominated
by the sun during the day “on account of their smallness.” The
sun is so bright that the puny brightness of the tiny stars cannot
be seen. This is also indicated in another passage that contains the
word in question:

The things-that-are are called each one after what

dominates. (XIX.1–2)

A lump of gold is called gold because gold dominates in it. The

other ingredient particles are as invisible as the stars are during the
day. To this extent (and no further) it is reasonable to compare DA
with Anaxagoras.
The immediately following lines reveal more about air’s

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For air dominates all things as much as it wishes . . .

the intelligence of Zeus sanctioned the way in which
the things-that-are, the things-that-come-to-be,
and the things-that-will-be should come to be and
be and cease. He <Orpheus> likens air to a king
. . . saying as follows: Zeus the king, Zeus the ruler
of all, he of the bright thunderbolt. He says that he is
[king] because one [of the authorities <namely, the
royal authority>] has power over [? all the others]
. . . and accomplishes all things. (XIX.3–12)

Here we have a clear indication of the essential difference between

the way air dominates in the cosmos and the way fire dominated in
the pre-cosmic phase. What dominates in the cosmos is intelligent
air, no longer an overwhelmingly powerful material substance that
dominates, as it were, by brute force. The intelligence (φρόνησις) of
Zeus is exercised in making and executing plans for the generation
and maintenance of the cosmos (“the way in which the things-that-
are, the things-that-come-to-be and the things-that- will-be should
come to be and be and cease”). Thus, the intelligent air determined
the location of the sun:

[? in order to stop the heat from] striking them

<i.e., the things-that-are> against one another and
[in order to] make the things-that-are separate for
the first time and stand apart from one another.
This is why

<Mind> coagulated (πήξας) them and it holds

them fast, both those above the sun and those
below. (XV.4–5)
Also why “Zeus wise in counsel” (μητίετα) (XV.6, 11) is described as

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striking the things-that-are against one another and

setting them apart toward their present reconfigu-
ration. (XV.8–9)
According to DA, the cosmos is the product of intelligent design.
The following passage emphasizes the supreme importance of

Mind, being alone, is worth everything [as] if the

others were nothing. For without Mind it is not
possible for the things-that-are-now to be [? through
them]. (XVI.10–12)

In the first sentence I take “the others” (the antecedent of “them” in

the second sentence) to refer to the things-that-are and the second
sentence to assert that without (the existence or operation of) Mind,
things-that-are cannot produce things-that-are-now. Without Mind,
the things-that-are-now could not be; all the things-that-are-now
would not be produced by the things-that-are acting alone without
Mind. The operation of Mind is a necessary condition for the
formation of things-that-are-now and so for the formation and
maintenance of the cosmos.
On this understanding, it is not important whether “everything”
in the first sentence refers to the things-that-are, to the things-that-
are-now, or to both. If it refers to the things-that-are-now, then the
claim that Mind is worth all of them as if the others (the things-
that-are) were nothing is a way of stating that Mind is a necessary
condition for their generation and continued existence; without
Mind, the others could generate none of them. If it refers to the
things-that-are, then the claim that Mind is worth all of them
(that is, it is worth all of them put together) may be taken either
as a way of saying that by themselves the things-that-are could not
have generated the things-that-are-now, so that if Mind did not
exist, from the point of view of generating the things-that-are-now, the
things-that-are might as well not exist, or more strongly as claiming
that without Mind, all the things-that-are together could not have
generated even one thing-that-is-now. Alternatively and perhaps

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more plausibly it might be pointing out that if intelligent air had

not replaced fire as the dominant substance, the things-that-are,
although existing, would have continued to exist in scattered tiny
particles unable either to aggregate into discernible parcels of their
individual kind or to form compounds. Finally and in my view most
plausibly, if “everything” refers both to the things-that-are and to
the things-that-are-now, the claim is that Mind is responsible for
the change from the fiery magma under the rule of Kronos to the
generation of the cosmos under Zeus, without which neither the
things-that-are nor the things-that-are-now could have emerged.
These interpretations take “being alone” ( μόνον ἐόντα) as
equivalent to “all by itself in its own right.” Another possibility is
to take it temporally: “when it was alone,” that is, when it was the
only entity. In that case the claim will be that when Mind was the
only existing thing, it was able to generate the other things without
assistance. But this contradicts DA’s belief that things-that-are have
always existed. Alternatively, it might be taken to refer to an early
stage of the cosmogony, when air has taken over from fire, but has
not yet separated out and removed the fire that will form the sun.
Such a state would be a natural way to interpret the lines of DP
being discussed in XVI.3–6:

Of the genital organ of the first born king, on which

all the immortals grew, blessed gods and goddesses,
and rivers and lovely springs, and all other things
that had then been born, and he himself, therefore,
came to be alone. (XVI.3–6)

μόνον ἐόντα is on this view a paraphrase of the last words: “and he

himself came to be alone.” Kouremenos in his commentary on this
passage says that these lines of the poem “describe the absorption
in Zeus of the cosmos Protogonos had created.”4 So this previous
cosmos, which contained gods and goddesses, rivers, springs, and
other things, was swallowed by Zeus, who at that point was the
only thing in existence, and who then proceeded to generate from
himself the present cosmos.

  KPT, 215.

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Richard McKirahan

But whatever the Orphic poem may have said about the state
of things prior to Zeus’ rule, it is clear that DA leaves no room for a
pre-cosmic cosmos. The primal phase had no gods, goddesses, rivers,
springs, or anything else, except a lot of fire and the other “things-
that-are,” in a condition that cannot be described as a cosmos at
all. So although it seems likely that DA is paraphrasing the poem’s
statement about Zeus being solitary, the interpretation he gives to
the statement is quite different. At no stage in the cosmogony is air
the only existing thing, and at no stage does air take fire’s place as
the thing that presides over a chaotic motion of the things-that-are.
Because of the excessive heat, the things-that-are will continue to be
dominated by fire until a lot of fire is removed, and only when it is
removed can the things-that-are be brought to unite into discern-
ible-sized entities (XXI.2–5). I suppose, then, that when DA speaks
of the Mind as “being alone” he is referring to the dominance of
intelligent air, which is alone in that (as he explains at XVI.10–12)
it has no rivals and controls all things, but certainly not alone in
that there are no other things-that-are.
However, there is an aspect to the control that air exercises
over all things that needs to be stressed. Whereas fire’s domina-
tion consisted in overwhelming everything else, air’s domination
functions differently. Here the basic text is:

The things-that-are are called each one after what

dominates . . . air dominates all things as much as
it wishes. (XIX.1–4)

Clearly not all things are called air. For example, what we call water
is characterized by the domination of water. There may be some air
in it, and perhaps some or many or even all other things-that-are
as well, but the dominant element is water, not air, and this is why
it appears as water. In other words, air is not a micro-manager: its
dominance does not consist in its being dominant in all places at
all times. But air is very much in control. It dominates all things,
but does not wish to dominate them all entirely. Thus, since it
does not wish all the fire to join together, it keeps some particles of
fire “floating far from one another” (XXV.3–4); it even allows the

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bright fire of the sun to dominate these particles during the daytime,
making them invisible (XXV.4–6). I will avoid the temptation to
talk about management style, but clearly the reign of Zeus makes
possible a kind of organized system (in which each member is always
subservient to the wishes of the wise ruler) that was unthinkable
under the rule of Kronos.

The transfer of dominance from fire to air is embodied,
displayed, and established by the separation of fire from the primal
mixture and the formation of the sun. Something the Derveni text
does not emphasize is that this change entailed other changes which
should be regarded not as effects of this event, but as aspects of the
same event.
I start with an account of the beginning of the Pythagorean
cosmogony that is probably due to Philolaus. In this cosmogony,

The world is one, and from the unlimited time and

breath were brought in, as well as the void which
distinguishes the place of each thing in each case.
(Aristotle, frag. 201, trans. Huffman)

Time, breath, and void are mentioned here, all at the beginning
of the cosmogony. They seem to be necessary conditions for other
entities to be created. Time, since in the cosmos things have temporal
existence; breath as the material principle (as in Anaximenes or
Diogenes of Apollonia); and void as a principle of individuation (as
in fifth-century atomism): void is in between things and thus makes
it possible for things to be distinct, occupying different locations
and not coinciding with one another. I think that all these three
aspects of existence are found in DA’s cosmogony, brought into
being at the cosmogonic moment.
First, the material principles. DA does not claim that all things
are forms of air (as Anaximenes and as Diogenes of Apollonia do) or
that at the beginning of the cosmos there was only air and that other
kinds of entities were formed out of it. For DA the things-that-are
had no beginning and will have no end. They were in the primal

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magma in the form of minuscule particles, and once conditions were

right they could move and join together to form macroscopic objects.
The cosmogonic moment is what brought those conditions about.
Second, the possibility of individuation. I propose that in DA’s
cosmogony air is what “distinguishes the place of each thing,” one
of its roles corresponding to the role of void in the Pythagorean
cosmology. It was air that separated fire from the primal magma,
that removed it to a particular location and that keeps it there. In
the heavens, the stars float—presumably they float in air. Also in
the part of the cosmos that we observe, air surrounds things and
keeps them spatially distinct.
Third, time. I indicated above that there is reason to suppose
that time did not exist in the primal state, since in an important
sense there were no events, no change, no way to distinguish one
time from another. But the separation and removal of fire was an
event and it led to other events, including the formation of the
cosmos and the maintenance of the cosmos with all the events that
take place in it.
Assuming that the verse quoted in XII.2 is contiguous with the
verse quoted in XI.10, DP says that Night

proclaimed all that it was [right] for him [to

in order that he might [? rule] on the lovely
dwelling-place of snow-clad Olympus.
DA identifies Olympus as time.
Before going on to discuss the origin of time, I want to make a
point about DA’s justification for this identification, which is found
in the following passage:

Those who think that Olympus and the heaven

are the same are completely mistaken. They do not
understand that the heaven cannot be longer rather
than wider, but if someone were to call time “long”
he would not be completely mistaken. Whenever he
wanted to say “heaven” he added the epithet “wide,”

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while whenever <he wanted to say> [“Olympus”]

he never <added> “wide,” but “long.” (XII.3–10)

Brisson, followed by Betegh, sees this as an argument for the

conclusion that Olympus is time and not heaven. He offers a logical
reading of the passage, holding that the argument rests on the
principle that “if φ can be predicated of a but not b, then a and b
cannot be identical. On the other hand, if φ can be predicated of
both a and c, a and c can be identical.” This principle governs part
of the reasoning, but not all. The question being treated is in fact
not whether Olympus is identical with anything, but what it means
in DP, and it is settled on the basis of the language of the poem. DA
reasons as follows: the poem consistently calls heaven “wide” and
consistently calls Olympus “long”; “wide” is a plausible epithet for
heaven, but “long” is not. On the other hand, “long” is a plausible
epithet for time. This reason hardly proves that Olympus represents
time; after all, time is not the only thing that is long. Nor does it
prove that Olympus is not the heaven, since Olympus might be wide
as well as long. At most it provides some evidence that the author
of DP intended to speak of time when he wrote “Olympus”—but
this is weak evidence at best.
The question that concerns us here, though, is the origin of
time. Another question whose answer bears on this is why DA
brings in time at all at this stage of his discussion of the cosmog-
ony. If, as seems likely but not necessary, DA is commenting on
DP in approximately the order of its verses, then these references
to Night, her prophesies and Olympus occurred about the time of
Zeus’ seizing the rule from Kronos; so it is important for DA to give
them an allegorical interpretation suitable for the corresponding
stage of the cosmogony, which he does in X–XIII. My suggestion
is that the first event in time was the separation and removal of the
sun. This can be stated differently: the cosmogonic event brought
time into existence.
Finally, Night. “Light” and “Night” are the two principles of
the cosmology appearing in Parmenides’ Opinions of Mortals. In
opposition to Light, which is described as a fire which is mild and
very light, Night is characterized as dark, dense, and heavy (DK

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28B8 line 59). There is no cosmogony in Parmenides, but the two

contrasting cosmic principles may have some connection with DA’s
fire and night. In Anaximander’s cosmogony the first discernible
entities generated from the primeval apeiron are the hot and the cold,
identified or associated respectively with flame and dark mist. Once
generated, the hot and the cold interact to generate the cosmos. There
are clear signs that DA held a similar view. Fire, or more specifically
the sun, is called “the brightest and hottest” (XIV.1), while Night,
which is obviously dark, has a cooling effect (X.12) and so is itself
cold. The following passage makes it clear that night and the sun
have opposite powers and that their interaction is essential to the
maintenance and presumably also the formation of the cosmos:

By calling her <i.e., Night> “nurse” he <i.e., Orpheus>

says in riddles that whatever the sun dissolves [by
heating] the night [combines by cooling]. (X.11–13)

How, then did night come into being? I propose that the same
event that generated the sun generated night as well. DA describes
this event as an act of separation and removal. Most of the bright
hot fire was separated and removed from the primal magma. What
was left? Since none of the things-that-are can perish, what was left
was everything that was in the primal magma, minus most of the
fire. But that means that the remainder, having lost most of its light
and heat, was predominantly dark and cold, which are the principal
characteristics of night. Thus sun and night are twins; not identical
twins of course, but coeval opposite twins.
This proposal immediately faces a powerful objection: that in
the Orphic theology implicit in DP, Night is a primeval goddess, the
mother of Ouranos the first king, who has the matronymic, “son
of Evening” ( Εὐφρονίδης, XIV.6), where evening (Εὐφροσύνη) is
another name for night ( Νύξ). It is the goddess Night, the “nurse”
of Zeus (X.11) who so prominently assists Zeus in his rise to power,
proclaiming encouraging oracles (XI–XII). Since Night pre-exists
Zeus, who created the sun, Zeus could not have created night
together with the sun.

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My reply is to distinguish DP’s mythology from DA’s cosmol-

ogy. Kronos no longer appears in DA’s cosmology, but fire does;
likewise the ancient goddess Night has no place there, but night
does. The point at which DA shifts from recounting the myth of DP
to interpreting it cosmologically is quite clear, and this holds for his
treatment of Night/night. This is crystal clear in the passage quoted
just above: “says in riddles” (αἰνίζεται) is a way DA frequently
announces his allegorical interpretations. And here we see him
abruptly changing from talk of oracle-giving Night’s being called
“all-uttering” to the role of night in the cosmos.
Shortly afterward we find another allegorical account, this time
indicated by the word “intending” (ποιούμενος γνώμην):

[He says] that she “proclaims oracles from the

[innermost shrine (ἄδυτον)],” intending that the
depth of the night is “never setting” (ἄδυτον). [For]
it does not set as the light does, but the sunlight
overtakes it as it remains in the same place. (XI.1–4)

This time the interpretation depends on two meanings of ἄδυτον.

In the myth it must mean “innermost shrine,” a typical place for an
oracle to be delivered. But in the cosmology it is given a different
meaning, explaining that night and day do not alternate; rather,
while there is daytime only when the sun is up, night is always
present, only we cannot see it during the day because the sunlight
overwhelms it (in the same way that the stars are rendered invisi-
ble during the daytime because they are dominated by the sun,
XXV.4–6). Thus unlike the sun, it never sets.
The mythological purpose of Night’s oracles,

in order that he might [? rule] on the lovely dwelling

place of snow-clad Olympus (XII.2)
is expounded by stating that Olympus refers not to the heaven, but
to time (not the Orphic god Chronos, who seems not to appear in
the theogony of the DP)—that is, the verse means “in order that
he might rule for a long time.”

— 105 —
Richard McKirahan

In DA’s cosmology night functions as the opposite of fire. By

cooling where fire heats and combining where fire dissolves, night
ensures stability in the world order. Betegh attempts to connect
night with time, on admittedly weak evidence. Still, the interest in
time that DA shows in his puzzling statement,

If there were no moon, people would not have

discovered how to reckon (literally, “would not
have discovered the number of”) the seasons or the
winds (XXIV.10–12)
might lead us to expect him to call attention to the importance of
night in reckoning days. But there is nothing in the surviving parts
of the Derveni text to show that he did so, and it is also conceivable
that his interests were not in subdividing days or counting them,
but in telling, for example, when winter will be over or when the
meltemi (strong north summer winds) will begin (a typical answer
to such questions might be: two months (= two full lunar cycles)
from now—and the inaccuracy inevitable with such predictions
might not have been considered an objection to their usefulness as
rough guides).


And he said that this <i.e., air> will be “last” because

it was named Zeus and this will continue to be its
name until the things-that-are-now are formed
into the same state in which they were previously
floating as things-that-are. (XVII.6–9)

This passage states that after some point, air will no longer be called
Zeus, which must mean that air will cease to rule. Zeus is only air’s
name for the time being; the cosmos will eventually (for unspecified
reasons) come to an end. In that state “the things-that-are-now are
formed into the same state in which they were previously floating
as things-that-are”; there are no aggregates of particles of things-
that-are and no compounds. (The other occurrences of the word

— 106 —
The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

“float” [αἰωρεῖσθαι] describe the condition of the tiny particles

of fire that constitute the stars in the present state of the cosmos,
floating in the air and prevented from combining into a larger mass
of fire: XXV.4, 7.)
The post-cosmic state will be “the same” as before, but to what
previous period is DA referring? I will discuss five possible answers
to this question. One possibility is the period of fire dominance.
This possibility is favored by Kouremenos.5 For that state to recur,
fire would have to regain the dominance it lost to air. This possibility
is not excluded, but DA uses “strike” rather than “float” in connec-
tion with the forced, random, violent motion of the particles of the
things-that-are during the reign of fire. I think it unlikely that he
would use the word “float” to make the point that after the cosmos
is dismantled the things-that-are once again become a fiery magma.
A second possibility is that in the post-cosmic state the things-
that-are revert to the state that obtained prior to the reign of fire.
Betegh favors this interpretation, holding that in that state too air
dominated, so that DA speaks of a total of three different successive
phases: (1) a (pre-fiery) first reign of air, (2) the reign of fire, (3) a
(cosmic) second reign of air, which is followed by a state identical
to the first reign of air. In other words, the post-cosmic phase is
identical with (is a repeat of) phase (1). Betegh holds that this passage
“demonstrates that the author’s cosmogony is cyclical.”
I am unwilling to go quite so far. A cyclical process is one that
repeats itself—one revolution of the wheel followed by another—
whereas there is nothing in the text to “demonstrate” that each
reign of air is succeeded by a reign of fire and vice versa. On the
other hand, the text is compatible with a cyclical cosmogony and
DA may have held such a view.
The third and fourth possibilities are invited by the suggestion
that after the sun was formed there was a period of time before
compounds (things-that-are-now) were formed. Two things happened
during this period. First, the minute particles of things-that-are
“jumped” in the air and second, particles of each “thing-that-is”
aggregated into macroscopic clumps: some clumps consisting of

  KPT, 223.

— 107 —
Richard McKirahan

water, some of earth, etc. (assuming that water and earth are among
the things-that-are) (XXI.1–5). The third possibility is that the prior
state referred to in XVII.8–9 is the state in which the minute particles
were jumping in air, and the fourth possibility is that it is the state
in which the particles are aggregated into pieces of things-that-are.
DA may have intended either of these interpretations, but there are
difficulties either way. The problem for the third interpretation is that
DA describes the motion of the things-that-are in the post-cosmic
state as “floating,” whereas floating seems to be a different kind of
motion from the “jumping” motion of the individual particles called
for on the interpretation in question. The problem for the fourth
interpretation is that the other occurrences of the word “floating”
refer to the motion of the particles of fire which are the stars, where
the floating objects are better taken as individual particles rather
than aggregations, since the intelligent air keeps them floating “far
from one another” (XXV.3–4) precisely in order to prevent them
from aggregating (XXV.7–8).
Finally, the fifth possibility is that the post-cosmic state referred
to is a return to the state that obtained before the dominance of fire,
and that this condition was not (as in Betegh’s account) identical
with the present state. I argued above that this period corresponds
to the rule of Ouranos. We are told disappointingly little about
Ouranos aside that he “was the first of all to reign” (XIV.6) and
that Kronos “did a great deed” to him and “deprived him of the
kingship” (XIV.8–9). Another passage (heavily restored) says more:

For when all the things-that-are [? were not yet

being struck, Mind,] as [? defining (ὁρίζων)] nature,
[? received the designation Ouranos. He says that
he] was deprived [of his kingship] when the things-
that-are [? were being struck]. (XIV.11–14)

On this account, Ouranos defined nature, then Kronos

(“Striking Mind”—XIV.7) dominated the things-that-are in the
fiery primal magma, then Zeus dominated the things-that-are
and allowed them to form a cosmos. We are not told anything
about the motion of things under the reign of Ouranos, but it is

— 108 —
The Cosmogonic Moment in the Derveni Papyrus

most likely to have been different from the violent motion under
Kronos. A more gentle motion, then, or even no motion at all.
Ouranos’ work of defining nature may have consisted in defining
the nature of the things-that-are. Not generating them, of course,
but somehow organizing them, perhaps determining what things
the things-that-are are, giving each particle its identity as a particle
of a particular kind of thing-that-is. No particular kind of motion
would be needed in this state, but, as physical entities, they would
need to be somewhere, and as distinct physical entities they would
need to be in different locations from one another. “Floating” is a
word that DA might have used for that condition. In that case there
would be little or no motion under Ouranos, violent random motion
under Kronos, and orderly motion under Zeus. As with Betegh’s
interpretation, the return to the state under Ouranos suggests the
possibility of cyclicity, but there is no proof.
However, we need to wonder whether “floating” is appropriate
here. A raft floats on water, the stars float in air (XXV.3–4) or in
necessity (XXV.7), where “necessity” is plausibly interpreted as
referring to air, which dominates and controls all things. What will
the particles be floating in when air is not dominant? Is Ouranos an
allegory for any particular kind of substance in which they could
float, as Zeus is for air? Could the particles be said to float “in
necessity” under Ouranos (who defined their natures) in that they
are dominated and controlled by him? Could they float in Ouranos
even if he is not identified with any substance? These questions and
the possibilities they raise are intriguing, but since the evidence in
the Derveni papyrus hardly provides answers to them (particularly
in view of the amount of supplementation needed to arrive at the
text translated above), I content myself with having posed them
and leave it to others to pursue the quest further.
In the end it is apparent that the decision on DA’s eschatological
views depends heavily on the interpretation we adopt of his cosmog-
ony and on the allegorical identifications he makes with the myth
of the DP. If I am right in thinking that Ouranos, Kronos, and
Zeus represent three different phases in the history of the universe,
and that Kronos and Zeus represent respectively the phase in which
fire dominates and that in which air dominates, and that the three

— 109 —
Richard McKirahan

divinities also represent three different phases in the history of Mind,

respectively (the phase in which Mind determines the nature of each
of the minute particles, the phase in which the particles are swamped
by fire and are unable to form either aggregates or compounds, and
the phase in which the cosmos is formed and maintained) then the
last discussed possibility—that upon the dissolution of the cosmos
there is a return to the initial state—has a powerful attraction,
with its suggestion of the possibility that the process is cyclical.
But the fourth possibility, in which the next stage in the history
of the universe is a return to the immediately previous one, should
by no means be excluded—with the possibility that the current
state is the acme, following which there will be a decline through
successive previous states until this way, too, in the end there is a
return to the initial state.

— 110 —
Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?
John M. Dillon
The character and true purposes of Plato’s wicked cousin Critias
have long been a subject of interest and dispute. The second century
ce sophist Philostratus, for instance, in his Lives of the Sophists
(I 16: 501–3), begins his evaluation thus:

Critias the sophist, even if he was instrumental

in overthrowing democracy at Athens, is not yet
necessarily to be declared evil—the democracy,
after all, might have been overthrown by its own
impetus, since it had become so overbearing that it
would not take heed even of those who were trying
to govern it according to its own laws—but seeing
that he conspicuously went over to Sparta, and
betrayed the sacred sites; that he was instrumental,
through the agency of Lysander, in demolishing the
city walls; that he deprived the Athenians whom
he drove into exile of any haven in all Greece by
warning that any harbouring of the Athenian exiles
would mean war with Sparta; that in savagery and
bloodthirstiness he was outstanding even among
the Thirty; that he sided with the outrageous plan
of Sparta to give Attica the appearance of a mere
pasture for sheep by emptying her of her human
herd: for all this I hold him to be the basest of all
men who have a name for baseness.

This is a pretty comprehensive denunciation, and it does indeed

represent the image of Critias that has been bequeathed to posterity.

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John M. Dillon

That is not, however, quite the whole story, even for Philostratus.
There also survived, in rhetorical and literary circles, a tradition
of Critias, the master of Attic prose (as well as of Critias, the
accomplished and witty versifier), which is more or less indepen-
dent of his noxious political reputation. Philostratus himself, once
he has got the denunciation of Critias the politician off his chest,
has this to say:

As regards his style of oratory, Critias was charac-

terized by brief and sententious utterances, and he
was well skilled in the use of elevated language,
but not of the dithyrambic variety, nor such as
relies on words taken over from poetry; but his was
the kind of elevated language that is composed of
the most appropriate words and is not artificial.
I see him, moreover, as a master of conciseness,
and as one who, even in the context of a defense
speech, was accustomed to make vigorous attacks
on an opponent; and as one who atticized, but in
moderation, not employing outlandish words, . . .
but allowing his Attic words to illuminate his
discourse like the rays of the sun. He also achieves
grace by passing without connectives from one part
of speech to another. Then also, Critias aims for
surprising effects in both thought and expression,
yet his eloquence is somewhat lacking in force,
though it is pleasant and smooth, like the breath
of the West Wind.

So now we have a rather warm endorsement of Critias, the

literary stylist. In this Philostratus is merely reflecting the widespread
judgment of members of the Second Sophistic, including, notably,
Herodes Atticus, who was a staunch admirer (as Philostratus
himself testifies, Vit. Soph. II 1: 564).1 The rhetorical theoretician

  We even have a speech composed by Herodes in the style of Critias, On the


Constitution of Larisa, which some have thought to be by Critias himself.

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

Hermogenes, a younger contemporary of Herodes, also accords

Critias high praise (On Types of Style, B401, 25 Rabe):

He also has a style which is stately (semnos), much

like Antiphon’s,2 and sublime, with a tendency to
weightiness; he is prone to categorical utterance,
relatively pure in his idiom, and, even when he
indulges in elaboration, yet preserves lucidity, with
the result that he is clear and distinct in conjunction
with his loftiness. In many places he exhibits both
genuineness and persuasiveness, particularly in his
Proems for Public Speeches (Dêmêgorika Prooimia).3
Conscious stylist though he was, nevertheless he
does not employ such adornment absolutely or, as
does Antiphon, tediously and with obvious contriv-
ance, but in such a way as to partake even thus
of genuineness. He does not make excessive use
of other types of characterization (ethos), such as
reasonableness (epieikeia) or simplicity (apheleia)
or the like.

So on the purely stylistic front, Critias rates highly, and we

have sufficient fragments of his dramas and other poetical efforts to
indicate that he was thoroughly competent in that area also. What
I would like to focus on here, however, is whether we can identify
anything approaching a philosophical position that he might have
adhered to.
Now we do have one testimony, albeit a rather dismissive one,
from Aristotle, in his treatise On the Soul, that Critias had some
views on the composition of the soul. It comes, however, at the end
of a protracted doxography of the views of pre-Socratic thinkers,

  Critias is reported to have been a pupil of Antiphon’s in rhetoric, Pseudo-
Plutarch, Life of Antiphon, 832D–E. This may have some consequences for his
philosophical outlook (see below).
  These are presumably specimen exordia for speakers proposing to address
public assemblies, though it is not clear who Critias was proposing to instruct.

— 113 —
John M. Dillon

ending with two, Hippon of Rhegium and Critias, whom Aristotle

lumps together as “muddle-headed” or “light-weight” (phortikôteroi):
Others,4 like Critias, have conceived the soul to be
blood, because they have supposed that sensation
is the most proper characteristic of the soul, and
that this is due to the nature of blood. (On the Soul,
I 2, 495b5–6)
This may not be very sophisticated philosophy, but it is not
quite as silly as Aristotle would like to make it out to be. After all,
Aristotle himself, in a well-known passage of On the Generation of
Animals, 736b27ff., introduces us to a special sort of “innate spirit”
(symphyton pneuma) residing especially in the blood around the heart,
which constitutes the seat of the nutritive and sensitive soul, and
which is responsible for the process of image-making (phantasia),
as well as for purposive action. So at least some sort of blood can
serve, for Aristotle, as a vehicle for something soul-like.
It is not necessary to suppose that this opinion of Critias’
occurred in a treatise explicitly concerned with the soul, or with
anything philosophical or scientific. In fact, if John Philoponus, who
discusses the passage both in the preface to his commentary (p. 9,
19) and ad loc. (p. 89, 8–12), is being accurate, Critias was actually
quoting the opinion of Empedocles (Fr. B105.3 DK):
“For blood f lowing round the heart is what
perception is for men,”
possibly incorporating it in a hexameter poem of his own.5
Nonetheless, it shows Critias’ interest in recent philosophic/scientific
However, such views as this would not constitute Critias’ main
claim to fame as a philosopher. More interesting is his apparent
following of his mentor Antiphon (the Antiphon of On Truth) in

  Hippon has just been reported as declaring it to be water.
  Philoponus, it must be said, is not even certain that “Critias the Sophist,”
to whom he would attribute this doctrine, is the same as Critias the Tyrant, but
there is no need to follow him in this uncertainty.

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

setting up a strong contrast between Appearance and Reality, as

we can discern from other snippets of evidence. Antiphon, as we
know, connects this theme with that of the contrast between Nature
and Convention; Critias ties this in rather with a contrast between
intellection (for which he uses the term gnômê) and sense perception.
Galen, who relays to us this snippet of information,6 tells us that he
is quoting, first, from Book I of Critias’ Aphorisms, and then from
Book I of his Homiliai, or Lectures. The first snippet runs:
Men come to knowledge (gignôskousin) if they
are accustomed to being healthy in their thought
This by itself is not very significant (though I think that it has
a bearing on his views on ethics, and specifically on sôphrosynê: see
below), and the second quotation is even less so:
But if you yourself were to practice (askêseias), in
order that you might be competent in intellection
(gnômê), you would in this way be least wronged
by them.7
However, Galen goes on to say:
And elsewhere in the same book, and in Book II
of the Lectures, in making a distinction between
intellection and sense-perception, he often speaks
in the same terms as does Antiphon in the first
book of his On Truth: ‘If you have grasped this,
you will understand that there is nothing out there
corresponding either to what the most powerful
beholder sees with his sight, nor of the things which
the most powerful knower knows with his mind
(gnomei gignoskei).’

  In his commentary on Hippocrates’ The Doctor’s Workshop, (XVIII B656
Kühn = Frs. B39–40 DK).
  Who “they” are is not clear (the genitive could be of any gender); perhaps just
one’s opponents in a law case.

— 115 —
John M. Dillon

If Critias endorsed this very radical statement by Antiphon, then

we are indeed in interesting territory. Accepting that intellection
may be distinguished from sense perception, it would seem to be
Critias’ view that we have no apprehension of reality by either means.
Such a view of reality might be seen to tie in, on the literary level,
with the famous speech of Sisyphus about the invention of gods,
in Critias’ Sisyphus, which is in fact quoted by Sextus Empiricus in
the context of illustrating skeptical attitudes towards religion (Adv.
Math. IX 54). It is worth quoting in part, I think, as a significant
piece of sociological observation from the sophistic era: 8
There was a time when anarchy did grip
the life of men, which then was bestial,
enslaved to force; nor was there then reward
for good men, nor for the wicked punishment.
Next, as I see it, did men establish laws
For punishment, that justice might be lord
Of all mankind, and hold insolence enslaved;
And anyone who sinned was penalized.
Next, as the laws inhibited men from acts
Of open violence, but still such acts
Were done in secret—then, I would maintain,
Some clever fellow first, a man in counsel wise,
Discovered unto men the fear of gods,
That sinners might be frightened should they sin
E’en secretly in deed, or word, or thought.
We can see, then, emerging here evidence of an interest by
Critias in epistemology, and specifically in the contrast between

  Sextus in fact ties Critias in with such notorious “atheists” as Diagoras of
Melos and Prodicus of Ceos. We must bear in mind, of course, that in the myth,
and presumably in the play, Sisyphus is in fact punished by a very real Zeus,
so that Critias allows these utterances to be undercut in an amusingly ironic
manner. I am conscious, by the way, that there is currently a preponderance of
scholarly opinion in favor of crediting this play rather to Euripides, following
the testimony of Aelian VH II 8, who reports Euripides as having presented a
satyr-play Sisyphus in 415. But then how would Sextus ever have got it into his
head that Critias was the author of this passage? I would prefer to assume that
Euripides also composed a Sisyphus.

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

gnômê and aisthêsis as means of acquiring an understanding of reality,

and distinguishing it from appearance. With this in turn we may
associate Critias’ views on ethics, and it is here that the connection
with Plato becomes especially relevant.
In the Charmides (161b), as we recall, young Charmides is
encouraged to produce a definition of sôphrosynê. What he comes
up with is ta heautou prattein, “doing one’s own thing,” or rather
“performing the role appropriate to one.”9 Socrates promptly accuses
him of borrowing this from “Critias here, or some other of our
intellectuals (hoi sophoi).”10 Critias stoutly denies authorship (161c),
but a little later (162b), when Socrates has ironically picked the
definition to pieces, Charmides, when admitting that not even its
author may have known what he meant by it, “gives a sly laugh and
glances at Critias,” which rather gives the game away. Critias then, we
may conclude, in some context—perhaps in his Homiliai—produced
some such definition as this, and perhaps went on to gloss it as he
does in the dialogue.
You will recall that, after Socrates has produced a number of
distinctly tendentious interpretations of what this “cryptic” defini-
tion might mean, Critias makes the further move of declaring that
sôphrosynê is precisely (auto touto) “knowing oneself” (to heauton
gignôskein, 164d). Now one might argue that this clarification of
the original definition is only drawn out of him under provocation
from Socrates, but he is presented by Plato as going on to give an
extended sophistic disquisition in defense of it, bringing in Apollo’s
injunction on the temple at Delphi and other matters (164d–165b),
so one might be forgiven for conjecturing that Plato is borrowing
from some writing of Critias.
This in turn might cause us to turn our attention back to the
little snippet preserved by Galen, quoted above, “Men come to
knowledge (gignôskousin) if they are accustomed to being healthy in
their thought.” It might reasonably be argued that “being healthy in
one’s thought” is none other than practicing sôphrosynê. Admittedly,

  There is also a connotation of “minding one’s own business,” but that is
perhaps secondary.
  The connotation “sophist” is not far to seek.

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John M. Dillon

here the claim seems to be that knowledge, or wisdom, follows from

healthy thought, rather than consists in healthy thought, but I think
that the distinction is more apparent than real. We are talking about
two distinct kinds of knowledge, I would suggest. First we have that
knowledge of one’s own capacities (and, I should say, proper place in
society) which is for Critias the essence of “sound-mindedness”; but
then we have the state of wisdom which results from that—which
also comprises, I would suggest, the understanding of the distinction
between appearance and reality—enabling one to make a proper
evaluation of various aspects of conventional morality, such as are
touched on in the surviving fragments of Antiphon’s On Truth, or
indeed in the speech of Sisyphus. “Knowing oneself,” in this sense,
could be seen as compatible with a radical scepticism as to attaining
certain knowledge of the external world.
We begin to discern here the lineaments of an epistemology
and an ethics. Can we go on, from the limited evidence available,
to identify anything approaching a political philosophy?
One might suggest, certainly, that the application of Critias’
definition of sôphrosynê to the political arena could be taken to
betoken a recommendation that all classes of society should “know
themselves,” and attend to their own proper business, which would
involve the lower orders in knowing their place, and accepting
without demur the right of the elite, the “good men” (kaloi k’agathoi,
or khrêstoi) to rule. This would certainly accord with Critias’ views
as an uncompromising oligarch and admirer of the Spartan way
of life (as is attested copiously in the surviving fragments of his
Constitution of the Lacedaemonians and a number of poetic passages,
e.g., B6, from Athenaeus); but I would like at this point to introduce
a conjecture which rather attracts me, and which seems to me a
worthy offering to one who himself ventured, some little time
ago, to propose Euthyphro as the author of the Derveni Papyrus.11
This is the suggestion that the extant Constitution of the Athenians
(hereinafter Ath. Pol.) included among the works of Xenophon, and

  See Charles Kahn, “Was Euthyphro the Author of the Derveni Papyrus?,”
in Studies in the Derveni Papyrus, eds. André Laks and Glenn W. Most (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1997).

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

usually attributed to a mid-fifth century author nicknamed “the

Old Oligarch,” is actually a work of Critias.12
Let us consider first the difficulties in the way of such an identi-
fication, and then the possible positive clues. One major problem
would seem to be that Critias is praised, as we have seen, by such
later authorities as Philostratus and Hermogenes for the excellence
of his prose style, and the author of this work is widely dismissed
as something of an inept clunker. However, I would suggest that
we be prepared to re-consider such a judgment. The style and
arrangement of the work does not, indeed, conform to the stylistic
standards of later times, from the last quarter of the fifth century
onward, but such standards, after all, are much affected by what one
might term the “Gorgianic revolution,” which introduced quite new
norms of linguistic elaboration and syntactic complexity from Sicily
into a very receptive Athenian environment. The Ath. Pol. needs
to be judged rather as a piece of archaic prose, and as such, I would
argue, it shows up not too badly at all. We must think Heraclitus,
basically, rather than Thucydides or Isocrates. If we look carefully
at the terms in which Critias is praised by the above-mentioned
authorities, we will see, in fact, that Philostratus dwells on his
brevity and sententiousness, and his non-dithyrambic stateliness of
speech,13 while Hermogenes also speaks of him as stately (semnos)
and sublime, with a tendency to weightiness, and a proneness to
categorical utterance, while still remaining clear and distinct. Such
commendation seems to me to be compatible, especially in an age
such as the Second Sophistic, with its archaizing Atticistic tendencies,
with the text that we have preserved to us.
The stylistic devices favored by the author, it seems to me, are
chiefly two: anaphora, or repetition of key words and phrases, and
parisosis, or balancing of co-ordinate clausulae. There is nothing

  This, I must specify, is by no means a new idea. See, most recently, Andrea
Rotstein, “Critias’ invective against Archilochus,” Classical Philology 102 (2007),
139–154, esp. 147–151 and the further references in n41. However, I hope here
to be adding some further weight to the arguments in favor of the identification.
I am most grateful to David Whitehead (via Cynthia Patterson) for this reference.
  τὴν δὲ ἰδέαν τοῦ λόγου δογματίας ὁ Κριτίας καὶ πολυγνώμων
σεμνολογῆσαί τε ἱκανώτατος οὐ τὴν διθυραμβώδη σεμνολογίαν . . .

— 119 —
John M. Dillon

for it but to illustrate this claim with a number of short examples

(though in fact the author’s use of these devices often extends over
long stretches of text, such as we cannot deal with here). We may
look first at the beginning of the whole work:

Περὶ δὲ τῆς Ἀθηναίων πολιτείας, ὅτι μὲν εἵλοντο

τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον τῆς πολιτείας, οὐκ ἐπαίνω διὰ
τόδε, ὅτι ταῦθ’ ἑλόμενοι εἵλοντο τοὺς πονηροὺς
ἄμεινον πράττειν ἢ τοὺς χρηστούς. διὰ μὲν οὖν
τοῦτο οὐκ ἐπαίνω. ἐπεὶ δὲ ταῦτα ἔδοξεν οὗτως
αὐτοῖς, ὡς εὖ διασῴζονται τὴν πολιτείαν καὶ
τἆλλα διαπράττονται ἃ δοκοῦσιν ἁμαρτάνειν
τοῖς ἄλλοις Ἕλλησιν, τοῦτ’ ἀποδείξω.

Now14 as for the fact that the Athenians have

chosen the kind of constitution that they have, I
do not think well of their doing this, inasmuch as
in making their choice they have chosen to let the
worst people be better off than the good. Therefore
on this account I do not think well of their consti-
tution. But since they have decided to have it so,
I intend to point out how well they preserve their
constitution and accomplish those things in respect
of which they seem to the rest of the Greeks to err.
(trans. Bowersock, slightly altered)

This is picked up much later, in a resumptive passage at the

beginning of ch. 3 of the work (3.1):
Καὶ περὶ τῆϛ ’Αθηναίων πολιτείας τὸν μὲν
τρόπον οὐκ ἐπαινῶ· ἐπειδήπερ ἔδοξεν αὐτοῖς
δημοκρατεῖσθαι, εὖ μοι δοκοῦσι διασῴζεσθαι
τὴν δημοκρατίαν τούτῳ τῷ τρόπῳ χρώμενοι ᾧ
ἐγὼ ἐπέδειξα.

 The de with which the work begins has come in for adverse comment, but we

may note that Heraclitus also began his treatise with a de: tou de logou toutou . . .

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

As for the constitution of the Athenians, I do

not praise its form; but since they have decided
to have a democracy, I think they have preserved
the democracy well by the means which I have

Or take a little passage from the middle of ch. 1 (1. 12):

Διὰ τοῦτ’ οὖν ἰσηγορίαν καὶ τοῖς δούλοις

πρὸς τοὺς ἐλευθέρους ἐποιήσαμεν, καὶ τοῖς
μετοίκοις πρὸς τοὺς ἀστούς, διότι δεῖται ἡ
πόλις μετοίκων διά τε τὸ πλῆθος τῶν τεχνῶν
καὶ διὰ τὸ ναυτικόν· διὰ τοῦτο οὖν καὶ τοῖς
μετοίκοις εἰκότως τὴν ἰσηγορίαν ἐποιήσαμεν.

For this reason we have established equality of

address15 both between slaves and free men, and
between metics and citizens, because the city needs
metics in view of the many different trades and the
fleet; for this reason, then, it is reasonable that we
have established equality of address also for metics.

The first pair of passages exhibits a considerable degree of

anaphora and parisosis, which the third passage also makes use
of to a lesser extent.16 The style, indeed, is quite similar to the
only considerable piece of Critias’ prose still extant, and that is his
criticism of the poet Archilochus for telling us too many derogatory
details about his life, preserved for us by Aelian (Varia Historia
X 13 = Fr. B44 DK).

  Isêgoria can mean political equality in general, but here it is something less
than that, as neither slaves nor metics enjoyed anything like political equality
with citizens. In the context, it must mean something more restricted, like a
right of address.
  It might be said here that the slaves seem to get brushed out of the picture
rather oddly; it may be that the text is defective, and that they should be
included—they are also necessary, after all, both for trades and for the operation
of a merchant fleet, at least.

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John M. Dillon

It is interesting that the latest editors of this text,17 when consid-

ering the time of its composition, have plumped for the period of
the mid-420s at the latest, and suggested that the author was a pupil
of Antiphon (as was Critias). Despite the author’s nickname, it is
plainly, as they acknowledge, not the work of a grumpy old oligarch,
but rather of an acute and shrewdly analytical younger one. The
dating would be just about right for the young adult Critias featured
in the Charmides, the dramatic date for which falls in 432.
I would suggest, then, that there is nothing in the style nor in
the content that is inconsistent with Critianic authorship. However, I
have not yet dealt with the one piece of evidence that I would regard
as positive. It concerns a curious linguistic detail.18 The lexicographer
Pollux reports as follows (Lexicon VIII 25 = Fr. B71 DK):

Critias used ἀποδικάσαι (“acquit”) as meaning

to dissolve a trial or to deny it a victory, as we
would say ἀποψηφίσασθαι. The same author uses
διαδικάζεσθαι to mean “give judgement through-
out the year.”

The first part of this note is unremarkable; apodikazein is used

also in this sense by Antiphon (Orations 6. 47). It is not found in
the Ath. Pol., as there is no occasion for it, but doubtless Critias
employed it in one of his forensic orations. Diadikazein, on the
other hand, we find used repeatedly, in the passage 3.4–6, where
the author is giving the necessity of settling disputes among citizens
as a reason for foreigners, particularly from the subject states of the
Empire, having to wait for long periods to have their cases settled.
In this context, he uses the verb fully eight times. The verb does
not, of course, have the meaning “give judgement throughout the

  J. L. Marr & P. J. Rhodes, “The Old Oligarch”: The Constitution of the
Athenians attributed to Xenophon (Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2008).
  I leave aside the author’s use of gnômê for nous or dianoia—noted as a pe-
culiarity of Critias by Galen (Fr. B39 DK)—which occurs twice, at 1. 11 and
at 3. 10, in both cases as part of the phrase γνώμῃ τι ποιεῖν, “to do something
deliberately,” or “shrewdly,” as this usage would actually be fairly normal in the
mid-fifth century, though I think it is a straw in the wind.

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Will the Real Critias Please Stand Up?

year,” but simply “adjudicate,” “settle by arbitration,” yet it is easy

to see how a later reader, whether lexicographer or other (Pollux,
after all, is probably not getting this information first-hand) might
erroneously interpret it in this way, as the author’s point is that this
internal litigation does go on all year; indeed, such a misinterpre-
tation could only arise from a text very like the present one. So it
certainly seems as if someone in later antiquity regarded the Ath.
Pol. as being by Critias, and I would suggest that they were right.
If we can accept this addition to our knowledge of Critias he
is revealed, despite his unashamedly oligarchic views, as quite a
shrewd observer of the strengths of the Athenian democracy. Again
and again, he has to admit that the dêmos has arranged its affairs
well from its own perspective. He airs a number of objections to his
position, either posed by fellow-oligarchs or thought up by himself,
and refutes them effectively, in conclusion (3.12–13) warning his
addressees (who may possibly be friends in Sparta) that there is
nothing to be hoped for in the way of a coup from any disenfran-
chised group. Most of those disenfranchised, he assures them, are
magistrates or politicians who have been caught in embezzlement
or incompetence, and have been justly punished; there is nothing
to be expected from them. And of course he was right: he only
came to power himself, finally, with the backing of Lysander and
the Spartan army, after the total defeat of the democracy; and even
then he only lasted a year and a half.
In conclusion, then, how are we to judge Critias as a thinker?
It would be optimistic, I think, to regard him as a philosopher
of any sort, but he can fairly be classed as a highly talented and
well-informed Athenian intellectual, aware of current develop-
ments in literature and philosophy, and well able to take his own
part in them. He is a competent poet and playwright, and such
documents as the speech of Sisyphus on the origins of religion and
his reflections on Athenian democracy in the Ath. Pol. reveal him
as something of a political scientist and sociologist as well, albeit
of a pretty cynical nature. His political views would even seem to
have held some attraction for the young Plato, though disillusion
rapidly set in when the Thirty actually came to power, as Plato
ruefully admits in the Seventh Letter (324–325). Still, the more

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John M. Dillon

mature Plato is not quite prepared to repudiate his wicked cousin

entirely, as we see from his portrayal of him in the Charmides. He
is, admittedly, being treated there with some irony, and Socrates is
permitted to tie him securely in aporetic knots; yet his definition
of sôphrosynê as some kind of self-knowledge in fact contains the
seed of the Socratic-Platonic doctrine that is Knowledge, as
emerges in a number of later dialogues, and most notably in the
Republic, and that is a tribute of a sort.

— 124 —
Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras
Carl A. Huffman
Both as a student and as an older scholar, it has often seemed to
me that, whenever I turn to a new topic in ancient philosophy, one
of my best guides turns out to be an invaluable article or book by
Charles Kahn. His published works have surely made him one
of the most influential teachers of ancient philosophy. This of
course applies to his books on Anaximander, Heraclitus and Plato,
to which I have turned again and again, but also to articles that
are, perhaps, less well known, such as his account of the Sisyphus
fragment and his chapter on Arius Didymus.1 In recent years, follow-
ing Burkert’s work, he has been one of the few scholars willing to
tackle the thorny problems of Pythagoreanism, and his Pythagoras
and the Pythagoreans, A Brief History, is the best brief overview of
Pythagoreanism that we have, manifesting his masterful ability to
make difficult topics both accessible and exciting. As he comments,
“the historical figure of Pythagoras has almost vanished behind the
cloud of legend gathered around his name,” yet he uses what clues
we have to reconstruct a picture of what Pythagoras may have been
like that both takes into account and critiques Burkert’s view.2 I do
not agree with every aspect of his account, but it is one of the few
successful attempts to develop a coherent view of Pythagoras since
Burkert dismantled the old view of him as a master mathematician,
scientist and metaphysician, which had been in vogue since the

  Charles Kahn, “Arius as a Doxographer,” in On Stoic and Peripatetic Ethics,
ed. W. Fortenbaugh (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1983), 3–13. Charles
Kahn, “Greek Religion and Philosophy in the ‘Sisyphus’ Fragment,” Phronesis
42.3 (1997), 247–262.
  Charles Kahn, Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History (Indianapolis:
Hackett, 2001), 5.

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Carl Huffman

Hellenistic period. I will not attempt anything as ambitious here

as a new reconstruction of the figure of Pythagoras, but, in tribute
to Kahn’s achievement, I will try to add a little to the foundations
for such a reconstruction.
One crucial stone in these foundations that has yet to be worked,
polished and set in place is that constituted by Aristoxenus’ works
on Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans. Yet, Aristoxenus belongs with
Aristotle and the fragments of Philolaus and Archytas as one of the
most important sources for information about early Pythagoreanism.
As Burkert says, “Aristoxenus is the fullest of the ancient sources
for Pythagoreanism, and therefore the question of his credibility
is especially important.”3 My focus in this paper will be on just a
small part of what Aristoxenus has to say about Pythagoreanism.
I will limit myself to what he says about Pythagoras himself, and I
will whet your appetite, or not, for your next meal by concentrating
on what he has to say about Pythagoras’ eating habits. These texts
have been particularly important in forming the standard interpre-
tation of Aristoxenus as a source for Pythagoreanism. My goal is to
convince you that this standard interpretation is seriously defective
and to take the first steps in producing a new understanding of the
nature of Aristoxenus’ account of Pythagoreanism.
Our evidence for Aristoxenus’ life and writings is meager and
not totally reliable, but what evidence there is suggests that he was
in a position to provide unique insight into Pythagoreanism. The
tenth-century ce lexicon, known as the Suda, gives two clear indica-
tions for the chronology of his life, and it is at least a little reassuring
that these two pieces of evidence are consistent with one another.4
The Suda says that he was “from the 111th Olympiad” (336–332),
which presumably means that he flourished then. Thus he would
have been born forty years earlier, ca. 375 bce. This birth date is
consistent with the report in the immediately preceding sentence

  Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, trans. Edwin L.
Minar, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 107n54.
  See F. Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles, Volume 2: Aristoxenus, 2nd ed. (Basel:
Benno Schwabe, 1967), Fr. 1. This is the entry in the Suda under Ἀριστόξενος.
The standard edition of the Suda is Suidae Lexicon, ed. A. Adler (Leipzig:
Teubner, 1928–1935).

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

of the Suda that he was disappointed not to be named head of the

Lyceum upon Aristotle’s death in 322. He would have been 53 at
that time, which is an age at which he could well have expected
consideration for the headship. Being born in 375 in Tarentum,
Aristoxenus grew up in a city dominated politically by the most
important Pythagorean of the time, Archytas. The evidence of
the Suda suggests that he began studies with his father before later
coming to Athens and becoming first a student of the Pythagorean
Xenophilus and then of Aristotle. Thus, before attaching himself to
Aristotle, Aristoxenus was primarily trained in Pythagorean circles,
first in Tarentum and then in Athens.5 Diogenes Laertius (Lives
of the Philosophers, VIII. 46) reports that Aristoxenus knew the
last of the Pythagoreans, Xenophilus and four Pythagoreans from
Phlius, including Echecrates, to whom Phaedo narrates his account
of Socrates’ last day in the dialogue to which he gives his name.
Scholars such as Frank and Levy have argued that it was chrono-
logically impossible for Aristoxenus to have met these Pythagoreans
and that he made up his connection with them in order to give
authority to his account.6 The chronology does, however, just work
out. If Echecrates is a young man, say twenty, at the time of Socrates’
death in 399, then he could still be alive at age seventy in 350, when
we might suppose that a twenty-five year old Aristoxenus came to
Athens. These last Pythagoreans are reported to have been pupils
of Philolaus and Eurytus; Philolaus, as a contemporary of Socrates,
could have been their teacher in their early twenties and could
have been succeeded by Eurytus, who was a generation younger.
Aristoxenus thus had exceptionally good sources for his account of
Pythagoreanism: 1) his own experience and that of his father with
Archytas and other Pythagoreans in Tarentum, and 2) Xenophilus
and the Pythagoreans from Phlius, who were the most important
  Xenophilus is said to have lived in Athens by Lucian (The Long-lived, 18) so
that Aristoxenus is likely to have been his pupil there.
  Erich Frank, Plato und die Sogenannten Pythagoreer (Halle: Max Niemeyer,
1923), 223n4, says that Aristoxenus hardly came to Greece before 336, but gives
no evidence for this assertion. The report in the Suda is certainly more naturally
read as saying that he flourished ca. 336. I. Levy, Recherches sur les sources de la
légend de Pythagore (Paris: Leroux, 1926), 45–46n5, asserts that Xenophilus and
the others died before Plato but provides no evidence to support this.

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Carl Huffman

Pythagoreans in the fourth century apart from Archytas, and who

were the pupils of the most prominent Pythagoreans of the latter
part of the fifth century, Philolaus and Eurytus. When it came to
Pythagoreanism, then, Aristoxenus was certainly in a position to
have known what he was talking about.
Moreover, the evidence suggests that, as well informed as he was,
Aristoxenus was not a blind Pythagorean enthusiast. He did leave
Pythagoreanism behind to become a member of the Lyceum and, in
the area for which he was most famous in antiquity, music theory,
he showed himself to be a very original thinker, taking a completely
different approach from the Pythagoreans.7 We might thus hope
that Aristoxenus could give us an account of Pythagoreanism based
on the best available sources, which both showed the sympathy of a
past adherent and the objective distance of someone who has moved
on to another school of thought. The Suda assigns an astounding
453 works to Aristoxenus,8 but unfortunately no list of titles survives
from antiquity. The only substantially complete surviving works
are in music theory, where three books on harmonics and part of a
book on rhythmics survive. Wehrli collected the fragments of other
works, and fragments of works on the history of philosophy and
the biography of philosophers are particularly prominent.9 Thus
fragments survive from a Life of Socrates and a Life of Plato. Wehrli
assigns the fragments on Pythagoreans to five books: The Life of
Pythagoras, On Pythagoras and His Associates, On the Pythagorean
Life, The Pythagorean Precepts, and The Life of Archytas.
The standard view of Aristoxenus as a biographer and historian
of philosophy was fully formed by the time Wehrli first collected
the fragments in 1945, and has not received significant criticism
since that time. Burkert did not challenge this standard view as
a whole, although, as I will show below, several of his remarks
on individual points reveal problems inherent in it. Basically the
standard view presents Aristoxenus as a Pythagorean partisan, who

  See e.g., Andrew Barker, The Science of Harmonics in Classical Greece
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 166–168.
  See note 4.
 Wehrli, Die Schule, Fragments 11–68.

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

maliciously slanders other philosophers and glorifies Pythagoras and

the Pythagoreans at all costs. Thus, Wehrli argued that Aristoxenus
himself created the ethical system found in the Pythagorean Precepts
by robbing ideas from Plato and Aristotle.10 In a recent article, I have
argued that this interpretation fails, because the principles found in
the Pythagorean Precepts, while agreeing with Plato at a very general
level in calling for an ordered and disciplined life, in fact, show no
specifically Platonic features and take positions in conflict with
those of Aristotle.11 Thus, there is no reason to suppose that the
Pythagorean Precepts are anything other than what they prima facie
appear to be, evidence for the Pythagorean ethics that Aristoxenus
encountered in his study with Xenophilus around the middle of
the fourth century. Thus, the most important piece of evidence
that Aristoxenus invented the Pythagoreanism that he presents has
been undercut. There is evidence that his supposed hostility to other
philosophical traditions, and in particular to Socrates and Plato,
is no better founded. What some modern scholars have seen as a
malicious presentation of Socrates, for example, is instead a basically
favorable account of Socrates but one which allows the philosophical
hero to have a few flaws.12 Thus, there are good reasons for rejecting
the typical dismissal of all Aristoxenus’ evidence for the history of
philosophy. In the rest of my paper, I want to call into question
specifically the standard reading of Aristoxenus’ presentation of
The standard view is that Aristoxenus is an apologist who
presents Pythagoras and the Pythagorean life in as rational a light
as possible. Thus Wehrli refers to “his general apologetic attitude”
(seine allgemein apologetische Haltung), which he sees as “an answer
to the derision of the general public” (Antwort auf das Gespött der

 Wehrli, Die Schule, 58–59. See also Hermann Täger, De Aristoxeni libro
Pythagorico (dissertation, Göttingen, 1922).
  C. A. Huffman, “The Pythagorean Precepts of Aristoxenus: Crucial Evidence
for Pythagorean Moral Philosophy,” Classical Quarterly 58.1 (2008), 104–119.
  See Carl A. Huffman, “Aristoxenus’ Life of Socrates,” in Aristoxenus of
Tarentum: Discussion, ed. Carl A. Huffman (New Brunswick: Transaction Books,
2012), 251–281 and Stefan Schorn, “Aristoxenus’ Biographical Method,” in the
same volume, 177–221.

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Carl Huffman

Profanen).13 Levy says “The Pythagoras whose biography Aristoxenus

composed . . . is a sage who is a stranger to all superstition and
everything supernatural.”14 Following these earlier scholars Burkert
concludes that “Clearly, Aristoxenus’ veiled polemic has the purpose
of destroying [the] image of Pythagoreans as a group of low class
tatterdemalions, addicted to superstitious abstinences.”15 Kahn is thus
in the best of company when he similarly asserts that “Aristoxenus’
account of the Pythagorean way of life was clearly an enlightened,
revisionary version designed to shield the name of Pythagoras from
any shadow of primitive superstition.”16 All of these scholars thus
suppose that Aristoxenus is making little attempt to present an
objective account of Pythagoras based on the considerable sources
at his disposal, but is rather constructing a Pythagoras in accordance
with his own philosophical ideals and is in particular trying to shield
Pythagoreanism from criticism as a way of life that is governed by
irrational taboos.17
In the rest of my paper, I will examine in some detail Fragment
25,18 which deals with Pythagoras’ diet and comes either from his
Life of Pythagoras or his treatise On Pythagoras and His Associates,
and on which the standard view relies. I will argue that it does not
present a rationalizing view of Pythagoras and that there is good
reason to believe that Aristoxenus was presenting an accurate account
of Pythagoras’ dietary habits rather than a revisionary one. First,
however, I will briefly present prima facie evidence, which suggests
that, in his writings on Pythagoras as a whole, Aristoxenus did not
systematically seek to remove the irrational and religious side of
Pythagoreanism in order to emphasize the rationality of the system.
Five pieces of evidence clearly show that, while Aristoxenus did

 Wehrli, Die Schule, 55.
 Levy, Recherches, 44.
 Burkert, Lore, 200.
 Kahn, Pythagoras, 70.
  See now Leonid Zhmud, “Aristoxenus and the Pythagoreans,” in Huffman,
Aristoxenus, 223–249, who agrees with the traditional interpretation that
Aristoxenus did present a rationalized and polemical account but argues that such
an account is still “preferable to the legendary tradition that he disputes” (228).
  All fragments of Aristoxenus are cited from Wehrli, Die Schule.

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

not emphasize the miraculous aspects of the Pythagorean legend,

he nonetheless presented Pythagoras as primarily a sage, whose
authority was not based on rational argumentation but rather on
religious authority.
First, Aristoxenus sets aside the common view according to
which Pythagoras came originally from the island of Samos and
presents him as coming from Tyrrhenian stock, saying that he came
from one of the islands that the Athenians seized after expelling
the Tyrrhenians (Fr. 11a = Diogenes Laertius, The Lives of the
Philosophers, VIII. 1). This is probably a reference to the island of
Lemnos, which the Athenians seized in the late sixth century, whose
inhabitants were called Tyrrhenians by the Greeks and thus identi-
fied with the Etruscans.19 The Lemnians were particularly famous
for religious mysteries dedicated to gods known as the Kabeiroi.20
Thus, it would appear that, if the association with the Tyrrhenians
has a point, and is not simply a report of what Aristoxenus took to
be historical fact (Theopompus and perhaps Aristotle give the same
report),21 that point would be to show Pythagoras’ innate expertise
in religious ritual. Indeed, Wehrli, rather at odds with his concep-
tion of a rationalizing Aristoxenus, says that Aristoxenus chose this
version of Pythagoras’ origins in order to explain how Pythagoras
came to be in possession of secret religious knowledge.22 Thus,
Aristoxenus’ presentation of Pythagoras starts off rather badly for
the rationalizing interpretation by emphasizing his connection to
religious mysteries.
Second, advocates of the rationalizing view have maintained
that it is significant that Aristoxenus makes no mention of reincar-
nation. Given the fragmentary state of the evidence23 this would be
  Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. John Raffan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1985), 281.
 Burkert, Greek Religion, 281.
  Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, See Burkert, Lore, 110n12.
 Wehrli, Die Schule, 49. He cites Herodotus II.51, and Plato, Laws 738c.
  Aristoxenus wrote three books devoted to Pythagoras and the earliest
Pythagoreans (The Life of Pythagoras, Pythagoras and His Associates, and On
the Pythagorean Life). In Wehrli’s collection there are 22 fragments from these
three works (Frs. 11–32), which comprise only about seven pages of Greek in
Wehrli’s edition.

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Carl Huffman

a risky use of the argument from silence, but it is not in fact true
that Aristoxenus makes no mention of reincarnation. In Fragment
12, Aristoxenus is the earliest of five sources cited for the report
that Pythagoras’ rebirths occurred at intervals of 216 years. The
testimonium is complex, and how much should be assigned to
Aristoxenus is not clear. Nonetheless it is prima facie for the 216-year
cycle of rebirths that Aristoxenus is cited. Wehrli assumes what is
to be proven, when he concludes that only the synchronicity of
Pythagoras and Polycrates mentioned later in the report goes back
to Aristoxenus, on the grounds that the mention of reincarnation
harmonizes badly with Aristoxenus’ supposed attempt to protect
Pythagorean teaching from the ridicule of the enlightened.24 So
far then, Aristoxenus’ Pythagoras is an expert in religious mysteries
who believes in reincarnation.
Three reports by Aristoxenus about Pythagoras’ teachers also
emphasize his expertise in religious ritual and his connection with
mythical rather than rational accounts of the cosmos. Thus, in
Fragment 13, Aristoxenus reports that Pythagoras went to study with
Zaratas (i.e., Zoroaster) the Chaldaean. There are several historical
problems here, which I do not have the space to discuss.25 The
following report of what Zoroaster supposedly taught Pythagoras,
however, mentions a male and a female principle that make up the
cosmos and raises concerns about the pollution of the soul. These
elements suggest that the connection to Zoroaster was once again
an indication of Pythagoras’ expertise in the fate of the soul and
mythic accounts of the cosmos. Such expertise also appears to be the
point of Aristoxenus’ report in Fragment 14, that Pythagoras buried
Pherecydes on Delos after his death from an illness. Pherecydes is
famous for a theogony combined with a cosmogony, which shows
points of contact with Hesiod, Orphic theogonies, and Near-eastern
cosmogonies. Certain aspects of Pherecydes’ thought point the way
toward the more rational cosmogonies of the Presocratics26, but, in
 Wehrli, Die Schule, 50.
 Burkert, Lore, 112n16.
  On Pherecydes see Herbert Granger, “The Theologian Pherecydes of Syros
and the Early Days of Natural Philosophy,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
103 (2007), 135–163.

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

associating him with Pherecydes, Aristoxenus is putting Pythagoras

on the more mythic side of the continuum.
Finally, in Fragment 15, Aristoxenus asserts that Pythagoras
took most of his ethical teaching from Themistoclea, a priestess
from Delphi. Wehrli gamely interprets this as a sign of Aristoxenus’
rationalism by supposing that he is replacing the legends about
Pythagoras’ special connection to Apollo, according to some of which
he was regarded as the Hyperborean Apollo, with the tamer idea that
he studied with a Delphic priestess.27 This seems like very special
pleading in favor of an assumption of Aristoxenus’ rationalizing
tendencies rather than the most straightforward interpretation of
the fragment. Connection with the Delphic priestess might suggest
some traditional wisdom of the sort retailed by the seven sages,
such as “nothing too much” and “know yourself,” but surely also
suggests that Pythagoras’ ethical views were founded on religious
authority rather than rational argument. Pythagoras’ expertise in
the will of the gods gained from the Delphic priestess is also likely
to be an explanation of the large amount of ritual material in the
Pythagorean akousmata, oral maxims many of which are likely
to go back to Pythagoras himself. For example, some of them
prescribe such religious practices as sacrificing and entering the
temple barefoot and not wearing rings with depictions of the gods.28
Aristoxenus’ identification of Zaratas, Pherecydes and Themistoclea
as Pythagoras’ teachers thus harmonizes very poorly with a rational-
izing interpretation and in fact accords well with the emphasis on
his expertise in religious mysteries indicated by his Tyrrhenian
origin. Thus, there is a strong prima facie case against the standard
view that Aristoxenus was trying to present Pythagoras, to use
Levy’s words again, as a “stranger to all superstition and everything
supernatural.”29 It is now time, however, to confront the strongest
evidence for the standard view, Aristoxenus’ claims that Pythagoras
ate both beans and meat.
 Wehrli, Die Schule, 51. Burkert similarly tries to interpret Fr. 15 as a
rationalizing explanation of the akousma which stated that the oracle of Delphi
was the tetraktys (Lore, 187n160).
  See Burkert, Lore, 171–174, for these and other examples.
  See note 14 above.

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Carl Huffman

Fragment 25 of Aristoxenus comes from Aulus Gellius’ Attic

Nights (IV. 11), written in the second century ce. It presents
Aristoxenus’ account of Pythagoras’ dietary habits and consists
both of Gellius’ Latin translation or paraphrase of Aristoxenus and
a literal quotation of his words in Greek. Here is the passage in full:

But Aristoxenus the music theorist, a man most

devoted to ancient learning, pupil of the philosopher
Aristotle, in the book, which he left behind, On
Pythagoras, says that Pythagoras ate no vegetable
more frequently than beans, since this food both
gradually eases the bowels and smoothes them. I
have written below the very words of Aristoxenus:
“Among peas and beans Pythagoras especially
approved of the fava bean. For [he said] it both
smoothes and allows things to pass through the
bowels. Wherefore he ate it more than all the
others.” The same Aristoxenus reports that he also
subsisted on rather small piglets and very tender
kids. He seems to have learned this from Xenophilus
the Pythagorean, a friend of his, and from certain
other older men, who were not too far removed
from the time of Pythagoras.

At first sight these reports do suggest a tendentious rationalizing of

the Pythagorean taboos on beans and meat. Aristoxenus’ presenta-
tion seems to belittle the idea that Pythagoras could have adhered
to such taboos. He does not merely say that Pythagoras ate beans,
he reports that they were his favorite vegetable; he does not simply
assert that he ate meat, he appears to stress both his enjoyment of
meat by emphasizing his eating of “very tender” kids and also his
disregard for animal life by portraying him as particularly eating the
defenseless young of pigs and goats. But are first appearances correct?
It is important to note that Gellius suggests that Aristoxenus
got this information from Xenophilus and other aged Pythagoreans.
Gellius’ words, “he seems to have learned this from Xenophilus,”
might indicate that he, Gellius, was making an inference from the

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

mere fact that Xenophilus was Aristoxenus’ teacher, but it is also

possible that there was something in the context in the original
text of Aristoxenus that pointed to Xenophilus and others among
“the last of the Pythagoreans” as a source for this information.
Thus whatever emphasis there is on separating Pythagoras from
the taboos on beans and meat may derive not from Aristoxenus
but rather from Xenophilus and these other Pythagoreans, who
could be seen as defending their conception of Pythagoras against
what they regarded as mistaken conceptions in circulation in the
fourth century. The last line of Aristoxenus’ account of the disasters
that befell the Pythagoreans in the course of the fifth century,
Fragment 18 (= Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Life, 251), supports
this interpretation. Here is his description of this last generation of

The most zealous were Phanton, Echecrates,

Polymnastos and Diocles, the Phliasians and
Xenophilus the Chalcidean, of the Thracian
Chalcideans. They then preserved the original
habits and subjects of study, although the school
was fading out, until they nobly disappeared.

The emphasis on their preserving “the original habits and subjects

of study” clearly suggests that they presented themselves as the true
heirs of Pythagoras. So if Aristoxenus was being tendentious, the
origin of that tendentiousness may have been Xenophilus; but is the
account a tendentious defense of a rationalized Pythagoreanism or
does it, in fact, preserve some truth about Pythagoras?
To begin with the eating of meat, if Aristoxenus’ account appears
implausible it may be because we agree with Erich Frank that “among
the many indefinite things generally ascribed to the Pythagoreans,
there is none more certain historically than the fact of their having
been vegetarian.”30 Unfortunately, it is simply not true that it is
certain that Pythagoras was a vegetarian. Eudoxus does report that
Pythagoras not only did not eat meat but even avoided contact with

 Frank, Sogenannten, 223.

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Carl Huffman

hunters and butchers (Porphyry, The Life of Pythagoras, 7). Yet, the
best evidence suggests that he forbade eating only certain types
and certain parts of animals. Thus, a fragment from Aristotle’s lost
treatise on the Pythagoreans reports that “the Pythagoreans abstained
from the womb and heart and from the sea nettle and some other
such things but ate the other animals.”31 Aristotle is our source for
many of the akousmata, the oral maxims usually supposed to go
back to the time of Pythagoras, and, as Burkert saw, the statement
in Fr. 194 just quoted indicates that “the akousmata did not contain
any simple prohibition of the eating of meat, but various specific
precepts . . .” so that “it is taken for granted that other kinds of
meat will be eaten.”32 Thus, Aristoxenus’ report that Pythagoras ate
certain sorts of meat is not only supported by Aristotle but is also
consistent with the akousmata.
It is true that the Pythagorists portrayed in Greek comedy in
the middle of the fourth century are regularly said to eat no meat.
Thus Antiphanes describes someone as “eating nothing animate, as
if Pythagorizing”33 and Alexis describes the Pythagorean sacrificial
feast as vegetarian, including dried figs, cheese and olive cakes. He
also reports that the Pythagorean life entailed “scanty food, filth,
cold, silence, sullenness and no baths” as well as drinking water rather
than wine.34 These descriptions of the Pythagorists, including their
vegetarianism, also fit Diodorus of Aspendus in Pamphylia, who was
active in the first part of the fourth century and dressed in a way
that would later be typical of the Cynics, with long hair and beard, a
shabby cloak, a staff and a beggar’s rucksack (Diogenes Laertius, The
Lives of the Philosophers, VI. 13). The historian Timaeus (330–260
bce) reports, however, that Diodorus, and thus by implication the
Pythagorists, was not a true Pythagorean but “pretended to have
associated with the Pythagoreans,” and Sosicrates, a historian of the

  V. Rose, Aristotelis fragmenta (Leipzig: Teubner, 1886), Fr. 194 = Aulus
Gellius, Attic Nights, IV. 12–13.
 Burkert, Lore, 181.
  Rudolf Kassel and Colin Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci (Berlin: De Gruyter,
1983), Fr. 133 = Athenaeus, The Sophists at Dinner, IV 161a.
  Kassel and Austin, Poetae, Frs. 201–202 = Athenaeus, The Sophists at Dinner,
IV 161c and III 122f.

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

second century, says that Diodorus’ outlandish dress was his own
invention, since before this the Pythagoreans had always worn white
clothing, bathed, and worn their hair according to the style of the
day.35 Burkert argues that Diodorus and the Pythagorists represent
the akousmatic branch of Pythagoreanism and that Aristoxenus
and other rationalizing Pythagoreans were responsible for labeling
them as not real Pythagoreans. Yet, as Burkert himself recognized,
the akousmata call for no ban on eating meat, so that the evidence
rather supports the opposite conclusion, that Diodorus and the
Pythagorists were indeed radical ascetics whose practices went
beyond anything in the earlier Pythagorean tradition and who were
thus rightly disowned by Pythagoreans such as Xenophilus.
Thus, Aristoxenus’ report that Pythagoras ate certain sorts of
meat should not be dismissed out of hand and is in fact in accord with
the best evidence we have for early Pythagorean practices, Aristotle
and the akousmata. But what about the apparently tendentious claim
that Pythagoras particularly liked to eat very small piglets and tender
kids? Modern readers not familiar with the ancient context have
misunderstood this claim. It should be noted, first, that Aristoxenus
may also have included cocks among the animals that Pythagoras
habitually ate, since Diogenes Laertius in one passage mentions them
along with kids and piglets (The Lives of the Philosophers, VIII. 20).
It appears, however, that these particular animals are singled out
not to flout the ban on meat and concern for animal welfare but for
specific religious reasons. The recommendation to eat young pigs
and goats is not culinary but sacral. Burkert points out that “in the
mysteries of Demeter and Dionysus the most important sacrificial
animals are sucking pigs, cocks, and kids, the very animals of whose
meat, according to Aristoxenus, Pythagoras was especially fond.”36
That the Pythagoreans cited a specifically religious reason for eating
lambs and kids is suggested by a passage in Ovid that was pointed
out long ago by Boyance.37 Ovid’s Pythagoras, in his long speech in
  Both Timaeus and Sosicrates are cited in Athenaeus, The Sophists at Dinner,
IV 163e.
 Burkert, Lore, 182.
  Pierre Boyance, “Sur la vie pythagoricienne,” REG 52 (1939), 36–50, at

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Carl Huffman

Book 15 of the Metamorphoses, first says that in the golden age no

animals were killed nor any meat eaten (15. 98), although he then
concedes that men are justified in killing animals that attack them.
He then singles out two animals as being justly sacrificed for crimes
they committed in the golden age. They are precisely the animals
mentioned by Aristoxenus, the pig and the goat, the pig because it
dug up the seeds and thus “cut off the hope of the year” and the goat
because it ate grape vines (15. 113–115; See Ovid, Fasti 1.361–2).
Ovid’s Pythagoras differs from Aristoxenus’ in allowing only the
sacrifice and not the eating of these animals and in not emphasizing
that it is young animals that are to be sacrificed. Nonetheless, Ovid
clearly points to a Pythagorean use of a myth about the transgression
of pigs and goats in the golden age to justify special treatment of
them. Ovid’s Pythagoras says, “The two of them suffered because
of their own crime” (15. 115).
With this background, it is important to look closely at
the language of Gellius’ account of Aristoxenus. Proponents of
Aristoxenus’ tendentiousness seem to assume that Aristoxenus said
that Pythagoras particularly relished piglets and kids, but the Latin
verb in Gellius is victitare, which in its other uses suggests rather
the idea of subsisting on less than ideal food rather than enjoying
a particular delicacy. Thus in Plautus’ The Rope (764) someone is
described as not having any fire and “subsisting” on dry figs. The
Oxford Latin Dictionary gives as meanings for the verb “to keep
oneself alive” or “to subsist.” Thus, according to Gellius, Aristoxenus
reported that Pythagoras subsisted on piglets and goats without
specifying any particular enjoyment. The very similar passage in
Diogenes Laertius (Lives of the Philosophers, VIII. 20), although not
specifically quoting Aristoxenus, says that Pythagoras used these
animals in sacrifice, which might imply that he also ate them, but
would emphasize the religious rather than the culinary context. I
am tempted to emend Gellius’ text from victitasse (“to subsist”) to
victimasse (“to sacrifice”), which would then bring Gellius into close
agreement with Diogenes and make better sense. The text would
then say that Pythagoras used very small piglets and very young
kids in sacrifice. Whether this emendation is accepted or not, it
remains the case that Gellius’ account does not in fact emphasize

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

Pythagoras’ pleasure in eating meat. Similarly the specification

of the kids as tenerioribus has generally been read as indicating
Pythagoras’ delight in the tender flesh, but, as The Oxford Latin
Dictionary indicates, the adjective can simply refer to the very young
age of the kids and thus be part of the religious specifications as to
which animals are to be sacrificed. The Greek word that Gellius
is translating is preserved in Diogenes Laertius’ parallel account of
Aristoxenus’ report on this point (Lives of the Philosophers, VIII. 20).
There the kids are described as γαλαθηνοί, which literally means
that they were still nursing milk from their mother, but again this
is simply a specification of the age of the kid and not a description
of its attractiveness to the palate. In the Odyssey it is used to describe
fawns that are still nursing (4.336). Thus, Aristoxenus’ report as
presented by Gellius need not portray Pythagoras as salivating over
young kids and piglets but rather as sacrificing and eating animals
specified according to the rules of religious ritual.
Moreover, the account of Aristoxenus’ report on Pythagoras’
eating habits preserved by Diogenes Laertius (Fr. 29a = Diogenes
Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, VIII. 20) says that Pythagoras
consented to eat all animals except for plough oxen and rams. This
is largely consistent with the other evidence from Aristoxenus and
Aristotle, because it could still be the case that specific parts of
animals such as the womb and heart are not to be eaten, and that
Pythagoras particularly ate piglets, kids and cocks, because they
were sacrificed in the sort of religious mysteries in which he was
interested. It thus turns out that Aristoxenus’ evidence concerning
the eating of meat, far from being a construction used to illustrate
Pythagoras’ rationality and avoidance of religious taboo, in fact
shows Pythagoras’ connection to religious ritual, which, as we have
seen, is in accord with other aspects of Aristoxenus’ presentation of
Pythagoras. At the same time, the prohibition on eating plough oxen
and rams may reflect moral considerations that go beyond ritual
concerns. As Wehrli suggests, these animals are not to be sacrificed
or eaten because they are important coworkers to whom humans
owe special consideration.38 Thus the plough ox has toiled in the

 Wehrli, Die Schule, 56. Ovid’s Pythagoras again is closely connected to

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Carl Huffman

field with its owner and the ram is the head of its owner’s flocks. It
may thus be that, while all animals other than plow oxen and rams
can in principle be sacrificed and eaten, only animals into which
human souls do not enter are to be offered up for sacrifice, as is
suggested by one of the akousmata (Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean
Life, 85). Thus metempsychosis was reconciled with meat eating and
the killing of animals on the understanding that human souls are
only reborn in animals that are not sacrificed, such as the famous
puppy of Xenophanes. Pythagoras’ attitude toward animal sacrifice
and meat eating was thus significantly different from the horror
expressed by Empedocles (Fr. 137).39
What about the prohibition on eating beans? The rationalizing
case is strongest here, since Pythagoras is said not just to eat them
but to eat them more than any other type of pulse (i.e., more than
any other type of pea or bean), and this practice is supported by
the claim that beans smooth the bowels and allow things to pass
through them, which sounds like an appeal to rational medicine.
Moreover, Aristoxenus is usually presented as the sole authority to
deny the otherwise universal consensus that Pythagoras enjoined
abstinence from beans. Yet, if we consider the early evidence alone,
it is far from clear that there was any such consensus. In the case
of Empedocles we have the explicit command of Fragment 141:
“Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands away from beans,” but
there is no such unambiguous evidence for Pythagoras. Burkert cites
Aristotle Fragment 195 and Fragment 41 of Heraclides of Pontus
as fourth century evidence attesting to the prohibition on beans,40
but the case is weaker than it appears on first sight. Fragment 41

Aristoxenus in expressing horror at killing the ox that has worked alongside the
farmer (15. 122; See Boyance, Vie, 42).
  Fragments of Empedocles are cited below according to the numbering of
Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed.
(Berlin: Weidmann, 1952).
 Burkert, Lore, 183. Heraclides Fr. 41 is cited by Burkert from F. Wehrli, Die
Schule des Aristoteles, Volume 7: Heraclides, 2nd ed. (Basel: Benno Schwabe, 1967).
The most recent edition is Eckart Schütrumpf, Heraclides of Pontus: Texts and
Translation (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008), Fr. 129. Burkert
cites Fr. 195 of Aristotle from V. Rose, Aristotelis fragmenta (Leipzig: Teubner,

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

of Heraclides does not make any explicit reference to Pythagoras at

all, as Burkert admits. The fragment reports that, if someone puts a
bean in a fresh grave and buries it in dung for forty days, he will find
that the bean has turned into the face of a person; this phenomenon
in turn is used to explain a line of verse which equates the eating of
beans with eating the heads of your parents. Assuming that the list
of titles of the books of Heraclides provided by Diogenes Laertius is
exhaustive, Burkert concludes that this strange statement about beans
is likely to have come from Heraclides’ book On the Pythagoreans.
Even if we accept this far from conclusive argument, however, it
is not at all certain that Heraclides was ascribing the practice he
describes to the Pythagoreans rather than to some other people,
whom he compares to Pythagoreans. For all we know, he could
have asserted with Aristoxenus that Pythagoras himself ate beans
and gone on to contrast this with the practice of other Pythagoreans
or other groups who did not.
Burkert does not note, moreover, that the supposed evidence
from Aristotle is also problematic. Fragment 195 is derived from
Diogenes Laertius, The Lives of the Philosophers, VIII. 34. The
manuscript text reads “Aristotle says concerning beans [or “in the
book concerning beans”] that he advised them to abstain from beans
either because they are like the genitals or because they are like the
gate of Hades, for they alone have no hinges, or because they cause
harm, or because they are like the nature of the universe or because
they are [not?] oligarchic, seeing that they are used in elections by
lot.” Diogenes Laertius obviously takes the “he” in question to be
Pythagoras, since he includes this passage in his Life of Pythagoras,
but there is no explicit mention of Pythagoras. Scholars have found
a specific connection to Pythagoras by assuming that the marginal
lemma “concerning beans” has entered the text and replaced the
title of the work in which Aristotle made the remark, which is then
assumed to be On the Pythagoreans. In the list of Aristotle’s works are
two books on plants, however, so that it is possible that the remarks
were introduced in a section of this treatise on beans. If the remarks
do come from the work on the Pythagoreans, just as in the case of
Heraclides, it is still not certain that the reference is to Pythagoras.

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Carl Huffman

A skeptic might ask to whom else he could be referring, but there

is an obvious answer: Empedocles.
The first explicit assertion that Pythagoras forbade beans is not
found until the third century, in a two-line fragment of Callimachus:
“And I too tell you to keep your hands from beans, a harmful food,
as Pythagoras commanded.”41 The Greek used here for keeping
away from beans, κυάμων ἄπο χεῖρας ἔχειν is strikingly close to
Empedocles’ formulation κυάμων ἄπο χεῖρας ἔχεσθαι, so that one
may well wonder whether both in the case of the prohibition on
meat and the prohibition on beans Pythagoras is not being assigned
doctrines on the authority of Empedocles. Moreover, Burkert notes
that there may have been a ritual meal of beans as part of the
mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis, so that once again Pythagoras’
expertise in mystery rites may lie behind Aristoxenus’ comment.42
It remains true, however, that the emphasis on the bean as
Pythagoras’ favorite form of pulse is tendentious, and must be
imagined to be his or Xenophilus’ response to what they regarded as
mistaken understandings of Pythagoras’ teachings, either by extreme
ascetics such as the Pythagorists, or by those who were illegitimately
importing the prohibition on beans from Empedocles to Pythagoras.
Given the state of the evidence, I would argue that it is as likely as
not that Aristoxenus and his Pythagorean authorities are right that
Pythagoras issued no prohibition on beans, although the assertion
that it was his favorite vegetable because of its laxative properties
may be a speculative or humorous addition. The crucial point is
that Aristoxenus’ comments on Pythagoras’ dietary habits are not
primarily designed to disassociate Pythagoras from religious taboos,
as the traditional interpretation of Aristoxenus maintains. Rather,
they reveal a Pythagoras, who, while introducing some ethical and
medical issues, was still centrally focused on ritual concerns.
I have not had the space here to examine all of the evidence
for Aristoxenus’ account of Pythagoras. It is true that there is not
much trace in that evidence for legendary features of Pythagoras,

  Rudolf Pfeifer, Callimachus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), Fr. 553 =
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, XI. 2.
 Burkert, Lore, 184–185.

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Aristoxenus’ Account of Pythagoras

such as the famous golden thigh, although it is crucial to remember

how little of Aristoxenus’ book survives. Nonetheless, Aristoxenus’
Pythagoras is not a mathematician and no scientist either, or even
just a man of practical wisdom, who has no truck with the taboos
of ritual. He is very much what the other early evidence suggests:
an expert on the fate of the soul who believed in reincarnation and
who developed a way of life, including dietary restrictions, that
was heavily informed by religious ritual as well as by moral and
medical concerns. We can now see that Aristoxenus’ evidence leaves
Pythagoras the expert in religious ritual intact and that his crucial
contribution was in showing that Pythagoras was not a radical
ascetic, in the mode of Diodorus of Aspendus. Indeed, it would be
hard to explain Plato’s positive presentation of Pythagoras in the
Republic (600b), as beloved for promulgating a way of life, if he had
been such an ascetic.

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Plato’s Theory of Change
at Phaedo 70–71
David Sedley
The Phaedo is Plato’s most prolonged and systematic defense of
the soul’s immortality. Set on the day of Socrates’ execution, the
dialogue dramatically interprets his calm acceptance of death as
flowing from his conviction that the soul is immortal, and that a
soul which has lived a good embodied life will be rewarded with an
improved existence once it leaves behind the encumbrance of the
body. To this end, Plato puts into Socrates’ mouth a whole series of
arguments in favor of the soul’s immortality. All have had a rough
ride from critics, and none more so than the first in the sequence,
widely known as the Cyclical Argument. My own aim is not to prove
Plato’s argument sound. Nevertheless, I do not go along with those
interpreters who hold that Plato is, both here and even, according
to many, in the later stages of the dialogue, offering arguments
which he himself considers weak. Hence I must start with a word
in defense of the Cyclical Argument’s strategy.
The Cyclical Argument has the relatively modest aim of showing
that human souls survive the death of the body, without yet arguing
for their ultimate immortality. It starts out by asserting the Hades
mythology, and closes by reasserting it. In fact each of its three
sub-arguments concludes with a variant reaffirmation of the reality
of Hades. The first ends at 71e2 with the words, “Then our souls
exist in Hades.” The second ends at 72a7–8, “It is necessary that the
souls of the dead exist somewhere, from whence they are reborn.”
And the third and final sub-argument concludes at 72d10 as follows:
“the souls of the dead exist, and it is better for the good ones, worse
for the bad ones.” These last words are yet another way of affirming
the tradition about Hades, this time by referring to its function as

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David Sedley

a place of reward and punishment. Hence the almost unanimous

decision of editors and translators to delete them from the text,
unjustified in my view, has helped to disguise the centrality of
Hades to Socrates’ argument.
Like nearly all Plato’s numerous treatments of immortality, it
seems to me, this argument seeks by its repetitive emphasis on Hades
to incorporate, interpret and build on certain existing religious
traditions. That our souls are such as to survive death, go to Hades,
and perhaps return in new incarnations was part of a well-entrenched
body of belief, which started out with the weight of authority that
religious teaching typically lends.1 Homer had already described
the souls of the dead as maintaining a shadowy and insubstantial
existence in Hades, and the cultic movement broadly known as
Orphism had spread the additional belief, associated with Pythagoras
as well, that souls return repeatedly from the dead in a cycle of
reincarnations. Plato sees himself less as an innovator than as an
interpreter, rationalizer and defender of these religious currents. In
the Cyclical Argument, his project is less to prove the immortality
of the soul ab initio than to demonstrate the scientific respectabil-
ity of an existing religious tradition, by providing evidence that it
conforms to a universal law governing the nature of change.2
A further reason why the Cyclical Argument should be treated
with more sympathy than it is usually accorded is that it arguably
includes the earliest-known articulated theory regarding the logic
of change. It is not normally accorded the recognition that this
should earn it, nor does one typically find it ranked alongside
Aristotle’s often more enigmatic theories of change in the Physics,
On generation and corruption, and Metaphysics. My main aim in this
paper is to ask how good a theory of change it turns out to be in its
own right. I hope thereby to offer, as a bonus, some illumination

  Cf. its introduction at Meno 81a10–c4 as what is said by “priests and priest-
esses” with the backing of the poets.
  I have argued a similar point about the Phaedo’s Last Argument in “Three
kinds of Platonic immortality,” in Body and Soul in Ancient Philosophy, eds.
D. Frede and B. Reis (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009), 145–161. Richard Patterson
has helpfully pointed out to me that the argument of Laws X takes much the
same form.

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

on a very basic question regarding Plato’s metaphysics: what he

understands by “opposites” (enantia). With these aims in view, I
shall for present purposes concentrate mainly on the general princi-
ples of change outlined in the argument, and only toward the end
discuss their ensuing application to the particular case of life and
death. A full re-evaluation of the Cyclical Argument must wait for
another occasion.
The main argument runs as follows. In any change whereby
some subject acquires a property, provided that the property it
acquires has an opposite, the change is a change from that opposite:3
the hot comes from the previously cold, the large from the previously
small, and vice versa. The same symmetrical principle, then, should
apply to the pair of opposite properties alive and dead. Everyone can
agree that the dead come from the previously living. Therefore the
reverse should apply too: the living come from the previously dead.
If so, the souls of the dead must survive to be reborn.
This is presented as, in one way, a maximally general theory of
change. By that I do not mean that it necessarily covers all changes,
since it explicitly restricts itself to changes to and from properties
that have opposites. I mean that it covers change in all domains—
physical, moral, mathematical, etc.—or rather that it is entirely
neutral as to domain. As Socrates puts it, “Don’t consider this with
regard to humans only, but also to all animals and plants, and in
short for everything that has a coming-to-be let us see whether they
all come to be in this way” (70d7–e1).
Why so topic-neutral an account of change is required for the
purposes of this argument should be clear on a little reflection. The
soul is, by Plato’s own admission, ontologically unique. If therefore
the laws of change invoked in the Cyclical Argument were drawn
from just one domain, say physics, there would be no reason to accept

  The restriction to properties that have opposites is made explicit at 70e2
and 5. Suitably punctuated and construed, 71a9–10, πάντα οὕτω γίγνεται
ἐξ ἐναντίων τὰ ἐναντία πράγματα, does not contradict this. Editors place
a comma after γίγνεται, and translators have regularly rendered it “all things
come to be in this way, opposite things from opposites”; but the context requires
rather “all opposite things come to be in this way, from opposites.” (For an
alternative way of obtaining the required restriction, cf. C. Rowe, Plato: Phaedo
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 157.)

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David Sedley

that the soul should be governed by those very same principles.

Anyone could object that the soul is non-physical, and hence exempt
from physical laws. It is to guard against this kind of objection
that Plato seeks an account of the logic of change which is entirely
topic-neutral. And it is precisely that requirement, I am suggesting,
that gives his theory its generality, and thereby its special interest.
What, we must then ask, are the “opposites” between which
according to Plato things change? Leaving aside the highly problem-
atic cases of “alive” and “dead” themselves, in the course of his
explanation the examples invoked vary between a non-comparative
and a comparative form, but with a strong leaning toward the latter.
If “F” and “G” are the names of a pair of opposites, that is, the
description of change between them sometimes has it that the F
comes from the G, but much more often that the F-er comes from the
G-er. Consider the following passage (70d7–71b4), where the basic
description of change is laid down in strongly comparative terms:

“Well then,” he said, “if you want to understand

more easily, don’t consider this with regard to
humans only, but also to all animals and plants,
and in short for everything that has a coming-to-be
let us see whether they all come to be in this way:
that opposite things come to be from no other
source than their own opposites—all things, that
is, that actually have some kind of opposite. For
example the beautiful is, I presume, opposite to
the ugly, and just to unjust, and in fact there are
countless others like this. So let’s consider whether
everything that has an opposite necessarily comes to
be from nowhere other than from its opposite. For
example, whenever something comes to be larger,
necessarily, I presume, it’s from being smaller before
that it comes to be larger thereafter?”
“Now if it comes to be smaller, is it from being
larger before that it will later come to be smaller?”
“That’s so,” he said.

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

“Again, is it from being stronger that the weaker

comes to be, and from slower the faster?”
“Well, if something comes to be worse, won’t
it do so from better, and if more just, from more
“Of course.”
“So,” he said, “we have an adequate grasp of
this: all opposite things come to be in this way,
from their opposites?”
“Very well then. Is there something of the
following kind too found in them: between all
the pairs of opposites—two in each case—are there
two sorts of coming-to-be, from the one to the other
and conversely from the other to the one? Between
a thing when greater and smaller are there increase
and decrease, and do we thus call the one ‘growing’
the other ‘shrinking’?”4

Each of the processes of change under consideration is a

movement between two opposites. The opposites are named in a
non-comparative form, but as we have now seen confirmed, the
changes themselves are regularly described with comparatives.
Thus growth and shrinkage are species of change which involve
the opposites large and small; but that which grows becomes, not
large, but larger, and that which shrinks becomes, not small, but
smaller. Analogously, heating and cooling involve the hot and the
cold, and to heat up is to get hotter, though not necessarily to get
hot. Other such processes include, for example, improvement and
deterioration, whose terms are the good and the bad, and further
changes, such as becoming just or unjust, which may lack a name.
Plato nowhere in his works defines what he means by “opposites”
but a close analysis of the present argument offers us the chance to
  The translations of the Phaedo in this chapter are adapted from those by
Alex Long in Plato: Meno and Phaedo, eds., trans. David Sedley and Alex Long
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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David Sedley

pin down the concept. In principle, the so-called “opposites” between

which changes are here said to occur might be any of the following
three (I make no claim as to the correctness of the terminology, but
it will do for my present purposes):

1. Contraries. E.g., black/brown, walking/sitting:

different items on a single scale or in a single
range. Things on that scale or range cannot be
both, but can be neither (e.g., blue, running).
2. Polar contraries. E.g., black/white. Contraries
at opposite ends of a single scale. Again, things
on that scale cannot be both, but can be neither.
3. Contradictories (or exhaustive contraries).
E.g., black/non-black, walking/not-walking.
A pair of contraries so related that everything
on the scale or range is either one or the other.

Will any of these fit Plato’s account? We can quickly rule out
mere contraries. No doubt anything that changes does move between
some pair of contraries, for example from blue to green, or from hot
to lukewarm. But it is a feature of contraries in this sense that there
may be many more than two of them on one and the same scale,
and indeed a single continuous change of color or temperature may
even be deemed to pass through an indefinitely large number of
contraries. If changes were analyzed as being between contraries,
there would not be, as Plato says there is, a simple binary opposi-
tion governing each type of change. Instead of the hot coming
simply from the cold and vice versa, we might get the cold coming
sometimes from the hot, sometimes from the lukewarm, sometimes
from the scalding, and so on. And that indefinitely large range of
contraries would provide absolutely no model for the binary principle
according to which there is simply nothing for the living to come
from except the dead.
Polar contraries appear to fare no better, since they permit the
existence of an intermediate state. Plato, even in the Phaedo, does
speak of opposites as polar contraries, observing (90a) that in relation
to the opposite extremes on any scale the great majority of things

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

should be classed as intermediate.5 But for that very reason he cannot,

at least on the face of it, intend polar contraries as the terms between
which all changes occur, since that would for example exclude a
bad person from becoming mediocre, or a mediocre person good.
Largely for this reason, there has been very strong, indeed
majority, support for the third option, contradictories.6 On such an
interpretation of opposites, according to which the opposite of the
F is equivalent to the not-F, all changes must indeed be between
opposites, it being trivially true that to become F, a persisting subject
must previously have been not-F. Despite this initial advantage, the
“contradictories” interpretation faces several objections.
The first is that Socrates explicitly limits his law of change to the
acquisition of properties that possess opposites (70e2, 5, 103a8–9).
If opposites meant contradictories, no such restriction would make
sense: every property can be negated and therefore no property lacks
a contradictory.7
The second objection to the “contradictories” interpretation
is that Socrates’ repeated use of comparatives—his refrain that
something comes to be larger from smaller, colder from hotter, etc.—
would turn out to play no part in the analysis of change, and would
be seriously misleading. For a pair of comparative predicates like
“larger” and “smaller” are not in fact contradictories, admitting as
they do an intermediate predicate “equal”; and Plato has certainly not
overlooked this, since just a few pages later, at 75c, he has Socrates list
“Equal, Larger and Smaller” as a linked trio of transcendent Forms.
The third objection to the “contradictories” interpretation
likewise turns on the need for it to disregard Socrates’ repeated use

  Cf. Republic 9.583c3–9, where it is explicit that (a) pleasant and painful
are opposites, and (b) there is an intermediate state that is neither pleasant nor
  See in particular Jonathan Barnes, review of D. Gallop, Plato: Phaedo
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975) in Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8 (1978),
397–419; David Bostock, Plato’s Phaedo (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1986), 43–51. The same view can also be found in Michael Pakaluk, “Degrees
of Separation in the Phaedo,” Phronesis 48 (2003), 89–115. My own position is
in effect a development of Gallop’s, for which see also his reply to Barnes: David
Gallop, “Plato’s ‘Cyclical Argument’ recycled,” Phronesis, 27 (1982), 207–222.
  I owe this point to David Ebrey. Cf. Bostock, Plato’s Phaedo, 49.

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David Sedley

of comparatives. Such a neglect seriously impoverishes his analysis

of change. On the “contradictories” interpretation, all we can strictly
speaking say about a subject’s change is diachronic: that over some
period of time it has changed or will change. It possesses at one
time a property which at another time it lacks. We are none the
wiser about how the change occurred. But the description of change
which Socrates in fact offers is cast in the present tense. Greek does
not distinguish, as English does, between the generalizing use of
the present tense, as in “trees grow,” and the present continuous,
as in “the tree is growing.” But we should in principle hope that
when Socrates asks what happens “whenever something comes to be
larger” (70e) he has in mind, at least partly, the synchronic question,
concerning change at a time: what is happening right now, when
something is growing? As I hope to show shortly, the comparatives
are needed in order to supply this desired synchronic account.
A further attraction of allowing the comparatives to play an
integral role is that, on such an analysis, a newly planted tree is
not obliged to pass from “small” to “large” in order to grow, it is
enough that it should get larger, that is, larger than before. That
there has been global warming should not have to entail that the
Arctic has gone from cold to hot, but just from colder to hotter.
The comparatives seem vital to any adequate account of progressive
change, and should not be downplayed.
Unfortunately this same central role played by the comparatives
also generates a difficulty. In the example where the tree has come
to be larger from being smaller, we have to ask: larger than what,
and smaller than what? If the answer is that it has come to be larger
than it was on the day it was planted from being smaller than it is
now, we have a new problem on our hands, pertinently raised by
David Bostock. The two predicate expressions, “larger than it was on
the day it was planted” and “smaller than it is now” are not any sort
of opposites. They are not even contraries, since something could
easily satisfy both descriptions simultaneously. In fact, throughout
the growing process the tree was both larger than on the day it was
planted and smaller than it is now.
This difficulty should not however force us back to the unsatis-
factory “contradictories” option. Rather, we must seek a better way

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

to qualify the comparatives. My suggestion comes in two versions,

one for the diachronic view of change, one for the synchronic view.
Take first diachronic change. If the tree grows between T1 and
T2, we can say that it starts out at T1 smaller than at any T between
T1 and T2 and ends up at T2 larger than at any T between T1 and
T2 . The italicized predicate expressions, smaller than at any time
between T1 and T2 and larger than at any time between T1 and T2 are
ones that nothing could satisfy simultaneously. And that would
appear to remove any obstacle to Plato’s calling smaller and larger
“opposites” in such a case.8
With this analysis in mind, one might sum up what Plato means
by “opposites” as “converse contraries.”

4. F and G will be converse contraries if and only if

(1) F and G are contraries,9 and
(2) x is F compared with y if and only if y
 is G compared with x.10

In (2), the choice of “F compared with y,” etc. rather than

“more F than y” is to allow for the fact that many opposites can
be expressed indifferently in the non-comparative or comparative
form. For example, in Plato’s usage “large” and “larger” function as
  This analysis excludes cases where at an intermediate point of the process the
subject changing from F-er to G-er passes through a stage of being F-er than at
the beginning or G-er than at the end. Such a case would have to be decomposed
into a series of discrete processes of alternate F-ening and G-ening. However, it
would be odd to suggest that this decomposition applies only in cases where at
least one of the termini is exceeded during the process. It will be better to say that
any change must, strictly speaking, be decomposed into alternating sub-changes
if within it there are reversals of direction, and that the present case, where a
terminus is exceeded during the process, is just a special case of this.
  The inclusion of (1) is to avoid making a term like “equal” its own opposite. It
also avoids the risk of making any pair of correlatives into opposites, for example
master-slave or owner-property, although this depends also on how “compared
with” in (2) is understood.
  When both x and y are very near one end of the scale, the converse relation
may seem inappropriate. For example, as Socrates observes at Gorgias 473d7–
e2, of two very unhappy people one may be the unhappier but this does not
entitle the other to be called “happier.” However, he himself seems to disregard
that ruling at 525e4–5; and at all events, on any reading the Cyclical Argument
commits Plato to some such paradox.

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David Sedley

synonyms, there being no essential difference between “x is larger

than y” and “x is large compared with y.”
The omission of explicit comparatives from the formulation in
favor of “compared with ” brings with it a further advantage. In
a famous argument at the end of Republic V, Plato lists a number of
familiar pairs of opposites, such as beautiful and ugly, and large and
small, which his speaker Socrates says are bound always to appear
alongside each other in sensible particulars, although not in the
corresponding transcendent Forms (the thesis of the “Compresence
of Opposites”). In this list of opposites he includes “half ” and
“double”: there is not one of the many doubles, remarks Socrates,
that will not also appear half (479b). Scholars do not often enough
pause to remark on the strangeness of this pair of supposed opposites.
In no way could they pretend to be contradictories, it being absurd
to maintain that on the scale of fractions whatever is not a half is
a double and vice versa. Nor do they, as large and small do, belong
on a single sliding scale where comparatives would play a part: there
are no degrees of halfness or doubleness. On the other hand they are
converse contraries, as I have defined these: (1) half and double are
contraries (incompatible items in a single range), and (2) x is half
compared with y if and only if y is double compared with x. Although
this pair of opposites plays no part in the Cyclical Argument, it is
important to note that its existence will be mentioned in passing
later in the dialogue.11 Hence we should not be expecting Plato’s
view of opposites to have undergone any major change between
Phaedo and Republic, and we can safely use the two dialogues to
shed light on each other.
The identification of opposites with converse contraries brings
with it a further gain. As I conceded earlier, Plato does sometimes
in the Phaedo itself apply the term “opposites” to items which are
in fact polar contraries between which he himself holds that at least
one intermediate term is located: large and small (intermediate
term “equal,” Phaedo 75c9), and good and bad (intermediate term
“mediocre,” Phaedo 90a1–2). And the same point is still treated

  Phaedo 105a7–8, where Cebes needs no explanation (cf. 105b4) in order to


understand Socrates’ remark that double has an opposite. Cf. the earlier dialogue
Charmides, 168c6–7, οὐ γάρ ἐστίν που ἄλλου διπλάσιον ἢ ἡμίσεος.

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

as uncontroversial in the much later Sophist (257b6–7), where the

“not-large” is explicitly distinguished from the “opposite” of large
on the grounds that “not-large” includes the equal as well as the
small, whereas the opposite of large, it is clearly implied, is simply the
small. We can now, however, see that these polar contraries qualify
as opposites not because they are polar contraries, but because they
are converse contraries. Even though “equal” is an intermediate
term between large and small, all growth is simply a dyadic process
from the small to the large—apparently by-passing the equal. And
the reason for this is that “small” and “large” function, explicitly or
implicitly, as comparatives: things grow from the small(er) to the
large(r), and no third term is needed. The point can be generalized
to almost the entire range of Platonic opposites. But not to all:
opposites which do not admit of degrees, such as half and double,
for this very reason do not have an intermediate term either.
I have proposed that, diachronically, Plato would analyze change
between opposite termini as in the following example: if the tree
grows between T1 and T2, it goes from being smaller than at any time
between T1 and T2 to being larger than at any time between T1 and
T2 . I do not, however, want to suggest that this way of qualifying
the comparatives is yet sufficient for Plato’s account. Like the earlier
analysis in terms of contradictories, this one offers us a diachronic
explanation of change merely in terms of its two termini: the tree
has grown between T1 and T2 provided only that, within the period
specified, it was at its smallest at T1 and at its largest at T2 . It has
told us nothing about what it is to be changing.
Consider then the synchronic analysis of change. In addition
to describing the tree’s initial and end states, it is natural to say that
at a time T1.5, which lies between T1 and T2, the tree is growing,
provided that it is becoming larger from being smaller. How are we
to qualify the comparatives this time? Not by saying that at T1.5 it
is passing from being smaller than at any time between T1 and T2    to
being larger than at any time between T1 and T2 , since that tells us
no more than that T1.5 falls between the start and the end of the
process of growth, and not what it is for it to be growing right now.
Rather, I take it, we should expect Plato to say that at T1.5 the tree
is becoming larger than at T1.5 from being smaller than at T1.5. Its

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David Sedley

condition is such that, within some postulated period of growth,

however short, at any T after T1.5 it will be larger than at T1.5, and
at any T before T1.5 it was smaller than at T1.5. Once again we have
been compelled to expand “larger” and “smaller” into a pair of
respectable opposites, albeit differently qualified from last time.12
I do not want to suggest that this new formulation does not
itself require further definition and refinement. But it does, I hope,
reinforce my main point, which is that Bostock’s objection about
how Plato’s comparatives, if taken seriously, could be coherently
qualified is not insuperable. Whether or not we suppose that, off
stage, Plato had identified and resolved the problems of how to fill
out an analysis of change in terms of passing between comparative
predicates, his intuition that this is indeed a fruitful way to analyze
change was a philosophically sound one, which we would do well
to allow him to keep.
In arguing that the comparative analysis of change is a success-
ful one, fully intended by Plato, I may seem to have painted myself
into a corner. The purpose of Plato’s analysis of change is to show
that a two-way transition between alive and dead conforms to that
same analysis. Yet alive and dead are not, or at least not obviously,
comparative terms, but typically function as absolute predicates—
indeed, as contradictories.
Consider, then, the case of turning a light on and off with
a dimmer switch. The process will correspond accurately to the
analysis of change I have attributed to Plato: the light starts out
more fully off than at any other point in the process and ends up
more fully on than at any other point in the process, having been
at various other stages of on-ness in the interval between the two
extremes. But now suppose that the dimmer is replaced by a simple
on-off switch. Does the fact that the change from off to on is now
instantaneous rather than gradual mean that henceforth the light
does not undergo what is fundamentally the same transition between
the same opposite states of off and on? That may seem counter-
intuitive, and one might well prefer to suppose that the comparative

  For a similar formulation, cf. Theodor Ebert, Platon, Phaidon (Göttingen:


Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 177.

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

statements are still technically true, but redundant. We will simply

say that the light is now on, and gain nothing by adding that it is
more on than before we flicked the switch, despite the fact that this
latter is in fact true. If dead and alive are like off and on, it may
appear, we should not have to worry too much about whether Plato
thought the transition between them was instantaneous, as with an
on-off switch, or gradual, as with a dimmer.
On the other hand, these reflections show no more than that
an attenuated diachronic account of switching on the light in terms
of change along a scale can survive. No synchronic account will
be available, since there is ex hypothesi no instant at which the light
is neither fully on nor fully off, and at which it could therefore be
said to be changing from the one to the other. Plato is hardly going
to deny that there are such changes, perhaps instantaneous ones,
between contradictory states, but there is little reason to think that
he has those in view in the present argument, founded as it is on
the use of comparatives.13
This makes all the more acute the question how the predicates
alive and dead can fit the present analysis. What does Plato
understand by these terms? Fortunately the primary answer is clear,
because “death” enjoys the privilege, rare in the Phaedo, of receiving
a fairly formal definition. Death is the separation of the soul from
the body.14 Human beings are alive when their body and soul are
together, dead when their body and soul are separated.
In leading up to the all-important case of transition between life
and death, Socrates’ last three illustrative examples are: separating
and combining, cooling and heating, and waking up and falling
asleep (71b6–e3).

“And again ‘separating’ and ‘combining,’ ‘cooling

down’ and ‘heating up,’ and everything like

  This will apply inter alia to a familiar pair of Platonic opposites, odd and
even. If by addition or subtraction a set of things becomes numerically odd, it
was previously even, and vice versa. There is no transition, and no intermediate
state. Saying that it is now odd compared with its previous evenness may possibly
be true, but is certainly redundant.
  Phaedo 64c2–9, 67d4–5.

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David Sedley

this—even if we don’t use names for them in some

cases, still in point of fact must the following be
true in every case, both that they come to be from
one another and that there is coming-to-be of either
to one another?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
“Very well,” he said. “Does living have an
opposite, as being awake has being asleep?”
“It certainly does,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Being dead,” he said.
“Then do these come to be from one another,
since they are opposites, and are the sorts of
coming-to-be between them two in number, as
they themselves are two?”
“Of course.”
“Well then,” said Socrates, “I’ll tell you one of
the pairs I just mentioned, both the pair itself and its
sorts of coming-to-be. You tell me the other pair. I
call one thing ‘being asleep,’ another ‘being awake,’
and say that it is from being asleep that being awake
comes to be, and from being awake being asleep,
and their sorts of coming-to-be are falling asleep
and waking up. Does that satisfy you,” he said, “or
“Now you tell me,” he said, “about life and
death in the same way. You say that being dead is
the opposite of being alive?”
“I do.”
“And that they come to be from one another?”
“So what is it that comes to be from the living?”
“The dead,” he said.
“And what,” he said, “from the dead?”
“I must grant,” he said, “that it’s the living.”

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

“In that case, Cebes, is it from the dead that

both living things and living people come to be?”
“It appears so,” he said.
“Then our souls exist in Hades,” he said.
“So it seems.”
Notice how the three examples of symmetrically related binary
processes are chosen to pave the way for the fourth and final pair,
dying and coming to life. Separation and combination, first of all,
are the genus of which dying, the severing of soul from body, can
be assumed to be a species; this consideration, if it does not compel
us, at least invites us to think of the opposed process, coming to life,
as a species of the opposed genus, combination. Thus the combina-
tion-separation cycle represents the life-death cycle from the point
of view of the relation of soul to body. Cooling and heating, in their
turn, match dying and coming to life from the specific point of view
of the body, dead bodies being cold and living bodies warm. Waking
and sleeping, lastly, are analogous to living and dying not only in
that they involve the cessation and resumption of certain cognitive
functions, thus representing the point of view of the soul rather
than the body, but also in that they occur to each individual in an
indefinitely repeatable cycle, much as Socrates hopes to persuade
us that living and dying occur to each soul cyclically. In short, the
series of examples has been meticulously chosen for its increasing
convergence on the life-death cycle.
In the light of these analogies, it is worth briefly revisiting the
question of continuous versus instantaneous change. Heating and
cooling are no doubt gradual processes. But being asleep and being
awake are thought of with equal facility either as simple contradic-
tories, with an instantaneous transition, or in comparative terms,
with falling asleep a gradual process of transition from complete
wakefulness to deep sleep. Separation may likewise be analyzed
either as an instantaneous event, complete from the moment at
which the two initially combined entities cease to be in contact, or
as a gradual coming apart, as when cream and milk separate after
a milk bottle has been shaken. In the special case of that separation
which is death, at any rate, the evidence of the text tends to favor
attributing to Plato a gradualist understanding. To select an informal

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David Sedley

example, in the closing scene of the dialogue Socrates’ own death

after drinking the hemlock takes the form of a gradual cessation of
vital functions, from the feet upward. More formally, in the opening
conversation Socrates has described the philosopher as to some extent
already living his own death, in that a truly philosophical soul is
largely independent of the body: “The philosophers’ practice is this
very thing, release and parting of soul from body?” (67d). Even souls
that have been parted from bodies may not be fully detached from
them, which is why they seek reincarnation in flesh at the earliest
opportunity. In fact only truly philosophical souls are so detached
from the body as to aspire to permanent severance from it.
In the light of this, we should feel at liberty to read Plato’s entire
theory of change between opposites, expounded in the Cyclical
Argument, as designed to analyze progression along scales, and not
shifts that toggle instantaneously between contradictories. Even the
soul’s separation from the body, which Plato equates with death, is
likely to be conceived on that gradualist model.
We have seen Socrates’ own insistence that this theory of change
applies only to changes to and from opposites. And it has seemed an
advantage of equating opposites with converse contraries that, unlike
the “contradictories” analysis, the resultant account caters for gradual
changes. Yet it can hardly be denied that there are gradual changes
to which it does not apply. These exceptions are likely to include
locomotions, such as travel from Athens to Thebes; substantial
changes, like an acorn’s becoming an oak; and qualitative changes,
such as an apple’s change of color from green to red. In none of these
cases are the termini of the change analyzable as a pair of opposites.
Nevertheless, the gradualness of such changes very probably can be
captured by the “converse contraries” account. Athens and Thebes
are not opposites, nor are there degrees of being-in-Athens; but the
gradualness of the journey from Athens to Thebes can be captured in
terms of the traveller being increasingly far from Athens or increas-
ingly close to Thebes. Similarly, green and red are not themselves
opposites, but in turning from green to red the apple also makes
a gradual change from non-red to red, and another from green to
non-green. It is possible that, although on Socrates’ own admission

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Plato’s Theory of Change at Phaedo 70–71

not all changes are between opposites, change between opposites is

an essential component of every change.15
There are also liable to be cases of authentic Platonic opposites
which fail to serve the account of change as I have reconstructed
it. Consider again the problematic pair double and half. There is
certainly such a change as doubling, and since double and half
are classed as opposites, Plato appears to be committed to saying
in accordance with a common Greek usage16 that, diachronically
speaking, the doubled item passes from being half to being double.
If so that must, unfortunately, mean passing from half its eventual
size to double its original size. Plato is going to have considerable
problems finding a diachronic analysis that makes those expanded
terms come out as a pair of bona fide opposites. It may, therefore, be
of interest to note that double and half would not lend themselves any
better to the synchronic analysis of change. Whereas we have seen
Plato to have a perfectly good account of what it is for something
to be growing at T even without any reference to the termini of the
process, there is nothing about an item’s state at and around T that,
without additional reference to the termini of the process, could
constitute its being in the course of doubling its size at T.
One reason why doubling does not feature among the examples
catalogued in the Cyclical Argument may then be that the account
of change there was devised very much with synchronic change in
mind. And if Plato’s interest here is above all in synchronic change,
viewed as transition along a scale, its emphasis on comparative
predicates lies at its very heart. Such a conclusion may have profound
implications for how we understand his conceptions of dying and
being born.17

  This idea arose from discussion at the Moral Sciences Club, Cambridge, and
especially from a suggestion made by Catherine Rowett.
  Cf. Statesman 262a1–2.
  In addition to the Delphi conference in honor of Charles Kahn, versions of
this paper have been presented to audiences at the University of East Anglia, the
University of Cambridge (Moral Sciences Club), and the University of Bristol.
I am grateful for the helpful comments I received on all four occasions, and for
others received in writing from David Ebrey, Charles Kahn and Richard Patterson.
It is an honor to be contributing to this celebration of Charles Kahn’s life and
work, and I dedicate the above chapter to him in friendship and admiration.

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Virtue and Law in the Republic
Julia Annas
As is familiar, in Plato’s most famous work Socrates creates an ideally
virtuous city in order to illustrate, in “larger letters,” what virtue
is in people. If we can understand this, Plato thinks, we will grasp
the answer to the crucial question, how we should live (352d7).
This question is crucial because Plato takes it for granted that we
all want the life which is best for us, the happy, εὐδαίμων, life.
The Republic aims to show us that we will live happy lives not by
pushing for our own individual interests but by becoming virtuous
people; the city which models this is one which is virtuous, and
so happy.1 The overall virtue of both individual and city is that of
δικαιοσύνη, usually translated as justice.2 The virtue of justice is
the same in city and in individual (435a6–b2); it turns out to be a
relation among components of a whole, a relation which, we find in
the central books, is properly to be studied in the abstract manner
of mathematics. City and soul both illustrate the very same thing,3
namely justice, explored in the overall framework of a search for the
answer to the question, what is a good or a bad life for us.
So far so familiar; I hope to explore a less familiar perspective on
this well-known work, namely to examine the place in the Republic
of law. This turns out to shed light not only on the Republic itself

  I take it that the city is virtuous and happy when its citizens are; I do not
argue for this somewhat disputed point in the present context.
  There are well-known problems with translating δικαιοσύνη by our far
narrower term justice, but there is no one satisfactory term in English. It is virtue
in general rather than justice in the narrow sense which is being discussed in the
individual, and this is a good reason for talking, as I do in this context, of the
ideally virtuous city rather than the just one.
  Familiar references to “the city-soul analogy” can be misleading; justice is the
same thing in city and in individual person.

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but also on its relation to the Laws. I present this piece with some
trepidation to someone who has worked as long and as brilliantly
on both works as has Charles. I hope it will serve at least as a very
small token of gratitude for our many discussions about Plato over
the years, especially those which greatly improved my earlier work
on the Republic. It is offered gratefully and with the warmest wishes.
Study of the ideally virtuous city described in the Republic has
tended to focus on what it shares with the ideally virtuous individ-
ual, namely its components and their relationships. The individual’s
three components, again familiarly, are reason, θυμός or “spirit”
and the desires.4 Only when reason is able to perform its appropriate
function, namely ruling the whole, can the other parts perform their
appropriate functions; all the components are in the right relation
and justice results as a virtue of the whole person only when reason
rules. Justice will, then, result in the city when we find the same
relationships among its components.
Socrates claims that in the city there are three types of people,
types which correspond (in ways that have been variously interpreted)
to the three types of motivation in the individual. In the city we find
the Producers, who do the manual work, and who are taken to be
focussed on the satisfaction of their own desires and the means to
these, mainly money; the Auxiliaries, people who are focussed on
honor and status and who form the military part of the city; and
the Guardians, who are focussed on pursuing truth, and who are
the only ones in the city who can understand what is best for the
whole city, rather than just for themselves or for any of the other
parts. Although they themselves wish most to engage in what is
valuable, namely rigorous study of abstract matters, they have to
rule the city in turn, because they are the only ones with the right
understanding, and the right temperament and training, to do so
in the interests of all, and thus justly.
Only a few have the right combination of natural endowments
to become Guardians, and these go through a tough regime of
training to eliminate the unsuitable. First they are brought up and

  In the present context I am taking no stand on the nature of the “parts” of
the soul.

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

have early education in a way sketched in Books 2 and 3:5 they are
to be surrounded by attractive environments encouraging virtuous
and co-operative behavior and thoughts, which are also furthered by
suitably censored stories presenting gods and heroes as virtuous and
co-operative. Then they go through physical and military training,
and then training in mathematical studies of increasing complexity.
The survivors go on to do “dialectic” or philosophical thinking,
which enables them to grasp synoptically the significance of their
previous studies and go on further to study the nature of goodness.
The Guardians rule and the other citizens obey; Plato is famously
unworried by this asymmetry of power. The Guardians are not
accountable to the other citizens for what they do or the orders
they give to the others, even though they may, for example, lie and
mislead in ways forbidden to the others. Rule of this absolute kind
is appropriate, Plato holds, only where the ruler does in fact have
knowledge of the kind a ruler needs to rule well, and it would be
absurd for such a ruler to be accountable to the ignorant. The briefly
sketched long accounts of the different stages of the Guardians’
formation and education are to show us what would be involved in
achieving such knowledge. Because these conditions are so demand-
ing, we can see that Plato does not have a readily applicable politi-
cal model in mind. But no alternative is given for establishing a
good city other than finding people with the right combination of
abilities and temperament, and educating them in the appropriate
way. As Socrates says, philosophers would have to become kings or
vice versa; even educating a community consisting only of people
ten and under would work only if the educators were themselves
already like the Guardians.


Clearly it is the Guardians’ formation and education, their
παιδεία, which is crucial for both setting up and maintaining an
ideally virtuous city. This is stressed so heavily that it is not surprising
that accounts of the ideal city in the Republic do not stress laws;

  The Auxiliaries share this early training, but Plato soon focuses entirely on the

Guardians, who are his main interest.

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often they do not even mention them.6 This is understandable,

in view of the prominence of the parallel of city and individual;
most readers find it natural to focus on the components, and their
relationships, which city and individual share. This can, however,
lead us to overlook the fact that law is actually quite pervasive in
the Republic. References to law and to lawgiving are frequent,7 and
examining what they indicate illuminates what Plato is doing both
there and in the Laws.8

To begin, the background. It is assumed on all hands, as obvious,
that laws are central to the establishment and maintenance of cities.9
Thrasymachus assumes that cities pass laws in the interests of the
rulers (338d6–339a4). Glaucon describes the origins of justice as
the way we describe the results of people compromising and making
laws (358e2–359b5). The laws, as well as the poets, are the source
of information about the gods (365d9–e2). Premature dialecticians
in actual cities come to be filled with παρανομία, lawless behavior
coming from contempt for the laws (537e4). Treating the law in a
way that is not serious also leads to the point that people in badly
ordered cities keep on passing laws, not realizing that they are just
  On this issue I am modifying, though not totally rejecting, the account I gave
in my Introduction to Plato’s Republic (1981), 105–106. See also the interesting
article by Malcolm Schofield, “Law and Absolutism in the Republic,” Polis 23 #
2 (2006), 319–327.
  A conservative tally of occurrences of terms for law or lawgiving in or
concerning the ideally virtuous city comes to over 40. This expands when we
bring in terms like εὺνομία (law and order), παρανομία (lawlessness) and the
  I am not here going into the question of the precise scope of nomos.
In what follows I assume that a concern with nomos is taken by Plato
unproblematically to cover a concern not only with written laws but with topics
falling under “unwritten law”­—matters of practice which are in accordance
with the spirit of the laws. This is unlike the sharp division in modern thought
between legal and non-legal matters.
  In Protagoras’ long speech in the Protagoras (324d–328c), he follows up an
account of formation and education of the young by commenting that the laws
take over and make people live according to their pattern (παράδειγμα). We are
to live “within” the laws the way that learners have to write within the lines that
teachers draw on their writing-tablets (326c6–e1).

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

cutting off Hydra’s heads (426e3–7). Treating the law lightly also
turns out to be bad for the naive person who, when asked what the
fine is, answers what he heard from the lawgiver, but cannot support
this himself, and so is refuted by someone clever (538d6–e4); not
having got enough support from the law, he turns against it. Even
our desires, it turns out, are disciplined by the laws, as well as by
our better desires, though some of them can emerge in sleep as
lawless (παράνομοι) (571b3–c1). In the tyrant these are no longer
constrained by laws and come out in waking life (574d8–e2).
Also important are νόμιμα, things that are required by νόμος.
Philosophers familiar with the Republic may think that Plato does
not have a high opinion of things that are merely νόμιμα, for we
cannot help thinking of the famous passage in the Book 5 discussion
of knowledge where we find that the many νόμιμα of the many
about the fine and other things roll around between not-being and
purely being (479d2–4). I will not here go into the many compli-
cations of this passage, many of which arise from uncertainty as
to whether the νόμιμα in question are actions required by law, or
beliefs about what is thus required. From the present point of view
this is not the important point. Rather, to understand this passage
here we should recollect the naive person at 538d6–e4, who has
beliefs about what is fine and acts accordingly, but has no adequate
answer to the person who challenges him to say what the fine is.
The νόμιμα of the many are likewise epistemologically inadequate
and thus easily destabilized. The problem with them, however, is
their lack of adequate grounding, not the content. We can see this
from other occurrences of νόμιμα elsewhere in the work.
The well-educated Guardians, for example, will, we are told,
rediscover νόμιμα which appear small, but are quite important—
courteous manners of the young to the old, haircuts, fashions in
clothes and so on (425a7–b5). These are ways of acting which
Socrates says have been lost (in Athens, presumably), and their
rediscovery in a better city is not just a matter of one mere conven-
tion rather than another. These are clearly approved and good ways
of acting, not indifferent activities merely sanctioned by law or
convention. The Guardians must also be steadfast, in their studies
and also in war and other νόμιμα (537d1–3)—activities required

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of them by the law which are not mere conventions. Further, in the
Book 9 passage, discussing the image of the man with a little man
and beasts inside, we find that some of our νόμιμα about the fine
and the shameful do have a good grounding; they derive from our
views about someone’s internal structure. What is by law or conven-
tion thought fine, for example, reflects a belief that the little inner
man is in charge of his beasts, and what is thought shameful, from a
belief that the person’s inner beasts are dominating him (589c6–d3).
Here again νόμιμα are correct, even though we, the people who
have them, are clearly not in the ideally virtuous city. An activity’s
being νόμιμον is not, then, in the Republic, regarded negatively
(except perhaps from the epistemological point of view). It is just
the idea of requirement by law or convention, and this is assumed
to be a good thing generally, not only in the ideally virtuous city.

These background attitudes to the centrality of laws in cities,
and to the value and importance of doing what is required by the
laws, might of course turn out to be philosophically trivial, no more
than a reflection of Plato’s background views absorbed from his own
upbringing. The developed use of the notions of law and lawgiving
in the presentation of the ideally virtuous state, however, suggest
that more is going on than that.
It is central, for example, to the sketch of the ideally virtuous
city that it is built up via the conception of Socrates and his interloc-
utors as the lawgivers for the city, establishing its laws. Lawgiving
is here of course a metaphor, but, as we shall see, it has important
The idea of legislating, and the discussants as lawgivers, is
introduced almost at the beginning of the long discussion of the
type of education needed to produce the kind of people the city
needs as its Guardians. Socrates gives examples of bad stories which
falsely present the gods as quarrelling and as producing evils for
humans. He introduces the idea that “we” will “not allow” these
stories, and that no one is to be permitted to say these things “in
his own city, if it is to be well-governed (εὐνομεῖσθαι).” Glaucon

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

says that he likes “this law” and votes for it; Socrates responds that
this is one of the “laws (νόμοι) and patterns (τύποι) that poets
must conform to,” and the discussion of these patterns concludes
later with Glaucon saying that he agrees with these patterns and
would make them laws.10 The legislating idea is thus introduced
as a natural way of describing an ideally virtuous city and the way
people in it should behave. Frequently Socrates represents the laws as
what Glaucon is legislating for the city. Glaucon is told at 403b4–c2
that “this is how you will legislate in the city being founded” about
proper non-sexual erotic conduct. At 409e4–410a4 he is told how
he will legislate about medicine and about judging. At 458c6–d4
he is told that, “You, as the lawgiver, will pick out women as well
as men” and make arrangements for them. At 463c6–e1 he is asked
whether he will legislate merely the use of the words “father” and
other family terms, or also the appropriate behavior. And Socrates
says at 497c7–d2 that there must always be in the city an element
with the same reason (λόγος) as the one according to which “you,
Glaucon” laid down the laws.
Although Glaucon is represented as the legislator here, he is
always laying down laws that have emerged from discussions with
Socrates. Indeed, in one passage, just after Socrates has told him
that he will legislate about the education for the “children” he is
“bringing up,” Glaucon responds, “I will legislate, together with
you” (534d3–e1). And often it is “we” who legislate, namely both
Socrates and his interlocutor in agreement. We were not too ideal
in legislating that women as well as men should be Guardians, says
Socrates (456c1–3). We will legislate about the Guardians’ living
arrangements (417b6–8). Shall we lay down this law, about not
harrying fellow-Greeks in war, asks Socrates? Let’s lay it down,
replies Glaucon (471c1–3).
Because so many of the references to lawgiving take this form,
it might seem reasonable simply to see them as a handy metaphor
used in building up the general picture of the ideally virtuous city.
All the talk of law could then be seen just as an application of the
background idea that of course a city has laws, and behavior in

  Republic 380b3–c10; 383c6–7.

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the city is to be described in terms of those laws. Even so, this is a

significant metaphor, put to frequent use. The picture of Socrates
and Glaucon as lawgivers occurs far more frequently than, and is far
more prominent than, the other two metaphors of their “founding”
the city and of “bringing up” the citizens. Moreover, its heavy use
has an important implication which we can see in several passages.
The importance of getting the right “breeding” is represented as the
need to legislate about the marriage festivals (459e6–460a6). The
importance of mathematical studies for those who are to hold high
office is represented as an appropriate task for legislation (525b9–c6).
The city’s need to be rid of bad elements is represented as calling for
a good legislator, like a good doctor (564b9–c5). The importance
of unity in the ideally virtuous city is represented as its being the
highest good a lawgiver could aim at in establishing laws (462a2–7).
In general, then, we can conclude that if an aim is an important one
for the achievement of the ideally virtuous city, Plato thinks that
no argument is needed for it to be taken as an appropriate object
for legislation. The lawgiving metaphor embodies this assumption.


The descriptive framework of legislation results in a large number
of passages where the behavior of the citizens of the ideal state is
described in terms of conformity to laws, and also in terms of acting
virtuously. The city is described generally as an example of εὐνομία,
law and order, as opposed to disorder, and also as having citizens
obedient to laws; citizens’ virtuous behavior is also characterized as
conformity to the city’s laws.
The ideally virtuous city is frequently said to be well-governed
(εὐνομεῖσθαι). Εὐνομία is “law and order” combining the ideas of
being governed by law and having citizens obedient to law. It is as
so characterized that the city is said to have people who devote their
lives, and health, to doing their sole job (406c1–8), to be unified,
with all pleased and grieved by the same things (462d1–3), to reject
much traditional poetry because of its effects on the soul (605a2–b5,
607b2–c8). These are all very familiar ideas in the Republic, but it is

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salutary in the present context to recall that they are all respects in
which the ideally virtuous city is said to merit being called εὔνομος.
Laws are mentioned fairly frequently in situations of the citizens’
lives. The Guardians will choose a suitable place for the “camp”
suited for defence against enemies, and to control those inside, in
case anyone refuses to obey the laws (415d6–e3). The Guardians,
if they stick to their educational program, will not change any of
the important laws (445d9–e2). The citizens will in every way be
at peace with one another as a result of the laws (465b6–7). The
notorious reforms in Book 5, that women should be Guardians,
that there should be no family life, that the production of children
should be regulated and that victors in war should be rewarded by
physical affection are all called νόμοι, laws (453c8–d2, 457b7–c8,
461b3, e2–3, 465a1, 468b13–c3, 471c1–3). Their revolutionary
character is recognized, in the case of the first, by mention of τὸ
τραχὺ τοῦ νόμου, the difficult, harsh aspect of the law (452c4–5).
The decline of the ideally virtuous person, in Books 8 and
9, is familiar as a decline in character; it happens when there is a
failure of the Guardians to “breed” properly, and hence a failure in
the παιδεία that is so important for keeping the city stable. The
decline from ruler through timocrat, oligarch and democrat to the
tyrant is a decline in the kind of person, as his inferior components
become ever more dominant. The degeneration from one type of life
to another in the individual is represented as a series of ever more
damaging decisions made by a person about how to live his life, each
rendered worse by the limiting effects of the previous bad decision,
which has already led to breakdown and corruption of character.11
However, it is equally stressed in the text that this degener-
ation is also a progressive rejection of law. The timocrats spend
others’ money and enjoy their pleasures in secret, running away
like children from the law as if it were their father, and they do this
because they have been brought up by force rather than persuasion
(548b4–c2). The oligarchs spend money on themselves and pervert

  Republic 550a4–b7, 553b7–d7, 559d7–561c4, 572b10–573c9. See Annas,


“Wickedness as Psychological Breakdown,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, vol.

XLIII Supplement (2004), Spindel Conference 2004 on Ancient Ethics and
Political Philosophy, 1–19.

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(παράγουσι) the relevant laws, since they and their wives do not
obey them (550d7–10).12 Oligarchs force through a law establishing
a wealth qualification for citizenship (551a12–b1), but refuse to have
laws limiting the extent to which citizens can borrow (555c1–5,
556a4–b4); both these measures increase the distance between rich
and poor. People in the democratic state, in the end, get so fond of
freedom that in refusing to have any master (δεσπότης) they pay
attention to none of the laws, written or unwritten (563d3–e1).
When the tyrannical type of person is no longer subject to the
laws and to his father, he acts out desires in waking life which in
an ordinary city people repress because of the laws (574d8–e2).
Degeneration of character, then, is parallel to a degeneration in
respect for and obedience to law. Correspondingly, we find, after
the descriptions of the bad cities and people, that in the good person
law works together with, and apparently in parallel with, reason
(λόγος) and order (τάξις). When the philosopher and the tyrant
are being compared as regards happiness, Socrates claims that the
one furthest from philosophy and reason is also furthest from law
and from order (587a8–12). The danger of poetry, it emerges, is
that once you accept pleasant poetry into the city, pleasure and pain
will rule, instead of law and the reason which always resolves what
is best for the community (607a5–8).
In one notable passage we find that when a good person suffers
a serious loss, and is grieving in private, reason and law tell him not
to succumb to emotion. One part of him is ready to obey the law,
and to do what the law bids. What the law says is remarkable. It
tells the person that it is most fine not to grieve, that it is unclear
whether the outcome is good or bad, that human affairs are trivial
in any case, and that grieving gets in the way of useful deliberation
about the situation (604a1–d1). The Stoics would presumably have
found this a congenial passage, with many elements fitting their
own approach to grief.13 Here the law is not envisaged as merely
commanding, but as delivering the content of right reason in a mode
more like advice than command.

  Is this one failure with respect to the law, or two? It is not obvious.
  They would, of course, have recast the “parts” idea in their own terms.

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

The most striking passage in which reason and law work in

parallel ways, however, is probably 590c7–e2. Socrates has sketched
a picture of the individual’s soul, and reiterated the point that virtue,
and so happiness, is to be found in the condition in which reason
rules. There follows the notorious sentence in which the view is
unflinchingly put forward that we should all be ruled by “the best”
so that someone weak in reason should be ruled by reason “from
without” because it is better for all to be ruled by divine reason (τὸ
θεῖον καὶ φρόνιμον), “so that as far as possible all may be alike and
friends.” Immediately Socrates follows up: “The law makes it clear
that this is what it intends, in being an ally to everyone in the city.”
Law and reason, then, work together to produce virtue and unity
in the city. Both apparently work in and through everyone, though
in different ways. The person receptive to reason can understand,
rather than merely obey, the law; the person weak in or unreceptive
to reason just has to obey it. The law here is everybody’s “ally” in
that it brings them together as members of a single city, in a way
that aids and reinforces the role of reason.


In the earlier books, with their stress on the education of the
Guardians, we find that law is said to work together with the
Guardians’ education (παιδεία) rather than with their reason.
Presumably this is because Plato is in these books talking about
people whose reason is developing. This emerges in a long passage
in Book 4, 423c6–427b1. It is crucial, Socrates says, to keep the
different components of the city distinct, as there will be disaster
if an unqualified person acquires the authority appropriate to the
Guardian class. Most important (423e5) is the upbringing and
education which starts improvement rolling, each generation improv-
ing the next. Innovations in education are to be forbidden, since they
will inevitably lead to changes in the city’s laws (424c1–6). Once we
have innovations, lawlessness trickles in, and starting with individual
characters it spreads to activities, then to organizations and finally
to laws and constitutions (d2–e3). To avoid this, the children are
to have games which are law-abiding (ἐννομώτερος παιδιά), since

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if their games are lawless there is no way they will grow up to be

law-abiding and good men. Εὐνομία, law-abidingness, should be
introduced into their characters right from the start.
When people are well-educated in the ways sketched, they will
rediscover for themselves manners and ways of acting which are
νόμιμα, in accordance with the law (425a8–9, already mentioned
above). Matters like these cannot sensibly be legislated, either verbally
or in writing, since they will not be stable (b7–8). The Guardians’
education results in good people, who do not need legislation on
such matters, any more than on contracts, regulations of the market,
harbor dues and the like (c10–d6). Hence, we are told, it is inappro-
priate to give orders to good people who can easily work out for
themselves, in the light of the laws they already have, what to do
(d7–e2). There follows an extensive contrast with cities that are
forever legislating about specific things like contracts, taxes and the
like to no effect, not realizing that it is the lack of a proper education
and character formation in themselves that renders all their efforts
useless. The true lawgiver, summarizes Socrates, would have no
use for this kind of law in an ill-governed city, since it is useless.
Nor would he have use for it in the well-governed city, since some
of it is obvious and some will follow readily from the ways of life
established there (427a2–7).
More than one important point about the role of law in the
ideally virtuous city can be drawn from this passage. Firstly, Socrates
is not claiming that laws and legislation are unimportant in the
ideally virtuous city, as he has sometimes been taken to do from
this passage. Rather, good education will produce people of good
character who will establish good basic laws, including prominently
laws about education which will develop good character in the
young, thus starting the ongoing improvement mentioned earlier.14
It is the lack of this in actual cities which makes their lawmaking
nothing but puttering around. Once the good education has its
effect and we have people of good character, they can take over the
role of lawgivers. We can be confident that minor regulations will

  In the present context, I am abstracting from the obvious problems about


whether, given the mutual dependence of good laws and good character, this
could ever get off the ground.

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

be in the spirit of the good major laws, both because of these laws
themselves and because the regulations will be the product of people
whose characters have developed well because they were brought
up according to those laws. Hence, secondly, Socrates says that we
do not need to give orders to people who are perfectly capable of
working out for themselves what they need to do. (The Guardians
themselves do give orders to the other citizens, who do have to be
ordered to pay their harbor dues, sit on juries and the like.)
Most importantly, this passage shows us the ways in which
law and education work together, with neither having priority in
the establishment of the ideally virtuous city. The Guardians are
brought up to have good characters, and this involves being brought
up to be “law-abiding” and to reject “lawlessness.” They do not
see their attitude to the laws as a distinct issue from that of their
developing the virtues of courage, temperance, wisdom and justice;
in coming to have these virtues, they have already come to have an
attitude of conformity to the laws, the virtuous city being εὔνομος.
Similarly, coming to conform to the laws plays a role in generating
their virtuous character, even their play being ἔννομος, law-abiding.
Plato not only does not see a problem here, or an issue of priority:
he emphasizes, over and over again, the way that the two factors of
law and education work together in the development of the virtuous
person (and fall apart equally in the cases of vicious people).
We can now see that the role of law in a well-known passage in
Book 7 (519e1–520a4) is less surprising than it may at first appear.
To the complaint that in the city the Guardians have been given a
life which is worse than they could otherwise live, Socrates replies,
“You are forgetting that the law is not concerned to bring it about
that any one class in the city should be outstandingly happy, but
rather to contrive that happiness should come about in the city as
a whole. It fits together the citizens by means of persuasion and
necessity, making them share with one another whatever benefit
each group can contribute to the community. It produces men of
this kind in the city, not to let them turn in whatever direction each
one wishes, but to make use of them itself towards binding the city
together.” “It” is the law throughout. It might seem strange that at
this late point in the book Socrates should be appealing to law to

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unite the city, rather than to the mutually harmonious development

of the characters of the different types of citizen. But by now we
can see that it need not matter which it is that Socrates appeals to.
We can see this also in the references to bringing about the
ideally virtuous city from scratch. Philosophers will write laws on
a clean slate (501a1–7), or bring up children ten years and under
in their own ways and laws, away from their parents’ characters
(540e4–541a7). A philosopher might persuade citizens to be obedient
to the laws and ways of life (νόμοι καὶ ἐπιτηδεύματα) he established
(502b3–8). Laws and ways of life, then, develop together; in the
Republic nothing suggests any kind of priority.


Much of the preceding has been pedestrian, but it is useful to
remind ourselves just how much there is about law and lawgiving in
the Republic’s ideally virtuous city. In the Republic, Plato thinks of the
ideally virtuous city as one with laws, of which the most important
are those establishing and maintaining the upbringing and education
of the rulers, the Guardians. People educated according to these
laws will have characters such that they can understand the reasons
behind their education—can, as Glaucon puts it to Socrates, retain
the reason or λόγος of the lawgiver behind the system—and so they
can produce further laws on minor points, which will embody the
spirit of the basic system of laws establishing and maintaining the
education, and so need not be laid down as part of the system itself.
In giving law this role, Plato is, as has been often noticed, at least
ostensibly drawing from the tradition of Sparta and similar “Dorian”
states,15 which had systems of law organizing the upbringing of their
(male) citizens instead of leaving their education to their parents.
This is a role that law conspicuously did not have in Athens, where
citizens prided themselves on what Plato (and Aristotle) think of as
living as you like, including bringing up your children as you like.
Plato is importing the idea of community-focused education of the
citizens into his ideally virtuous city, seeing an improved version

 The “second-best” city is one that there is already a name for, namely the

Spartan or Cretan (544c3).

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

of it as needed to produce citizens with virtuous characters. In the

Republic he does not foreground, and arguably does not notice, any
problems in uniting his emphasis on training of character for virtue
with his frequent mention of laws. He does not see the rule of law
and the development of character as any kind of alternative. How
could they be, when the laws’ aim is the production of virtuous and
able people, and virtuous and able people will find conforming to the
law effortless, given their upbringing? And so the Guardians turn
out to be, as well as rulers with the expertise and right character to
rule, also Guardians of the laws and the city (421a4–9, 504c5–7)
and Guardians of the city’s laws and ways of life (ἐπιτηδεύματα,
When we turn to the Laws we find that Plato is doing something
very different with similar material. He does so in many ways,
of which I shall here merely pick out one of the most notable. In
the Republic we find nothing about the way in which the citizens’
relation to law figures in their development as virtuous, and so
happy people. One aspect of the ideally virtuous city that has been
much discussed, and greatly criticized, is the imbalance of power
between the ruling Guardians and the rest. The Guardians obey the
law understanding it, since only they understand what is best for
the city as a whole and not just themselves or its other components.
The other classes straightforwardly obey the Guardians, a point that
has led to charges of authoritarianism (at the very least). The text is
notoriously inconclusive as to whether the other classes, particularly
the Producers, will merely be made to obey the law, or whether they
will have sufficient education of some sort to be able to agree, on
some level, as to the goodness of the law they obey. The law fits
all the citizens together “by persuasion and necessity” (519e4), but
nothing is said about the relation of these two factors. But, as well as
the familiar problem of the attitude of the ruled classes to obeying
the law, there is also the point that we have little to go on as to the
attitude of the ruling classes to obeying the law. What is the role
of obeying the law in the motivation of the virtuous, as well as the
motivation of the less virtuous?
In the Laws we find Plato taking a position: virtue, and so
happiness, is developed by an upbringing which emphasizes

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obedience to laws, and is sustained by living in accordance with

the laws, both established written laws and unwritten customs
which develop among law-abiding people. There is a great deal of
interest in this idea,16 but here I limit myself to indicating two points
on which the Laws breaks new ground in the relation of virtue to
obedience to laws.
Throughout the Republic, Socrates and Glaucon “give orders”
and “tell” the Guardians what to do, in the course of establishing the
laws they will follow to become formed and educated as the virtuous
rulers of the ideally virtuous city. Usually the verb is προστάττειν
(for example at 423c2–4, 433e1–2, 527c1–2). When the rulers
themselves give orders, the word is the harsher ἐπιτάττειν: rulers
worthy of the name will be willing to give orders to (ἐπιτάττειν)
the Auxiliaries, and these will be willing to do what they are ordered
to do (458b9–c4). Earlier Socrates says of the minor regulations
which the well-brought-up Guardians will be able to work out for
themselves, that it is not appropriate to give orders to fine and good
people (οὐχ ἄξιον . . . ἄνδρασιν καλοῖς κἀγαθοῖς ἐπιτάττειν) since
they will themselves easily discover what laws are needed (425d7–e2).
Ἐπιτάττειν, then, suggests an order that is to be obeyed without
having to give reasons, and is hence inappropriate for people who do
have understanding of the reasoning behind it. (There is, however,
one occurrence of ἐπιτάττειν directed to the Guardians, namely
in the Return to the Cave passage, where Socrates says that it is
impossible that they should disobey the requirement to return to
govern society, since they are just, and we will give them a just order
(δίκαια . . . δικαίος ἐπιτάξομεν, 520e1). Why are they being ordered
to do it? The answer comes in the next sentence; they will go to
rule as to something compulsory (ἀναγκαῖον). Even though they
understand the reasons, they have to do it, regardless of understand-
ing the reasons or not.)
It is striking, then, that in the Laws, law is said to be an
ἐπίταξις, a command (723a5). Rather than softening his view on
what a command is, we find that Plato has sharpened it. Ἐπίταξις,

  See my “Virtue and Law in Plato,” in Plato’s Laws. A Critical Guide, ed.

C. Bobonich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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Virtue and Law in the Republic

commanding, giving orders, is what a master’s communication with

slaves should be (777e6–779a1). And this idea is carried through
in Plato’s insistence that not only Magnesian magistrates, but all
citizens of Magnesia, should think of themselves as slaves to the
laws (715c2–d4, d4–6, 762e1–7). The Athenian’s admiration of
Athenians of the Marathon generation emphasizes the way they
regarded themselves as “willing slaves” to their laws and authori-
ties, and takes the idea to extremes: anyone wishing to be virtuous
should serve this kind of slavery (698a5–c3, 699c1–d2, 700a3–5,
701b5–c4). There is nothing in the Republic like the claim that “we
should take pride in (καλλωπίζεσθαι) serving finely as a slave rather
than in ruling finely—first serving the laws, this being slavery to the
gods” (762e3–5). In the Laws there is a new stress on the coercive
power and authority of law.
At the same time, the Laws introduces another new element
which emphasizes the persuasive rather than the forceful aspect of
law (722c5–6). These are the preambles or preludes to the laws,
which are to educate citizens as to the point and value of the laws.
The preludes vary widely in argumentative structure and rhetoric
as well as in more basic points such as length, and I cannot go here
into the question of what unites them.17 Some points are clear on
any interpretation, however, notably that all citizens of Magnesia
are entitled to be persuaded by the preludes as well as forced to obey
the law. This is because they are free citizens, like the free patients
of free doctors who do not just prescribe a cure and leave (as slave
doctors of slave patients do) but discuss the problem and obtain the
patient’s consent to the treatment.18
So we find Plato in the Laws strengthening the idea of the law’s
coercive authority, and at the same time insisting that citizens are
entitled to understanding of the laws they live under, and are not
merely required to obey. These moves are parts of a larger attempt to
explore the way that citizens can become virtuous and happy people
by living in the context of a public law-code which establishes in

  I discuss this issue in Annas, “Virtue and Law.”


  There is no suggestion, however, that the doctor requires the patient’s consent,

or that the authority of laws is dependent on the consent to them of citizens.

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Julia Annas

detail how all aspects of life are to be organized. In the Laws Plato
explores the relation of law to virtue, and of the role of law in the
development of virtue, more explicitly and carefully than in the
Republic, and introduces new ideas about both the force and the
potential persuasiveness of law.
The Republic and Laws share the assumption that the ideally
virtuous city will make the citizens virtuous and so happy. This is
more prominent in the Republic, which famously sets up the ideally
virtuous city to model the virtuous person, in an attempt to show
the individual reader that the virtuous life is the best one. Because
of the force of the overall argument and the parallel of person and
city, we tend not to note the way that laws are involved in both
the establishment of the ideally virtuous city and the development
of virtue in the ideally virtuous person in the city. Plato assumes
throughout that the development of virtue (and of the understanding
required for the virtue of the Guardians) will be supported by laws
in a city and will in turn support them, but he does not worry about
the role of law in the development of virtue, and so the presence of
law in the ideally virtuous city tends to go unremarked. Also, outside
the model context of the ideally virtuous city, the virtuous person
is not envisaged as developing within a system of laws. Rather, the
contrast is drawn between the ideally virtuous city and the actual
world, where the person wishing to be virtuous can only use the
ideally virtuous city as a “model laid up in heaven” to help him
to order his or her inner city (592b1–4). The laws of your actual
city are not only no good for developing virtue, but are positively
harmful, and many of your fellow-citizens do not take them seriously
anyway, so in the actual world, any virtue you develop from trying
to understand and internalize the virtue of the ideal city obviously
does not come from conforming to any laws.
Paying attention to the role of laws in the Republic, however,
may help us to see Plato as continuing his interest and concern with
virtue and its relation to law in the Laws. He is not just changing
the subject from the rule of expert individuals to the rule of law, as
is sometimes assumed, but rather returning with a different intent
to the same issue, and to very similar material.

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Dialectic and the Second Part
of Plato’s Parmenides
Vassilis Karasmanis
The Platonic dialogue Parmenides has certain important and distinc-
tive features that have long puzzled scholars. What is its aim, what
philosophical problems does it posit, what answers does it provide,
why does it have the structure it has—extraordinary for a Platonic
dialogue—and how are its two main parts related, which can at first
seem unconnected? How is it related to other Platonic dialogues
and what is the role of the hypothesis of the “One,” and the method
of its examination? This short essay will try to give an answer to
the last three questions, without, however, avoiding the other ones
when they relate to my main subject.
It is well-known that the Parmenides is divided into two main
parts, of unequal length, which are connected by a short transi-
tional passage (135a–136e). The first part (126a–135a) includes
an introduction, the presentation of Zeno’s positions and Socrates’
criticism of them. Finally, it gives Parmenides’ criticism of the theory
of Forms, proposed by the young Socrates. This part contains many
dramatic elements and some humor. In the second part (136e–166c),
Parmenides indicates to the young Socrates that he is inexperienced
in dialectic and needs practice. In due course he then undertakes
the task of explaining what exactly practice in dialectic consists of.
With the assistance of somebody from the audience, Parmenides
offers an example of his method and of his way of training the skill
of philosophical research.
We notice immediately that while the first part of the dialogue
occupies less than ten Stephanus pages, the second extends to thirty
pages of text. Further, we see a big difference in content between
the two parts of the dialogue. Starting with Zeno’s book, the first

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Vassilis Karasmanis

part concentrates on a criticism of the theory of Forms as we know

it from the Phaedo and the Republic. In the second part, it seems that
this topic is abandoned and we move on to a philosophical exercise
for young philosophers, comprising a series of curious and obscure
arguments. Moreover, in the second part, the dialogue loses its
dramatic elements and becomes consistently, indeed monotonously,
serious. The dialogue seems to be made up of two different parts that
are linked in an artificial and off-hand way. The first part seems by
far the more interesting, from a philosophical point of view. In this
part the theory of Forms is first presented in a very promising way,
which appears to resolve many of the problems and impasses of the
Eleatic philosophy as expressed by Zeno. The theory is subsequently
criticized, and its philosophical and logical problems become clear,
as well as the need for its revision or modification.
Most interpreters suggest that Plato recognizes the problems
created by his theory of Forms and that he then proceeds with a
self-criticism which will lead him in later dialogues (mainly in the
Sophist) to a modified and less problematic version of his theory.
The second part seems to be independent and without continuity
in all subsequent Platonic philosophy. In this part no philosophical
theses or metaphysical opinions are put forward and thus it comes
across as philosophically inferior. The second part is introduced
simply as an example of a kind of logical training useful for anyone
who wishes to engage in philosophy.
However, if things are as they appear from a first reading, why
does Plato dedicate more than three-fourths of his dialogue to a
mere logical exercise, and why does he use the revered Parmenides
as a protagonist?

Let us begin by examining somewhat more systematically the

second part of the dialogue. In the transitional passage (135a–136e)
Parmenides indicates that there are serious problems in the theory of
Forms, as formulated by the young Socrates. Nevertheless, his advice
is not to abandon the theory. The theory is basically right and its
rejection would not only lead nowhere but would also “destroy all

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

the power of dialectic” (135c2).1 Parmenides praises young Socrates

for his theory and prompts him to work hard to correct it and to
overcome the difficulties that spring from it (135b). Socrates is still
young and inexperienced, and he needs training (gumnasthênai) in
order to be able to “determine what is the Beautiful, the Just, the
Good and, generally, every one of the Forms” (135c7–10). Without
this training, the truth will escape him.
This exercise (gumnasia 135d7) is, according to Parmenides,
similar to that of Zeno. More specifically, it consists in supposing
(hupotithemenon) each time not only what we want to examine,
but also its negation, and in examining the consequences (sumbai-
nonta) that result also from these two hypotheses (135e7–136a2).
Immediately following this, Parmenides explains the method by
applying it to the hypothesis posited by Zeno (136a): “If there are
many [things] what must the consequences be both for the many
themselves in relation to themselves (pros heauta) and in relation
to the one (pros to hen), and for the one in relation to itself and in
relation to the many? And, in turn, on the hypothesis if many are
not, you must again examine what the consequences will be both for
the one and for the many in relation to themselves and in relation
to each other.”2 In other words, for every thing of which we suppose
each time that it is or that it is not, or for any other determination,3
we ought to examine first the consequences in relation to this same
thing, and then in relation to other things, and also the consequences
for the other things both in relation to themselves and in relation
to the thing examined (136b–c).
We notice at the outset that the method of Parmenides—let me
call it gymnastic dialectic—is not the same as that of Zeno, although

  The word “dialectic” does not have the ordinary meaning of “discourse” here
but the technical meaning that Plato gives it in the Republic (511b3–4, 534b3–5)
as the good or real philosophy. It does not make sense to say that if the theory
of Forms were rejected, all discourse would be destroyed. See, similarly, Samuel
Rickless, Plato’s Forms in Transition (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,
2007), 97–98.
  Translations from the Parmenides are taken or adapted from Mary Louise Gill
and Paul Ryan, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. J. Cooper, (Indianapolis: Hackett,
  See 136b8 “or as having any other property.”

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Vassilis Karasmanis

Parmenides claims it is. Zeno takes the hypothesis of his opponent,

which he wants to refute, and via a dilemma produces contradictory
conclusions. The method of Parmenides in this dialogue is similar
in that both draw conclusions from a hypothesis. But his gymnastic
dialectic requires us to consider not only the consequences of the
hypothesis but also of its negation. If both the hypothesis and its
negation lead to absurdities, then the argument is not against the
opponent (ad hominem). In this case, the argument neither proves
nor disproves anything but rather leads to skepticism. This is shown
by the ostensible conclusion of the dialogue at 166c. Further, the
consequences of hypotheses are examined in two distinct ways: in
relation to themselves and in relation to other things. Again, this
last feature does not exist in the method of Zeno.
Parmenides undertakes to present a demonstration of his
method, with the young Aristotle4 as his interlocutor, by examining
his own hypothesis: “Shall I hypothesize about the one itself and
consider what the consequences must be, if it is one or if it is not
one?” (137b3–4). This demonstration of the method occupies all of
the remaining dialogue. According to Parmenides’ remark at 136a,
he should have examined two sets of four hypotheses: If the One
is, what happens A1) to the One in relation to itself (pros heauto),
A2) to the One in relation to the Others (pros ta alla), A3) to the
Others in relation to themselves, and A4) to the Others in relation
to the One. If the One is not, again, what happens B1) to the One
in relation to itself, B2) to the One in relation to the Others, B3)
to the Others in relation to themselves, and B4) to the Others in
relation to the One. These are precisely the eight hypotheses5 we
find in the second part of the dialogue.
As I noted above, many interpretations have been proposed for
the meaning of the second part of Parmenides. We could perhaps
classify these into two main categories. In the first, we can place
those interpretations that accept that the second part of the dialogue

  Who later became one of the thirty tyrants (127d).
  Some authors, including Proclus (Procli Commentarium in Platonis
Parmenidem, in Procli opera Inedita, ed. Victor Cousin, (Paris: 1864), 617–1258,
622–623, claim that we have nine hypotheses. But, in this way, the schema loses
its symmetry.

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

is primarily negative and that its contradictions are real.6 According

to these scholars, all the conclusions of the arguments are negative
and Plato is seen as presenting a series of errors in order to make
us recognize and reject them.7 An extreme version of this view
considers the exercise of Parmenides as either a huge joke on Plato’s
part, or as a farrago of contradictions.8 At best we have a dialecti-
cal exercise useful for young philosophers, that can help them to
distinguish meanings, to draw conclusions from premises, and to
develop their logical capacities.9 The interpretations of this first
category agree with Parmenides in that we have in this section of
the dialogue a dialectical exercise, but they do not explain how this
exercise will help young Socrates overcome the problems that have
been uncovered in the theory of Forms. Further, it is clear that
Parmenides’ exercise is different from the Socratic elenchus, where
the latter aims solely at refutation, and does not constitute a typical
case of reductio ad absurdum. While the first line of interpretation
considers the arguments poor and often sophistic, it does not explain
why Parmenides recommends repeated exercises (136a–c), nor why
we do not find in the dialogue any expression of disappointment at
the discovery of contradictions. A further important disadvantage
of this general line of interpretation is that it does not present the
dialogue as having a proper unity, because its two parts are consid-
ered independent of each other.

  In this category belong mainly older scholars like A. E. Taylor, Plato: The Man
and his Work (London: Meuthen, 1929), 351; W. F. R. Hardie, A Study in Plato
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), 97; Harold Cherniss, “Parmenides and
the ‘Parmenides’ of Plato,” American Journal of Philology, LIII, 1932, 135–136;
and Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1933),
289. In the same category we could also place scholars who deal only with the
first part of the dialogue, those who consider it as perhaps independent from the
second part.
  And indeed, certain of the arguments of the second part are problematic
  See, mainly, A. E. Taylor, The Parmenides of Plato (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1934), 26, and H. Cherniss, “Parmenides,” 1932, 135–136.
  For this view see Richard Robinson, Plato’s Earlier Dialectic (Oxford: Oxford
University Press. 2nd ed., 1953), 264–267, and W. G. Runciman, “Plato’s
Parmenides,” (1959), reprinted in Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics, ed. R. E. Allen
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), 184.

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Vassilis Karasmanis

The second category of interpretations contains those which

consider that the contradictions found in the dialogue are only
apparent.10 They arise either from the various meanings of the One
(or even of the “many”),11 or from the various types of predication
or uses of the verb “to be,”12 or for other reasons.13 Thus we have
four pairs of the same hypotheses, but where the One has a differ-
ent meaning in the two hypotheses of each pair. Thus the first
two hypotheses are verbally the same (the One is), but the One
of the first hypothesis is an absolute One which does not allow
anything else beyond it, while the One of the second hypothesis
is the One of the unity of many, which allows the existence of
“others” as well as of parts of the One. In each pair of hypotheses
the conclusions of the first member are contradictory to those of
the second, and the final conclusion of the whole dialogue insists
on these contradictory results.14 Of course, since we have accepted
  With the exception of F. M. Cornford, Plato and Parmenides (New York,
1957), most of the interpretations of this category have been formulated during
the last 25 years. An intermediate interpretation proposed by R. E. Allen, Plato’s
Parmenides, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983) holds that the arguments of the second
part do not lead to contradictions but formulate queries (apories).
  See Cornford, Plato and Parmenides, 109–111, and R. Sternfeld and H.
Zyskind, Meaning, Relation, and Existence in Plato’s Parmenides (New York: Peter
Lang, 1987), 25–27. Similarly, Arnold Hermann, Plato’s Parmenides (Las Vegas:
Parmenides Publishing, 2010), 29–31, speaks of a One “itself by itself ” (or
simple) distinct from a participated or shared (or complex) one. Already Proclus
(In Platonis Parmenidem, 1035) explains the existence of nine hypotheses via the
different meanings of the One.
  See mainly Constance Meinwald, Plato’s Parmenides (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991), ch. 3. Similarly, S. Scolnicov, Plato’s Parmenides (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2003), 12–21, who distinguishes between two
modes of “being” and two corresponding principles of noncontradiction, one
absolute and one restrictive.
  K. Sayre, Parmenides’ Lesson (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1996), xviii–xix, tries to solve the contradictory results of the eight
hypotheses “by pairing the hypotheses” in a different way. Mitchell H. Miller,
Plato’s Parmenides: The Conversion of the Soul (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1986), 6–10, thinks that although on a surface level the arguments of the
second part leave the problems of the first part unresolved, on another level the
second part urges the reader to look beneath the surface and to obtain insight
with relation to the nature of the Forms.
  Cf. 166c: “Let us say this—and also that. As it seems, whether one is or is
not, it and the others both are and are not, and both appear and do not appear
all things in all ways, both in relation to themselves and in relation to each other.”

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

that the hypotheses in each one of the four pairs are only verbally
the same, most contradictions are only apparent and not real. The
same applies to the final conclusion of the dialogue which, if seen
in this light, does not lead to complete skepticism but rather serves
to encourage a more systematic search of the subject, something in
line with the encouragement by Parmenides of the young Socrates
in 135–136. Meinwald (Plato’s Parmenides, ch. 3) arrives at similar
results by distinguishing two kinds of predication marked by the
phrases “in relation to itself” (pros heauto) and “in relation to the
others” (pros ta alla).15
So understood, the arguments are not only not sophisms but
also yield positive results. Similar remarks apply to the conclusion
of the dialogue. The second part is, on this view, not independent
of the first, but answers—or, at least, sheds some light on—the
problems in the theory of Forms that have appeared in the first
part.16 This is indicated by the emphasis on the distinction between
one and many, as well as by the examination of the hypotheses both
in relation to themselves and to “others.” In this way, the dialogue
as a whole acquires a unity. Certain interpreters of this category
consider the second part more important than the first, in the sense
that it gives the final answer to the problems that emerge in the first
part.17 Generally speaking, the interpretations of the second category
present fewer disadvantages than those of the first. However, there

  This distinction of the two types of predication and the two uses of “is”
was first formulated (in the case of the Sophist) by Michael Frede (Prädikation
und Existenzaussage, Hypomnemata, no. 18, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1967).
  The reference to the “venerable” Parmenides whom Socrates met when he
was young and who appeared to him to have “a wholy noble depth” that we
find in Theaetetus 183e, is yet another clue that Plato considers the second part
of the dialogue as very serious and not a parody. Rickless (Transition, 95, ch. 3)
claims that the “second part of the Parmenides is a direct and rational response to
the problems raised in the first part.” This happens by showing that some of the
principles on which the theory of Forms—as presented in the first part—relies
have to be abandoned. In this way we arrive at a modified and less problematic
theory of Forms.
  C. Meinwald argues that her interpretation, which relies on the distinction
of two kinds of predication, answers satisfactorily to the third man argument (see
“Good-bye to the Third Man,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. R.
Kraut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 365–396.

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Vassilis Karasmanis

are considerable variations in the ways they interpret the arguments

of the second part, its connections to the first, and the answers it
provides to the problems of the theory of Forms as set out in the
first part of the dialogue.18
In what follows I shall propose an interpretation that examines
the subject mainly from the point of view of methodology. More
specifically, I shall focus on the following questions. What does the
gymnastic dialectic of Parmenides offer, when is it useful and for
which kinds of problems? What is the relation between this method
and the hypothetical method of the Phaedo and the dialectical
method of the Republic? What is its novelty? To my knowledge,
these particular questions have not been examined systematically,
nor answered satisfactorily.

The relation of the Parmenides to the Republic is evident. Plato

himself indicates it with his choice of characters at the beginning
of the dialogue.19 The presence of Glaucon and Adeimantos and
one Cephalus (who, however, is not the Cephalus of the Republic),
shows that Plato wants to connect the Parmenides with the Republic
in some way. In a similar vein, we can also point to the use of
the word skulax (young hound) by Zeno (128c) as a description
for young Socrates. As Proclus observed (in his comments on the
Parmenides, 712), this word is characteristic of the Republic and
is used in discussion about the young guardians.20 Further, over
and above the dramatic elements of the dialogue, the theory of
Forms that Socrates presents and which Parmenides criticizes, is

  There are some interpretations which—in order to give concrete answers
to all the previous questions—engage in curious intellectual games. Those who
believe that, in the second part, Plato gives concrete solutions to the problems
of the theory of Forms cannot explain the conclusion of the dialogue, which—
depending on our interpretation—is either refutative, aporetic, or skeptical.
  There are always elements in the dramatic plot of the Platonic dialogues, and
particularly in the preambles, that help us understand relevant aspects in them,
as well as the relation of dialogues to one another. This was already pointed out
by Proclus in his comments on the Parmenides, 659.
  Cf. Republic 375a, 451d, 537a.

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

that of the Phaedo21 and the Republic. In the Phaedo, the Forms are
introduced as separate entities and their characteristics are stated
(incomposite, constant, unvarying, invisible, etc., see 78c–79a).
The Forms are considered to be causes of the characteristics of
particular things (95e–96a) which acquire them by participating
in the Forms (102bff). When the theory of Forms appears once
again at the end of the fifth book of the Republic, the emphasis is
now on the relation between the “one” (the Form) and the “many”
(the particulars), and the possibility of acquiring knowledge of the
Forms. These are precisely the aspects of the theory of Forms that
are presented and discussed in the Parmenides.
Moreover, the problem of method is central in all three
dialogues. The hypothetical method, which had already appeared
in the Meno, is developed in the Phaedo (100aff).22 This method is
used positively to prove and not merely to disprove something. It
is particularly useful for finding premises that help to prove what
we want. Concisely, it consists in the following process: suppose we
want to prove a proposition P. First, we try to see from which possible
premises we should be able to prove our proposition P. Among them
we choose the “strongest” proposition (or theory—hypothesis)
suitable for this task, let it be R, and from this (probably together
with other already known premises) we prove P. The proposition
P has been proven so far hypothetically on the basis of R (Phaedo
100a2–4). Secondly, we examine various consequences of R in order
to see whether it creates contradictions elsewhere in our system of
our propositions. If it does, we must reject hypothesis R and find
another one (101d1–5). Thirdly, our hypothesis R itself needs a
proof. In order to prove it we use a “higher” hypothesis T, and so
on. The process of finding higher hypotheses stops when we reach
something “sufficient” (hikanon), which is probably something
already known or something that does not require proof (101d5–e1).

  That Cephalus comes from Clazomenae is perhaps an allusion to the Phaedo
(97b–99c) where Anaxagoras’ theory is presented.
  For the problem of method in the Meno, the Phaedo and the Republic, see
Vassilis Karasmanis, “The Hypothetical Method in Plato’s Middle Dialogues,”
(PhD Thesis, Oxford University, 1987). What is said here regarding Plato’s
methodology in these dialogues are conclusions from the above study.

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Vassilis Karasmanis

In the Republic (Books 6 and 7) Plato expounds his dialectical

method, which is a variant of, and improvement on, the hypothet-
ical method of the Phaedo. The method of dialectic now has two
processes, one ascending and one descending. The ascending
process begins from the hypotheses (first principles) of the sciences
(mathematics) and, via a series of “higher” hypotheses, reaches the
only one “unhypothesized first principle” (511b6). On the “way
down” (the descending process), we start from the unhypothesized
first principle and we “give reason” to all the rest. From what Plato
says in the seventh book of the Republic, it is almost certain that
the unhypothesized first principle is none other than the Form of
the Good.
It appears that the Form of the Good is the unique first principle
which gives reason and illuminates our system of knowledge. All
our knowledge depends on it. Moreover, the Good is not simply
a Form like the other ones. It has a particular epistemological role
as that on which our knowledge of the world of Forms depends
(508e).23 Without knowledge of the Good we cannot say anything
with certainty about the other Forms, about the relations between
them, or the participation of the many particulars in them. How,
then, is it possible for us to acquire knowledge of the Good when
there are no premises (or higher hypotheses) from which it would
be possible to draw conclusions about it?24 The dialectical method
cannot help us here. Nevertheless, Plato believes that we are able to
know the Good (516b) and to base all our knowledge on it. How
is this possible? It appears that we do not have a concrete answer
for this problem in the Republic. In 506d–e, Socrates refuses to

  I do not believe that some particular ontological difference exists between the
Good and the other Forms, although a passage in the Republic (509b) has given
motive for such an interpretation.
  Another question is what the Good as “unhypothesized first principle”
is. Certainly, it cannot be an entity, or the proposition that this entity exists.
From a proposition that posits the existence of something we cannot draw any
conclusions. Hence, it must be something more. Perhaps a set of propositions
that state that a) the Good is something, b) it is such and such, and c) it has such
type of relations with the other Forms (e.g., something similar to the hypothesis
of the Forms in the Phaedo 102a–b). For this topic, see Vassilis Karasmanis,
“Hypothetical Method,” 231–237.

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

speak clearly about the Good, saying that he does not know what
it is, and can only say what it is by means of images. What is said
in the Republic is so obscure and allusive that we can only make
conjectures on this issue.
There is only a small passage (534b–c) that appears to say
something more about the knowledge of the Good. Here, Plato
notes that when somebody reaches the highest point of the dialectical
ascent he must give reason (logon didonai) for the Good. Because
“unless someone can distinguish in an account (diorisasthai tô logô)25
the form of the good from everything else, can survive all refutation
(pantôn elenchôn dexiôn), as if in a battle, striving to judge things
not in accordance with opinion but in accordance with being, and
can come through all this with his account still intact, you’ll say
that he doesn’t know the good itself or any other good.”26
In this passage, Plato seems to suggest that if we are to know
the first principle (the Good), we must try to distinguish it from all
other things. That is to say, we must find the differences between
the Good and other things. Some of the proposed differences may
be essential ones. We submit these propositions (hypotheses), which
say something about the Good, to all sorts of elenchoi, or tests.
Whichever of them resists all our attempts at refutation27 will reflect
the real nature of the Good. Thus our propositions about the Good
become “known” and are considered true, not because they are
proved via higher premises (or hypotheses) but because they cannot
be disproved or refuted.
Let us now return to the Parmenides. If the theory of Forms
presents problems, as we have seen in the first part of the dialogue,
but is still basically correct, the problems that arise are probably due
to insufficient attention having been paid to the foundation of the

  The same words can also be translated as “giving a definition.” However, such
a translation would be very restrictive. Even if what is required is a definition of
the Good, we first try to distinguich it conceptually from other things.
  Translation is taken from G. M. A. Grube, rev. C. D. C. Reeve, in Plato:
Complete Works, ed. J. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).
  That is to say, without creating contradictions. The type of these elenchoi,
or tests, is similar to that of the second step of the hypothetical method in the

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Vassilis Karasmanis

theory. If so, we have to examine more carefully the first principles

on which the theory is based. If, therefore, as in the Republic, the
Forms (and their knowledge) are founded on the Good and depend
on it, it will be necessary to examine more systematically this first
principle on which our knowledge of the Forms is based. I propose,
therefore, that the second part of the Parmenides addresses mainly
the following questions: How is it possible to know a first princi-
ple? What method is most suited to the search for knowledge of
first princples? So understood, Plato is here attempting to provide
an answer to a problem that he failed to address in the Republic.28
Some may object that the gymnastic dialectic of the Parmenides
has not only first principles as its object, but every statement. Indeed,
this is indicated in passage 136b, where Parmenides tells Socrates that
his method applies to everything. It should be noted, however, that
while this point is correct, if something is not a first principle it can
be examined in a number of different ways (e.g., by the hypothet-
ical or the dialectic method, or by direct proof from premises). If,
however, something is a first principle, we cannot find any premises
from which to establish it. The examples that Parmenides gives in
the above passage (one, many, like, unlike, motion, rest, generation,
destruction) are enlightening. All of them are things or notions that
are very high up in the pyramid of knowledge.29 These examples
show that Parmenides thinks that his method is particularly useful
for the examination of a specific category of things: the most general
ones. Therefore, in such cases, the only thing we can do, if we want
to acquire a deeper understanding of them, is to accept their existence
and certain meanings of them and check whether their acceptance
creates contradictions in our system of knowledge. This is possible
because the elenchus functions without the need for a presupposed

  R. Robinson, Plato’s Earlier Dialectic (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1984), 248, thinks that the gymnastic dialectic has nothing to do with the
hypothetical method (in the Phaedo and the Republic) and claims that the second
part of the Parmenides does not present a method.
  The similarity of these things with the five greatest kinds (megista
genê—254d4) of the Sophist (Being, Sameness, Difference, Motion, Rest) is
characteristic. The One is often identified with Being, while the pair like/unlike
is very close to the other pair sameness/difference. Generation and destruction
are essential characteristics of the perceptible world.

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

system of logically prior propositions. Speaking from the point of

view of logic, elenchus detects contradictions, and thus we can
speak only of compatibility and incompatibility of propositions.30
Aristotle treats the law of noncontradiction in the following
way in his Metaphysics. He says (Metaphysics Γ, 1005b6ff.) that
the law of noncontradiction is the most certain, known, and the
“unhypotesized” first principle. It is the principle of all other axioms,
and all people base their proofs on it. “Some indeed demand that
even this principle shall be demonstrated, but this they do through
want of education, for not to know of what things one may demand
demonstration, and of what one may not, argues simply want of
education. For it is impossible that there should be demonstration
of absolutely everything; there would be an infinite regress, so
that there would still be no demonstration. . . . We can, however,
demonstrate negatively (elegktikôs) even that this view is impossible,
if our opponent will only say something.”31 In Book K of Metaphysics
(1061b34ff.), Aristotle refers again to the law of noncontradiction
and says that there is no absolute proof for it but only in relation with
whoever brings objection (ad hominem), because there is no more
valid principle (in Platonic terms we would say, “higher hypothesis”)
from which we could prove it.
The main difference between Aristotle’s “elenctic proof” and
Plato’s gymnastic dialectic is that the former examines only objections
to the hypothesis. Aristotle is definitive as regards the unhypothe-
sized first principle, as well as about its precise formulation (cf.
1005b23: “for it has the definition we said”), while in the case of
Plato, we posit the hypothesis provisionally, without being certain
about the right meaning of the terms. Thus as recommended in the
Parmenides we check both the hypothesis and its contradictory, in
their various forms.

  See Gregory Vlastos, “The Socratic elenchus: Method is all,” in Gregory
Vlastos, Socratic Studies, ed. Myles Burnyeat (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1994), 2–4.
  Translations from the Metaphysics are taken from W. D. Ross, in The
Complete Works of Aristotle: The revised Oxford translation, Volume two, edited by
Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

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Vassilis Karasmanis

The gymnastic dialectic of the Parmenides is, in essence, an

elenctic method. Its main difference from the type of Socratic
elenchus we find in Plato’s early dialogues is that it does not aim
simply at the refutation of a thesis through the discovery of a contra-
diction. In gymnastic dialectic, we do not have one but multiple
instances of elenchoi, or tests, where both the hypothesis and its
contradictory are examined, and this happens from many points of
view. In this way, we have hypotheses that are introduced provision-
ally and checked not so much for their truth or falsity, but rather
for whether they create contradictions in our system.32 Hence, what
is examined here is whether or not a hypothesis or its contradictory
(understood in a given way) creates contradictions in our system.
Let us now consider the “hypotheses” of Parmenides. In 136a–b
Parmernides, when he describes his method, says that his hypothe-
sis is the One (and similarly the like, unlike, motion, rest, etc.).
It appears therefore that what is hypothesized are certain entities
(Forms). However, this cannot be correct, since a hypothesis, in
order to be checked or to have consequences, has to be formulated
verbally and must constitute a proposition. Indeed, immediately
afterwards, when Parmenides explains his method, he says that we
must suppose the existence or nonexistence of the One (hen estin).
But once again, from an existential proposition it is not possible
to produce consequences. We must know something more, aside
from the simple existence of something. Indeed, as I have already
said, when Parmenides proceeds to examine his hypothesis (the
One is), we realize that the hypothesis “hen estin”33 is not presented
once but two times, and that the consequences drawn from this
hypothesis are entirely different in each case (indeed are, to a large
extent, contradictories). How is this possible? Since the hypothesis
itself is not self-contradictory, the only explanation is that even

  Of course, if an introduced hypothesis creates contradictions we have good
reason to reject it as false. However, what we actually search for in this process
is to see what results when we draw the consequences of the hypothesis. This
process has resemblances to the second step of the hypothetical method in the
  In which the One should be examined twice, in relation to itself and in
relation to the others.

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

though textually we have the same hypothesis two times, either

we have in reality two different propositions, because the word
“one” (or the word “is”) has different meanings, or we see the One
in different ways in its relations to itself and to the others. Hence,
the real hypothesis is: “the one is and is such and such.” We have,
therefore, the conjunction of an existential proposition and either a
proposed definition or meaning of the word, or a proposition that
says something about the One. That the hypotheses are not only
existential propositions appears also from the passage 136b7–9: “And
in a word, concerning whatever you might ever hypothesize as being
or as not being or as having any other property, you must examine
the consequences. . .” This passage tells us that the hypothesis could
be any kind of proposition referring to some thing. That is to say,
it allows us to have hypotheses that are not limited to existential
propositions, or to those and definitions. We can therefore conclude
that Parmenides’ hypothesis is the conjunction of an existential
proposition with a proposed definition (or meaning) and, perhaps,
a further, categorical, proposition. Something similar is also present
in the “hypothesis of the Forms” in the Phaedo (102a–b), which
seems to be constituted from a set of propositions that say that the
Forms are something, that they have such and such characteristics,
and that particular things participate in them in such a way.34 Even
the Good of the Republic, as the unhypothesized first principle
which we submit to elenchoi, or tests, should be seen rather as such
a sum of propositions.35

What I have said so far might suggest that the One of the
Parmenides is the same as the Good of the Republic. However,
nowhere in the Platonic corpus do we have explicit evidence for
such an identification. Nevertheless, there are similarities. For the
Eleatic philosophers, and specifically for Parmenides, at least accord-
ing to Plato, the One is the fundamental first principle, as is the

  See Vassilis Karasmanis, “Hypothetical Method,” 180–181.
  See note 24.

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Vassilis Karasmanis

Good for Plato (in the Republic).36 Plato’s theory of first principles
is continuously altered. In the Republic we have one and only one
first principle, the Good, which is what gives unity to the world
of the Forms. In the Parmenides he says nothing about what he
himself considers to be the first principle. However, judging from
the spirit of the whole dialogue, we may conjecture that he adopts
the position of Parmenides that the One is the first principle (or at
least one of the first principles). In the Sophist we no longer have
any one first principle but five greatest kinds. The first of them
(and perhaps the most important), Being, presents resemblances
to the One of Parmenides.37 In the Timaeus, the goodness of the
creator is the cause of the universe.38 In the Philebus (23c–d) we
have four kinds (Limit, Unlimited, Mixture, Cause) which are
different from those of the Sophist. The Limit appears to be anything
that is susceptible of measurement and numerical relations (25a),
identified in some way with number (25e1). At 15a–b, the Forms
are called “unities” (henades) and “monads” because “each one of
them is always one and the same and is not susceptible of generation

  In 137b2–3, Parmenides says that he will examine his own hypothesis,
which is the One. In the Sophist (244b), Plato reports that the Eleatics “say that
everything is one” and that “only the one is.” Similarly for the Pythagoreans, the
One is the more important principle in their arithmetical ontology. See Aristotle,
Metaphysics 987a15–20: “The Pythagorean speak also for two principles . . . but
that the infinity itself and the one itself are the substance of all things in which
they are predicated. For this reason number is the substance of everything.”
  But also to the Good of the Republic. In Sophist 254a, Plato speaks about
Being in the same terms as about the Good in the Republic: “But the philosopher
always uses reasoning to stay near the form, being. He isn’t at all easy to see
because that area is so bright and the eyes of most people’s souls can’t bear to look
at what’s divine.” (Translation is taken from Nicholas White, in Plato: Complete
Works, ed. J. Cooper, [Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997]). But even Aristotle seems
to identify, in some way, being with the one. In Metaphysics 1003b19ff., he says
that first philosophy deals with the “being as being.” But: “If now, being and
unity are the same and are one thing in the sense that they are implied in one
another as principle and cause are, not in the sense that they are explained by the
same formula. . . . And if, further, the essence of each thing is one in no merely
accidental way, and similarly is from its very nature something that is: —all this
being so, there must be exactly as many species of being as of unity.”
  See 29e1. Of course this concerns the natural world and not the world of

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

or destruction.”39 But also the Good has a very important place in

the system of Philebus. In 65a, Plato says that the Good has three
forms, “beauty, proportion, truth” and, treating them as a single
unit, says, “this is the element in the mixture that we should most
correctly hold responsible; it is because of this as something good
that such a mixture becomes good.”
For Plato’s theory of first principles we also have evidence from
outside of the dialogues. Aristotle repeatedly says in his Metaphysics
(e.g., 1081a12–16, b18–19, 1088b28, 1089a34–b3, 1091a5–6) that
Plato posited two first principles, the One and the Indefinite Dyad.
In 987b19–21, he reports that Plato considered that “because the
forms are the causes of all other things, their elements were the
elements of all things. As matter, the great and the small40 were
principles; as substance, the One;” moreover, he attributed to these
two principles the causes of good and evil (988a14–15). And in
another passage (1091b14–5) Aristotle says that Plato identified
the One with the Good, “because he considered that the substance
of good was the one.” Another piece of evidence about Plato’s first
principles and particularly his identification of the Good and the
One is given by Aristoxenus in his account of Plato’s famous open
lecture on the Good.41 He records that Aristotle often spoke about
what happened to the majority of the people who heard Plato’s lecture
on the Good. “Because each one arrived with the conviction that
they would acquire something that people believe to be good, such
as wealth, health, power and more generally some special happiness.
When however they realized that the lecture was about mathematics,
numbers, geometry and astronomy, and when finally he concluded
  It is not certain to which kind the Forms belong, according to Plato. Most
interpretations accept that they belong to the Limit or the Mixture, but there are
also interpreters who consider that they belong to the kind of Cause.
  This pair is identified with the indefinite dyad.
  See Harmonic Elements, B30–1. Aristoxenus was a pupil of Aristotle. This
lecture ought to have taken place when Plato was of old age because a) Aristotle,
who appears to have attended it, entered the Academy almost twenty years after
its foundation, and b) in order for so many Athenians to have attended with
him, we must suppose that Plato was very well known to a wide public. There
are also other, later testimonies for this lecture (from Themistius, Proclus and
Simplicius) but it is not certain how much these writers draw their information
from Aristoxenus or from other sources.

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Vassilis Karasmanis

that the good is one, I think that this appeared to them perfectly
paradoxical. After that, others sneered and others defamed him.”42
It is not my aim to evaluate these pieces of evidence concerning
Plato’s first principles here or to consider whether they are compatible
or not with what we find in the dialogues. For my purposes it is
sufficient that in them the One and the Good are related in some
way and have a particular status as first principles. This agrees with
what we find in the dialogues.
We should conclude from the above that, despite their similar-
ities, it is rather difficult to identify the Good of the Republic with
the One of the Parmenides. Also that Plato’s theory of first principles
is continuously modified: From the unique principle of the Republic,
to the five greatest kinds of the Sophist, or the four of the Philebus,
and probably to the two first principles that Aristotle reports. But
notwithstanding all these changes, we realize—both from the
dialogues and from external testimony—that the Good and the
One are always at the center of his thought. Therefore, even if the
One of the Parmenides is not the same as the Good of the Republic,
it still has the status of a first principle. Let us consider the issue in
a different way. If indeed, as I am arguing, Plato, in the Parmenides,
wanted to present a method capable of dealing with first principles
and leading to knowledge of them, then the choice of the One as
the principle to which to apply his method seems most appropriate.
For what principle more general than, or superior to, the One could
one possibly find? The choice, therefore, of the One is not the choice
of a random hypothesis but of one that commands the status of a
first principle. For the examination of such a hypothesis, he will
apply a method that leads to the understanding and knowledge of
first principles.

I shall conclude this essay by setting out my answers to three

remaining questions.

  The translation is adapted from Henry S. Macran, The Harmonics of


Aristoxenus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1902).

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

1) If the One is put forward as a first principle, why does

Parmenides call it a hypothesis before starting the exercise? My
answer is that it is named “hypothesis” because it is posited tentatively
in order to be tested. If the hypothesis survives all tests and elenchoi,
and the meaning of the One is clarified, as well as its relation with
the “others,” then it ceases to be an hypothesis and is established
as a real principle. The same happens with the Form of the Good
in the Republic. Before we arrive at the knowledge of the Good,
the whole system relies on hypotheses. Only the knowledge of the
Good offers a foundation to the whole system of our knowledge.
But in order to arrive at that knowledge, the Good must “survive all
refutation” (534c1–2). Therefore, before this test has been applied,
everything is hypothetical.
2) Why does the dialogue not produce a definite conclusion
about the One? As I have already said, the contradictions in the
second part of the dialogue are only apparent, not real. They arise
from the different meanings or uses of the words “one” and “is.”
Nontheless, the dialogue does not lead to any specific result. It
is aporetic in the style of many of Plato’s early dialogues. These
dialogues, after a series of unsuccesful attempts to formulate a defini-
tion, usually end with the exhortation to examine the same thing
again. Nevertheless, Socrates and his interlocutors have obtained
a better understanding of what was investigated. Similarly in the
Parmenides, the problem of the One remains a subject for further
investigation. This, however, does not mean that the second part of
the dialogue did not add anything of philosophical value. We have
noted the different meanings of the term “one” and set out different
views of the One. We have also seen the dangers which arise from
confusing various meanings of a word.43 At the end of the exercise
of gymnastic dialectic we have obtained a better understanding
of the relation between the One and the “others.” Although the
gymnastic dialectic did not generate a specific result, it did not
fail completely. Perhaps, after more training, one should be able to
have better results.

  See 147d: “Or whether you utter the same name once or many times, do you

quite necessarily always also speak of the same thing?”

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Vassilis Karasmanis

3) How is the unity of the dialogue secured under this interpre-

tation? In the first part of the dialogue, certain problems are noted
in the theory of Forms. There is also the suggestion that the training
which Parmenides exhorts the young Socrates to undertake will help
him overcome these problems (135c–d). Of course, in the second
part we do not find a hard dialectical training of Socrates himself
but an example of this training on the part of Parmenides with the
help of the young Aristotle.44 Therefore, we should not expect the
second part of the dialogue to provide a definite solution to all these
problems of the theory of Forms. Rather, we have the announcement
of a future research program, a limited example of which is the
second part of the dialogue. Nevertheless, understood in this way,
the example of gymnastic dialectic provided by Parmenides should
show a way of coming to a possible solution of these problems. If
there are problems in the theory of Forms, these cannot be solved
without a systematic examination of the first principles on which
the theory is based. Parmenides’ gymnastic dialectic is a method
suitable for the examination of first principles. Moreover, through
the examination of the hypothesis of One, one can confront the
problem of the relation between the One and the Many—the other
Forms—and perhaps the problem of the participation of the many
particulars in one Form. At the same time, we find an effort to
distinguish various meanings of a word and perhaps a first attempt
to see different uses of the verb to be.45 Finally, the demonstration of
gymnastic dialectic by Parmenides provides, as he himself says, a way
of examining hypotheses that constitutes an essential training and
preparation for the confrontation of every philosophical problem.46
  In the example of the exercise given by Parmenides we do not find exactly
the “battle” alluded to in the Republic (534c1). This is because the interlocutor
is the young Aristotle who always replies “yes.” But if Socrates were submitted
to the same test, many more problems could arise and the discussion would be
more like a “battle.”
  Later on, in the Sophist, Plato will distiguish clearly the various uses of the
verb to be.
  Richard Patterson, in a very interesting paper that I managed to read
only very recently, (“Forms, Fallacies, and the Purposes of Plato’s Parmenides”
Apeiron XXII no. 4, 1999) arrives at some remarks about the second part of
the Parmenides similar to mine although his focus is not on methodology. He
argues that the main purpose of Part II is not to establish results reached via

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Dialectic and the Second Part of Plato’s Parmenides

To sum up, the interpretation I am offering shows the role of

the second part of the Parmenides, its relation to the first part, and
its connections to other dialogues, more particularly to the Republic.
From a methodological point of view, the Parmenides aims to give
an answer to a central issue which remained unanswered in the
Republic: What is the right method of investigating first principles?47

sound arguments but rather to force us to think about issues central to Plato’s
philosophy “of the sort described as ‘dialectic’ in the Republic (the hardest part of
philosophy, and the part that comes after a complete and synoptic study of all the
branches of mathematics, 531c, sq), and at the same time, to give us practice in
constituting and correcting good and bad arguments of sorts necessary for such
investigation” (90).
  I would like to thank David Charles, Richard Patterson and Vasilis Politis
who read an earlier version of the paper. I am really grateful to them for their
helpful comments. I also want to thank the participants of the conference in
honor of Charles Kahn for their valuable discussion.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge
and the Problem of Self-predication
in the Parmenides
Arnold Hermann


Two considerations have played a part in the formulation of this

paper, together with a sense that the considerations are somehow
connected. The first involves the larger question of Eleatic influence
on Plato, in particular his theory of Forms, and whether the influence
was beneficial or hurtful to the theory. Some scholars have argued
that Plato was forced in due course to modify his theory, and a few
have conjectured that the theory became watered-down or even
shelved. Others have voiced strong disagreements with such readings,
never questioning Plato’s unwavering commitment to his signature
achievement. Regardless of one’s position on the matter, the Eleatics
seem never far removed from the heart of the dispute. The other
consideration goes to the notion of the self-predication of pure
properties, and whether it should be accepted as an indispensable
feature of the theory of Forms, an issue often raised in connection to
Plato’s Parmenides. (Staying within the limited scope of this paper, I
cannot offer a commentary on the customary passages from earlier
dialogues commonly cited by scholars as instances of self-predication,
e.g., Phaedo 100c, etc.) There have been suggestions that these two
subjects are connected, viz., that the formal constraints of adapting
certain aspects of Eleatic teachings to an epistemological system,
minus a well-developed theory of predication on Plato’s part, may
have made self-predication an unavoidable by-product of his doctrine.

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Arnold Hermann

But opinions diverge on whether self-predication is or is not involved

in the theory of Forms, and if it is, what sort of self-predication is
at work, and furthermore, whether Plato was aware or unaware of
the notion as such—including its absurdities—and, in either case,
whether self-predication was the theory’s Achilles heel.
The importance of the Parmenides to the debate is also underlined
in Charles Kahn’s latest work (on Plato’s later dialogues).1 Having
been personally involved with the Parmenides for more than a decade,
I am particularly grateful to Charles for graciously providing me
with an advance copy of this part of his manuscript. The study offers
a meticulous examination of the classical difficulties and central
arguments of the dialogue, and it is unusually lucid, luminous, and
broad in scope. The question of self-predication figures somewhat
prominently in the work, and I have taken the liberty to address
certain aspects of it here.
To summarize the direction of my exposition, I aim to show
how Plato’s attempt to distinguish a Form “itself-by-itself ” (as
demonstrated by Argument I of the Parmenides) precludes any
possibility for self-predication by the Form. Above all, Plato’s rigorous
distinction between being the property versus having properties is
crucial to our grasping the difference between the Form as itself, and
the Form in relation to other Forms. Moreover, the effort to think
of a Form just by itself is self-defeating, because thinking of it in
any way at all involves some connection between it and a predicate.
Thinking anything about a Form must involve more than grasping
the bare Form, in and of itself, in mind, since the bare Form, in
and of itself, is unintelligible. All thinking or saying, including even
so-called “self-predication,” involves some sort of copulative link to
a predicate, some symplokê (in the language of the Sophist). Thus,
when the hypothetical One “by itself” is finally attained at the end
of Argument I, what is lost is not only intelligibility, but also the
possibility of self-predication.

 Kahn, Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue. Return to the Philosophy of Nature
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides


In contrast to the persistent and vigorous debate about the
very motive behind the Parmenides, and especially its long series
of puzzling deductions, the motive behind the Sophist appears less
controversial. The conventional view is that this “later” dialogue was
supposed to resolve specific difficulties advanced in the Parmenides,
such as the modes of participation and separation delineated by the
Forms theory. One can endorse this sort of motive whether one
believes that Plato modified the earlier theory of Forms while retain-
ing the basic framework of the theory, or thinks that he abandoned
all hope for “separate” paradigmatic Forms.
Opinions diverge widely on the amount of refurbishing the
theory required, from minor reformulations or adjustments, to
substantial redefinitions of the Forms and how they interact, all the
way to the abandonment of the theory in its entirety. I am going
to avoid the Unitarian versus Developmentalist debate here. Let it
suffice to say for the moment that I consider myself a “moderate
Perhaps I should add the word “cautious” to the mix if I am to
faithfully characterize my own view. My need for caution extends
to how we regard the development of the theory of Forms. The
more “flaws” we find in the theory, the more we are inclined to
deconstruct it, or to find fault with Plato’s thought or approach. I
think that Plato had a pretty clear view of the theory most of the
time. If he was experimenting at all, I suggest that it was with various
ways of expressing certain aspects and ramifications of the theory,
rather than with its fundamentals. Looking at the Parmenides and
the Sophist, I am unable to shake the impression that, over time, the
task of maintaining a coherently functioning theory had become
increasingly difficult for Plato. This was not because the theory had
some built-in flaw, and certainly not because there was less need for
a system of steady values to base one’s epistemology upon—after
all, Plato has the dialogue’s Parmenides warn us of the dangers for
  Not far, I think, from Dorothea Frede’s position, which seems very reasonable
to me, if I have understood her correctly; see “Comments on Annas,” in New
Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient, eds. Julia Annas and Christopher
Rowe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 35–36.

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Arnold Hermann

rational discourse if the notion of Forms is rejected3 —but because of

the sheer effort involved in keeping such a system stable and sound,
particularly when teaching it to an increasingly broader audience.
Indeed, Plato goes out of his way to remind his readers that the
circle of those attending a discussion of intelligible things should
be kept very small—to no more than seven participants, as the
Parmenides seems to suggest. In the measured remarks of his Eleatic
protagonist, one can almost hear Plato’s personal weariness with
trying to convince outsiders. When Parmenides acquiesces in the
end to carry out the requested demonstration for the small but select
group, he does so, tellingly, with these meaningful words: “I must
oblige you, especially since . . . we are amongst ourselves.”
Twice Plato emphasizes the difficulty of trying to persuade
anyone who disputes things like Forms (133a, 135a). He leaves no
doubt that it takes great ingenuity to understand them (135a), and
even greater talent not only to discover such things, but to teach
them to others who, incidentally, are themselves not beginners,
but seasoned in such types of inquiries (135b). But that is not all:
“a dangerous and vast sea of arguments,” as Plato puts it, must be
traversed whenever one aims to examine intelligible things (137a).
I think Plato’s own sense of exhaustion also comes through when
Parmenides, just before the Second Part of the dialogue, steels
himself for the grueling exercise that is to come, comparing himself
to the old racehorse of Ibycus, who was known to shake in trepida-
tion before an impending race.
To bring to a point the passages I cited just above, Plato’s
problem, in my view, is not so much with the metaphysics behind
the theory of Forms (as has often been contended4), but with the
pedagogical requirements for teaching it intelligibly. It is of course
possible that Plato was concerned with both problems, but even if
that is so, I will argue that the pedagogical problem was of great
importance to Plato and that it has been almost completely overshad-
owed in the interpretive literature by a virtually exclusive focus on

  Parmenides, 135b–c.
  E.g., Rickless, Plato’s Forms in Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2007).

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

(alleged) metaphysical problems. Even a correct theory is vulnerable

to at least the appearance of vulnerability to damaging objections.
This is all the more true if the theory is as counter to common sense
as Plato’s theory of Forms was concerning the nature of reality (and
related matters). There must be a reason why Plato has Parmenides
elaborate to Socrates in such detail the point that someone who
claims that things like Forms are unknowable cannot be proven
wrong, unless that same person is sufficiently intelligent, as well as
widely experienced in such matters, and well-disposed or willing
to follow an elaborate proof through a host of far-flung arguments
(133b). This last requirement alone seems self-defeating. Why
would a critic agree to undergo such a laborious undertaking if
he were convinced that the object to be scrutinized did not exist
in the first place? Only a handful of people would ever dream of
subjecting themselves to such an ordeal—and only if they were open
to the possibility of the existence of Forms. What, then, should be
done with the theory of Forms, and how, or to whom, should it be
taught? How might people be properly prepared to understand and
potentially accept the theory when it is faced with such a seemingly
powerful if not fatal series of objections as that given by Parmenides
in the Parmenides—not to mention any other objections, serious
or otherwise, that might persuade people that trying to master the
theory would not be worth the effort, or would perhaps even be a
complete waste of time?
As noted earlier, all manner of proposals have been put forth
to account for any real or perceived difficulties and subsequent
changes in the theory of Forms. What is common to many sugges-
tions, however, is the notion that the Parmenides exemplifies a
moment of truth for the theory, with a palpable effect on subsequent
dialogues.5 This, unavoidably, renders the dialogue’s “stars,” the

  Owen, “The Place of the Timaeus in Plato’s Dialogues,” in Studies in Plato’s
Metaphysics, ed. R. E. Allen (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), 337;
Taylor, The Parmenides of Plato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1934);
Brumbaugh, Plato on the One (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), 189ff.;
Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, V: The Later Plato and the Academy
[HGP V] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 141; Griswold,
“Comments on Kahn,” New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient, 139;
Fine, On Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 140; Allen, Plato’s

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Arnold Hermann

Eleatics, as pivotal figures in the scheme of things, their “presence”

in philosophy—and not only the Platonic kind—still felt long after
they are gone.
My sense is that there was something about Eleatic ideas that
was unique and captivating, a way of reasoning that, while provoc-
ative, could not be easily set aside even by a thinker of Plato’s
capacity—or perhaps precisely because Plato saw a certain depth
in their thought. I suspect (though this is speculative) this way of
reasoning allowed Plato to comprehend Socratic ideas differently
than some of the other, older pupils of Socrates.6 It also isolated
Plato to a certain extent from them. His philosophical purview was
certainly larger and more mature than theirs. I am not suggesting
that Plato was a secret Eleatic at heart, but he seems impressed by
the issues they raised as well as their methods, and his deference
to Parmenides never wavers. Thus, after much struggle with the
issue, I have come to regard the achievements of the Parmenides
and the Sophist as being in effect a substantial enhancement (in
ways to be explained below) of the Eleatic teachings. It may be too
much to call it Eleatic 2.0, yet it is a continued development along
familiar lines, even if here and there certain formal adjustments and
reformulations become necessary.7 At the same time, it is some of the
Eleatic features Plato attributes to Forms that make it so difficult
to convey to others what exactly the theory is saying, and to defend
it against the many objections—good, bad, and ugly—it arouses.
The two concerns—and the Platonic responses to them—all must

Parmenides (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983); Sayre, Parmenides’ Lesson: Translation and

Explication of Plato’s Parmenides (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1996); Gill, Plato: Parmenides (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996); Turnbull,
The Parmenides and Plato’s Late Philosophy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1998); Koumakis, Platons Parmenides (Bonn: Verlag Bouvier, 1971); Rickless,
Plato’s Forms in Transition; Scolnicov, Plato’s Parmenides (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2003). See also Annas, who is skeptical of the view that the
Parmenides marks a substantial turning point in Plato’s thought, New Perspectives
on Plato, 12.
  I am aware of Aristotle’s claim that Plato was influenced by Heraclitean
thought in his youth. However, Plato also maintained relations to the Megarians,
who were allied ideologically to the Eleatics.
  Cf. also Kahn, on Plato following in Parmenides’ footsteps, “Some
Philosophical Uses of ‘to Be’ in Plato,” Phronesis 26 (1981): 111.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

pass through the gates of what Plato saw as an essentially Eleatic

practice of dialectic.
Again, I am aware that this view may have validity only when
we approach Eleatic doctrine from an epistemological angle. This
is why, as I must also disclose, Charles Kahn’s contributions to the
field have such enduring significance for my own work. I view the
whole of what I call the “Eleatic project,” undertaken by Parmenides,
Zeno, and others, as a high-minded endeavor to bring to light
certain issues of consistency and intelligibility which, in all likeli-
hood, resulted from the cosmological models of the day, rather
than as an effort on behalf of the Eleatics to introduce some new
cosmology. And I certainly do not think that the Eleatics were out
to sabotage any and all possibilities of a cogent view of the world.8
If I read Parmenides’ Poem correctly, while trying to avoid reading
more into it than necessary, his main concern seems to be with the
creation of a reliable way of giving an account of whatever item is
in question. It is hard to shake the impression that he cares more
about the self-consistency of explanations than about the “thing”
they are trying to explain9 —or at least that the former was a major
concern, and one that he addressed in ways that Plato, and perhaps
very few others, appreciated.
I would even go so far as to claim that Parmenides is not attempt-
ing to deny “change,” per se, or “plurality,” or even “not-being,”
strictly speaking. I rather think he is bothered by how certain people
speak about such things—without the necessary forethought, reflec-
tion, or discrimination—setting aside for now who these people
might be, viz., Heraclitus, the Pythagoreans, or the Ionians, as has
been suggested, or simply “mortals” in general. Having clarified
my working premise on the historical Parmenides and, arguably,

  Cf. Tarán, Parmenides (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965).
  This should not suggest however, that Parmenides is bent on pursuing a “theory
of meaning,” much less some archaic form of analytics or nominalism. I agree
with Charles Kahn’s position on the matter, particularly with this observation:
“the concern with what is knowable or intelligible in the physical world is an
essential motive of the poem; whereas the concern with what can or cannot be
meaningfully said belongs to the age of Berkeley and Hume, perhaps, but above
all to that of Wittgenstein and Carnap” (Kahn, “More on Parmenides,” Review of
Metaphysics 23 [December, 1969]: 340).

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Arnold Hermann

Plato’s relationship to him, I turn now to the second more immediate

consideration that, as mentioned in the beginning, has fueled the
writing of this paper.


Undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing the interpreter of the
Parmenides is the attainment of a sufficiently coherent reading of
the dialogue that also allows comparisons with other approaches,
exposure to critique, and so on. From this point of view, the
demonstrations that make up the Second Part of the Parmenides are
particularly challenging. Here is Charles Kahn’s perfectly succinct
characterization of those demonstrations:

These eight deductions [in the Parmenides] are

best seen as an exercise in what the Sophist calls
συμπλοκή εἰδῶν, the weaving together of forms
with one another (in the four positive deductions),
and in the corresponding futility of what we might
call χωρισμός, the separation or isolation of a single
form from everything else (in the four negative

And here is the relevant passage in the Sophist that gives us our
clue to the Parmenides:

To disassociate each thing from everything else is

to destroy totally everything there is to say. The
weaving together of Forms is what makes speech
τελεωτάτη πάντων λόγων ἐστὶν ἀφάνισις τὸ
διαλύειν ἕκαστον ἀπὸ πάντων: διὰ γὰρ τὴν
ἀλλήλων τῶν εἰδῶν συμπλοκὴν ὁ λόγος γέγονεν

 Kahn, Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue. Cf. also Anscombe, “The New
Theory of Forms,” Monist, vol. 50, n. 3 (1966): 409.
  Sophist, 259e. Plato Complete Works, ed. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

Kahn’s economical summation of the purpose of the positive

and negative deductions and his citation of Sophist 259e express
accurately my own position on the matter and explain why I have
come to believe that the Sophist and the Parmenides complement
rather than oppose each other. I also find useful Kahn’s concise
statement of how the issue of self-predication (however that is to
be interpreted) enters the dialogue:

Self-predication can be seen as the default case of

per se predications, predications that are true of the
subject in virtue of its own nature. So understood,
self-predication functions as a kind of shorthand
substitute for a definition or statement of the
nature, saying what a thing is in virtue of itself, as
contrasted with per aliud predication, saying what
attributes it has.12

Before discussing Kahn’s explanation, one terminological remark

is in order. What Kahn differentiates as “per se” or “per aliud,”
I commonly distinguish as “for itself ” (καθ’ αὑτό) Arguments,
versus “in relation to others” (πρὸς ἄλλα)13 Arguments.14 Kahn,
nevertheless, also suggests that the “in virtue of itself” proposition
constitutes a case of self-predication,15 which admittedly I find
somewhat problematic considering the scope and particularly the
outcome of the negative Arguments. I am especially puzzled about
what sort of self-predication we should look out for. Kahn does

 Kahn, Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue.
  Occasionally also as “in relation to something” (πρὸς τι).
  Not unlike M. Frede on behalf of the distinctions in the Sophist, “Prädikation
und Existenzaussage,” Hypomnemata, Heft 18 (1967).
  Kahn appears to be following Michael Frede here (who made his distinctions
on behalf of the Sophist, not the Parmenides), and perhaps Constance Meinwald
to a certain degree. Cf. Kahn, Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue; also Frede,
M., “Prädikation und Existenzaussage”; and Meinwald, Plato’s Parmenides
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Compare also Bostock’s discussion
of πρὸς ἕτερον, καθ᾽ αὑτό, πρὸς τι, and πρὸς ἄλλα in “Plato on ‘Is Not’
(Sophist 254–259),” Oxford Studies, Vol. II (1984): 92–93.

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Arnold Hermann

mention Pauline predications as appropriate in this context.16 Yet,

intriguingly, Kahn also explains the difference between per se and
per aliud predication not much differently from how I distinguish
the naked, “as itself” attribute from “possessed” attributes. In the
special case of the Parmenides or the Sophist—hence, in light of the
interweaving idea17—the latter are attributes that can be predicated
of a particular property in conjunction with other properties. So, I’ve
had to ask myself very earnestly in preparation for this Festschrift,
why is there a divergence in our views? Why must the notion of
self-predication come in at all?
As the above statement attests, Kahn retains the critical distinc-
tion between the property itself and those properties possessed by it as
subject—a point often missed by other interpreters—that is, what
Alexander Nehamas has reduced to being F rather than having F.18
I too maintain that the “by itself” Arguments, I, IV, VI, and VIII,
attempt to explore the subject in “virtue of its own nature,” as
opposed to Arguments II, III, V, and VII, which aim to investigate

  With reference to Sandra Peterson’s work, “A Reasonable Self-predication
Premise for the Third Man Argument,” The Philosophical Review 82 (1973):
451–470. This species of predications are called “Pauline” because the reading is
inspired by a passage in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity suffereth long
and is kind.” Compare, however, Peterson’s description of Pauline predication
with Vlastos’s take on the subject. Vlastos increasingly labels the various instances
that he cites as self-predicative as “Pauline predications,” insisting however that
his definition differs from Peterson. Yet Vlastos has changed his position on self-
predication so many times over the years, it is hard to nail him down. Cf. Vlastos,
“The Third Man Argument in the Parmenides,” in Studies in Greek Philosophy,
Vol. 2, Socrates, Plato, and Their Tradition,” 166–193); “Postscript to the Third
Man: A Reply to Geach,” The Philosophical Review 65.1 (1956): 83–94; “Self-
Predication in Plato’s Later Period,” The Philosophical Review 78.1 (1969): 74–
78; “Self-predication and Self-participation in Plato’s Later Period,” in Gregory
Vlastos, Platonic Studies, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 335–
341; “The Unity of the Virtues in the Protagoras,” The Review of Metaphysics 25.3
(1972): 415–458; “A Note on ‘Pauline Predications’ in Plato,” Phronesis 19.2
(1974): 95–101; “On a Proposed Redefinition of ‘Self-predication’ in Plato,”
Phronesis 26.1 (1981): 76–79.
  This idea is often overlooked in the Parmenides, but see 129e–130a, which
sets the agenda for the exercise generally referred to as the Second Part of the
  Nehamas, “Self-predication and Forms,” American Philosophical Quarterly
16 (1979): 82.

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the roster of attributable properties that are acquired by it.19 My

point is that the simple differentiation between “being the property”
and “having the property” should render obsolete the question of
whether the Forms “self-predicate,” and if so, whether this means
they possess themselves as properties. (It must be noted that the
distinction marked by Kahn, Frede, and others does not accord
precisely with Gregory Vlastos’s widely familiar and influential use
of the phrase “self-predication.”20)
Vlastos states what he calls the Self-Predication Assumption
as follows:

Any Form can be predicated of itself. Largeness is

itself large. F-ness is itself F.21

  Cf. Hermann, Plato’s Parmenides: Text, Translation & Introductory Essay (Las
Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2010).
  Vlastos is commonly credited with coining the term “self-predication.” He
himself claims to be proposing the concept as the “Self-predication Assumption”;
cf. “The Third Man Argument in the Parmenides,” 170. However, in Frege’s
correspondence to Russell we find the following remark in a letter from 1902:
“Incidentally, I find the phrase ‘a predicate is being predicated of itself,’ to be
imprecise. A predicate is generally a first level (‘Stufe’) function, which being a
proposition (orig. ‘Argument’) demands an object, and which cannot have itself
as proposition (subject). I rather would like to say, ‘a concept is predicated of its
own extension.’” (Sluga, “Frege und die Typentheorie,” in Logik und Logikkalkül,
eds. M. Käsbaur and Franz von Kutschera [Freiburg and Munich: Verlag Karl
Alber, 1962], 198–199, my translation). As to the assumption of self-predication
itself and its advocates and critics, the names of the former are quite well known;
hence there is no need on this occasion to list them. Consult the bibliography for
further details. However, I would like to mention two critics of self-predication
whose studies are indispensable for the interpreter: Hägler, Platons Parmenides
(Berlin: Gruyter, 1983), and Shanna, “The Anatomy of an Illusion: On Plato’s
Purported Commitment to Self-Predication,” Apeiron 40.2 (2011): 159–198. A
third, must-read work on the topic, is Apolloni’s The Self-Predication Assumption
in Plato (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011). Apolloni allows for a benign
sort of self-predication—“F is F” suggests nothing more than “the F is F-itself,”
or “Fness”(xviii)—and his exposition is erudite, well-balanced, and thorough.
  Vlastos, “The Third Man Argument in the Parmenides,” 170. Sellars
argues that the term self-predication is misleading; he offers a reformulation of
Vlastos’s definition: “The adjective corresponding to the name of any Form can
correctly be predicated of that Form” (Sellars, “Vlastos and the Third Man,” The
Philosophical Review 64 [1955]: 414).

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Arnold Hermann

However a clear distinction between “being the property” and

“having properties” is missing in Vlastos. The difference, according
to Vlastos, between Forms and participants amounts to an either/
or proposition: whatever self-predicates is a Form, whatever does
not self-predicate is not a Form.22
Moreover Vlastos speaks repeatedly of the Form as having or
possessing its own property, as in the following two examples: “Can
a particular be ‘like’ a Form C-ness in respect of a given character, C,
unless C-ness has the character of C?”23 and “Being has the property
of Being, and more perfectly than anything else.”24
By contrast, my view is that the only way for things to participate
in the Form and therefore have its property is for the Form not to
have the property but to be the property. That is how we distinguish
participants from Forms. Participants obtain the property from the
Form, and therefore come into possession of the property, while the
Form is or remains the property in question. The Form cannot be
placed in the same category as possessors of properties, meaning
that the Form cannot have the property in the same manner that
the others have it, albeit “more perfectly” (this is what Vlastos fails
to differentiate); it must be the property in question if the others
are to have it.25
Returning to the negative Arguments, if we want clarity about
their subject and its so-called “own nature” when it is per se rather
than per aliud, we must make an additional distinction. Insofar as a
Form is per se, we cannot know it in relation to something else. In this
case, saying with Vlastos that it self-predicates may at first seem a

  Vlastos, “Addenda to the Third Man Argument: A Reply to Professor
Sellars,” in Studies in Greek Philosophy, Vol. 2, Socrates, Plato, and Their Tradition
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 202–203.
  Ibid., 200.
  Ibid., 202.
  Incidentally, Michael Frede speaks correctly of self-predication in
“Prädikation und Existenzaussage” when he corrects Peck’s assertion “Motion
is Motion”: “Dagegen ist zunächst zu sagen, daß ‘Bewegung ist’ nicht zu
‘Bewegung ist Bewegung,’ sondern besser zu ‘Bewegung ist in Bewegung’ ergänzt
werden sollte.” Translation: “That is to say, ‘Motion is’ should not be expanded
to ‘Motion is Motion’ but to ‘Motion is in motion.’” See Frede, “Prädikation und
Existenzaussage,” 49.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

feasible way to approach its inherent character; at least it seems to

allow us to make some sort of valid statement. But this is an illusion.
We may think that if we manage to establish a relation between
the subject and itself, we can now legitimately say something about
it.26 Ergo, “Justice is just,” “Truth is true.” But have we really said
anything significant about a subject—that is, anything knowable?27
To answer this question, all we have to do is revisit the conclusions
of the negative Arguments as written—as frustrating or bare as
these may seem—to realize that self-predication is not the answer,
because it cannot reveal anything worthwhile about the subject in
question. Why? Because we are meant to discover nothing at all
about the subject.28 In its naked state—without objects to point to
and fully devoid of associations or context—the subject remains
both unknowable and inexpressible.
A case in point is the critical conclusion of Argument I:

“Is it possible that anything could partake of

being in any other way than in one of these [tem-
poral distinctions]?”
—“No, it is not.”

  This fundamental error is popularized largely by Meinwald’s work (Plato’s
Parmenides) and, regrettably, has remained largely unchallenged by subsequent
  The point I am making should be taken in a strictly epistemological sense;
it is also related to what Wittgenstein allows to be said about the standard metre
in Paris. (Philosophical Investigations §50. Cf. also, Pollock, “Wittgenstein on
The Standard Metre.” Philosophical Investigations 27:2 April 2004.) On the
meaninglessness of self-predication and Russell’s Theory of Types, see, Apolloni,
The Self-Predication Assumption in Plato, 229.
  The use of the copulative “is” in a bare per se statement such as “Justice is
just” may, on the surface, give us the semblance of intelligibility—hence, provide
us with the satisfying sense that “we have said something meaningful.” Upon
a deeper analysis however, we soon realize that we have said nothing at all. To
say something meaningful, other or additional concepts have to be introduced
and contextualized, i.e., the much-cited symplokê must be established. While
this is one of the main lessons from the Sophist, it is already presaged in the
Parmenides, 142c2–3. See below for further discussion of the passage. (Ironically,
as the copious literature on this inherently simple subject amply demonstrates,
we must explain what we mean by F is F when we say it, and how, or in what sense,
it should be understood.)

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Arnold Hermann

“Therefore, the one does not partake of being in

any way.”
—“It seems not.”
“Therefore the one in no way is.”
—“Apparently not.”
“Therefore it is not even in such a way as to be
one, for if it were, it would already be that which
is and would partake of being. But, as it appears,
the one neither is ‘one’ nor ‘is,’ if we are to trust
this sort of argument.”
142a —“Quite likely.”
“If something is not, could anything belong to
it, or be of it?”
—“How could it?”
“So no name belongs to it, nor is there an ac-
count, nor any knowledge, nor perception, nor
opinion of it.” (Emphasis added)
ἔστιν οὖν οὐσίας ὅπως ἄν τι μετάσχοι ἄλλως
ἢ κατὰ τούτων τι;
οὐκ ἔστιν.
οὐδαμῶς ἄρα τὸ ἓν οὐσίας μετέχει.
οὐκ ἔοικεν.
οὐδαμῶς ἄρα ἔστι τὸ ἕν.
οὐ φαίνεται.
οὐδ᾽ ἄρα οὕτως ἔστιν ὥστε ἓν εἶναι⋅ εἴη γὰρ
ἂν ἤδη ὂν καὶ οὐσίας μετέχον⋅ ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἔοικεν,
τὸ ἓν οὔτε ἕν ἐστιν οὔτε ἔστιν, εἰ δεῖ τῷ
τοιῷδε λόγῳ πιστεύειν.
142a κινδυνεύει.
ὃ δὲ μὴ ἔστι, τούτῳ τῷ μὴ ὄντι εἴη ἄν τι
αὐτῷ ἢ αὐτοῦ;
καὶ πῶς;
οὐδ᾽ ἄρα ὄνομα ἔστιν αὐτῷ οὐδὲ λόγος οὐδέ
τις ἐπιστήμη οὐδὲ αἴσθησις οὐδὲ δόξα.
οὐ φαίνεται.
οὐδ᾽ ὀνομάζεται ἄρα οὐδὲ λέγεται οὐδὲ
δοξάζεται οὐδὲ γιγνώσκεται, οὐδέ τι τῶν
ὄντων αὐτοῦ αἰσθάνεται.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

In line 142a2, we encounter the clear distinction offered by Plato

between “being the property” and “having the property,” which I
have styled in bold above. Not to be “to” or “of” something voids
all possibilities; thus it rules out any sort of predication, including
self-predication. There literally is no property available to speak
of—neither as itself (or for itself), nor in relation to anything, much
less in relation to itself. Hence, we are not dealing here with a case
of pros heauto, “in relation to itself”—as contended by Meinwald.29
Consequently, to appeal to self-predication under the guise of “self-
relation” fails to circumvent, much less rescue us from, Plato’s
stringent requirements that render the subject in question as unknow-
able and inexpressible—provided we accept the requirements as
Basically, my reading concerns the capacity of our subject—
that is, the naked property—to be an object of inquiry at all. There
is simply nothing left to say about it after a certain point in our
examination.30 That result should have been expected, considering we
are separating the object from everything else until itself-by-itselfness
is achieved.31 And since in this case we are dealing with a Form, that
is to say, a pure property, all we are left with at the end of the exercise
is simply an unassigned predicate—an “unpredicated” predicate,
if you will. Technically, we were asking ourselves throughout the
exercise, “What is still true of the subject in virtue of its own nature
when we remove it attribute by attribute from a bundle of Forms
(συμπλοκή εἰδῶν) ‘woven together’?”32 The answers are quite orderly
and systematically spelled out in the negative Arguments, both what
can and increasingly what cannot be said of our object of inquiry,
until there is nothing left to say. Why? Because our object of inquiry
is just one of the properties present in a bundle of properties. In the
 Meinwald, Plato’s Parmenides, passim.
  In the sense also reiterated in Sophist, 259e: “to disassociate each thing from
everything else is to destroy totally everything there is to say.”
  First suggested in Parmenides, 129d–130a, then applied in the demonstrations
of the Second Part, e.g., 142a, 143a12. Cf. generally the conclusions of the so-
called negative Arguments such as I and IV. (Also for the term αὐτὸ καθ᾿ αὑτὸ—
or cognate phrases—cf. 128e7, 130b9, 133c4, 135a2, 135b1. For distinguishing
the Forms αὐτὰ καθ᾿ αὑτὰ, “themselves-by-themselves,” see 129d7.)
  Sophist, 259e–260b. Cf. Parmenides, 130a.

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Arnold Hermann

end, when the bundle is dismantled, and the constituents are fully
separated from each other, anything for which it could be a predicate,
that is, of which it could possibly be predicated, has been removed.
For example, the property ἕν, “one” or “oneness,” as subject of
Argument I, is neither possessed by anything, nor does it possess other
properties. Now we cannot say that it “is” this or that or the other
in respect to anything, not even itself, because by doing so we would
make it have other properties. This in turn, as the Argument suggests,
leads to questions about temporal distinctions or other existential or
qualitative conditions. But these cannot tell us anything about the
nature of our subject, once we have reached our goal of disassociating
the subject property from other properties.
Thus, we should keep in mind that the principal distinction we
are after in the Parmenides is between (a) the property as itself, and (b)
its having properties. Having properties is made dependent on “having
being”—not on being Being, but on participating in Being—which
allows the subject to have Being as a property (142d–e).
This principle has been recognized by Alexander Nehamas,
who presents us with an exact formulation of it, even though he
argues that Plato failed to make this critical distinction. In his essay
“Self-predication and Plato’s Theory of Forms,” Nehamas suggests the
following relationship between Parmenides and Plato’s work: Plato
had indeed worked within a Parmenidean framework for much of his
life, although he was required to overthrow that framework in his later
dialogues, particularly when it began to threaten the foundations of
his “degrees of reality” system. Nehamas contends that Plato may have
followed Parmenides’ thinking quite thoroughly, even to the point of
admitting that there was “strictly speaking, only one way of having
a characteristic, namely, being that characteristic itself.”33 In short,
“only the F, and nothing else, is F.” It is this supposition, which goes
to the character and function of the Forms—both in the predicative
and existential sense—that is of particular interest to our context.
Nehamas suggests that Plato adopted Parmenides’ doctrine
without much discrimination, to the detriment, as he later came to
realize, of the theory of Forms. While “unwilling to follow Parmenides

  Nehamas, “Self-predication and Forms,” 182.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

in denying all reality to sensible subjects,” Plato nevertheless, much

like Parmenides, fails to “distinguish clearly between having a property
and being a property, between being F and ‘receiving’ F” (emphasis
Nehamas’s indictment strikes me as too broad, bordering on
the unjust. In Plato’s defense I will introduce a few samples from
Argument II (of the Parmenides) where the difference between the
property itself (what Nehamas calls “being the property”) and its
partaking in a property is strictly upheld. Notice that in drawing
this distinction, Plato focuses on the question of the possession of a
property, that is to say, whether or not our subject (viz., the “one”)
“participates in” some other thing (in this case “being”). I have
emphasized the word “other” deliberately here if only to reflect Plato’s
own distinctions. Whenever we speak of our subject’s participation,
we are indicating that subject is partaking not of itself, but of some
other thing. It does not partake of itself; it is itself. (See 143a6–9;
also below.)

“‘if one is,’ can it be, but not partake of being?”

ἓν εἰ ἔστιν, ἆρα οἷόν τε αὐτὸ εἶναι μέν, οὐσίας
δὲ μὴ μετέχειν;

“Then the being of the one would also exist, without

it being the same as the one; otherwise, it could not
be the being of the one, nor could the one partake
in it.” (142b7–c1)
οὐκοῦν καὶ ἡ οὐσία τοῦ ἑνὸς εἴη ἂν οὐ ταὐτὸν
οὖσα τῷ ἑνί⋅ οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἐκείνη ἦν ἐκείνου οὐσία,
οὐδ᾽ ἂν ἐκεῖνο, τὸ ἕν, ἐκείνης μετεῖχεν.

In both cases, Plato offers us a clear distinction between “being,”

in the sense of the property itself, and partaking in “being,” that is
to say, having or possessing the property of “being.” Clearly, “one”
and “being” are different properties, and while they can have each


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Arnold Hermann

other as properties—or, in Plato’s language, “partake” in each

other—they cannot “be” each other.

“Is that because ‘is’ signifies something other than

‘one’?” (142c4–5)
οὐκοῦν ὡς ἄλλο τι σημαῖνον τὸ ἔστι τοῦ ἕν;

“So whenever someone says concisely that ‘one is,’

would this amount to saying nothing other than
that ‘the one partakes of being’?” (142c5–6)
ἆρα οὖν ἄλλο ἢ ὅτι οὐσίας μετέχει τὸ ἕν, τοῦτ᾽
ἂν εἴη τὸ λεγόμενον, ἐπειδάν τις συλλήβδην εἴπῃ
ὅτι ἓν ἔστιν;

“Since oneness always possesses being and being

always possesses oneness. “ (142e6–7)
τό τε γὰρ ἓν τὸ ὂν ἀεὶ ἴσχει καὶ τὸ ὂν τὸ ἕν⋅

Plato is very firm about the distinction between being and

having, and he reiterates the difference time and again. Thus when
he asks us to conceptualize the object of inquiry all by itself—in
this case, the property of “one”—he wants to make sure that we
are grasping it naked, without possessions, so to speak—hence,
without any sort of participation in other properties. (Although it is
alone, any sense of “self-participation” must also be rejected. Plato’s
language is unambiguous.) As he says at 143a–b:

“And what about the one itself, which we say

partakes of being? If in thought we were to grasp
it all alone by itself, without that of which we say it
partakes, will it appear to be only one, or will this
same thing appear to be many?” (143a6–9)
τί δέ; αὐτὸ τὸ ἕν, ὃ δή φαμεν οὐσίας μετέχειν,
ἐὰν αὐτὸ τῇ διανοίᾳ μόνον καθ᾿ αὑτὸ λάβωμεν
ἄνευ τούτου οὗ φαμεν μετέχειν, ἆρά γε ἓν
μόνον φανήσεται ἢ καὶ πολλὰ τὸ αὐτὸ τοῦτο;

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

“It is necessary that its being must be one thing

and it itself again another thing, if indeed the one
is not being, but rather, as one, it partakes of being.”
(143b1–3, emphasis added)
ἄλλο τι ἕτερον μὲν ἀνάγκη τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ
εἶναι, ἕτερον δὲ αὐτό, εἴπερ μὴ οὐσία τὸ ἕν, ἀλλ᾽
ὡς ἓν οὐσίας μετέσχεν.

The differentiation could not be clearer. If, as Nehamas rightly

contends, the critical distinction is between the property itself
and the property that is possessed, then, quite obviously, Plato is
painstakingly committed to continuously stressing the difference.
Even clearer is the distinction between being and partaking when
the question of the “limited” versus the “unlimited” arises:

“Then things partaking of the one will be other

than the one while partaking of it?” (158b1–2)
οὐκοῦν ἕτερα ὄντα τοῦ ἑνὸς μεθέξει τὰ μετέχοντα

“Let us look at the question in this way: isn’t it the

case that, at the time when they come to take part
in the one, they are neither being one, nor are they
partaking of the one?” (158b8–9)
ὧδε ἴδωμεν. ἄλλο τι οὐχ ἓν ὄντα οὐδὲ μετέχοντα
τοῦ ἑνὸς τότε, ὅτε μεταλαμβάνει αὐτοῦ,

If Plato were not aware of the distinction between being and

having, he would use these qualifiers interchangeably, or without
discrimination. But he demonstrably does not confuse them. Indeed,
as the rather exotic example that follows will show, he is more than
capable of distinguishing between the intrinsic nature of a thing, in
this case the “unlimited,” and the property adopted by participation,
that is, having become “limited” by “partaking of a limit” (158d8).
In this way, Plato can offer us an imaginative construction—one that
young Socrates has called a “wondrous thing” early in the dialogue

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Arnold Hermann

(129b)—namely, how a property can be associated with its very

own contrary without contradiction or implosion. The solution is
simple, provided we keep in mind the distinction between “being”
and “having,” hence, being a specific property, while at the same
time possessing a different property, even if, as in this particular case,
the property in question is the exact opposite:

“Then it follows for things ‘other than the one,’

that from their taking part in the one and in each
other, something different comes to be in them, as
it seems, that provides a limit for them in relation
to each other. But by themselves, their own nature
provides lack of limit.”
“In this way, indeed, the things ‘other than the
one,’ taken both as wholes and part by part, are
both unlimited and partake of a limit.” (158d3–8,
emphasis added)
τοῖς ἄλλοις δὴ τοῦ ἑνὸς συμβαίνει ἐκ μὲν τοῦ
ἑνὸς καὶ ἐξ ἑαυτῶν κοινωνησάντων, ὡς ἔοικεν,
ἕτερόν τι γίγνεσθαι ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, ὃ δὴ πέρας
παρέσχε πρὸς ἄλληλα⋅ ἡ δ᾽ ἑαυτῶν φύσις καθ᾽
ἑαυτὰ ἀπειρίαν. φαίνεται.
οὕτω δὴ τὰ ἄλλα τοῦ ἑνὸς καὶ ὅλα καὶ κατὰ μόρια
ἄπειρά τέ ἐστι καὶ πέρατος μετέχει.

If Nehamas’s charge against an all too “Eleatic,” undiscerning

Plato is defused, what remains is Vlastos’s contention that Plato
was unaware that Forms were liable to self-predicate.35 But how is
it possible that Plato can discriminate so diligently between “being”
the property and “having” a property (see 158d6, above), if (a) the
Forms are invariably prone to self-predication, yet (b) he was not
aware that they were?
The above examples clearly demonstrate that when Plato cares to,
he can be both attentive and meticulous in his distinctions—indeed

  Vlastos, “The Third Man Argument in the Parmenides,” 182–183, 182n38.

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

far more, I regret to say, than some of his critics. In my view, we

should not judge Plato by means of the occasional obfuscations, but
by those instances when his discernment is most acute.
Let us inspect the above statement one more time, and see how
self-predication would work in this particular case, if it were at all
possible. We have:

The things “other than the one,” taken both as

wholes and part by part, are both unlimited and
partake of a limit. (158d8)

If the things “other than the one” are “unlimited” but have
“limit,” we can exclude the latter from being a case of self-predica-
tion. But then as what would the things in question self-predicate:
as “other than one” or as “unlimited”? Or should we be charitable
with the concept of self-predication, and suppose this to be a case
of so-called Pauline predication—a softer species of self-predication
that makes it a figure of speech, if you will—whereby the term
“unlimited” would only be an indirect way of saying “other than
But even if we read the passage as an example of Pauline predica-
tion, we still find there the distinction between being and having
a property. The text reads, “something different comes to be in
them” (158d5; see also above), indicating that we are dealing with
the “possession factor” again: what “comes in”37 must be different
from the inherent nature into which it comes, because it comes
from an external source—in this case, “limit.” This indicates that
to come into possession of a property is tantamount to coming into
possession of what is different from a given subject, as opposed to
what is inherent in it. It is the fact that this property is different from

  Largely in the sense expounded by Peterson, “A Reasonable Self-predication
Premise for the Third Man Argument,” and not in the sense Vlastos explains
Pauline predications in “The Unity of Virtues in the Protagoras,” 427, i.e., the
assertion of the predicate-term not of the abstract noun in the subject-position
but to the participants in the Form. Cf. also “A Note on Pauline Predications in
Plato,” 98.
  “Comes to be in,” γίγνεσθαι.

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Arnold Hermann

and not inherent in the subject that makes the subject’s possession or
partaking in the property necessary.
This further suggests that a self-predicating Form, by virtue of
possessing its own property, would have to be different from itself—
which is absurd.


In closing, I would like to discuss briefly the missing copula in
Parmenides 142c2–3, ἐκεῖνο, τὸ ἕν, ἐκείνης μετεῖχεν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμοιον
ἂν ἦν λέγειν ἕν τε εἶναι καὶ ἓν ἕν. νῦν δὲ οὐχ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ
ὑπόθεσις, εἰ ἓν ἕν, τί χρὴ συμβαίνειν, ἀλλ᾽ εἰ ἓν ἔστιν. (For the
fuller text and translation, see below.) Why does Plato omit using
“is” (ἔστιν) in its copulative function in 142c2, and then again in c3,
when he refers to the object of Argument I as “one one” (ἓν ἕν) rather
than “one is one”? At first glance, Plato seems intent on preventing
the accidental re-association of the concept of “one”—which was
stripped of all associations by the First Argument, and is now “itself-
by-itself”—with another concept, in this case, the concept of “being.”
Arguably, the vagueness of language itself can be blamed, or the
grammatical “multitasking” expected of the ubiquitous third-person
singular present indicative “is.” Much is required of the verb “to
be” and its various forms, and its copulative functions have been
characterized in modern logic as multiply ambiguous.38 In the field
of contemporary Platonic interpretation, the distinctions commonly
made are between the existential, predicative, and veridical functions
of the verb—the latter sense brought to the forefront largely by the
untiring efforts of Charles Kahn—and whether its usage is to be
characterized as complete or incomplete.39

  Cf. Hintikka, “Meinong in a Long Perspective,” Grazer Philosophische
Studien 50: 29–45 (1995). See also the “Frege-Russell Ambiguity Thesis.”
  See Kahn’s magisterial work “The Greek Verb ‘To Be’ and the Concept
of Being,” Foundations of Language 2 (1966): 245–265, as well as “On the
Terminology for Copula and Existence,” in Islamic Philosophy and the Classical
Tradition, eds. Stern, Hourani, and Brown (Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, 1972), 141–158; “Being in Parmenides and Plato,” La Parola
del Passato (Naples), 43 (1988): 237–261; “Some Philosophical Uses of ‘to Be’

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

Nevertheless, Plato also demonstrates—in the passage in

question—a keen sensitivity for the potential liabilities inherent in
the use of “is,” and he is so resolved to prevent misuse or misreading
that he omits the word altogether—even at the risk of intelligibility.
It is a forceful attempt to maintain the itself-by-itselfness of the
object of Argument I at all costs, in defiance of the pitfalls of the
very language used to express such an idea. For the Arguments
of the Second Part of the Parmenides to be effective, Plato must
maintain a strict distinction between the First and Second Argument,
particularly in regard to the object that is being investigated, hence
the very hypotheses at the heart of the inquiry. Many scholars are
puzzled by the scope or aim of the Arguments in question, calling
the results aporetic, paradoxical, or contradictory. That is because
they think that Arguments I and II share the same object of inquiry,
namely the “one,” hence that they are progressing from the exact
same hypothesis. But this is not the case. Argument I tries to distill
the “one” as itself, as “one,” if you will, which, as the exercise shows,
can only be achieved by disassociating it from all concepts that
are not the “one” itself, including the concept of “being.” This
consequently must also exclude such compounded notions as “the
one is,” or “the one exists.”
We are dealing here with a simple case of taking apart a symplokê,
that is, the very product of a weaving together first mentioned by
young Socrates early in the Parmenides (129e–130a)—when the
agenda is set for the Second Part—and further elaborated in the
Sophist in the passage quoted earlier (129d–130a). The process,
obviously, is here merely reversed: a decoupling, or “unweaving,” of
what was woven together—the “χωρισμός” mentioned by Charles
Kahn earlier, “the separation or isolation of a single form from
everything else.”
It is for this reason that the end of the First Argument is reached
only after “one” and “being” are fully decoupled from each other,
having been distinguished by the exercise as two distinctly separate

in Plato,” and “Linguistic Relativism and the Greek Project of Ontology,” in The
Question of Being, ed. Sprung (University Park and London: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1978), 31–44.

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Arnold Hermann

entities or concepts (141eff ). And so we get the hypothesis of

Argument I being referred to here as “if one one,” meaning, “if the
one is investigated as one, what are the consequences which follow?”
In contrast, at the onset of the Second Argument—which traces the
consequences of reconnecting “one” and “being”—Plato deliberately
uses “is” as part of the new hypothesis to be investigated, which is
presented to us as “If one is” (meaning, “if the one is investigated
as having being, what are the consequences which follow?”).
This is clear when we review the relevant text, seeing the two
hypotheses in context (I have placed the missing “is” in square

“Consider from the beginning: ‘if one is,’ can it be,

but not partake of being?”
—“It cannot.”
“Then the being of the one would also exist, without
it being the same as the one; otherwise, it could
not be the being of the one, nor could the one
partake in it. Otherwise, saying that ‘one is’ would
be like saying that ‘one [is] one.’ But this time
around this is not our hypothesis, namely, what the
consequences must be ‘if one [is] one,’ but what the
consequences are ‘if one is.’ Isn’t that so?”
—“Of course.”
“Is that because ‘is’ signifies something other than
“So whenever someone says concisely that ‘one is’,
would this amount to saying nothing other than
that ‘the one partakes of being’?”
—“Certainly.” (142b5–c7, emphasis added)
ὅρα δὴ ἐξ ἀρχῆς. ἓν εἰ ἔστιν, ἆρα οἷόν τε αὐτὸ
εἶναι μέν, οὐσίας δὲ μὴ μετέχειν;
οὐχ οἷόν τε.
οὐκοῦν καὶ ἡ οὐσία τοῦ ἑνὸς εἴη ἂν οὐ ταὐτὸν
οὖσα τῷ ἑνί⋅ οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἐκείνη ἦν ἐκείνου οὐσία,
οὐδ᾽ ἂν [142c] ἐκεῖνο, τὸ ἕν, ἐκείνης μετεῖχεν,

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

ἀλλ᾽ ὅμοιον ἂν ἦν λέγειν ἕν τε εἶναι καὶ ἓν ἕν.

νῦν δὲ οὐχ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ὑπόθεσις, εἰ ἓν ἕν, τί χρὴ
συμβαίνειν, ἀλλ᾽ εἰ ἓν ἔστιν: οὐχ οὕτω;
πάνυ μὲν οὖν.
οὐκοῦν ὡς ἄλλο τι σημαῖνον τὸ ἔστι τοῦ ἕν;
ἆρα οὖν ἄλλο ἢ ὅτι οὐσίας μετέχει τὸ ἕν, τοῦτ᾿
ἂν εἴη τὸ λεγόμενον,
ἐπειδάν τις συλλήβδην εἴπῃ ὅτι ἓν ἔστιν;
πάνυ γε.

Quite obviously, Plato is aware that the function of estin or

“is” changes when it points to “one”—that is, to the predicate—as
opposed to it not being used to point anywhere, or link anything,
but instead signifies “being.” In other words, Plato is quite capable of
distinguishing philosophically between a predicative use of “is” and
an existential use­. The Parmenides firmly corroborates the very point
commonly associated with the Sophist. At the end of Argument I,
after the existential function is ruled out, Plato in his review of the
result of that exercise is at pains to rule out the predicative aspect
too—if only to avoid a mix-up with the new hypothesis in Argument
II, which reintroduces the “is” existentially (and subsequently also
Plato’s emphatically drawn distinctions in this passage have one
additional but important implication, one that supports the thesis
argued for above that a predicate, considered just by itself, cannot
be thought of as having any predicates, including itself. If we stay
true to Plato’s rationale as expressed in these and similar passages—
hence, if both functions of “being” are removed in respect to the
“one” in order to get at it itself-by-itself—then I suggest that the
subject of Argument I can neither be forced to self-participate nor
to self-predicate. The placing together of “one” immediately beside
“one,” while omitting the copula, is certainly not an indication
that Plato sought to imply a self-predicative condition or function
here. Indeed, the conspicuous omission of the copula “is” strongly
suggests that the “one” is not pointing anywhere, as there are no
further predicates available. Simply put, all copulative functions are

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Arnold Hermann

defunct. Moreover, it would be the pinnacle of absurdity to think

that the “one” must be linked to itself in order to have “oneness.”40
Once again, the possession of a property is fully ruled out, including
the possession of itself as its own property. Plato displays a remarkable
consistency on this very point throughout the dialogue. To boot,
the conclusion of Argument I demonstrates that after all associations
to other concepts are removed, not only must the object of inquiry
relinquish its name, but it is also beyond knowledge and opinion.
It is fully naked, alone, severed from any conceivable context. To
introduce alongside it a second concept, even one that serves simply
as a copula, would inadvertently establish some form of context. Had
Plato wanted context, even on the simplest level such as intelligibility,
he could have easily framed the hypothesis differently. For example,
if he were keen to indicate self-participation, he could have reformu-
lated the hypothesis as “what the consequences are ‘if one partakes
in one.’” Evidently, Plato was not interested in “self-participation,”
which, in the language of the theory of Forms, would have been
indistinguishable from self-predication.41
­There seems to be a critical issue at work beneath the surface,
namely, how the very fact that properties are possessed affects the
possessing entity existentially. Why is for Plato the possession of a
property tantamount to having being—that is to say, tantamount to
a weaving together, in this case, of “one” and “being,” whereby “one”
then possesses “being”? Well, he certainly arrives at this conclusion
in Argument I, according to which belongings or possessions are
indicative of being.

“If something is not, could anything belong to it,

or be of it?”
—“How could it?” (142a1–2)

  Yet this oddity has found a staunch supporter in Meinwald (Plato’s
  Pace Apolloni, who argues forcefully for a general distinction between self-
participation and self-predication in Plato, dismissing the former while allowing
an innocuous version of the latter. (The Self-Predication Assumption in Plato,
82–84, 100, 168.)

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Plato’s Eleatic Challenge and the Problem of Self-predication in the Parmenides

ὃ δὲ μὴ ἔστι, τούτῳ τῷ μὴ ὄντι εἴη ἄν τι αὐτῷ

ἢ αὐτοῦ;
καὶ πῶς;

And in Argument II:

“Oneness always possesses being and being always

possesses oneness. Since by necessity it always comes
to be two, it is never one.” (142e6–8)
τό τε γὰρ ἓν τὸ ὂν ἀεὶ ἴσχει καὶ τὸ ὂν τὸ ἕν: ὥστε
ἀνάγκη δύ᾽ ἀεὶ γιγνόμενον μηδέποτε ἓν εἶναι.

In this sense, for something to be, that is, to be in possession

of something—even if that something is “being”—two things
must always be involved, not one. Thus, a Form alone, “itself-by-
itself,” cannot possess anything, not even itself. In Plato’s technical
language, it cannot have itself as a property; otherwise, “it comes to
be two.” Associating self-predication with the bare Form—even if
we gloss this over as an abstruse sort of “relation to itself”—requires
nevertheless the possession of the property by the property, and that,
as an analysis of the texts has shown, is precisely not what Plato
intends. Instead, we should just leave the property alone, “itself-
by-itself”—simple, unassigned, neither possessed nor possessing.
In conclusion: I submit that many of the objections and
doubts scholars have concerning the Forms arise from a failure to
properly distinguish between “having the property” versus “being
the property.” This seems true not only in Plato’s time but also
today. Plato’s insistence in the Parmenides that the two should not
be merged or confused but always mindfully differentiated also
provides us with a useful pedagogical tool that contrasts Forms
and particulars quite effectively. In this sense, the Arguments of the
Second Part of the Parmenides serve both metaphysical as well as
epistemological and pedagogical aims, both of which were of great
concern to Plato.42

  I would like to express my gratitude to Richard Patterson for his valuable
suggestions and advice toward finalizing this paper.

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Negation and Not-Being:
Dark Matter in the Sophist
Lesley Brown
Charles Kahn’s work on the verb “be” in ancient Greek has sparked
what he has “modestly called [his] version of the Copernican
Revolution: replacing existence by predication at the center of
the system of uses for einai.”1 In gratitude for the stimulus I have
gained from this rich seam within Kahn’s wide-ranging work, and
for fruitful exchanges on einai over the years, I am very happy to
contribute these tentative remarks on a stretch of Plato’s Sophist. His
insight about einai and predication will prove to be an important
key in unlocking some of the difficulties I examine below.
My aim is to try to understand what I regard as the most difficult
stretch of the Sophist, 257–259. In responding to a particularly
impenetrable claim made by the Eleatic Stranger (ES), Theaetetus
announces at 258b7 that they have found τὸ μὴ ὄν (not being),
which they have been searching for on account of the sophist. He
is thinking, of course, of what sparked the long excursus into not
being and being: the sophist’s imagined challenge to the inquirers’
defining his expertise as involving images and falsehood. Here’s
that challenge: speaking of images and falsehood requires speaking
of what is not, and combining it with being, but to do so risks
contradiction and infringes a dictum of Parmenides. This heralds
the puzzles of not being, and of being, which are followed by the
positive investigations of the Sophist’s Middle Part. So Theaetetus’
eureka moment ought to signal some satisfying clarification and

  Charles Kahn, The Verb “Be” in Ancient Greek, reprinted by Hackett (2003),
x. The new introduction, from which the above quotation comes, is reprinted in
the welcome volume Essays on Being (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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Lesley Brown

closure to the discussions. But in fact the stretch it is embedded in

is singularly baffling, and the subject of continuing debate among
commentators.2 There is little agreement about what issues Plato is
discussing in this section, let alone about any supposed solutions.
My strategy is to try to read the passage without preconceived
ideas about what it ought to contain. Some of the most celebrated
discussions fall down, in my view, precisely because they have
an agenda about what must be found there. For instance, many
commentators note that an account of negative predication is a
desideratum. This is to fill the gap between 256e, (by which point
we have an account of “Kinesis is not being” where this is a denial
of identity between Kinesis and the kind Being) and 263, where we
are given an account of the false predicative sentence “Theaetetus
flies,” which seems to require that Plato has already offered an
account of negative predication. So some critics attempt to find an
account of negative predication at a point in our stretch where the
topic is, I submit, quite different: see my analysis of Stage 2 below.3
To take a different example, Owen’s celebrated essay locates the key
error exposed by Plato as that of taking “is not” to mean “is not
anything at all,” and Owen sees a reference to this at 258bff., where
the ES remarks that in revealing τὸ μὴ ὄν (not being) they have not
been so bold as to say that the contrary of being is. To justify that
account (which may well be correct), Owen offered a very forced
reading of the opening of our problem stretch—I label it Stage 1
below—believing that there the ES is explaining the negation of
  I list here and in the next two notes some of the major discussions. I have
learned from them all, and from many others not mentioned: M. Frede,
Prädikation und Existenzaussage. Hypomnemata 18 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1967). G. E. L. Owen, “Plato on Not-being,” in Plato: A Collection
of Critical Essays 1, ed. G. Vlastos (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1971),
223–267. Owen’s essay is reprinted in Plato 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology, ed.
G. Fine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). E. N. Lee, “Plato on Negation
and Not-being in the Sophist,” The Philosophical Review 81.3 (1972): 267–304.
D. Bostock, “Plato on ‘Is Not’,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 2 (1984),
89–119. M. Ferejohn, “Plato and Aristotle on Negative Predication and Semantic
Fragmentation,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 71 (1989), 257–282. M.
Frede, “Plato’s Sophist on False Statements,” in The Cambridge Companion to
Plato, ed. R. Kraut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 397–424.
  J. van Eck, “Falsity without Negative Predication: On Sophistes 255e–263d,”
Phronesis 40 (1995), 20–47, exposes the drawbacks of this approach.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

“. . . is . . .” by an analogy with the negation of “large.” Again,

careful reading of that passage reveals—I shall argue—that Owen’s
account of it cannot stand.4
I start by outlining three problems concerning our passage.
First: the obscurity problem (whence my title’s “dark matter”).
The topic or topics of the section are hard to discern, and have
given rise to a plethora of very different readings. The section
culminates in two accounts of not being, both of them worded
obscurely and hard to fathom. The accounts are apparently meant
to be equivalent (258d), though they seem to be rather different,
as I discuss below.
Second: the sandwich problem. This obscure stretch comes
between two very carefully written and highly important stretches
of the work. It follows the “Communion of Kinds” section, where
Plato makes the ES set out four quartets of statements showing how
Kinesis combines with the four other kinds. He shows how both
(1) “Kinesis is the same” and (2) “Kinesis is not the same” can be
true, and explains why this is so, in a manner which can explain
the parallel claims that Kinesis both is and is not different, and
Kinesis is and is not being.5 Though scholars are divided over how
to read the lines in which the ES explains why (1) and (2) are not,
despite appearances, contradictory, it is clear that the Communion
of Kinds section is carefully written and fully signposted by Plato.
And the section that follows our problem stretch—that on logos and
false logos—is even more carefully signposted. From 260b–261c,
the ES explains patiently that the new problem—that of not being
as falsehood—is different from the topic of not being discussed

  J. Kostman, “False Logos and Not-Being in Plato’s Sophist,” in Patterns in
Plato’s Thought, ed. J. M. E. Moravcsik (Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel, 1973),
already made such objections to Owen’s argumentation.
  In L. Brown, “The Sophist on Statements, Predication and Falsehood,” in
G. Fine (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Plato, (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008), 437–462, I discuss the Communion of Kinds stretch at 444–451. Agreeing
with Kahn, The Verb ‘Be’, 372, 400, I find no grounds for saying that an “is” of
identity is marked off, either in that passage or elsewhere in Plato or Aristotle.
I prefer instead to see Plato noting a distinction between kinds of statement
(predicative versus identifying statements). In this essay I argue at greater length
for the interpretation of 257a–c adumbrated in that paper at 456–457.

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Lesley Brown

before. And what follows—the stretch in which the ES explains

what a logos is, and how a false logos is possible, 261d–264b—is
another brilliant stretch of dialogue. So our problematic stretch is
sandwiched between two careful, lucid and successful discussions.
Third: the résumé problem. After a preamble from 258e6, the
ES gives (from 259a4) what purports to be a résumé of our problem
passage, but it signally leaves out what had appeared to be its key
moments, the accounts of what the form of not being is.

Stranger: [Intro.] Then let no-one say against us

that it is some contrary of being which we are
bringing to light when we make bold to say that not
being is. As far as some contrary of it goes, we long
ago said goodbye to such a thing, (259a) whether
it is or is not, whether any explanation [logos] can
be given of it, or whether it’s utterly unexplainable
[alogon]. But as for what we’ve just now said not
being is—if someone wants to try to refute that and
to persuade us that it’s not correct, let them do so;
but until they succeed, they must say just what we
say on these matters: [Résumé] viz., that the kinds
mix (a5) with one another, and that being and the
different pervade all the kinds and each other.6
The different shares in being and is, because of that
sharing, not that in which it shares, but different,
and, because it is different from being, (259b) it
clearly has to be that it is not being.7 And, being,
in turn, because it shares in the different, will be
different from the other kinds, and, being different
from them all, is not each of them or all of them
except itself.8 So being, in turn, undeniably is not
a thousand things, while those other kinds in the

  Cf. 255e4.
  Cf. 256d11–e1.
  Cf. 257a1–5.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

same way, each and every one of them, is in many

ways and in many ways is not.9

There is a question what the introductory lines refer to. There

may be a reference to 257b1–c4 (discussed below), but it seems
more likely that the back reference is to the aporetic passage at
238c–239a. What is quite plain is that in the résumé proper, the
ES rehearses points that had been established in the discussion
of the Communion of Kinds, as my footnotes marking some of
the parallels indicate. That is, before our problem passage begins
at 257b1. This difficulty faces everyone trying to understand our
stretch, but it poses an especially severe problem for those (such as
Michael Frede and others) who hold that here Plato has set himself
and accomplished the novel task of explaining negative predication.
Frede holds that a key advance is made in our stretch, with the
much-desired account of negative predication, an advance that is
crucial, in his view, to the account of falsehood that follows. But,
as Frede admits, “it has to be granted that it is puzzling that Plato
in the summary [i.e., 259a3–b6, above] returns to the cases of not
being that do not seem worrisome and that, in any case, we are not
worried about if we are worried about false statements.”10
I now turn to our problem passage itself. I divide it into four
stages, as follows:
First stage, 257b1–c4: the meaning of negative expressions: “not
contrary but only different.”
Second stage, 257c5–d13: the parts of the different and their
names compared to the parts of knowledge and their names.
Third stage, 257d14–258e5: more on the parts of the different,
culminating in two accounts of what “the form of not being” is.
Fourth stage, 258e6–259b7: conclusion with résumé (quoted
and discussed above).

  Cf. 257a4.
  Frede, “False Statement,” 211; others including Lee, “Negation,” 299n53,
note this enigma.

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Lesley Brown


(I justify this controversial title below)

257b1 ΞΕ. Ἴδωμεν δὴ καὶ τόδε.

ΘΕΑΙ. Τὸ ποῖον;
ΞΕ. Ὁπόταν τὸ μὴ ὂν λέγωμεν, ὡς ἔοικεν, οὐκ ἐναντίον A1
τι λέγομεν τοῦ ὄντος ἀλλ’ ἕτερον μόνον.
b5 ΘΕΑΙ. Πῶς;
ΞΕ. Οἷον ὅταν εἴπωμέν τι μὴ μέγα, τότε μᾶλλόν τί σοι A2
φαινόμεθα τὸ σμικρὸν ἢ τὸ ἴσον δηλοῦν τῷ ῥήματι;
ΘΕΑΙ. Καὶ πῶς;
ΞΕ. Οὐκ ἄρ’, ἐναντίον ὅταν ἀπόφασις λέγηται σημαίνειν, A3
b10 συγχωρησόμεθα, τοσοῦτον δὲ μόνον, ὅτι τῶν ἄλλων
c τὶ μηνύει τὸ μὴ καὶ τὸ οὒ προτιθέμενα τῶν ἐπιόντων
ὀνομάτων, μᾶλλον δὲ τῶν πραγμάτων περὶ ἅττ’ ἂν κέηται
τὰ ἐπιφθεγγόμενα ὕστερον τῆς ἀποφάσεως ὀνόματα.

Str. Now then, let’s look at the following as well—

Tht. What?
Str. Whenever we speak of not being, (so it seems), we don’t speak of
something contrary to being, but only different. A1
Tht. How so?
Str. For example, when we call something “not large,” do you think we
signify small by that expression any more than same-sized? A2
Tht. No.
Str. So, when it is said that a negative signifies a contrary, we shan’t agree,
but we’ll allow only this much—the prefixed word “not” indicates
something other than the words following the negative, or rather,
other than the things which the words uttered after the negative ap-
ply to. A3
Tht. Absolutely.

The key to understanding this problematic stretch lies in seeing

the relation between the claims I have labelled A1, A2 and A3. And
to do so it helps to pay close attention to Theaetetus’ responses. A1
makes a claim that Theaetetus does not understand. Once the ES
has explained it with an example or illustration in A2, he has got the
point; he now understands what the ES means by “not contrary but
only different.” The ES then repeats the point at A3, and Theaetetus
now concurs fully.11

  I am in considerable agreement here with Kostman’s valuable article, “False

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

From this we must conclude that at A1 ὁπόταν τὸ μὴ ὂν

λέγωμεν, the ES is referring to every time we speak of (or say) not
being something; an example of such speaking is when we say “not
large.” This is somewhat surprising, since we might expect the
phrase to mean “when we use the expression μὴ ὄν.” But taking
the passage as a whole, I find strong reasons against that initially
suggested reading, and in favor of the one I have just offered.12
We must, contra Owen and others, understand οἷον as “for example,”
so that speaking of not large is an example, a case, of speaking of
μὴ ὄν.13 As we see from A3, where the point is repeated, the topic
of this stretch is negative expressions generally: compare τῷ ῥήματι
in b7. At A2, we are given “not large” as an example of such a ῥήμα
or phrase.14
In what follows, I will proceed on the assumption that the
passage is discussing negative expressions generally. Later in this
essay, I return to give further reasons for rejecting Owen’s rival
interpretation, on which we should translate οἷον “just as” and read
the passage as explaining the negation of “is” by analogy with the
negation of “large.”
So the passage tells us in A1 that we do not mean the contrary
of something when we say not something, but “only different”;
and this is recalled in A3 with the claim that a negative expression
“only indicates this much, one of the others τῶν ἄλλων τί.”15 To

Logos,” section IV, though I do not agree with him that we have to translate
heteron as incompatible.
  Compare the following imaginary dialogue: “When we say ‘mighty’
something, we don’t mean ‘strong,’ we mean to intensify.” “How so?” “For
instance, when we say ‘mighty rich,’ we mean ‘very rich,’ not ‘strong and rich.’ ” I
take A1 in a similar way, that is, roughly as: when we say “not something.”
  In support of the translation “for instance,” note that in all the following
places οἷον ὅταν is used to introduce an illustration of a general claim: Phaedo
70e6, Cratylus 394d6, Cratylus 424e1, Republic 462c10.
  Note that at 257b8 “not large” is called a rhema, while at 257c1, the ES refers
to the words (onomata) which follow the negative. This is keeping with Plato’s
standard usage (prior to the Sophist) of onoma for single word, rhema for phrase.
In 261dff. he will announce, with considerable fanfare, a new usage for the two
  I am making two assumptions: a) that Plato does not intend to distinguish
between what we mean (A1, A2) and what an expression means, and b) that he

— 239 —
Lesley Brown

explain the terms contrary and different, the ES takes the case of
“not large” and offers “small” and “same-sized” as “contrary” and
“only different” respectively: not large does not mean large’s contrary,
small. I take it that both small and same-sized are different from large,
while small (but not same-sized) is contrary as well as different. So
contraries here are polar contraries, i.e., contraries at opposite ends
of a single scale.
Before asking how to understand “different” we should clarify
the terms large, small, same-sized (ἴσον). Plato is clearly thinking
of the trio larger than, same-sized as, smaller than, a trio he often
discusses together.16 Though he here uses the terms large and small,
rather than larger than/smaller than, it is clear that he has the above
trio in mind.17 The point made in A2 alludes to the fact that what
is not large (in comparison to Y) need not be small (in comparison
to Y) but may be the same size (as Y). One who recognizes that
“large” is interchangeable with “larger” and who has an elementary
understanding of the relations between larger than, smaller than
and equal to/same-sized as would understand the point at once, as
Theaetetus does.18
Now to the contested question: how to understand the claim
that not . . . does not mean the contrary of . . . but only different.
It is crucial that the “only different” term (see A1, A3)—that is,

intends the three verbs to be roughly, if not exactly, equivalent: A1 λέγομεν, A2

δηλοῦν and A3 μηνύει. We can explain the weaker μηνύει by the vagueness of
the claim that “not F” means “one of the others.” See M. Dixsaut, “La Négation,
Le non-Être et L’Autre dans le Sophiste,” in Etudes sur le Sophiste de Platon
(Paris: Bibliopolis, 1991), 195. I do not agree with J. McDowell, “Falsehood
and not-being in Plato’s Sophist,” in Language and Logos, eds. M. Schofield and
M. Nussbaum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), ch. 6, 119, that
Plato is not making a semantic point in A3.
  Phaedo 75c9 and Republic 602e4–5 both cite the trio using comparatives:
larger than/equal to/smaller than. Parmenides 167c has the trio largeness/
smallness/equality. See D. Sedley, “Equal Sticks and Stones,” ch. 4 of Maieusis,
ed. D. Scott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 70. I choose the translation
“same-sized,” given the connection with large and small, though “equal” is also
a possible translation. Owen’s translation “middling” is adopted by many, but is
  See previous note, and, for large and larger than as equivalent, see Phaedo
  Cf. Sedley, n16, “Equal Sticks,” 69–72.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

same-sized in A2—as well as the “contrary” term small, excludes

large. To repeat what I have written elsewhere: “think how laughable
it would have been if the ES had chosen a random attribute—say,
yellow—different from large and said ‘When we say ‘not large’ do
you think we signify small any more than yellow?’ Being yellow
does not rule out being large, so appealing to it in the explication
of ‘not large’ would be ridiculous.”19 Not any old term referring to
a property different from large could be used in A2; and it is clear
that the ES has in mind a range of incompatible properties, F, G, H,
and so on, such that not F does not (or need not) mean the contrary
of F but only a different one from F in that range.20
But, critics protest, heteron means different, not incompati-
ble. Indeed it does, and we must concede this point: heteron and
allo continue to mean different, that is, non-identical. But the
analysis the ES offers of negative expressions makes crucial use of
the understood notion of a range of incompatible predicates, which
A2 proffers precisely to explicate the point that “not . . . doesn’t
mean contrary but only different.” So a different term will, since
it belongs to such a range, pick out an attribute which is in fact
incompatible, as equal to Y is indeed incompatible with larger than
Y, while not its contrary.21 We have such a locution in English: if
I say “the policeman was other than helpful,” you will understand
me to mean that his attitude was different from and incompatible
with being helpful.
The upshot of this reading of Stage 1 is that, contrary to first
appearances, the ES is not offering an analysis of the expression μὴ
ὄν, but rather taking μὴ ὄν to stand in for any expression “not F.”
I noted above that this may seem surprising, but Charles Kahn’s
work has paved the way for an understanding of Greek einai such
that to talk of being is, first and foremost, to talk of predication;
the predicative function of einai is central to understanding it.

  L. Brown, “The Sophist on Statements,” 457.  
  I pass over the question of how exactly to construe the positive thesis about
the meaning of not large. The issue is, in part, whether one takes “one of the
others” de re or de dicto.
  Ferejohn, “Semantic Fragmentation,” 262ff.

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Lesley Brown

So I read Phase 1 as offering an account of negative expressions

of the type “not F,” an account which makes key use of the notion
of a range of incompatible properties such that to be not F is to
have a different property (taken from that range) from the property
Fness. Now many critics have resisted attributing such an account
to Plato, since it has a serious drawback. It offers at best a sufficient
condition, but not a necessary condition, for being not F. As Price
remarked in opposing such a theory, it is true and meaningful to
insist that virtue is not square, although it is not the case that virtue
is some shape other than square.22
A rival interpretation of Phase 1 may be labelled the extensional
interpretation. It agrees that Phase 1 focuses on negative expressions
generally, rather than on the expression μὴ ὄν. It takes Plato to be
explaining negative predications “x is not F,” but reads the account
very differently from the way proposed above. The advantage of this
alternative interpretation is that it finds Plato offering an account
of “x is not F” as “x is different from all the Fs”; and the two are
indeed materially equivalent. But to find this reading in the text is—I
submit—impossible, in spite of the ingenious arguments offered in
its support.23 The interpretation focuses on the claim, in A1 and A3,
that “not . . .” means “different,” but it cannot adequately explain the
way this is elaborated, either in A2 or in A3. It is particularly hard
to get the reading Bostock wants from the sentence at A3, since that
speaks of “not” signifying “one of the others (τῶν ἄλλων τί) than the
words following the negative, or rather, than the things the words
. . . apply to.” I submit that this cannot be read as telling us that to
say that “x is not F” is to say that x is one of the others than, that
is, that x is different from everything that is F.24 The reading I have

  Brown, “The Sophist on Statements,” 458n5, notes that the incompatibility
range account of negation and falsehood was supported by Mabbott and Ryle
in an Aristotelian Society Symposium in 1929, and effectively criticized by
H. H. Price.
  Frede, Prädikation, 78, and “False Statements,” 408–409, offers this
interpretation but does not show how he derives it from A3. Bostock, “Is not,”
115, admits it is a strained reading of A3 but tries to justify it; cf. next note.
  Bostock, “Is not,” 115, notes the expression “the things which the words
following the ‘not’ stand for” πράγματα περὶ ἅττ’ ἂν κέηται τὰ ὀνόματα
and suggests that here Plato is talking not about forms (as the things the words

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

given, on the other hand, fits the preceding sentence perfectly. Just
as “not large” need not mean “small” any more than “same-sized,”
so in general “not F” means “one of the others than F” (that is, one
or another from the understood range of properties other than F,
and not necessarily the contrary of F). Since Bostock supports his
reading by appealing to a sentence from Stage 2, I will have a little
more to say about it below.
Our conclusion about Stage 1 is that it is best read as offering
a tempting, if flawed account of expressions such as “not F” and/
or of their use in negative predications of the type, “x is not F.” (It
is tempting to think that “x is not white” means “x is some color
other than white,” but careful reflection shows that this cannot be
correct.) Paying attention to the illustration in A2, we saw how to
interpret contrary (viz., as polar contrary) and different (viz., as a
different one from a range of incompatible properties). No other
interpretation offers an adequate explanation of the point of A2. I
prefer an interpretation that makes good sense of the text, even if
it credits Plato with a less than watertight account of negation, to
ones that do Procrustean violence to what Plato wrote.


The following passage, and particularly the closing sentence
uttered by Theaetetus, has given rise to a popular but incorrect
reading. Frede, Bostock and others find in the remark by Theaetetus
at 257d11–13 an account of negative predication (of “x is not beauti-
ful”) such that it is to be read as “x is different from all the beautiful
things.”25 But a closer look at the passage shows that its function is
not to give an account of negative predication, but to introduce a

apply to) but about instances of forms, the terms being assigned what Bostock
calls their generalizing role. But this does not fit with the full version of what the
ES says, for he begins by saying that “not” indicates “one of the others than the
words” and then corrects himself—“or rather, than the things, etc.” That slip
could hardly have occurred if the ES was all along thinking not of forms but
their instances.
  Frede, Prädikation, 86–89; Bostock, “Is not,” 115–117.

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Lesley Brown

novel notion, that of a “part of the different”—named by a phrase

such as “not beautiful” by analogy with a part of knowledge, named
by (for instance) “geometry.” This is the prelude to further discussion
of negative forms in the succeeding lines.
257c5 ΞΕ. Τόδε δὲ διανοηθῶμεν, εἰ καὶ σοὶ συνδοκεῖ.
ΘΕΑΙ. Τὸ ποῖον;
ΞΕ. Ἡ θατέρου μοι φύσις φαίνεται κατακεκερματίσθαι
καθάπερ ἐπιστήμη.
ΘΕΑΙ. Πῶς;
10 ΞΕ. Μία μέν ἐστί που καὶ ἐκείνη, τὸ δ’ ἐπί τῳ γιγνόμενον
μέρος αὐτῆς ἕκαστον ἀφορισθὲν ἐπωνυμίαν ἴσχει τινὰ
d ἑαυτῆς ἰδίαν· διὸ πολλαὶ τέχναι τ’ εἰσὶ λεγόμεναι καὶ
ΘΕΑΙ. Πάνυ μὲν οὖν.
ΞΕ. Οὐκοῦν καὶ τὰ τῆς θατέρου φύσεως μόρια μιᾶς
5 οὔσης ταὐτὸν πέπονθε τοῦτο.
ΘΕΑΙ. Τάχ’ ἄν· ἀλλ’ ὅπῃ δὴ λέγωμεν; (1995 ΟCT ἀλλὰ πῇ)
ΞΕ. Ἔστι τῷ καλῷ τι θατέρου μόριον ἀντιτιθέμενον;
ΘΕΑΙ. Ἔστιν.
ΞΕ. Τοῦτ’ οὖν ἀνώνυμον ἐροῦμεν ἤ τιν’ ἔχον ἐπωνυμίαν;
10 ΘΕΑΙ. Ἔχον· ὃ γὰρ μὴ καλὸν ἑκάστοτε φθεγγόμεθα,
τοῦτο οὐκ ἄλλου τινὸς ἕτερόν ἐστιν ἢ τῆς τοῦ καλοῦ φύσεως.

257c5 Str. And we should consider the following, if you agree.

Tht. What?
Str. It seems to me that the nature of the different is to be
parcelled out, just like knowledge.
Tht. How so?
c10 Str. Well, knowledge also is a single thing, surely, but each
of its parts that applies to something is marked off and gets some
special name of its own. That’s why there are many skills and kinds of
knowledge that get spoken of.
Tht. Certainly.
257d4 Str. And so with the nature of the different: though it’s a single
thing, it has parts in a similar fashion.
Tht. Possibly, but shouldn’t we say how?
Str. Is there some part of the different that is set against the
Tht. There is.
Str. So shall we say it’s nameless, or that it has a name?
257d10 Tht. That it has a name; because what—from time to time—
we put into words as “not beautiful,” it’s this that is different from
nothing other than the nature of the beautiful. (In other words: the
name you just asked me about—of the “part of the different set against
the beautiful”—is “not beautiful.”)

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

Once again the ES begins with a claim Theaetetus does not

understand. But the young man rapidly catches on, this time without
the help of an example, and at 257d3 signifies that he understands
how the parts of knowledge, each applied to something, have names
of their own. Still, let’s supply some examples, using names of “parts
of knowledge” from the dialogue in which we first meet him.

APPLIED TO: producing shoes shapes numbers
NAME: cobblery geometry arithmetic

The ES proceeds with his analogy, and gets Theaetetus to agree

that there is a part of the different set against the beautiful, and to
name it. The young man obliges with the name “not beautiful.”

FROM: beautiful large etc.
NAME: not beautiful not large

That is the entire message of this short passage. It does not,

pace Bostock and Frede, offer an account of negative predication,
and a fortiori does not offer one in extensional terms. Both scholars
interpret Theaetetus as offering an analysis of “x is not beautiful”
as “x is different from everything that is beautiful.” But to take
the phrase “different from nothing other than the nature of the
beautiful” to mean “different from everything which is beautiful”
is a desperate expedient, and the alleged parallels cited by Frede go
no way toward making this interpretation plausible.26
Here is how Bostock argues for his view. Taking his start from
the phrase ὃ γὰρ μὴ καλὸν ἑκάστοτε φθεγγόμεθα, he writes:
“the subject expression must be taken as ‘whatever is not beautiful’
for otherwise the word ἑκάστοτε has no intelligible function. [He
is assuming that ἑκάστοτε must be translated “on each occasion,”
which I dispute below.] But then it follows that ‘the nature of the

  Frede, Prädikation, 88, cites Phaedrus 248c, 251b; Republic 429c, for “the

nature of F” meaning simply “the Fs.”

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Lesley Brown

beautiful’ must also be taken as generalizing, and equivalent to

‘whatever is beautiful’ if we are not to credit Plato with obvious
nonsense. Of course we do not call things not beautiful just because
they are other than the form of beauty.”27 Reply: indeed we do not,
but the better inference is that “the nature of the beautiful” does
indeed mean the form of beauty, and that the subject expression
therefore should not be understood as referring to whatever is not
My alternative translation “what—from time to time—we put
into words as ‘not beautiful’” indicates that the topic is precisely
the form or kind of the not beautiful, that is, the very part of the
different set against the beautiful that Theaetetus was asked to name.
I justify it by pointing out that Plato commonly uses ἑκάστοτε in
contexts where it cannot mean “each time” but rather “from time to
time.” 28 But even if we keep the traditional translation, the reading
given by Bostock and Frede can be safely set aside, both because it
ignores the context of Theaetetus’ remark, and because it gives a
very strained, if not impossible, reading of the words “is different
from nothing other than the nature of the beautiful.”29
So what is the role of this passage? The analogy between
knowledge and its parts, and the different and its parts, suggests
the following. Knowledge is a form, and (probably) its objects are
forms too; hence its parts—branches identified by their objects—are
forms. And by comparing the different to knowledge, Plato suggests
that, in just the same way, the different is a form, what each part
of it is “set against” (ἀντιτιθέμενον) is a form (e.g., the beautiful),
and so the resulting part itself, whose name is “not beautiful,” is
itself a form. Those who might—with good reason—baulk at such
negative forms are to be lulled into acceptance by the analogy with
the parts of knowledge; and comforted by noting a parallel between

  Bostock, “Is not,” 116.
  The clearest cases are Theaetetus 187e5, Symposium 177a5, Republic 393b7.
It is striking how frequently Plato combines ἑκάστοτε with verbs of saying,
often—it seems—as a sort of catchphrase. I have noted over twenty occurrences.
See also Sophist 237d6.
  As van Eck, “Falsity without,” 32, argues persuasively, while keeping the
traditional translation of ἑκάστοτε.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

the ways each of Knowledge and the Different are parcelled out.30
In the sequel, the ES will stress that the not beautiful, the not large,
the not just and so on have an equal claim to being as the beautiful,
the large and the just.31 This seems a strange thesis for Plato to be
arguing for, and one that seems to conflict with Aristotle’s claims
that the Platonists deny negative forms.32
How are we to understand the positing of a form of not F,
described as a part of the different set against F? How can we apply
the moral of Stage 1 to this? One way to do so—though I do not feel
entirely confident it is right—is to carry over the idea that Plato has
in mind a range of incompatible properties such that to be not F is
to have some property taken from that range that is other than Fness.
Thus the form not large is the form or property of being some size
(relative to . . .) other than large. Likewise, the form not beautiful is
the property of having some aesthetic property other than beautiful:
perhaps plain, perhaps ugly. I have already noted, above, that this
is unsatisfactory as an account of negation, even though it is an
account that appealed to thinkers as diverse as Hegel, Bosanquet
and Ryle. But if we set aside that objection, we can see the appeal
of understanding “not square” as “having some shape other than
square” and “not green” as “having some color other than green.”
If you want to countenance negative forms/forms of negations, it is
comforting (if incorrect) to do so with some positive designation.33
A more serious difficulty for this understanding of the notion of

  257c. A further parallel is missed in English: knowledge of . . . and different
from . . . are both expressed by the genitive case in Greek.
  258b9–10, not beautiful “is no less than” beautiful. 258a1–2, “ὁμοίως ἄρα
τὸ μὴ μέγα καὶ τὸ μέγα αὐτὸ εἶναι λεκτέον”; 258b9–c4, indicates that these
are regarded as forms.
  Metaphysics 990b13–14, 1079a9–10. The issue is a complex one; see Frede,
Prädikation, 92, and G. Fine, On Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993),
113–116, with notes. I agree with Frede, against Fine, that this passage does assert
the existence of negative forms/forms of negations.
  Ferejohn, “Semantic Fragmentation,” 279, argues for this line, putting a lot
of weight on the term antithesis. See also M.-L. Gill, “Method and Metaphysics
in Plato’s Sophist and Statesman,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Winter 2009 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta,
win2009/entries/plato-sophstate/. Many scholars oppose this reading, including
Lee, “Plato on Negation,” 292 and 296; Dixsaut, “La Négation,” 188n15.

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Lesley Brown

not large as a part of the different, is this: how do we apply this to

the account—or rather the two accounts—of not being that follow?


In the third and most puzzling stretch, the ES will offer, in
swift succession, two formulae for τὸ μὴ ὄν, not being. Let’s call
them the first formula for not being, 258a11–b8, and the second
formula for not being, 258d5–e3. There is a sharp divide between
scholars who favor
• the Analogy interpretation—whereby Plato offers an account
of not being according to which it is one part of the different,
the one set against being—by analogy with the not large,
which is another part of the different, this time set against
and those who favor
• the Generalization interpretation—whereby not being is
“the part of the different set against each being” (258e2, or
against “the being of each” if we read hekastou); in other
words, whereby not being generalizes over not F, not G, etc.35
Hence “not being” does not refer to a single part, the unique
part set against being, but is rather a general term covering
each and every part that is set against some being or other.

Now the debate is a crucial one. If the analogy interpretation is

right, the ES does indeed postulate a form of not being, in a manner
parallel to the forms of not beautiful, not large and so on that he had
argued for in Phase 2. And indeed, much of his language suggests
that he is doing precisely that. See 258b9–c5, at the close of which
the ES remarks “just as the large was large and the beautiful beauti-
ful, and the not large not large and the not beautiful not beautiful,

  Owen, “Not-Being,” 232–241, esp. 239.


  Defended by, among others, Frede, Prädikation, 91–92, and J. van Eck, “Not

being and difference: on Plato’s Sophist 256d5–258e3,” Oxford Studies in Ancient

Philosophy (2002), 68–83, at 73ff.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

so too not being in just the same way was and is not being.”36 This
seems to be a clear statement that there is a form of not being, in
just the same way as (and in addition to) the other negative forms.
So far the so-called Analogy interpretation of the first formula seems
to be vindicated. But it faces serious difficulties. After setting out
the relevant texts I shall argue that the so-called Generalization
interpretation is probably the correct one. Before we proceed, note
that on one point both formulae are in agreement: not being is not
identified with the different, but with either one special part of it
(as on the Analogy reading, suggested by the first formula), or with
any part of the different (as on the Generalization reading).

First formula for not being, Sophist 258a11–b8

258a11 ΞΕ. Οὐκοῦν, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἡ τῆς θατέρου μορίου φύσεως
b καὶ τῆς τοῦ ὄντος πρὸς ἄλληλα ἀντικειμένων ἀντίθεσις
οὐδὲν ἧττον, εἰ θέμις εἰπεῖν, αὐτοῦ τοῦ ὄντος οὐσία ἐστίν,
οὐκ ἐναντίον ̣ἐκείνῳ σημαίνουσα ἀλλὰ τοσοῦτον μόνον,
ἕτερον ̣ἐκείνου.
b5 ΘΕΑΙ. Σαφέστατά γε.
ΞΕ. Τίν’ οὖν αὐτὴν προσείπωμεν;
ΘΕΑΙ. Δῆλον ὅτι τὸ μὴ ὄν, ὃ διὰ τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐζητ-
οῦμεν, αὐ̣τό ̣ἐστι τοῦτο.
Str. So, it seems, the setting-against of a part of the nature of the
different and <a part of> of the nature of being, lying one against
the other, is no less being [ousia] than being itself—if I may be
permitted to put it like that—, for it signifies not a contrary of it,
but just this: different from being.
258b5 Tht. That’s very clear.
Str. So what shall we call this setting-against?
Tht. It’s clear that this very thing is that not being which we have
258b8 been searching for on account of the sophist!

Theaetetus’ response at b5 is surely meant to raise a smile from

the reader. The preceding sentence is one of the hardest to fathom.
Lee has discussed the many possible construals of the Greek, and
has pointed out that in any event it is a small slip on Plato’s part to
make the antithesis subject of “signifies” (however we understand

  With the OCT, I accept the additions by Boeckh in 258c1–2. Those who

prefer not to add them to the text must supply them mentally.

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Lesley Brown

the antithesis in question). But the major issue is how we understand

what the antithesis is between, and this hangs on whether or not
we mentally supply <a part of> at b1.37 If we do not do so, then the
antithesis is between a part of the different and being, and this yields
the Analogy interpretation favored by Owen and others. If we do
make that mental supplement, then the formula can perhaps be seen
to fall into line with the second formula, which (as I show below)
seems unambiguously to favor the Generalization interpretation. For
if we do, the effect is that not being is an antithesis between a part
of the different and any part of being (for instance, the beautiful). It
has to be admitted that this is a strained reading of the first formula,
and, if the ES had stopped after the first formula for not being, the
Analogy interpretation would prevail. As I noted above, the lines
which follow the statement of the first formula, 258b9ff., certainly
seem to point us to μὴ ὄν (not being) as a form in its own right, on
a par with the not beautiful, the not large and so on. But the sequel,
the second formula for not being, puts things in a different light.

Second formula for not being, Sophist 258d5–258e5

258d5 ΞΕ. Ἡμεῖς δέ γε οὐ μόνον τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ἔστιν ἀπεδεί-
ξαμεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ εἶδος ὃ τυγχάνει ὂν τοῦ μὴ ὄντος
ἀπεφηνάμεθα· τὴν γὰρ θατέρου φύσιν ἀποδείξαντες οὖσάν
e τε καὶ κατακεκερματισμένην ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ ὄντα πρὸς
ἄλληλα, τὸ πρὸς τὸ ὂν ἕκαστον μόριον αὐτῆς ἀντιτιθέμενον
ἐτολμήσαμεν εἰπεῖν ὡς αὐτὸ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὄντως τὸ μὴ ὄν.
ΘΕΑΙ. Καὶ παντάπασί γε, ὦ ξένε, ἀληθέστατά μοι
e5 δοκοῦμεν εἰρηκέναι.

258d Str. Whereas we have not only demonstrated that the things
that are not are, but in addition we’ve brought to light what the
form of not being is. We’ve demonstrated the nature of the different,
showing that it is, and that it’s parcelled out38 over all the things

  Lee, “Negation,” 282–283, lists various interpretations with their adherents.
He argues against supplying <part of> to yield either part of being, or part of the
nature of being, protesting—strongly but not decisively—that we have not been
introduced to the notion of a part of being. Frede, Prädikation, 91–92, defends
supplying <part of>, to make the first formula cohere with the second.
  Cf. 257c7.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

e that are, set against each other39; and the part of it set against each
being—that very thing is what we’ve dared to say really is not being.
e4 Tht. Absolutely, sir; I think we’ve spoken very truly indeed.

We must first try to identify the two achievements referred to

by the ES: a) we have demonstrated that the things that are not
are, and b) we have brought to light what the form of not being is.
We may hazard that with a) the ES refers back to the Communion
of Kinds section, with its final proof that the kind Kinesis really is
not being and being, since it shares in being (256d8–9). If so, the
μὴ ὄντα, the things that are not, are things which are not the kind
being, as kinesis is not the kind being, but of course is a being. The
additional feat b), of bringing to light what the form of not being is,
is presumably what occurs from 257c onward, culminating in the
first formula for not being that I have just discussed.
In the sentence beginning “We’ve demonstrated” then, the ES
is offering to restate what the form of not being is. First he remarks
that he has demonstrated that the nature of the different is. This
may refer back to the proof that same and different were among the
five megista gene (“very great” or “greatest” kinds, 254e2–255b6).
But when he adds that he has demonstrated that it is parcelled out
over all the things that are, we recognize our Stage 2, the analogy
between knowledge and the different. Now comes the problematic
part: the remainder of the sentence, which purports to remind
Theaetetus what he had shown not being to be. Whichever textual
reading we adopt, the upshot is effectively the same: the second
formula says that not being is the part of (the different) set against
each being or “the part of (the different) set against the being of each.”40
Even if we follow a translator such as White and understand the
phrase as “each part of the different set against being,” the effect is the
same: not being is identified with each and any part of the different

  Cf. 258b1.

  We find both forms in Simplicius: at In Phys. 135.26 the MSS quote the

Sophist using hekastou; at 238.26 using hekaston.

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Lesley Brown

set against a being.41 It is not identified with a single part, the one
set against being. In other words, not being is explained as not being
beautiful, or not being large, or not being just, or . . . and so on. The
second formula for not being clearly offers the generalizing account
of not being.42 And since it is introduced as a restatement of what
he already delivered (note ἀπεφηνάμεθα and ἀποδείξαντες in
258d8), we should try to make the two formulae cohere, if possible.
That is why I favored the less obvious way of interpreting the first
formula, as discussed above.43

Let us take stock of the upshot of this discussion. Is it a surprise

to find the ES explaining the much trumpeted form of not being
in this way: reducing it, in effect, to not F or not G or not H? For
this is how—as I have just argued—the second formula for not
being must be read.
Once again I appeal to the important insight due to Charles
Kahn, who emphasized the centrality of predication in the Greek
concept of being. Given that the core of being is being something,
it is not so surprising to find Plato explaining not being as not
being large, not being beautiful and so on. Indeed this was the
very understanding of Stage 1 that I argued for above. A careful
reading of that stretch showed that what the ES was explicating
was negative expressions in general, even though he introduced the
point with the remark ὁπόταν τὸ μὴ ὂν λέγωμεν, “whenever we
speak of not being.”
  To see that both interpretations yield a reading whereby not being is
understood as any part of the different, not just one part, compare the following
phrases: 1) each threshold set against a door, and 2) the threshold set against each
door. In both cases, the phrase generalizes over thresholds set against doors; in
neither case does it pick just one threshold.
  See Frede, Prädikation, 91–92. Even Owen, “Not Being,” 239–240n33,
gives this generalizing interpretation of the second formula, despite his taking
the opposing view both of Stage 1 and of the first formula.
  Lee, “Plato on Negation,” 282n21, has a different way of reconciling the two
formulae. He insists, plausibly, that the first formula discusses “Being Itself ” but
suggests that between the first and second formula Theaetetus’ incorrect way of
understanding that notion is corrected by the ES.

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Negation and Not-Being: Dark Matter in the Sophist

Now, as we saw, Owen favored a different interpretation both

of Stage 1 above, and of the formula for not being, whereby not
large and so on were analogues for not being (rather than, as on
my view, examples of not being). But, as Owen himself implic-
itly recognized, the alleged analogy simply does not work. Owen
explained the analogy he discerned in Stage 1 as follows. The ES
points out that not large need not mean the contrary small, since
same-sized (or middling, as Owen prefers to translate ison), which
is not the contrary, is available as the meaning of not large. This,
according to Owen, allows us to recognize by analogy the following
point: negating “is” does not yield “is not in any way” (the contrary
of “is”) but “is not something.”44

. . . not . . . contrary
not large same-sized small
is not is not something is not anything at all

But as the table shows, and as Owen in effect accepts, there is a

strong disanalogy between the two points he sees Plato making.45 For
what is not large may be either same-sized or small; so in this case
the contrary is possible, but is not required by the negative expression.
But things are quite different with the negation of “is.” Owen takes
Plato to be making the point that the contrary of being, viz., “what
is not in any way” cannot be applied to anything.

That almost concludes my discussion of the dark stretch. I do
not think I have shed much light on Stage 3, and I certainly am not
convinced that “this carefully constructed doctrine of the Parts of
Otherness” represents one of Plato’s “major ‘analytic’ achievements,”

  Owen, “Not-Being,” 234, “just as . . . calling a thing not white does not
relegate it to the other extreme black, so . . . saying that it ‘not is’ does not relegate
it to the other extreme from being.”
  Owen, “Not-Being,” 234: “The conclusion he is leading us to is that in one
case <sc that of the negation of ‘is’> this latter option is not open. With the verb
‘to be’ the negative construction not only does not mean the contrary (which is
what the analogy is designed to show) but cannot even be applied to anything
in the contrary state.” Kostman, “False Logos,” 203, points out the disanalogy.

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Lesley Brown

as Lee describes it.46 So I find it less surprising than Lee does that
it is left “totally unused in Plato’s subsequent account of falsity,”
though I agree in finding it strange that it is not even mentioned
in the résumé.
The role of Stage 1, however, seems to me clear. Whether or not
Plato intended it as the missing account of negative predication, or
simply as an account of the meaning of negative expressions—and
I do not think we need to choose between the two suggestions, for
Stage 1—he certainly introduced a key notion when he claimed
that a negative term need not signify the contrary of F but “only
different.” I have argued above that he gives a clear indication of
his meaning here with the help of the example in A2 that invokes
the trio large/small/same-sized (though commentators have been
reluctant to take the hint, for fear of saddling Plato with an incorrect
account), and that we must understand him to appeal to the notion
of something different chosen from a range of incompatible properties.
Plato will make use of the same disputed term, “different,” which he
uses to paraphrase “not” in his account of what it is for “Theaetetus
flies” to be false; and there too, as I and others have argued, we
understand his account best if we invoke the notion of something
different chosen from a range of incompatible properties.47 There we
are offered as a true statement, “Theaetetus sits,” and we note the
relation of flying to sitting, just as we noted the relation of equal
to large: not any old different attribute, but a different one from
an understood range. On this point at least, our dark stretch helps
throw light on an important part still to come in the Sophist, the
justly admired discussion of false statement.48

  Lee, “Negation,” 299n53.
  Brown, “The Sophist on Statements,” 456n52, cites Ferejohn,“Semantic
Fragmentation,” n9, for a list of earlier advocates of this view, and adds M.-L.
Gill, see note 33, and J. Szaif, Platon’s Begriff der Wahrheit (Munich: Verlag Karl
Alber, 1998), 487–499.
  I am very grateful to all who made helpful comments on an earlier version
of this paper, both in the workshop for ancient philosophy in Oxford, and at the
Delphi conference in June 2009. Especial thanks are due to Charles Kahn, and
to Richard Patterson for his help as editor.

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Fifth-Century Bugbears
in the Timaeus*
Sarah Broadie

There is a strong tradition of studying what we might call the “more

scientific” parts of the Timaeus with reference to what we know of
the theories of Plato’s predecessors. I mean aspects of the Timaean
mathematics and astronomy, and the anatomy and physiology of
various organic processes such as sense perception and respira-
tion. Here, Plato is seen as responding to, developing, and in some
cases deliberately going against pre-existent theories. It is not so
common, I think, to consider some of what I shall vaguely term
the more “metaphysical” aspects of the cosmology as reactions to
earlier views. We tend to focus on the Timaean metaphysics for its
intrinsic interest, and also as the fountainhead and inspiration of the
distinctively Platonistic systems that grew up in the wake of Plato.
Such a forward-looking stance is justified from all sorts of scholarly
perspectives, but it risks taking for granted Plato’s success in landing
just where he needed to land in order to originate what we think of as
Platonism. It risks overlooking the careful, even effortful, conceptual
crafting by which Plato sought to banish certain patterns of thought
that many of his contemporary audience or readership would have
found natural and beguiling in the absence of a clear and decisive
new alternative. Once the new alternative has carried the day it is
understandable that subsequent Platonists should want to build on
the victory rather than study the precise way in which Plato secured

*  It is a great pleasure to share in this celebration of Charles Kahn’s impressive

contribution to our understanding of Ancient Greek philosophy.

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Sarah Broadie

it. But the present paper is not for believing Platonists so much as
for those who want to watch Plato at work as a philosopher.
I must now narrow the scope of these opening remarks, since
on one front it would be a gross mistake to suggest that scholars
pass over the Timaeus’ response to previous metaphysics. Everyone
is keenly aware of its fundamental rejection of any approach that
makes randomness or chance a major player in the generation of
our world, the most extreme example of this type of theory being
fifth-century atomism. It is hardly a secret how Plato’s theory of just
four supremely beautiful particle-shapes aims to surpass the atomist
system with its postulate of an infinite variety. The attractiveness
of Plato’s science of inanimate materials lies in its serious bid to
explain in detail a vast range of physical and chemical phenomena.
If these explanations, or enough of them, are found satisfying, that
corroborates Plato’s choice of a corpuscular starting point. And this
corroboration confirms, in turn, his more general foundational
premise that this cosmos is through and through the product of
divine reason. This is because anyone wanting to accept the Platonic
corpuscular theory because of its explanatory power will want to
accept as truth the postulate of the four geometrically perfect types
of particles;1 but from this one is all but logically compelled to infer
that it was some sort of cosmic reason that settled on the four types.
For on the level of cosmology, it would be as absurd to suppose that
particles of these and just these types simply happen to be what the
physical world is made of, as it would be for readers of the Timaeus
to suppose that when Plato came to write this part of the account
he just happened to select those particle-types for no reason!
However, the focus of this paper is not on Plato’s differences with
the atomists, but on his response to some fifth-century views that
take purposefulness to be ultimate in the universe, but locate it in
ways that for one or another reason are insupportable to Plato. Since

  I am assuming that such a thinker is what today we call a “scientific realist.”
For interesting discussion of Plato as a “proto-scientific-realist” see A. Gregory,
Plato’s Philosophy of Science (London: Duckworth, 2000). One of Gregory’s main
theses is that for Plato the world-views of the atomists and the physiologoi are not
just theologically inadequate, but fail (not merely on matters of detail) in terms
of good scientific theory construction (see the summary at 265–274).

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his entire approach to cosmology rejects Democritean atomism root

and branch, there is no call, within the cosmology, to take special
steps to fend off that doctrine. The situation is otherwise with
bugbears that border on one or another of his own basic positions.
To meet threats from these closer quarters he must work some special
prophylactic motifs into the fabric of his account.
I shall examine two stretches of the Timaeus. The first narrates
how the rational souls of humans were formed and then joined to
mortal bodies (41b6–43a6). The second is about the Receptacle
(48e2–53a7). Our examination of the first passage will be a matter
of noting certain details: it will be obvious from these what the
issue is that Plato is coming to grips with. Dealing with the second
text will be less plain sailing, in part because here a major rival
interpretation—one that has nothing to do with any fifth-century
bugbear—stands in the way of the reading I want to offer. It will
be necessary, therefore, to argue in more detail for my reading, and
to look briefly at the rival interpretation.2

The narrative of the first passage begins at the point when
the Demiurge has finished creating the all-encompassing living
cosmos: its body (which is made from the four corporeal elements,
earth, fire, water, and air), its soul (which is made from a mixture
of incorporeal ingredients), and the astronomical system that makes
the movements of its soul visible. The cosmos itself and the stars
and planets are immortal gods. The next task (the agenda being
to create a physical world as fair, excellent, and perfect as any such
thing can be) is to create mortal animals, since without them the
cosmos would be incomplete. The making of mortals has to be
assigned to certain created divine ancillaries, as the chief Demiurge
cannot himself make anything touched by death. However, the

  I address the themes of the next two sections in much more detail in S. Broadie,
Nature and Divinity in Plato’s Timaeus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2011). This title includes the apparently redundant reference to Plato because
one aim of the book is to understand the cosmology (and to some extent Critias’
story) in terms of ideas and issues that were part of the context in which Plato,
the historical individual, composed the Timaeus-Critias.

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Sarah Broadie

situation is complicated: the mortal animals are to have immortal

rational souls which will be created by the Demiurge; he will then
pass these rational souls to the ancillaries who will fashion and join
on the mortal part.

(1) [The Demiurge is addressing the ancillary demiurgic

gods]: “So now take in what I tell you, showing you
my mind. Mortal kinds, three in number, remain as yet
ungenerated: but if these do not come into being the
world (οὐρανός) will be incomplete. For it will not have
within itself the totality of kinds of living beings: but it
must have them if it is to be properly complete. But if
it were through me that these came to be and got their
share of life, they would be equals of the gods. Thus, so
that there should exist mortal beings, and so that this all
(τόδε τὸ πᾶν) should be truly the sum of things, turn
you in accordance with your nature to the fashioning of
the animals, imitating that efficacy of mine by which you
yourselves came to be. And whatever in them deserves
to share the name of immortals—a part called god-like
which exercises rule in those of them whose will at all
times is to follow righteousness and to follow you—this
part I myself shall sow, and having thus made a beginning
I shall hand over. For the rest, do you, weaving mortal
to immortal, bring to completion living creatures: see to
their generation, give nourishment to make them grow,
and when they die receive them back again” (41b6–d3).

(2) Thus he spoke, and turning3 again to the mixing bowl

which he had used before, the one in which he had blended
and mixed the soul of the all, he poured in what was left over
of the former ingredients (τὰ τῶν πρόσθεν ὑπόλοιπα),
mixing them in a way in the same fashion, except that

  Reading καὶ πάλιν ἐπὶ τὸν προτέρον <ἰὼν or τρεπόμενος> κρατῆρα with
F. M. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology (Routledge and Kegan Paul: London, 1935;
reprinted Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 142n2.

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this time they lacked the same unvarying purity, but were
of second and third rate quality. And when he had com-
pounded the whole, he divided it into souls equal in number
to the stars, and assigned each soul to one particular star,
and mounting <each> as if on a vehicle he showed them
the nature of the all and told them the fated laws: the
first birth would be ordained as one and the same for all
of them, so that no one would be disadvantaged by him;
and having been sown into the instruments of temporal
lengths, each into the one that is proper to it, they must
be born as the most god-revering of animals; and, human
nature being twofold, its superior part would be such a
kind as would later be called “man” (ἀνήρ). So: whenever
they came, of necessity, to be implanted in bodies, and
of the body that is theirs something would be passing in
and something would be passing out, sense perception
first would necessarily arise, innate and the same for all,
the effect of violent impacts; and second would arise pas-
sionate love (ἐρῶς) mixed with pleasure and pain; and
in addition to these fear and temper (θυμός) and all the
feelings that go with these, and all whose nature is dispa-
rate from them and opposed. If they mastered these they
would live in righteousness, but if mastered by them, in
unrighteousness. And he who lived well for the appropri-
ate amount of time would be conveyed back to the hab-
itation of his companion star and would have a happy
and congenial life; but if he failed in this he would at his
second birth change to a woman’s nature. (41d4–42c1)

(3) After delivering to them all these ordinances so that he would

be without guilt (ἀναίτιος) for the depravity that would
come later, he set about sowing: into the earth some of
them, into the moon some of them, and the others into
all the other instruments of time. After the sowing, he
passed to the new gods the task of moulding mortal bod-
ies; and the rest of the human soul, the part which still
needed to be added and all that this implies, <he gave>

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Sarah Broadie

to them to produce and hold in charge, piloting the mor-

tal animal in the best and most expert way (κάλλιστα)
they could except for such evils as it to itself would cause

(4) He for his part, having delivered all these instructions,

took up station in his own characteristic attitude; and
as he so stayed his children heeded their father’s injunc-
tion and set about obeying it. Having received Mortal
Animal’s immortal principle, they imitated their own
maker: borrowing from the cosmos portions of fire, earth,
water, and air on condition that these would be paid back
again, they cemented the takings together—not with the
indissoluble bonds with which they themselves were held
together—but fusing them together by means of closely
arrayed rivets so small as to be invisible they made in
each case one body out of all of them, and bound the
revolutions of the immortal soul into a flowing-in-flow-
ing-out body (42e5–43a6).

I shall focus on the beginning of paragraph 2, where the

Demiurge is shown carrying out a second round of the same kind
of soul-making as he had engaged in when he made the cosmic soul
(35a1ff). The presentation of this second round is highly arresting,
indeed surprising, and Plato surely intended his original readers to
be arrested and surprised. Let us see how he engineers the effect.
The first thing to notice about paragraphs (1) and (2) is the
unique drama and sustained intensity of this text. It is the only
place in Timaeus’ monologue in which the Demiurge addresses
anyone else, and here within a short space he makes two speeches,
one (oratio recta) to the ancillary gods, giving them their assign-
ment, and the other (oratio obliqua) to the newly created immortal
souls—also in a way giving them their assignment. And between the
two speeches there is a very dramatic moment when the Demiurge
is shown actually making the new immortal souls. The image of
his “turning again to the mixing-bowl which he had used before”
comes completely out of the blue. When we were previously told

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how he compounded the ingredients for the cosmic soul (35a1–b3)

nothing was said at that stage about any “mixing-bowl” or anything
functionally equivalent to such a thing; nor was anything said then
to prepare us for the startling fact, revealed only now, that some
portions of incorporeal ingredients that were mixed to make the
cosmic soul had been left over from that first mixing.
Two factors contribute to the surprise of these remainders. First,
there is a crucial iterated ambiguity in Timeaus’s presentation of what
we now know was only the first of two processes of mixing: one for
the cosmic soul, the second for the souls of mortals.4 The effect of
the ambiguity on early readers or listeners experiencing Timaeus’
narrative for the first time would very likely have been as follows.
They would have suddenly realized, on presentation of the second
mixing, one of two things: that all along either (a) they had been
assuming (even if only vaguely and loosely) that the mixing for the
cosmic soul used the totality of necessary materials, or (b) they had
at any rate failed to isolate the possibility that there were remainders.
Thus they would suddenly have realized that their imagining of the

  Making the cosmic soul went as follows: stage 1 was a mixing of pairs of pri-
mary ingredients, there being three of these pairs (35a1–6); stage 2 was a mixing
of the three results of stage 1 (a6–b3); and stage 3 was the mathematical marking
out of the material produced from stage 2 (35b2–36b5). Now, Timaeus says of
stage 2 that here “all three” are mixed together (35a6–7). Is “all three” qualitative
only, or also quantitative? I.e., is the point that each of the results of 1 contrib-
uted to the result of 2, or is it that the whole of each result of 1 is used up at 2?
If the latter, then the remainders mentioned at 41d5–6 were left out of stage 1,
i.e., they are primary in nature. Again, the material marked out at stage 3 is called
“this whole” (ὅλον τοῦτο, 35b2), which in the context means that it was a stage
2 mixture of all three results of stage 1 (or possibly that it is a mixture of all of
them immediately and of all the primary ingredients ultimately). But does this
mean that each of the results of stage 1 was represented in the material for stage
3, or that the totality of them without remainder went into the material for 3? If
the latter, then (as before) the remnants used for souls of mortals must have been
left out of stage 1. I am not so much interested in deducing the nature of the
remnants as in the ambiguity itself of “all” and “whole,” and in the fact that their
use in connection with stages 2 and 3 helps to create the impression that they
likewise apply to stage 1. At 36b5–7 Timaeus concludes his account of stage 3,
the marking out, by emphatically stating that here the Demiurge had used up the
entirety of material resulting from stage 2. An audience who had never been here
before might well get the impression pro tem that stage 3 operated on the entire
result of stage 2 and stage 2 on the entire result of stage 1, and so by extrapolation
that stage 1 had used up all the available primary materials.

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Sarah Broadie

mixing for the cosmic soul had been either positively mistaken or
unclear in some way that matters (even if it is not yet clear why).
This realization would naturally have got them wondering: “That
possibility which I overlooked before—why is it important?”
Secondly, Timaeus has earlier explained with great fullness and
emphasis that the cosmic divinity was designed precisely so that the
entirety of available corporeal materials would be contained in its
body (32c5–33a6). This may well have lulled a first-time audience
into assuming at that stage (perhaps no more than subliminally)
that just as all the corporeal matter was used up to make the body
of the cosmic god, so it must be with all the incorporeal materials
from which the cosmic soul was constituted.
The mysterious mixing-bowl is the subject of a lengthy discus-
sion by Proclus.5 As we might expect, Proclus and his reported
predecessors find ideas in the text that to us seem pretty remote,
from Plato as well as from ourselves. Even so, Proclus does wrestle
with a good question: why were mixing-bowl and leftover psychic
ingredients not mentioned when the cosmic soul-stuff was mixed
(250.29–251.1)? My answer in part is the suggestion (which Proclus
might have considered childish) that Plato deliberately intended the
remainders and the new act of mixing to come as a surprise. The
other part of my answer is this: it was important to Plato to present
all together, in immediate sequence, (a) the image of the remain-
ders (calling for a new act of mixing) and (b) the image of the new
mixture being divided into a vast number of distinct souls: “And
when he had compounded the whole, he divided it into souls equal
in number to the stars” (41d8). After all, when Timaeus described
the first mixing, he could logically have said at that point: “And,
by the way, there were some ingredients left over, which the god
carefully reserved for mixing later.” But Plato did not have him say
that there. I am suggesting that this is because (there may have been
other reasons too, of course) at that point of the narrative (35b1) it
would have been impossible to forge an immediate imaginative link
between the whole notion of a second act of psychopoiesis, and the
idea that what this second act produces is a vast plurality of distinct

  In Timaeum (Diehl 1904) 246.29–251.22, commenting on 41d4–6.

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immortal souls destined for mortal bodies.6 Such a link could not
have been forged when the first mixing was presented, because the
natural next step at that point was to explain the marking out of
the cosmic soul material into the harmonic and arithmetic intervals
(35b2–36b5); and this in turn led straight into a series of difficult
topics that come thick and fast in natural sequence.7 Not until four
and a half Stephanus pages on from the first mixing does Plato
show the Demiurge turning to the problem of how to complete the
cosmos through the creation of mortal animals.
Now, why am I making so much of the fact that, in the story
as Plato tells it, we learn about the new mixing and the remainders
and the dividing into a plurality of new souls at virtually the same
moment? Well, my hunch is that he wanted to transfix his early
audience with the thought that mortal rational beings like us have
immortal souls that are individual centers of responsibility: distinct
from each other and from the cosmic soul. It was particularly
important to make this last point clear because Plato also wanted
the rational souls of mortals to be of kindred nature to the cosmic
soul. (The ingredients are the same in kind, but the mixture is less
pure the second time round.) Plato, as I see it, achieves the needed
effect by (a) jolting the audience into a heightened state of attention
through the wholly unanticipated appearance of the mixing bowl
and remainders; and (b) immediately presenting to that heightened
attention the image of the Demiurge creating those new rational
souls as a plurality of individuals. Why does Plato want this effect?
  H. Jackson, “Plato’s later theory of ideas III [the Timaeus],” Journal of
Philosophy (1884), 13, and R. D. Archer-Hind, The Timaeus of Plato (London:
Macmillan (reprinted New Hampshire: Ayer Company, 1988), 141–142, held
that the Demiurge first divides the human-soul material into portions that are
not yet individual souls, and assigns these portions to the stars: individualization
takes place through a subsequent division. P. Shorey, “Recent Platonism in
England,” American Journal of Philology 3 (1888), 274–309, reports that Th. H.
Martin, Études sur le Timée de Platon (Paris: 1841), held a similar view. As Shorey
says (59): “there is not a word in the Greek that suggests a further division.”
  Creation of the cosmic bands of locomotion of the Same and the Other
(36b6–d7); enveloping the cosmic body within this system of circular psychic
movements (36d7–37a2); the cosmic soul’s cognition (37a2–c5); the creation
of the visible chronological system; the difference between temporality and the
changeless now of eternity; the everlastingness of the cosmos (37c6–38c3); much
detail about the paths and velocities of sun, moon, and planets (38c3–39e2).

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Sarah Broadie

The reason, I suggest, is that a cosmologically interested audience of

his own time would certainly not have been ready to take it for granted
that if indeed there is an immortal element in the human being,
this element is individually distinct in each of us, and numerically
distinct from the cosmic soul or any part of it.8
Here it is relevant that all but possibly one of Plato’s arguments
(in previous dialogues) for the immortality of the soul signally fail
to establish the personal individuality of the human immortal part.
What most of them establish (to the extent that they work, which
is highly dubious) is a general connection between soul, or rational
soul, and immortality. For all that is shown, what turns out to be
immortal is rational soul considered as a single impersonal force or
incorporeal element that manifests itself in each of us.9 Or if, as in
some places, the idea is that each of us has or partly consists of a
distinct portion of such an element, these portions could be portions
of the soul or mind of the universe. Consider the four arguments in
the Phaedo. According to the argument (1) from Opposites, larger
comes from smaller and smaller from larger, etc.; so since living
beings turn into dead ones, dead ones turn into living; otherwise
there would be no new living beings coming on line in each genera-
tion and everything would end in universal death (assumed to be
impossible) (Phaedo 70b–72d). The argument assumes that the
quantity of what lives, or of life, is constant throughout time. This
no more individualizes soul than a latter-day conservation principle
individualizes matter or momentum or energy. According to the
argument (2) from Recollection (by itself it only proves life before
birth), we recollect the Forms which we could not have encountered
in this life; ergo there is something in us that encountered them
previously (Phaedo 72e–77a). But why should that something be, so

  I am certainly not claiming that Plato in the Timaeus discovered or invented
the notion of personal immortality. The claim is that before the Timaeus the
general context of cosmology was very far from being a place where this notion
was the obvious one to reach for, and that Plato therefore had reason to be par-
ticularly emphatic in introducing it into his own natural philosophy. In this as
in much else his precursor was Empedocles, but Empedocles’ system was not the
only one at hand in the background.
  This has often been noticed in connection with the Phaedo and Phaedrus

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to speak, individual and personal to me, any more than some parcel
of corporeal matter in me that was also present in my father, and
is just a portion of the whole mass of such matter in the universe?
Then there is the argument (3) from Affinity: our soul cognizes
the Forms, so it like them must be incorporeal, eternal, etc. (Phaedo
78b–80b). But there is nothing individualizing about this affinity:
the argument would work equally well whether the soul in each of
us is individualized in itself or whether each human body is united
with a bit of the universal intelligence, the bits being individualized
only by linkage with particular bodies. Lastly in the Phaedo there
is (4) the Essential Connection argument which seeks to prove an
essential connection between soul and life just as there is between
three and odd and between fire and heat (Phaedo 102b–107a). This
simply bypasses any question of individuality. The situation is not
improved by (5) the Phaedrus argument which Plato inherited from
Alcmaeon of Croton. It claims that soul must be immortal, because
soul, being “self-moving,” is the source of all motion, so that if soul
ever did not exist there would not be motion in the universe (which
is assumed to be impossible). Hence soul is a fundamental of the
universe, and hence it can never cease to be within the history of the
universe (Phaedrus 245c–e). There is nothing here to support the
thought that my soul is not just a portion of soul in the universe. In
sum, arguments (1) to (5) in no way depend on the notion that our
souls are essentially individual. Essential individuality is not built
into the notion of soul at work in these arguments, and it makes
no contribution to the derivation of the conclusion.10
Finally, there is (6) the argument in Republic X about injustice
as the soul’s worst and most proper evil. Since it is observable that
seriously unjust persons do not in this life perish from the injustice
that is in them, we conclude that the soul is indestructible. If it
cannot be destroyed by its own proper evil, nothing else can destroy
it (Republic X, 608e–610e). This argument may seem more hopeful
from the present point of view; i.e., given that injustice and justice
are properties of individual persons as such, perhaps the argument

  The notion of soul no doubt varies between some of these arguments, but

not in a way that affects the present point.

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Sarah Broadie

shows that the soul that is immortal is personal and individual. But
I am not sure, given the context, that we do Plato any favors by
granting that injustice and its opposite are properties of individual
persons as such. Earlier in the Republic Plato has argued that cities
can be just and unjust, and there he seemed certain that justice and
injustice in this case amounts to exactly the same as these qualities
when they occur in individuals (IV, 441d5–e2; 442d7–9). This
important position is undermined by the immortality argument
in Book X. For Plato could hardly deny that experience in this
life shows that city-states are indeed sometimes destroyed by their
internal injustice (cf. IV, 434b7; VII, 521a8), which suggests that
justice and injustice in individuals cannot be safely modelled on
the justice and injustice of cities.
One can, of course, run these arguments for immortality on the
prior and independent assumption that the soul of man is individ-
ual and personal.11 Then, if we find the arguments convincing, we
shall accept them as proving the immortality of distinct individual
souls. The assumption is doubtless permissible in the context of
ethical dialogues, since the question there is how we individuals
should live or what our attitude should be to philosophy, wealth,
political power, rhetoric. But in the context of Greek cosmology as
conducted in the fifth and early fourth centuries, one would not
have been entitled to take that assumption for granted. And this fact,
I suggest, is behind the startling character of the Timaean account
of how the Demiurge created the rational souls of mortals. I am of
course not claiming that a cosmological context as such rules it out
that such souls are individual, and personal, and subjects of moral
responsibility. But I am claiming that in itself this context offers
no helping hand towards such an understanding. The cosmology
has to be very deliberately tailored to accommodate and accentu-
ate it, which is as much as to say that the minds of Plato’s early
audience have to be very deliberately steered in this direction. For
them, the easy presumption would have been that the human soul,
or the immortal part of it, is going to be explained as a piece or a

  This is obviously presupposed in many places in Plato.

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manifestation of the cosmic soul, or an extension of the cosmic soul

into the mortal sphere.
For some background that helps to confirm this suggestion,
consider these statements of Socrates’ contemporary Diogenes of

My opinion, in sum, is that all existing things are

differentiated from the same thing, and are the
same thing (DK 64B2).

And it seems to me that that which has intelligence

is what men call air, and that all humans are steered
by this and that it has power over all things. For
this very thing seems to me to be a god and to have
reached everywhere and to dispose all things and to
be in everything. And there is no single thing that
does not have a share of this ( μὴ μετέχει τούτου).
. . . And yet of all living creatures the soul is the
same, air that is warmer than that outside, in which
we exist, but much cooler than that near the sun
(DK 64B5).

And this very thing is both eternal and immortal

body, but of the rest some come into being, some
pass away (DK 64B7).

But this seems to me plain, that it is both great

and strong and immortal and much-knowing (DK

Perhaps Plato could reasonably have expected his audience not

to take seriously the monistic side of Diogenes’ pantheism, with its
identification of intelligence and soul with the corporeal material,

  Translation from G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic
Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983; hereafter, KRS),
438 and 442. According to Theophrastus (de Sensu, 42, DK 64A19), Diogenes
spoke of the air “within” us, by which we perceive, as “a small part (μόριον)
of God.”

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Sarah Broadie

air.13 But it does not follow that Plato could equally reasonably have
expected them not to feel very much at home with the tenet that,
whatever intelligence consists in, one and the same intelligence
governs all things, humans included.
It might be objected that this way of thinking would have been
out of date by the time Plato wrote the Timaeus, so that there was
no reason for him to take special measures to combat it in his own
cosmology. In response: most of the philosophical activity that took
place between Diogenes’ floruit and the composition of the Timaeus
was focused on ethics, political theory, and epistemology.14 Those
intervening years did not see the arrival of a new cosmological broom
that swept away the notion that intelligence in us is part and parcel
of intelligence in the cosmos.15
However, there is direct evidence that this sort of view was alive
and kicking even in the period when Plato wrote the Timaeus. At
Philebus 29a6–30d8 Socrates argues that νοῦς rules the universe. To
establish this, he reasons that just as the fire, water, air, and earth
in us come from the universe at large, so the soul in us that orders
  This is the traditional interpretation of Diogenes. It is disputed by Barnes
1979, vol. II, 272–274) but not, I think, on grounds that affect the present
  Cf. KRS, 452: “With Diogenes and Democritus, who were little if at all
older than Socrates, the Presocratic period is legitimately held to end. During the
second half of the fifth century bce, particularly during the Peloponnesian War
and under the influence of the mature Socrates and the Sophists, the old cosmo-
logical approach­­—by which the primary aim was to explain the outside world
as a whole, man being considered only incidentally—was gradually replaced by
a humanistic approach to philosophy, by which the study of man became no
longer subsidiary but the starting point of all enquiry.”
  Not only Diogenes but Anaxagoras before him would have encouraged that
notion if, as D. Sedley (Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity (Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007) has argued, “the reference [in
Anaxagoras] of the word nous ranges, without clear demarcation, over both in-
telligence as a power resident in each of us, whose properties we therefore know
at first hand, and the great cosmic intelligence which created the world. The
ambiguity is permissible because Anaxagoras almost certainly holds that the great
cosmic intelligence, having created the world, apportioned at least some of itself
into individual living beings, ourselves included,” 11. At 24 Sedley speaks of
Anaxagoras as regarding human beings “as, among all living creatures, the best
vehicles for nous itself to occupy” (emphasis added). See also S. Menn, Plato on God
as Nous (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995), 26ff., on νοῦς as
a mass-noun in Anaxagoras.

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things wisely must likewise come from the universe (30a5–8); hence
the universe has and is governed by wisdom and nous. Protarchus,
who represents common sense, finds this completely convincing.16
The parallel between the cosmic provenance of the rational soul in
us, and that of the fire, earth, water, and air in us, can certainly
be interpreted as meaning that our rational souls are simply small
portions of the rational soul that exists in and rules the universe.
And Socrates says nothing at all to block that interpretation.17
This background helps to explain the highly charged way in
which Plato depicts the creation of human rational souls in the
Timaeus. They are distinct from the cosmic soul and they are not
parts of it. They come into being at a later stage in the creation-
story, and from numerically different (and inferior) portions of the
incorporeal materials from which it was made. Note that in order to
craft the human body, the ancillary gods “borrowed” its materials
from the cosmos. We do not own the materials of our bodies; they
belong to nature at large and the loan will be returned (42e8–43a1).
The non-analogous (or non-symmetrical) treatment of the rational
souls of mortals should have struck Plato’s audience as particularly
telling: it should have stuck out like a sore thumb that neither these
souls nor the materials for them were borrowed from anywhere.
Each is an individualized creation, and (as 42d2–4; cf. e3–4, makes
clear) each is to be a distinct center of responsibility. No doubt in
the context of ethical philosophizing this assumption could be taken
for granted in Plato’s time. Later on, students of the Timaeus system
would find its presence there totally predictable and unremarkable.
But when Plato actually made the assumption into an axiom of his
cosmology, he needed to foreground its presence by means of extreme
and startling emphasis. To that end, he arranges the narrative so
that the motif of mixing bowl and remainders springs out almost
  In fact, he had been ready to grant the point without argument (Philebus
  Archer-Hind (The Timaeus of Plato), 27, actually saw Philebus 29a6–30d8
as proving that in the Timaeus “finite souls are derived from the universal soul.”
In response, Shorey, “Recent Platonism,” 300, dismissed Philebus 29a6–30d8 as
“mere pious Socratic commonplace.” An abbreviated version of the argument
occurs in Xenophon, Memorabilia I. iv. 8. See Sedley, Creationism, 78n8, for
references to discussion about the possible common ancestor.

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like a revelation. Notified of the existence of these items just at their

moment of use, we realize that they have been silently present and
waiting all along since the episode which we now know was the
“first mixing.” We also retrospectively register that the presence all
along of mixing bowl and remainders made no more impact on the
narrative of the first mixing and its celestial aftermath than if they
had never existed. This, to my mind, snaps into focus the question:
“What if they had never existed?” The counterfactual answer tells us
what Plato is excluding—it identifies a bugbear: “Reason in mortals
would have had to be supplied from the cosmic soul.”18

I turn now to the second of my cases, the Receptacle. I shall
begin by summarizing the relevant passage (48e2–53a7). I shall
then develop an account of how I think the Receptacle ought to be
interpreted, or—to put the matter in different words—what the
problem is to which it answers. I shall then, for comparison, briefly
present the main rival interpretation.
About a third of the way into the cosmology Timaeus stops in
his tracks to announce a “second beginning” (48a7–b3; cf. e2–3).
This new beginning is the start of an account of the nature of the
corporeal materials of the universe, fire, water, earth, and air. The
four have been present and important in the account from the start,
but they have been largely taken for granted. Now they are to be
discussed in their own right. Timaeus began preparing for this
new stage with the very important declaration that the corporeal
materials are not the causes par excellence of the finished cosmos:
they are only contributory causes (συναίτια, 46d1–2; cf. τὰ τῶν
ὀμμάτων συμμεταίτια at 46e6, referring back to the ἀιτία of

  What are we to make of the fact that the Philebus argument countenances just
the sort of picture of our souls that Plato is so anxious to rule out in the Timaeus?
If the theory of the Timaeus seems more sophisticated, and if we therefore regard
it as more developed, we might infer on this basis that the Timaeus is the later
dialogue. Alternatively, the moral to draw is that dialectical context can make
all the difference. In the Philebus passage, Socrates’ concern is to show that nous
rules the universe. He is simply not engaged with the question (nor is there any
reason why he should be) of exactly how cosmic νοῦς is related to your νοῦς and
mine, or how yours is to mine. Cf. Shorey, “Recent Platonism,” 300.

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vision expounded at 45b4ff.). The cause in the strict sense, i.e., the
leading cause, is divine intelligence. The corporeal materials are
devoid of soul, and therefore devoid of intelligence. It was possible
to construct the cosmos and the organic creatures that live within it
because these materials (which Timaeus speaks of as Necessity and
also as the “wandering cause”) “yielded to persuasion” by Intelligence
(46c7–e6). We may wonder how inanimate things can sensibly be
said to be “persuaded” by anything; but the point, I think, is simply
that the fully formed and fully stocked world exists only because
the corporeal materials were amenable to being used in the task of
divine formation: they did not resist it.
Timaeus moves on, taking two important steps. The first is a
declaration that he will study the elements and their properties as
they were even before this cosmos was made from them (48b3–5;
cf. 52d4; 53a7). What this says is not that he is going to engage
in a sort of palaeo-physics of pre-cosmic matter or rudiments. The
point is that studying the elements as they would have been before
demiurgy fashioned them into bodies of living things19 is the same
as studying them in themselves. The aim is to isolate the specific
independent contributions they make to the finished world, i.e.,
the world as it is today, and thereby identify the possibilities they
offered to divine intelligence when it appropriated them for building
the body of the cosmic god and those of astral gods and mortals.20
Timaeus’ second important step at this stage is to equate the study
of the elements (so called) as they are in themselves with the study
of their genesis. For they do have a genesis, although very many

  Or: as they would have been had no cosmos been formed. This formula-
tion leaves open whether the beginning of the cosmos is to be understood liter-
ally or not.
  Timaeus does not examine the specific natures and properties of the elements
until the Receptacle passage is over: he does so on the basis of the subsequent
geometrical analysis of the elements. (Geometrical analysis: 53c4–56c7, with a
digression at 55c7–d6; explanation of phenomenal properties: 56c8–68d7. The
sequence is rounded off by a peroration stating that the elements as just ex-
pounded were what the Demiurge took over (παρελάμβανεν) for fashioning the
cosmos—hence (διὸ) the importance for cosmology of distinguishing the two
kinds of causes, basic corporeal matter and Intelligence: 68e1–69a5. The point
of “hence” is that the materials had to be taken over by a cause quite other than
they: by themselves they could not have given rise to the cosmos.)

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thinkers fail to realize this (48b5–c2).21 Here the Receptacle comes

to the fore as one of the principles of the genesis of fire, water, earth,
and air. Whereas previously (at the first beginning) it was enough
to think in terms of two ontological types, the intelligible paradigm
type and the sensible imitation type, now a third kind of entity must
be introduced: the receptacle, and as it were nurse, of all becoming
(48e2–49a6; cf. 27d5–29b2).22

  The whole thrust of what follows is to show that although fire, water, earth,
and air as we experience them are the corporeal basics (the geometrical account
will show precise ways of understanding the empirical contribution they make
to the cosmos), they are not, either one by one or collectively, self-sufficient
metaphysically speaking.
  It is worth emphasizing that according to the text the contents of the Recep-
tacle really are precisely what has just been stated: fire, water, earth, and air. This
needs saying because some scholars have held, mainly on the basis of 53b1–2
and 69b5–8, that the Receptacle’s contents are pre-cosmic “traces” of the four
elements—rudiments with virtually no distinctive characteristics. What those
passages say is that such traces were all that there was before God brought or-
der to them in accordance with the geometry explained at 53c4ff. Some have
supposed that the Receptacle essentially has the role of being the place in which
God ordered the pre-geometrical traces. If that were correct it would indeed follow
that the Receptacle, like the traces themselves, is a wholly pre-cosmic entity, one
whose contribution to the account is completely over by the time the story gets
to the finished cosmos such as we see it today. However, (a) Timaeus never says
that God geometrized the traces in the Receptacle. In fact, Timaeus never once
juxtaposes the motif of the traces with that of the Receptacle. Moreover, (b) he
says near the beginning of the Receptacle passage that fire, water, earth, and air as
we see them today all seem to turn into each other (see especially 49c1, ὁρῶμεν),
and he then goes on to postulate the Receptacle as that in which these transfor-
mations happen. The related puzzle at 49b1–50a4 about how to speak of fire, etc.
is evidently one that is supposed to embarrass us. Furthermore, (c) the Receptacle
is responsible for the separative movements of the elements (52d4–53a7), and
this separative tendency, Timaeus says, continues as a force in the cosmos as it
is today (57c2–6; cf. 58a2–c4 and 57b5–6). Altogether, the text indicates two
pre-cosmic transitions, each carried out by a divine agency and each for the sake
of the finished cosmos: one from traces to the geometrized particles that make
up fire, water, etc. such as they are today, the second from this per se unorga-
nized fire, water, etc. to the fully fashioned cosmos of living beings (see especially
69b3–c3 for the two transitions). The difference is not always kept clear: e.g., at
53a7–8 Plato moves from talking about unorganized fire, etc. in the Receptacle
(the Receptacle passage ends at 53a7) to talking about the traces (53b1ff.): it is
hard to tell whether the bridging sentence is about the former or the latter. Again,
at 56c3–7 he speaks of the geometrical formation as “Necessity yielding to per-
suasion,” language that was earlier (48a1–5) used for the amenability of fire, etc.
to the formation of organic structures.

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Timaeus begins to explicate this third thing by declaring that

the elemental materials (or most of them, anyway) visibly turn into
each other, from which he draws the conclusion that none of them
can be properly regarded as a stable this. He assumes (this is simply
taken for granted) that there must be a stable this in the situation:
what can it be except that in which the other things are, and in
which they appear and from which they disappear (49b2–50a4)?
In this way he begins to sketch the nature and function of the
Receptacle. According to the text, the rationale for positing this
entity is that there has to be a stable something in and out of which
the materials appear and disappear in their mutual transformations.23
Timaeus then declares that this stable something is completely
devoid of any empirical characteristics of what appears in it, and
that it shares with intelligible Forms the task of metaphysically
generating the empirical materials. The latter, accordingly, are said
to be imitations or likenesses of the Forms. The Forms are as the
father, the Receptacle as the mother, and the empirical elements as
the offspring. The Receptacle’s empirical featurelessness not only
marks it as a metaphysical or trans-natural entity (this is also true
of the Forms, of course), but is precisely what enables it to function
as a comprehensive matrix for all the elements with their panoply
of empirical features (50a2–51b2).
Timaeus at one point appears more secure about the existence
of the Receptacle—and, of course, its contents—than he is about
the existence of the Forms that are relevant to the four elements.
For he says:

But let us, rather, pursue our inquiry about them

[sc. fire, water, etc., just mentioned at 51b4–6] in a
discursive way (λόγῳ),24 by determining the answer

  One might well wonder why this has to be assumed.
  The contrast implied by “rather . . . in a discursive way” is with the method
of presenting earlier points about the Receptacle, i.e., via similes and images: the
Receptacle is, as it were, the nurse of all becoming (49a5–6); it is like gold being
continually re-shaped (50a5–b6); it is a paste for moulding (c2–5; d4–6; e8–11);
it is like the mother (d2–4; 51a4–5); it is like the odorless base for scented oint-
ments (d5–8). Moreover, “recipient” and “receptacle” (53a3; see A. E. Taylor, A
Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928, 356) are not

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to this question: does there exist a fire (τι πῦρ) itself

by itself, and <do there exist> all the things of which
we speak in this way, time after time, as “themselves
by themselves” in each case? Or these things which
we see, and everything else that we perceive through
the body—do they alone exist, their reality being
like this (τοιαύτην ἔχοντα ἀλήθειαν)?25 Is it that
there do not exist—not at all, and not in any way—
other things besides these ones? Are we, instead,
talking idly each time whenever we speak of the
intelligible form of a given thing, and all along this
has been nothing but words? (51b6–c5)

Thus he asks whether there is such a thing as fire “itself by

itself,” and so on for the other Forms, as if this point is not yet
beyond doubt. He then states that we need a succinct criterion (ὅρος,
c5–d12) for deciding, a criterion, he says, that will determine his
verdict (he speaks of giving a verdict as “casting a vote”). Then he
immediately announces:

So this is the way in which (ὧδε) I myself cast my

vote:26 if intelligence (νοῦς) and true opinion are
two kinds,27 then, without any question, there exist

mere dead metaphors. The non-discursive way takes over again at 52d4ff., where
the Receptacle is again called “nurse of becoming” (4–5) and the separative mo-
tion of its contents is compared to what happens when grain is thrashed and
shaken in a winnowing basket (52e6–53a7).
  If Forms of fire, etc. exist, they are the “reality” of the fire, etc. that we per-
ceive by sense. But if only the latter exist, then the reality of fire, etc. has the
nature of (τοιαύτην, 51c3) what we perceive, and the things we perceive by sense
must be “posited as ultimate constants” (θετέον βεβαιότατα, d7). See Taylor,
Commentary, 335–336 for the interpretation of 51c3.
  On the meaning of this see note 31.
  We might think it obvious that they are two kinds in that νοῦς operates by
intellection, not sense-experience; thus we may think that Timaeus ought to be
asking whether intelligence has its own proper objects in the case of fire, etc. How-
ever, the term νοῦς is primarily an accolade (as distinct from the name of a distinct
cognitive faculty) meaning the supreme form of cognition, what grasps reality or
truth. Hence if there are no Forms of fire, etc., then (in relation to fire, etc.) sense
perception or true opinion based on sense perception will count as νοῦς.

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these “by themselves” things, these forms which

we cannot perceive but can only grasp by intellect
(νοούμενα μόνον); but if, as some people believe,
true opinion is in no way different from intelligence,
then all the things we perceive through the body
must be regarded as ultimate constants (51d3–7).

In other words, the criterial question (CQ) is: are intelligence

and true opinion two kinds (or is there only true opinion)? The
original question (OQ) was: are we to recognize Forms of fire,
etc. over and above the fire, etc. perceived by the senses? And the
answer, affirmative or negative, to CQ will yield the corresponding
answer to OQ.28
Timaeus then states four brisk reasons why the answer to CQ
is “Yes” (51e1–6), and hence he has an affirmative answer to OQ.
But instead of giving this answer in so many words (“Yes, we must
recognize Forms of fire, etc. over and above the fire we see”), he next
does something different. He proclaims that, given the results just
reached, the following must be accepted (τούτων δὲ οὕτως έχόντων
ὁμολογητέον, 51e6–7): there are three things: the intelligible Forms,
the generated objects of sense perception, and a third thing, now
identified as space (χώρα), which cannot be grasped by sense but
only by a sort of “bastard reasoning.” He then explains why people
do not believe in the intelligible Forms: they hold that everything
real must be somewhere.29 But, he continues, things that are real by
and only by being somewhere, i.e., by being in space or χώρα, show
by that very fact that they are not “really real” but are only fleeting
appearances of the really real, since the hallmark of the latter is that
it cannot come to be in something else (52c5–d1). He then winds
up the discursive section in these words:

Let this, then, in summary form, be the reckoned

reckoning (λογισθεὶς λόγος) afforded by my vote
(τῆς ἐμῆς ψήφου): <it is that> there are being and

  This is seen clearly by Taylor, Commentary, 338.
 This ἔνδοξον was employed by Zeno of Elea and Gorgias.

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Sarah Broadie

space and becoming, three things by triple division,

even before the heaven came to be (52d2–4).

Timaeus then goes on to finish expounding the Receptacle.

In this last phase he explains that the disequilibrium of its diverse
contents induces in it a shaking whereby it shakes them into their
different sorts and drives them apart towards different regions of
the world (52d4–53a7).
I now want to return to the last quoted passage, 52d2–4. It is
here that Timaeus finally votes, declares what his verdict is. He votes
in favor of the theory that there are the three entities mentioned,
Forms, sensibles, and χώρα (previously and hereafter known as the
Receptacle30). (Hence when he previously spoke of his vote, i.e., at
51d3, it was not to cast it—one cannot cast one’s vote twice—but
to state the criterion that would guide his casting it when the time
came.31) But this situation is rather puzzling. For when Timaeus put
forward the criterial question, CQ, he did so in order to decide the
prior question, OQ: but OQ was about just two things or kinds of
things: are we to recognize Forms of fire, etc. over and above the
sensible elements? So why, when he had answered CQ by means of
the four brisk reasons, did he immediately and on that basis (51e6) go
on to give what amounts to an answer—an affirmative answer—not
to OQ, but to the different question: “Are there three distinct things,
the intelligible ones, the sensible ones, and the third one, χώρα ?”

  Almost all interpreters identify the Receptacle of 49a1–51b6 and 52d4–53a7
with the χώρα of 52a8–d4 (the exception is D. Miller, The Third Kind in Plato’s
Timaeus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003). The identifiers are cor-
rect, in my view, but they have the burden of explaining why Plato switches, and
switches just when he does, between speaking of the Receptacle and speaking of
χώρα. I discuss this question in Broadie, Nature and Divinity, ch. 6.
 Thus ὧδε ὀῦν τήν γ᾽ἐμὴν τίθεμαι ψῆφον at 51d3 does not mean: “My own
verdict then is this”—thus Cornford, Cosmology,189—but: “What is about to
follow is the principle in accordance with which I shall give my verdict.” Taylor,
Commentary, makes the same mistake in his note on 51c5–d3: “[Timaeus] gives
his own personal conviction and indicates briefly the grounds on which he rests
it,” 337. It is no accident that Cornford’s translation brushes out the second
reference to the voting pebble (52d2; Cornford, Cosmology, 197), rendering the
Greek by “. . . according to my judgment.” The perfect imperative at 52d3 sug-
gests the act of voting.

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The straightforward answer to OQ, “Yes, there are Forms of fire,

etc. as well as the sensibles” has been replaced by a triple ontology.
What are we to make of this? A first and simple response would
be: well, when OQ was asked, it had already been established in the
immediately preceding discourse that as well as sensible fire, etc.
there is also the Receptacle; hence an argument showing that there
are Forms of fire, etc. in addition to the sensibles thereby proves
the threefold ontology: it brings the tally of items up to three by
showing that the Forms are real, the other two kinds being taken
for granted. A second response incorporates the first and adds this
observation: since OQ expressed the anxiety that there may not be
Forms of fire, etc., and since the threefold ontology takes the place
of what I called the straightforward answer to OQ, the threefold
ontology should be understood as primarily allaying the anxiety
about Forms. If so, then even though the threefold ontology includes
the Receptacle or χώρα, this scheme is somehow principally about
the Forms of the elements. What matters most in it is the declaration
of the Forms. This consideration suggests a third response, one that
builds on the second: the Receptacle is in the ontology because its
presence adds needed strength to the claim that there are Forms for
the four elements. In the rest of this paper I shall be explaining and
defending this proposal together with a more general version of it:
the Receptacle is in the ontology because its presence adds needed
strength to Timaeus’ foundational assumption that this universe is
as supremely excellent and beautiful as a physical thing could be.
Let me lead in to the defense by discussing the point or purpose
of postulating those Forms. In purely metaphysical terms the
postulate means that fire, water, etc. come into being as in some
sense likenesses of eternal originals. But this by itself adds nothing
of cosmological value—and I am assuming that what is import-
ant to Plato in Timaeus’ narrative is important because of what
it contributes to the cosmology: whether to the results, or to the
method, or to the potential of cosmology (both results and method)
for understanding and ameliorating human life. Here is a more
fertile approach: when Plato postulates an eternal intelligible Form
for a given subject-matter it is because he assumes that it is possible
to conduct a rational or scientific inquiry about the subject-matter,

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Sarah Broadie

whether for the purpose of producing well-made objects of the

kind in question or for the purpose of understanding some kind
of existent objects. This is not meant as the reductive claim that
for Plato Forms are nothing but possibilities of rational inquiry.
Perhaps he could and should have embraced such a reduction, but
there is plenty of evidence that he did not. The claim, rather, is
that he would have seen no point in being interested in whether
there is a Form of X unless he believed that rational inquiry into
X is genuinely possible.32 If this is correct, it follows that if, in the
midst of an elaborate cosmological discourse, he postulates Forms
of the elements, he not only thereby declares a faith that scientific
inquiry about the elements is possible: in effect he also proclaims
that such an inquiry is forthcoming. This follows because in the
context of a comprehensive cosmology it would be shamefully feeble to
announce the possibility of inquiry into such a centrally important
topic without intending to do something about it. Hence when
he speaks of the Forms of fire, etc. in the Receptacle passage, he
signals that he will give what he soon does give: an explanation as
full and detailed as possible of the fundamental natures and powers
and effects of sense-perceptible fire and the others. He works out a
geometrical theory that is impressive because it explains or seems as
if it could well explain a huge range of phenomena through a small
number of principles. As I see it, the tetrad of Forms of the elements
acts as an intellectual (and of course intelligible) magnet that pulls
the investigator along the path of gathering and classifying salient
universal facts about the sense-perceptible elements and devising a
theory that connects and explains these phenomena. The theory
will show what is intelligible about the elements, which goes far
beyond anything that we could grasp by the senses. This reality or
“truth” of the elements (cf. 51c2) is both what we investigate and
what draws the investigation along.33
  In this formulation the belief in the possibility of rational inquiry into X is
a necessary condition for postulating the Form. For present purposes there is no
need to decide whether in general it is also a sufficient condition.
  This is not just fanciful. Focusing in the right way on a subject matter, i.e.,
grasping or partially grasping it, is manifested in finding the right questions to
ask. Each good answer not only presents more information about the object being
investigated, but presents it as arrived at through our subservience to the question.

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I share the view that the Timaean Forms of fire, etc. are more
than the abstract geometrical shapes of the material particles.34
For grasping these Forms involves, in part, understanding why it
is good that these elements exist, and this will involve reference to
animals. For example, the cosmos was made to be inter alia a place
where sense perception is possible; hence its ingredients include
fire and earth because visibility requires fire and tangibility earth
(31b4–8). This piece of teleology could not be discovered just from
the geometry of the particles; the geometry, rather, is the means
by which the Forms are implemented in the physical world.35 We
do not know the cosmological Form of a thing unless we know the
cosmological value of that kind of thing.
Now, although the elemental Forms may be more than the
elemental geometry, and although the relation between this “more”
and the geometry may not be very clear, I take it that the Timaeus
proceeds on the assumption that it is through the geometry that those
Forms are physically implemented. This is crucial because it means
that if the physical elements have any pre-cosmic properties such
that it is impossible to understand (or to imagine ourselves eventu-
ally understanding) how those properties consist in or supervene
on the supposed geometrical structure of the particles, then the
elements have pre-cosmic properties that do not originate from the
Forms. Such properties, therefore, would baffle any investigation
that looks to the Forms. Let us, however, for a moment lay aside
this hypothetical point about human investigation, and take on
board something said by Timaeus about the divine geometrizing

  The text is silent about the relation of the Forms to the geometry, just as it is
silent about the relation of the Receptacle to the geometrizing god and the traces
to which he gave order (see note 22, point [a]).
  Cf. C. Kahn, “Why Is the Sophist a sequel to the Theaetetus?,” Phronesis 52
(2007), 57: “The geometry of the elemental triangles and, more generally, the
use of mathematics to give structure to the phenomena of nature, is the marvel-
ous device by which Forms are imitated in phenomena. In other words, applied
mathematics is the mechanism by which the noetic unity of unchanging Forms
is transmitted to the perceptual plurality of kinds of things that come to be and
perish. In this intermediate role, between the purely intelligible and the percepti-
ble, between the eternal and the changing, mathematics provides the instrument
by which the one becomes many, as an invariant Form is repeatedly imitated in
regular modifications of the Receptacle” (57).

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Sarah Broadie

act that gave rise (somehow) to the particles of the four elements
so that these were there for the Demiurge and his ancillaries to
use in constructing the bodies of the cosmic god, the astral gods,
and mortal animals. Timaeus says that this geometrizing was done
when “the ordering of the universe began to be taken in hand” (ὄτε
δ᾽ ἐπεχειρεῖτο κοσμεῖσθαι τὸ πᾶν, 53b1.36 Not only does this
phrase locate the geometrizing at the start of the entire process giving
rise to the complete cosmos, but only a thoroughly perverse reader
could take it not to be identifying the geometrizing with the first
stage of that process. So whether or not the geometrizer who prepared
the elements is a god numerically identical with the Demiurge who
shaped the cosmos from them (Timaeus in fact identifies them at
69b3–c3), the agent in each case is engaged on a different stage of
the self-same task with the self-same ultimate purpose.37 And the
connection does not end here, for the Demiurge makes heavy use
of mathematical principles and concepts at crucial points.38
These considerations make it reasonable to raise the question: if
there are pre-cosmic39 elemental properties that are not (a) geomet-
rical, nor (b) obviously supervenient on the geometry, nor (c) such
that it makes sense to hope that a fuller version of the theory would
show them to be thus supervenient, then are the elements, in so far as
they have these properties, under the control of the cosmos-shaping
Demiurge? If there are any pre-cosmic properties that are either

  The translation is adapted from Cornford, Cosmology, 198.
  Many scholars use “the Demiurge” indiscriminately in connection with the
agent of both stages, but Timaeus reserves the title and cognates for the Intelli-
gence responsible (directly or via ancillaries) for constructing living beings, body
and soul, including the cosmos itself, i.e., the Intelligence that “took over” fire
and water, etc. as the materials for this project. He does not use it of the geome-
trizing god who ordered the traces into the particles of those materials. See note
22 on the two pre-cosmic transitions.
  The cosmic body (31b4–32b8); the cosmic soul (35b4–36b5); time and
astronomy (38b6–39d7).
  “Pre-cosmic” here means older than the cosmos but continuingly operative
within it. The contrast is with properties that an element acquires (the resultant
true predications are generic, not universal) from its role in a cosmic or intra-
cosmic organic process: e.g. one type of fire has the property of enabling vision
(45b4–d6), another has the property of mincing up nutriment in the process
whereby blood is made (80d3–e6).

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brute facts about the elements or belong to them through some cause
that lies beyond the geometrizing god, then: given the concinnity
of this god with the Demiurge, one might wonder whether the
properties in question come from the cosmos-shaping Demiurge as
such. But given that they are pre-cosmic, they cannot come from
the demiurgic divinity. So now the question arises: with what right
does one assume that elements possessed of these attributes would
unproblematically fall under the Demiurge’s control?
And of course there are pre-cosmic elemental properties not
rooted in the geometry, ones that are hardly trivial. These are the
tendencies of the four materials to mass together in different regions.
The ultimate reason why Plato postulates the Receptacle is, I think,
in order to account for this phenomenon of separation.40
In the context of this problem, the problem of accounting for
the separative movements, the Receptacle represents two things: an
admission and a reassurance. The admission is that the geometry
of the elements cannot explain the separative movements, and that
(as we would put it) empirically this system of movements is a brute
fact. The reassurance says that what has just been admitted does not
bring into question the perfection of the cosmos. For although the
system of movements is a brute fact empirically speaking, there is a
non-empirical principle that explains it, and this principle, although
utterly different from the geometrizing god, the Demiurge, and
the elemental Forms, is nevertheless on their side. It is the elements’
mother, and the Forms are their father. So the Receptacle is in
closest possible partnership with the divine rationality of those
Forms. That the elements move and exist only in dependence on her
makes mythically plausible their pre-cosmic amenability to being
fashioned into the cosmos. Without the Receptacle, Plato could
still have had Timaeus declare that Necessity, yielding to divine
wise persuasion, lent itself to the demiurgic work of producing the
superlatively excellent cosmos (47e5–48a5). But the declaration
would have been a bald demand to be given this premise for free.
Instead, in the actual narrative the elemental amenability makes
  Separative movement of the elements into distinct large tracts is not the same
as relative mobility of their particles. The latter is supposedly accounted for by
the particle geometry; cf. 55d8–56b6.

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Sarah Broadie

sense. It springs from the fact that the elements’ parents on both sides
belong on the same team as the Demiurge. A mother as such is in
one team with the father of her children. The father in this case is a
tetrad of Forms ready for conjoint geometrical implementation. The
tetrad belongs on the same general team as the mathematically rich
cosmic paradigm guiding the Demiurge. And a demiurge and his
guiding paradigm certainly belong on the same team as each other.
So: by the transitivity of “belonging on the same team as,” both the
Demiurge of the cosmos and the entire parentage of its elements
are on the same team. Finally, children belong with parents in one
family or fellowship. Not surprising, then, that the elements do not
resist the use to which the Demiurge puts them. Their geometrically
unaccountable aspect, the separative movement, turns out to be due
to a geometry-friendly cause.
Timaeus says that we apprehend this cause by a “bastard sort of
reasoning” (52b2). But the bastard is a close relative of the common
parent’s legitimate child. Under Timaeus’ guidance, one and the
same human cosmological capacity not only traces out through
authentic intellection (νόησις, 52a4) the mathematical structures
of the universe, but also, as an aspect of the same project, arrives
by a less transparent route at recognition of the Receptacle. Moving
from the epistemic level to the level of the objects, and applying
family imagery yet again, we could also think of the Receptacle
itself as the bastard sibling (a female one, perhaps) of the divine
and fully intelligible collective agency of the geometrizing god and
the Demiurge.41
All this metaphysically guaranteed co-operation gives Timaeus
(or Plato) an answer to what would otherwise be a serious objection.
In the absence of the Receptacle-mother motif (or some other device
bearing the same theoretical load), the cosmology would have to
display the separative movements of the elements as a sheer brute
fact, given that the non-brute facts about the elements derive from
the geometry and ultimately from divine rationality. In view of this,
a penetrating critic could question the security of the geometrical
  The dual relationship of Hera with Zeus (sister and consort) might suggest a
similar dual bond between Receptacle and divine rational agency (i.e., the aspect
of it that is said to father the elements).

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account of the elements. For if all that can be said about a fundamen-
tal feature of elemental behaviour is that the geometry cannot explain
it, then not only is it completely unexplained, but from the point of
view of the geometry and all that this stands for, it is a sheer anomaly.
Hence the critic could reasonably question whether the geometry
is in fact the best explanation of the phenomena that it supposedly
does explain. The critic could reasonably wonder whether we ought
not to be looking in some totally different direction for explanatory
principles that would generate a more unitary system. (Even if we
have no positive idea of what such a system would look like, we can
surmise that mathematics would have in it nothing like the dominant
role that mathematics plays in the actual Timaean cosmology.)
The Receptacle-motif fends off this sort of objection by exhibiting
the separative movements as, yes, geometrically inexplicable, but
scotching the implication that they are a sheer anomaly. If we stay
on the empirical level, the movements are anomalous, perhaps even
frighteningly so, but if we go beyond it we see that they are not.
For then we see them as due to a metaphysical principle that by its
very nature is friendly to elemental geometry and to the associated
rational values. In this way, then, the Receptacle-motif protects
the geometrical approach. Moreover, to engage in that approach
is to investigate the elements in the name or under the aegis of the
tetrad of Forms; hence anything that fends off scepticism about the
worth of the geometrical approach serves to vindicate those Forms.
Therefore the Receptacle-motif serves to vindicate them.
But as we have seen, the motif does more work than that. It
also makes sense of elemental subservience to the demiurgic project.
This theme brings me back to the title of this paper. In a scheme
of things where fire, air, earth, and water existed and there was no
Receptacle, the four would be completely self-sufficient in being
and movement. But for Plato, self-motion spells animation.42 Thus
living beings, mighty in extent and effects, completely indepen-
dent of the incorporeal Platonic Demiurge, having no guaranteed
affinity with his ethos, would have been around since before any

  Phaedrus 245e4–246a; Laws X, 895c4–896a5; [Definitions] s.v. “soul,”


411c. At Timaeus 36e3–4 and 37a2 the self-motion of the cosmos seems to be
immediately linked with its being alive.

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Sarah Broadie

work by that Demiurge began—if indeed such a being could work

at all in the envisaged scenario. The four would be like the roots
of Empedocles, to which Empedocles gave the names of gods. It
would make sense to revert to seeing them as animated by coeval
principles of Love and Strife. For absent the Receptacle, it would
be Strife that accounts for the separation to the different regions.43
Being alive, they would presumably have their own purposes of some
kind: so why should they identify with the agenda of a completely
different sort of divinity, consenting to be materials for a cosmos
meant to reflect his conception of goodness and beauty? If they did
consent, why should the arrangement be anything but temporary,
to be dissolved at their will, not his?  44,45
By this point the reader may well be wondering how I can
justify (a) ignoring the argument that Timaeus actually gives for
postulating the Receptacle, and (b) putting so much weight on the
supposed problem of accounting for separative motion when the
text shows no anxiety at all about this problem. The fact is that
Timaeus postulates the Receptacle on the basis of the this-such

  According to J. B. Skemp (The Theory of Motion in Plato’s Later Dialogues,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1942), 58–59, Necessity in the Timaeus
(one of whose effects is “bringing like to like,” i.e., the separative movement) is
a close relative of Empedoclean Strife. This is what I am arguing would be the
case but for the Receptacle. By contrast, D. O’Brien, “Space and Movement:
Two Anomalies in the Text of the Timaeus,” in Plato Physicus; cosmologia e
antropologia nel Timeo, eds. C. Natali and S. Maso, Amsterdam: Hakkert 2003,
121–148, shows how Plato advertises the exclusion of Empedoclean Strife from
his own system by deliberately placing the cosmic soul so that it encompasses the
cosmic body “on the outside” (ἔξωθεν, 34b4 and 36e3). In Empedocles’ world,
the center is “home” to Love, the extremity to Strife, and Strife moves back in
towards the center as his power increases. See also O’Brien, Empedocles’ Cosmic
Cycle, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969, 144–145.
  Contrast 41a6–b6, where the Demiurge declares that his own works are
guaranteed immortal since they could not be dissolved except by his willing it,
which cannot happen because he is good and they are fair.
  In this counterfactual scenario, the non-affinity of fire, water, etc. with the
Demiurge and all he stands for makes it laughable to equate them with beauti-
fully geometrical particles; for if rationality as Plato understands it is not sover-
eign over the construction of the cosmos, why suppose that a Platonically-dear
geometrizing principle was active at a prior stage? So, again, for the reason given
at the end of the previous paragraph, intelligible Fire “itself by itself,” etc. would
be “nothing but words” (51b7–c5).

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Fifth-Century Bugbears in the Timaeus

argument at 49b2–50a4. He later smoothly uses the Receptacle to

explain the separative motion. But he never points to separative
motion as a reason for postulating the Receptacle. This consideration,
if present at all to Plato, remains completely tacit. Does this not
seriously undermine my proposal? In reply: the this-such argument,
as I understand it, is very weak.46 However, let us grant that Plato
found the argument convincing. It does not follow that he did
not set up the Receptacle for another reason as well, this reason
being a distinct worry about separative motion. Furthermore: if
my exposition has been on the right lines, it is clear that Plato
logically ought to have suffered from this worry, and that he badly
needed something like the Receptacle to solve the problem. This is
so whatever we think of the this-such argument. Very well, but why
does Plato (if I am right) not make Timaeus explain what is going
on: i.e., explain not merely (as Timaeus does) that the Receptacle
is in fact the cause of separative motion, but also that its suitability
for that role is a major reason for bringing it into the picture at all?
The answer, I think, is that silence on this last point serves Plato’s
rhetorical and dialectical purpose, whereas explicitness would have
had the opposite effect. The reason in question gets its force from
the fact that the system without the Receptacle is broken-backed.
So explaining that reason would spotlight the vulnerability of the
system minus Receptacle. But (in general) the more serious an
exposed vulnerability, the harder it is to find a way to counteract it
that is not going to appear ad hoc, thus accentuating it still more.
Hence, in this case, the silence. Instead of allowing us to view his
full reason or motive for postulating the Receptacle, Plato (apart
from the this-such argument) simply presents it, with an intensity
designed to get the audience into the corresponding state of . . .
simply accepting it. The intended effect is that the Receptacle’s
presence in the scheme should seem completely natural, right, and

  There is not the space to defend this claim here. The most I will say is that
the rival interpretation which I am about to mention would scarcely have gained
the ground that it has if its exponents had found in the this-such argument alone
a clearly satisfactory basis for positing the Receptacle.

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Sarah Broadie

inevitable well in advance of the moment when Timaeus is allowed

to connect it with separative motion.47
I have proposed to interpret the Receptacle-motif as designed to
integrate elemental separation into a distinctively Platonic account
of the cosmos, i.e., one that relies on intelligible Forms, and on
mathematics wherever possible. On this view, the Receptacle is
a strictly cosmological device. It is of course foundational, but
foundational to Plato’s cosmology.48 I shall now, for comparison,
briefly present the prevailing rival interpretation. According to this
view (it is couched in somewhat different ways in different authors)
the Receptacle is postulated to solve a purely ontological problem
internal to the classical Platonism of sensible particulars as images
of Forms. The problem is: how can there be entities that are not
Forms but merely participate in Forms? Given that Forms are the
really real, how do sensibles—mere perishable images of Forms—
manage to be at all? Answer: they get an attenuated sort of reality
through being in something other than themselves; but a sensible

  Plato, as I see it, hopes to get his audience so furiously intent on grasping
the nature of the portentous, enigmatic, Receptacle that their minds are too full
of this task to frame the thought: “What would be the difference without it?”
We might compare the moment at the very beginning of the cosmology where
Timaeus refuses to countenance even formulating the negation of the proposi-
tion (P) “This cosmos is beautiful and its craftsman good”: enunciating “not-P”
(even, one may note, as the mere antecedent of a hypothetical) would be irreli-
gious in anyone, he says (29a2–4). If my argument is on the right lines, it is easy
to see that the truth of “There is no Receptacle” (not-Q) seriously jeopardizes
the truth of P. (This would have been easy to see for an audience deeply familiar
with Empedocles’ system.) So if Plato (not just Timaeus) indeed regards not-P
as impious even to formulate, then from this point of view he is well justified
in using his arts of presentation to head people off from wondering about the
implications of not-Q. He is not (from this point of view) denying us a clarity to
which we have a right. Timaeus began by declaring that the cosmologist’s prayer
should be to construct a discourse that is acceptable most of all to the gods, and
to us next in sequence (ἑπομένως δὲ ἡμῖν, 27c7–d1; on the phrase see Corn-
ford, Cosmology, 21n1). Thus the requirements of piety take precedence over any
human right to intellectual openness.
  Johansen (Plato’s Natural Philosophy, a study of the Timaeus-Critias, Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, ch. 6) gives a very different cosmo-
logical explanation of the Receptacle.

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Fifth-Century Bugbears in the Timaeus

cannot be in a Form; hence there must be a third thing for them

to be in, and this is the Receptacle.49
This interpretation is a rival to the one proposed in this paper
because they identify in opposite ways the problem solved by the
Receptacle. The initial paradox in the picture just sketched is that
anything not an intelligible Form should have being at all. The
picture then invokes the Receptacle as providing ontological purchase

  H. Cherniss (Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and the Academy, Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1944, 172–173): “It is to save the possibility
of sensible phenomena as such, the essential characteristic of which is instability
and which, because they have no steadfast being of their own, must be imitations
of the real ideas, that Plato assumes a receptacle, χώρα; this receptacle is the field
required by phenomena because they are merely ‘likenesses.’” See also Cherniss,
The Riddle of the Early Academy, Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1945, 23: “Plato himself explains [sic] that his theory of space as the
participant or receptacle is a consequence of his doctrine that physical particulars,
being constantly in process, are imitations of reality, for as such they imply not
only real entities—that is, the ideas, of which they are images—but also a field
or medium in which they can, as images, appear and disappear.” Again, Cherniss
(“The relation of the Timaeus to Plato’s Later Dialogues,” American Journal of
Philology, 88, 225–266; reprinted in Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics, ed. R. E.
Allen (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), 339–378; see esp. 246–247
and 264–265): “the theory of space is presented as saving at once the world of
becoming and the theory of its relation to being as that of image or semblance to
original reality.” E. N. Lee, “On the Metaphysics of the Image in Plato’s Timaeus,”
Monist 50, 341–368, regards the Receptacle-account up to 52d4 as “a coherent
structural whole,” one that “stands outside the coherent general pattern of the
rest of the dialogue,” 348ff. For Lee, 48e2–52d4 is “one of Plato’s major and
most careful metaphysical pronouncements—a fundamental statement not only
on the notoriously obscure Receptacle, but on his entire metaphysical theory of
phenomenal being,” 342–343; cf. 361. See also L. Brisson, Le même et l’autre dans
la structure ontologique du Timée de Platon, Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag,
1998, ch. 3. J. Sallis (Chorology, Bloomington-Indianapolis: Indiana University
Press, 122–123), interprets along the same lines notwithstanding his different
philosophical style. R. Mohr (God and Forms in Plato, Las Vegas: Parmenides
Publishing, 2005, 87) sees the Receptacle as resolving “the problem, left over
from the Republic, of how becoming holds a middle ground between being and
non-being”; cf. xxiv and 255). See also Kahn, “Sequel,” esp. 38; 52; 54–57. K.
Algra 1994, too, in a very detailed and nuanced study (Concepts of Space in Greek
Thought, Leiden: Brill, 1994, is inclined to see Plato’s “overall perspective” in
the Receptacle passage as “metaphysical rather than physical,” 91; 95; 105–106;
118. Some scholars explicitly link the Receptacle to the Parmenides paradoxes
of participation, seeing in the former a supposed antidote to the latter: e.g. Lee,
“Metaphysics of the Image,” 361–363; F. Fronterotta, ΜΕΘΕΞΙΣ, la teoria
Platonica delle idee e la partecipazione delle cose empiriche, Pisa: Scuola Normale
Superiore, 2001, 390–391; cf. 278–283; also Kahn, “Sequel,” 38.

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Sarah Broadie

to sensible images of Forms. Absent the Receptacle there would be

only the really real intelligibles, with no room for sensibles in the
ontology. It is this majestic solitude of intelligibles that the Receptacle
keeps at bay. I, by contrast, have argued that what the Receptacle
keeps at bay is a scenario in which it could make no sense to postulate
Forms of fire, etc. In this scenario, the sense-perceptible materi-
als of nature are ontologically and kinetically self-sufficient, and
consequently they are alien to all that Plato’s Demiurge represents.
Suppose that this is the actual situation: then (one might say) even if
it is still the case that there exists a ὑπερουράνιος τόπος with Forms
of fire, etc. standing ready for implementation in some physical
domain, they would be irrelevant to our fire, etc. Those Forms
could only be implemented in a cosmos better than ours—one with
a Receptacle!—whereas the entire reality of our fire, etc. would be
what we perceive by the senses.50
Each interpretation has its own way of reading the next passage.
Timaeus is going through the triple ontology:

[It must be agreed that there exists, 52a1] a third

kind too, the <kind> that is space, is always existent,
admits of no destruction while providing a seat for
whatever comes to be, itself being non-sensually
encountered by a bastard sort of reasoning and
almost beyond credibility. It is with reference to
this that we, dreaming, say that everything real
must be somewhere, in some place, and occupying
some space, and that what is neither on earth nor
anywhere in the heavens is nothing. Take all these
and other kindred points concerning the waking51
and truly existing nature: we are disabled by this
  One advantage of my interpretation is that it defuses the debate, going back
to antiquity, on the precise ontological nature of the Receptacle’s contents and its
relation to them. Are they qualities or thing-like objects? Does it stand to them
as matter or as medium? If all that Plato wants is their total metaphysical depen-
dence on it, the exact nature of the dependence is unimportant. Some positive
objections facing the rival interpretation are laid out in detail in Broadie, Nature
and Divinity, ch. 6.
  I.e., it is not a mere appearance in sleep.

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Fifth-Century Bugbears in the Timaeus

dreaming from breaking out of sleep and bringing

them into definition (διοριζόμενοι52) in a statement
of the truth, which is this: to an image—since (διὰ
ταῦτα, c3–4) the very principle on which it has
come to be53 is not in its own possession, and it is
an ever-moving appearance of something other—it
belongs to be in something other, thereby clinging
to reality as best it can on pain of not being at
all; whereas that which is really real has for its
defender the true, because exact, statement that
as long as something is one thing and something
else is another, neither will ever come to be in the
other and so become at once one identical thing
and two (52a8–d1).

The ontological reading of Cherniss and others takes the

sequence of thought to be:
(1) “Since perishable things are mere images of Forms (this is
now established), the perishables manage to exist only by being in
the third thing (which is why the latter is postulated); by contrast,
on the level of the intelligible really real, no two things are such that
one can be in the other.” On the cosmological reading for which I
have argued, the reasoning is: (2) “Since perishable fire, etc. exist
only by being in the third thing, that shows them to be mere images
of the really real (as distinct from being the really real themselves):
for that sort of in-something-else existence is just what we should
expect for what is only an image (εἰκόνι . . . προσήκει, c2 and c4);
it is impossible for true realities.”

  “Definition” as in “high-definition,” “low-definition.”


  I follow Cornford’s understanding of αὔτο τοῦτο ἐφ᾽ ᾧ γέγονεν (52c2–3),


and have borrowed his translation (Cornford, Cosmology, 370–371).

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e
Satoshi Ogihara
In this paper I shall present an interpretation of a much-discussed
passage in Plato’s Philebus, 36c–40e. Briefly, in that passage Socrates
persuades Protarchus that there are false pleasures (ψευδεῖς ἡδοναί).1
Although at first Protarchus denies that pleasure can be false
(36c8–9, d1–2, e4, et al.), the argument that Socrates offers at
38b–40d finally convinces him.
Even before giving this conclusive argument, which is the focus
of this paper, Socrates makes some attempts at persuasion (36c10–11,
37a1–e7). At 37a1–e7 he appeals to an analogy between belief and
pleasure. As for belief, if a mistake is made about “the thing believed”
then that belief is not right. Similarly in the case of pleasure, Socrates
says, if a mistake is made about “that in which (περὶ τὸ ἐφ’ ᾧ)”
one takes a pleasure, the pleasure is not right (37e1–7). Protarchus
accepts the truth of the whole conditional, while showing skepti-
cism about the feasibility of the antecedent (e8–9). Then Socrates
points out that pleasure sometimes accompanies ( μετὰ [+ genitive]
. . . γίγνεσθαι2 ) false belief (37e10–11). Presumably this refers to
the case in which one is pleased that p, when the proposition p is
false. Protarchus admits that pleasure sometimes accompanies false

  Socrates goes on to give three more arguments for the possibility of false
pleasure, or show three other senses in which pleasure may be false. First, when
one overestimates the size of a pleasure (thanks to temporal distance or juxtapo-
sition with a pain), Socrates argues that the exceeding part of the pleasure is false
(41a–42c). Second, if one mistakenly thinks that painlessness is pleasant, feels
no pain and hence thinks oneself pleased, Socrates holds that this is taking a false
pleasure (42c–44a). And thirdly, a pleasure mixed with a pain is said to be a false
pleasure (46a–53c).
  Cf. also Ἕπεται (+ dative) at 38b9–10.

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Satoshi Ogihara

belief, and yet retorts that in such a case, although we say the belief
is false, nobody would call the pleasure itself false (37e12–38a2).
Socrates’ next argument convinces Protarchus. How? To antici-
pate, I think it is by drawing attention to a very restricted kind of
pleasure, which Protarchus agrees is false when and because the
belief involved is false. So it is crucial, at least on my interpreta-
tion, to understand exactly what type of pleasure is at issue in the
argument. In the experience in question, one believes one will be
pleased at something, e.g., the acquisition of a lot of gold, and
imagines oneself to be taking the pleasure. It is crucial to note, in
my view, that by identifying with the imagined self, one takes that
same pleasure. If one never acquires a lot of gold, the belief is false,
and so is the pleasure.

Before discussing the relevant text, I wish to say something about
Protarchus’ view. It is common to describe him as a hedonist. For
now, let “hedonism” mean the claim that pleasure is the good, a
claim implying that all pleasures are good. I would like to suggest
that Protarchus may not be fully committed to hedonism at any
stage in the dialogue, not even at the outset.
This suggestion may sound paradoxical. There are two reasons
it may seem so. First, Protarchus has taken over a hedonist position
from Philebus, as we see at the opening of the dialogue (11a1–b3,
c5–9). Second, Protarchus seems to defend the hedonist thesis at
least for a while, and to do so well. In terms of a first attack on
hedonism, Socrates maintains that there is a great variety of pleasures
(12c4, c7–8). The pleasure of a licentious activity is contrasted with
the pleasure that a temperate person takes in her very temperance,
and the pleasure that a foolish person takes in foolish thoughts
and hopes is contrasted with the pleasure that a sensible person
takes in her very sensibleness (c8–d4). To this Protarchus replies,
“They certainly come from opposite things, Socrates, but they aren’t
themselves opposite to one another” (d7–8). A little later Protarchus
also says that the pleasures Socrates regards as unlike one another
are not so, “insofar as they are pleasures” (13c5). Protarchus thus

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

rejects Socrates’ contention that certain qualities—in the present

context, goodness and badness in particular—of what one takes
pleasure in characterize the pleasure, too. For Protarchus, what one
takes pleasure in is only the source or cause of the pleasure, which
has a mere external relation to the pleasure. He seems to do well at
defending the hedonist position from Socrates’ attack. Thus, one
may think, Protarchus is fully committed to hedonism, at least for
the moment.
Consider the first reason Protarchus may appear to be fully
committed to hedonism, namely that he has succeeded Philebus. In
general, one does not have to be fully committed to a thesis in order
to defend it. For example, at the beginning of Book 2 of the Republic,
Glaucon and Adeimantus argue, without believing it, that injustice
is better than justice (357a–368b). They do so in order to hear how
Socrates will refute their case and argue to the contrary. They want
to be persuaded that justice is better. As for our dialogue, it may be
that similarly Protarchus does not believe in hedonism (at least not
fully), but undertakes to defend it in order to hear how Socrates
will criticize it and argue for his own alternative position. That is
to say, Protarchus may be sympathetic, at least to some extent, to
Socrates’ view of happiness from the start. This possibility is perfectly
harmonious with the fact that the only thing that Protarchus says
in terms of his reason for taking over from Philebus is, “I have no
alternative. For beautiful Philebus has given up on us: Ἀνάγκη 
δέχεσθαι· Φίληβος γὰρ ἡμῖν ὁ καλὸς ἀπείρηκεν. (11c7–8)
Consider, then, the second reason Protarchus may appear to be
fully committed to hedonism at least at first, namely that he defends
the hedonist thesis well at 12d–13c. Actually, what he defends here
is not exactly the hedonist thesis that pleasure is the good, but only
the weaker claim that all pleasures are good.3 Given the efficiency
that he shows in defending it, we may well suppose that Protarchus is
committed to this weaker claim. In particular, we may well suppose
that Protarchus is committed to the claim that qualities such as the
goodness and badness of what one takes pleasure in do not transfer
  Protarchus’ remark at 13b6–c2 is not evidence that he really holds the he-
donist position. He is simply explaining how he is baffled at the way in which
Socrates conducts the discussion.

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Satoshi Ogihara

to the pleasure these give (let us call this “non-transfer” claim), and
that on this basis he defends the weaker thesis. But the “non-transfer”
claim does not entail the hedonist thesis.
With this consideration in mind, let us look at Philebus 38a3–5.
As I have mentioned, when Socrates says that pleasure sometimes
accompanies false belief, Protarchus admits this and says that in such
a case, nobody calls the pleasure false (37e10–11). This is a version
of the “non-transfer” claim, although now it is brought forward
with respect to truth and falsity, while at 12d–13b it was brought
in mainly with regard to goodness and badness. Socrates then
remarks, “But you’re defending the λόγος of pleasure eagerly now,
Protarchus (Ἀλλὰ προθύμως ἀμύνεις τῷ τῆς ἡδονῆς, ὦ Πρώταρχε,
λόγῳ τὰ νῦν, 38a3–4).” This is the reading of manuscript T. Other
manuscripts have “τὸ” instead of “τῷ.” For now let me assume the
version of T and read “τῷ τῆς ἡδονῆς [. . .] λόγῳ.” To this remark
by Socrates Protarchus replies, “Not at all. I’m saying what I hear
(Οὐδέν γε, ἀλλ’ ἅπερ ἀκούω λέγω.).” This passage admits of several
interpretations, and I suggest that the phrase, “the λόγος of pleasure,”
refers to the hedonist thesis. (Another possibility is that it refers to
the claim that no pleasure is false.) So, on my interpretation, Socrates
is saying to Protarchus that the latter is defending the hedonist
thesis eagerly now. What exactly is it then that Protarchus denies
when he says “Not at all”? He denies, I suggest, that he is defending
hedonism at all. (Another possibility is that it is out of mere partisan
spirit—rather than conviction—that he is defending the λόγος of
pleasure.4) When he says, “I’m saying what I hear,” he is referring
to the ordinary mode of speech according to which falsity is never
predicated of a pleasure.
On my reading, Socrates is teasing Protarchus by suggesting that
the latter is now speaking as if he were a real hedonist.5 Protarchus
  Dorothea Frede, Platon: Philebos (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht,
1997), 49n52.
  Given this interpretation, if “κείνου τἀνδρός” at 36d6–7 refers to Philebus
(rather than Protarchus’ biological father), so that Socrates’ address to Protarchus,
“ὦ παῖ ’κείνου τἀνδρός” means “successor of Philebus’ position,” then this may
also have a similar teasing tone. For an insightful discussion of this address, see
M. F. Burnyeat, “Fathers and Sons in Plato’s Republic and Philebus,” Classical
Quarterly 54 (2004), 80–87.

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

is right to deny this. For, first, the “non-transfer” claim in general,

a version of which he is insisting upon, does not entail the hedonist
thesis, as we have seen. Second, it may even be the case that he no
longer maintains the weaker thesis that all pleasures are good. He
may have been persuaded that not all pleasures are good by Socrates’
suggestion at 23c–28a to the effect that pleasure together with
pain belongs to the kind of the “unlimited,” while good things are
generated by the mixing of “unlimited” things with “limit”—that
pleasures include “violence and wickedness,” while the imposition of
“limit” on pleasure is pleasure’s salvation (26b7–c1, cf. 28a1–3). At
the same time, though, Socrates’ remark as I take it—to the effect
that Protarchus is eagerly defending hedonism now—is understand-
able. Socrates intends his discussion of the possibility of false pleasure
to form part of his criticism of hedonism (cf. 36d6–7, 40e9–10, et
al.). From his perspective, resistance to his contention may look
like an effort to defend hedonism.6 But again, Socrates may well be
teasing: Protarchus may not be an out-and-out hedonist, but at the
moment he seems to be arguing for hedonism with the enthusiasm
of a true believer!

  The discussion of false pleasure raises another issue concerning Protarchus’
position. At 37b5–8, Socrates says that he and Protarchus have to consider,
among other things, how it is that belief becomes both true and false, while
pleasure is only true. Protarchus concurs (b9). Does this suggest that Protarchus
holds that pleasures are always true (rather than that pleasures lack truth val-
ue)? The affirmative answer has been given by A. Kenny, “False Pleasures in the
Philebus: A reply to Mr Gosling,” Phronesis 5 (1960), 45–52; N. Mooradian,
“Converting Protarchus: Relativism and False Pleasures of Anticipation in Plato’s
Philebus,” Ancient Philosophy 16 (1995), 93–112; Sylvain Delcomminette, “False
Pleasures, Appearance and Imagination in Plato’s Philebus,” Phronesis 48 (2003),
215–237; and Verity Harte, “The Philebus on Pleasure: The Good, the Bad and
the False,” 104 (2003–4), 111–128. But if Protarchus does hold that pleasures
are always true, and Socrates knows this, then we must assume that Socrates
learned this before the dialogue opens; for Protarchus has said nothing to suggest
his commitment to the view. This is not impossible, although the reader may
have the impression that it is here at 36c that the relationship between pleasure
and truth becomes the issue for the first time. An alternative possibility is that
Protarchus has never really thought about the relationship between pleasure and
truth. At 37b5–8, Socrates may be raising a question while (somehow hastily)
reflecting his own conviction (yet to be argued for) that pleasure must have some-
thing to do with truth (cf. 36d3, e1–3).

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Satoshi Ogihara


Let us look at the argument at 38b–40c, by which Socrates
finally convinces Protarchus that there are false pleasures. This
argument is divided into two parts. In the first part, Socrates
discusses the case in which one vaguely sees some distant object,
makes a judgment as to what it is, and sees it as one has judged
it to be. Socrates explains the process of making the judgment
in terms of an internal question and answer. He then introduces,
figuratively, two “craftsmen” working in the soul when one is having
the experience in question. The first is a “scribe” who writes an
“account (λόγος).” Socrates identifies him as “memory that joins
with perceptions, together with affections concerned with these
things ( Ἡ μνήμη ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι συμπίπτουσα εἰς ταὐτὸν
κἀκεῖνα ἃ περὶ ταῦτ’ ἐστὶ τὰ παθήματα,” 39a1–2). The second is
a “painter” who draws a “picture” which is an image of the “account”
written by the scribe. An image of a true “account” is true, and an
image of a false “account” false. In the second part of the argument,
Socrates considers the case in which one hopes to acquire plentiful
gold and be pleased, and imagines oneself to be experiencing the
situation. Socrates reuses the “craftsman” metaphors and speaks of
the hope as an “account” and of the content of imagination as a
“picture.” Let us take a look at the main passage in the second part
of the argument.

SOCRATES : Are there “accounts” which we call

hopes (ἐλπίδας), in each of us? (40a6–7)
PROTARCHUS : Yes. (a8)
SOC : And more importantly, [there are] also
the images, which have been painted ( Καὶ δὴ 
καὶ τὰ φαντάσματα ἐζωγραφημένα). That is,
someone often sees plentiful gold coming into
his possession and lots of pleasures [arising]
because of it ( καί τις  ὁρᾷ πολλάκις  ἑαυτῷ
χ ρυσὸν γιγνόμενον  ἄφθονον  καὶ  ἐπ’
αὐτῷ πολλὰς ἡδονάς7); and in particular he beholds

  I translate “πολλὰς ἡδονάς” at 40a11 as “lots of pleasures” and take “pleasures”

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

himself, thus painted, being intensely pleased

with himself ( καὶ  δὴ  καὶ  ἐνεζωγραφημένον
αὐτὸν  ἐφ’  αὑτῷ  χαίροντα  σφόδρα καθορᾷ).
PROT: Why not? (b1)
SOC : Shall we then say that for good people what
has been written/drawn turns out to be true for the
most part, because they are loved by the gods (or are
friends of the gods: τοῖς μὲν ἀγαθοῖς ὡς τὸ πολὺ
τὰ γεγραμμένα παρατίθεσθαι ἀληθῆ διὰ τὸ
θεοφιλεῖς εἶναι); and that for bad people, on the
other hand, the contrary is the case for the most
part? Or shall we not say so? (b2–4)
PROT: We certainly should say so. (b5)
SOC : Therefore, to bad people pleasures are no less
present, having been painted (τοῖς κακοῖς ἡδοναί
γε οὐδὲν ἧττον πάρεισιν ἐζωγραφημέναι), but
these [pleasures] are false. (b6–7)
PROT: Right. (b8)
SOC : Then for the most part evil people take false
pleasures ( Ψευδέσιν ἄρα ἡδοναῖς τὰ πολλὰ οἱ
πονηροὶ χαίρουσιν), and good people true ones.
PROT: What you are saying is most inevitable. [c3]
SOC : According to this argument, then, there are
in the human soul false pleasures, but they are a
result of ridiculously imitating true [pleasures].
Similarly with pains. (c4–6)
PROT: Yes. (c7)


In my view, Socrates’ argument may be reconstructed as follows.
(a) One’s hope that one will acquire plentiful gold and
thereby be enormously pleased is true or false, according as
the hoped-for state of affairs will or will not take place. (The

as meaning pleasant feelings (about the acquisition of the gold). Alternatively,

“ἡδονάς” may be taken to mean pleasant things (bought with the gold).

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Satoshi Ogihara

textual grounds for my attribution of this claim to Socrates

are the following. [1] He explains how beliefs and statements
(or “accounts”) concerning the present time are true or false at
38b12–39b2.8 [2] He introduces hope as an “account” concern-
ing the future at 39d7–e7, 40a6–8. And [3] the specific content
of the hope in question is specified in Socrates’ description of
the content of the corresponding image at 40a10–12.)
(b) The image that one paints of the hoped-for scene is true
or false, according as one’s hope is true or false. ([1] Socrates
draws the parallel between beliefs or statements [or “accounts”],
on the one hand, and their images [εἰκόνες], on the other hand,
at 39c4–5. And [2] the images [φαντάσματα] are mentioned
with respect to the current case at 40a9.)
(c) The pleasure painted in the image is true or false, accord-
ing as the image (as a whole) is true or false. ([1] Socrates states
that the pleasure painted in the image is true or false at 40b6–7.
And [2] the clause “according as the image is true or false” is
clearly implicit in the flow of the argument.)
(d) The pleasure that one takes by imagining the scene is
true or false, according to whether the pleasure painted in the
image is true or false. Q. E. D. ([1] This is required so that
the argument may work. Later I shall discuss where and how
Socrates makes this claim.)

The crucial step is (d). But before considering it, let us first
prepare the ground by looking at the earlier stages of the argument.
A critical feature of the image of the hoped-for scene becomes
clear from (b). Picturing the future scene is of course making it
present to one’s mind. But as (b) says, the picture has the truth
value that the hope has. This means that it is part of the content of
the image that this image is concerned with the future as opposed
to the present and the past. When one imagines the hoped-for

  Protarchus has agreed that belief may be true or false at 36d1. “Correct belief
and true reasoning” have been mentioned at the opening of the dialogue (11b8).

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

scene, one experiences it as present while at the same time somehow

understanding that it belongs to the future.9
Moreover, it becomes clear from (c) that we should understand
that the pleasure painted in the image is central to the image as a
whole. For it should not be the case that every item painted in the
mental picture is true or false according as the picture as a whole is
true or false. If that were the case, the gold and the person would
also be true or false, which is absurd. We should understand that
it is because in the experience in question, the pleasure is central
to the whole picture that the pleasure is supposed to have the truth
value that the image as a whole has. That is, at issue is the kind of
experience in which painting the pleasure is the point of painting
the picture at all, so that painting the picture falsely is painting the
pleasure falsely.
Let us turn to (d). Why is it that the pleasure taken by imagina-
tion is true or false according as the pleasure painted in the image is
true or false? It is, I suggest, because the pleasure taken by imagina-
tion is identical with the pleasure painted in the image, so that the
falsity of the latter just is the falsity of the former.10 When the person
  Fulcran Teisserenc, “L’empire du faux ou le plaisir de l’image,” in La fêlure du
plaisir, 1., ed. Monique Dixsaut (Paris: Libraire philosophique, J. Vrin, 1999),
290, says: “[The mental image] makes the anticipated pleasure into a present
event (the two verbs of perception [i.e., “ὁρᾷ” at 40a10 and “καθορᾷ”at a12] are
in the present indicative), the visualization of which rubs out the hypothetical
character; to be sure, the hope at first needs a logos capable of articulating the
temporal difference, so that it may be related to the future; but then it can, by
means of the image that it constructs, pass over the gap between the present and
the future and offer the pleasure or its preconditions to an immediate apprehen-
sion.” (The emphases are Teisserenc’s.) Teisserenc is right in noticing both the
future-related aspect and the present aspect of the experience in question. But if
one speaks about two temporally distinct stages (“at first,” “then”), it will be dif-
ficult to explain how the present pleasure, which is supposed to arise only in the
second stage of the experience, has the truth value that the future-related logos
has. For it may be thought that by the time the pleasure arises, the experience has
ceased to be concerned with the future. Cf. also Reinhard Brandt, “Wahre und
falsche Affekte im platonischen Philebos,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie
59 (1977), 13.
  I proposed this idea of the identity between the pleasure taken by imagina-
tion and the pleasure painted in the image first in Satoshi Ogihara, “Pleasure
of Imagination: An Interpretation of Plato’s Philebus 37a1–41a7 (in Japanese),”
Ronshu, (Philosophical Studies) (The Department of Philosophy of the Univer-
sity of Tokyo), 12 (1993), then in Satoshi Ogihara, “Plato’s Inquiry into the

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Satoshi Ogihara

imagines the scene, he is not seeing it in front of him; rather, he is

in it (or “lives” it). When he imagines himself, he is not seeing the
image of himself in some distance, as it were, but he is just him in
the imaginative world. Imagining himself being pleased is, in this
case, being him and being pleased. I must add, though, that the
identity between the person and the imagined self is restricted in
two respects. First, the identification takes place only in the person’s
imagination. In a moment he comes back to the real world, where he
finds himself not so wealthy. Second, even within the realm of his
consciousness, the person is somehow aware that what he is experi-
encing is an anticipation of a future state of affairs, as we have seen.
Where and how does Socrates convey the idea of the identi-
fication? It is at 40b6–7, and by implication. There Socrates says,
“Therefore, to bad people pleasures are no less present, having
been painted (τοῖς κακοῖς ἡδοναί γε οὐδὲν ἧττον πάρεισιν
ἐζωγραφημέναι) but these [pleasures] are false.” The pleasures
at issue here are the pleasures painted in the image (“having been
painted”). But the context requires that Socrates should be establish-
ing here the conclusion that the pleasures taken by imagining the
scene are sometimes false. All this makes sense if we understand
that the pleasures painted in the image and the pleasures taken in
imagination are identical. The pleasures taken in imagination are
generated by being imagined.

Good Life and ‘the Good’ in the Philebus,” (dissertation [supervised by Charles
Kahn], The Department of Philosophy of the University of Pennsylvania, 2002.
Brandt, “Wahre und falsche Affekte,” 13n38, had already made the point: “The
imagined pleasure (χαίρειν) over the ἡδοναί is identified with an affective par-
ticipation by the hoping subject at the moment of hoping.” Teisserenc, “L’empire
du faux,” 295, speaks about the “coincidence” and “indistinctness” between the
two pleasures. Sylvain Delcomminette, Le Philèbe de Platon (Leiden, Boston:
Brill, 2006), 387, says: “There is truly an anticipatory pleasure only when the
imagining subject identifies for the moment with the imagined subject, which
identification enables him to live the future pleasure in advance. As one sees, the
anticipatory pleasure is nothing but the future pleasure itself, which is however
lived in advance thanks to the mediation of the anticipated pleasure. That in
which the dreamer here described takes pleasure is hence not the anticipation
of the fact of his future richness, but that of the pleasure that his richness will
procure, on the condition that he represents himself as experiencing this pleasure
in an image.” (My translation.)

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

Now we see by what principle Socrates describes the experience

in question at 40a6–12. He moves on to more and more important
aspects, items, or levels of specification. (1) He first mentions hopes
(as “accounts”), and then the painted images. (He connects the two
sentences with the phrase “Καὶ δὴ καὶ,” which I have translated as
“And more importantly.”) (2) Within the images, he first speaks
about plentiful gold coming to the person’s possession, and then
about lots of pleasures arising for him because of it. (He connects
the two phrases with “καὶ (and).”) (3) Socrates finally speaks about
the person in question being intensely pleased with himself. (The
sentence is introduced with “καὶ δὴ καὶ,” which I have rendered in
this occurrence as “and in particular.”) (1) Of the two components
of the whole experience, the painted image (i.e., the product of the
imagination) is more important than the hope (i.e., the proposi-
tional aspect). (2) Within the image, the experience of pleasures is
more important than the acquisition of gold. And (3) with regard
to the pleasure, the fact that the person sees himself experiencing it
is especially important (more important than, say, the fact that he
sees it arising from the acquisition of gold).
Notice how restricted is the experience that Socrates cites at
First, this is the case in which one is pleased by anticipating
a future state of affairs and at the same time imagining it to be
taking place. But it is not the case that whenever one is pleased by
anticipating a future situation, one imagines it to be happening.
One may be pleased, without imagining anything in particular, by
anticipating that one will have cleared up all one’s debts by next year.
Second, the experience cited at 40a9–12 is the case in which one
is pleased by anticipating that one will be pleased. But it is not the
case that whenever one is pleased by anticipating something, one
enjoys anticipating that one will be pleased. (a) One may be pleased
by anticipating a future situation in which one, although present
therein, is not pleased. Think of someone who is pleased to hope
that she will forget something that bothers her now. (b) Moreover,
one may be pleased by anticipating a future situation in which one
makes no appearance at all. For instance, one enjoys hoping that
one’s family will do well after one’s death.

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Satoshi Ogihara

Third, Socrates’ example is the case in which one imagines

oneself to be pleased and is pleased thereby. But it is not the case that
whenever one imagines oneself to be pleased, one is thereby pleased.
One may imagine oneself to be morally corrupt and to take pleasure
in doing something that one now loathes doing. This imagined scene
should not please the person engaging in imagination.11
Finally, the experience cited at 40a9–12 is the case in which
one imagines oneself to be taking a pleasure and takes that very
pleasure by identifying with the imagined self. But it is not the case
that whenever one imagines oneself to be taking a pleasure and
thereby takes a pleasure, one takes that same pleasure. One may
imagine oneself to be pleased at something that is too noble for
one to enjoy now, and be pleased to picture this as a result of one’s
moral improvement. In this case the imagined self is still too noble
for one to identify with.
So in the present argument Socrates is not giving a general
account of anticipatory pleasures.12 Rather, he is pointing to a very
restricted kind of anticipatory pleasure. Protarchus may remain
unconvinced that whenever one is pleased that p, the truth value of
p transfers to the pleasure. But he finally agrees that in the case of
the particular kind of pleasure cited in the argument the transference
does take place. When the “account” (specifically, hope) involved in
the experience in question is false, this falsity transfers to the image
of the “account.” The falsity of the image as a whole implies that
the pleasure, which is central to the image, is false. But the falsity
of the painted pleasure just is the falsity of the pleasure taken by
picturing, since the painted pleasure is identical with the pleasure
taken by picturing.
Finally, some interpreters have maintained that in the present
passage Plato presents the conception of a certain type of pleasure
as a “propositional attitude.”13 I agree with them. However, as Harte

 Gosling, Plato: Philebus, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 218, has
made the same point.
  Pace, e.g., Teisserenc, “L’empire du faux,” 297.
  I. Thalberg, “False Pleasures,” Journal of Philosophy 59 (1962), 65–74; Terry
Penner, “False Anticipatory Pleasures: Philebus 36a3–41a6,” Phronesis 15 (1970),
166–178; Dorothea Frede, “Rumpelstiltskin’s Pleasures: True and False Pleasures

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

has pointed out, it does not suffice for establishing that pleasure is
sometimes false to insist on the propositional nature of the relevant
kind of pleasure.14 For it is not clear why we should think that a
propositional attitude itself has the truth value of the proposition


Let us pay closer attention to the example mentioned at 40a9–12.
Socrates says, “That is, someone often (πολλάκις) sees plentiful
gold coming to his possession and many pleasures [arising] because
of it” (a9–11). Notice the adverb “often” which raises a question.
Some hopes are entertained when and because one has a specific
ground for believing that the hoped-for state of affairs will take place.
Other hopes are entertained just because one feels like entertaining
them. To which category does the hope involved in the experience
mentioned at 40a9–12—that one will acquire plentiful gold and be
immensely pleased thereby—belong? I suggest that it is of the second
kind. For if this hope were of the first kind, “someone” would “often”
find himself in a situation in which he had a specific ground for
believing (whether truly or falsely) that he would acquire plentiful
gold. But such a person would be extremely unusual—unnecessarily
and unnaturally so for the purpose of the argument. One way of
dealing with this worry is by supposing, as I suggest, that the hope
at issue is not of the first kind but of the second. Certainly it is a
common phenomenon that one indulges in fantasy by projecting
one’s wishes and desires to an indefinite future time (“one day”).15
(There is another—but I think, less plausible—way of coping with
the worry, i.e., assume Socrates is speaking about someone like a

in Plato’s Philebus,” Phronesis 30 (1985), 151–180, reprinted in Plato 2, ed.

Gail Fine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 345–372. The conception
of pleasure as a propositional attitude was proposed by Bernard Williams,
Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 33 (1959), 57–72, reprinted in “Pleasure and
Belief,” in Philosophy of Mind, ed. Stuart Hampshire (New York: Harper and
Row, 1966).
  Harte, “The Philebus,” 118–119.
  So, in my interpretation, the hope involved in the experience mentioned at
40a9–12 is not an “obvious hope (ἐλπίδι φανερᾷ)” (36a8), that is, a hope for
something whose future realization is obvious.

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Satoshi Ogihara

gambler, who does often imagine himself, with some specific ground,
to be “winning big.”)
The person who indulges in the fantasy does not care to know,
or know better, what will really happen in the future. The concern
to know something, or to know it better, may be roughly called a
cognitive concern. The person lacks such a concern. He is as it were
just making use of the psychological mechanism of imagination
to derive some pleasure from it. Compare the use of imagination
in another example, mentioned at 38c5–39c6, before the current
example. One who is unclearly seeing a distant object, and wants
to make a judgment as to what that object is, engages in an internal
question-and-answer exchange, and so arrives at a belief. If this
process is compared to a scribe in one’s soul writing an account in a
book, the process mentioned next is likened to a painter painting an
image of what has been written. And one somehow sees the image
in oneself. I take this to mean that one exercises the imagination
to see the object as one has judged it to be. This whole series of
acts, including the employment of the imagination, seems spurred
by the person’s concern to see the object better. The concern to see
something, or to see it better, may also be roughly called a cognitive
concern. While a cognitive concern is dominant in this example
of one’s seeing a distant object, roughly the same sort of concern
is absent in the example of one’s imagining oneself to be pleased.
The experience cited at Philebus 40a9–12 has something in
common with the experience that Socrates mentions in Republic V
458a1–b1. Here Socrates is asking Glaucon to allow him to address
the desirability of the abolition of nuclear families in Callipolis before
considering the feasibility of that policy. Socrates says:

Allow me a small break.16 Like those people

with idle minds who entertain themselves with
daydreams when they are out for a walk on their own
(τὴν διάνοιαν εἰώθασιν ἑστιᾶσθαι ὑφ’ ἑαυτῶν, 
ὅταν μόνοι πορεύωνται). People like this, I believe,

  The translation is Griffith’s, in Plato: The Republic, ed. G. R. F. Ferrari, trans.


Tom Griffith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 155.

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

don’t bother to find out how something they want

can happen. That’s something they forget about,
to save themselves the trouble of thinking about
what is feasible or otherwise. They assume that
what they want is already there17 and go straight on
to planning the future, and enjoying the rehearsal
of the things they are going to do once they have
got what they want (θέντες ὡς ὑπάρχον εἶναι 
ὃ βούλονται, ἤδη τὰ λοιπὰ διατάττουσιν καὶ
χαίρουσιν διεξιόντες οἷα δράσουσι γενομένου),
so making an already lazy mind even lazier.

Both this passage and Philebus 40a9–12 describe one’s pleasant

indulgence in imagining a future scene which is a projection of one of
her wishes. I do not mean that the two passages are concerned with
exactly the same kind of experiences. For one thing, the Republic
passage mentions detailed planning, which motif is missing from
the Philebus example. (However, if we read “πολλὰς ἡδονάς” at
40a10–11 as meaning “many pleasant things” rather than “many
pleasures” in the sense of feelings, then we have something loosely
corresponding to that idea). In any event, the similarity between
the two experiences seems to allow us to infer that the experience
mentioned in Philebus 40a9–12 is also typical of a “lazy” person.
Besides, one’s having this sort of experience consolidates one’s
Laziness is not the only vice that we can detect in the person
who has the experience in question in the Philebus passage. He is
also greedy. For, given my interpretation, when he hopes that he
will acquire plentiful gold, he is projecting one of his desires onto
a future time. This means that he is the kind of person who wants
plentiful gold, while—Platonically speaking—a wise person wants
only a moderate amount.18 So the experience cited at 40a9–12 is
one of a morally inferior person.
  I have changed Griffith’s translation of “ὑπάρχον εἶναι” at 458a5 as “can be
had easily” to “is already there.”
  Cf. Socrates’ prayer at the closing of the Phaedrus (289c1–3): “As for gold,
let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him,” (trans.

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Satoshi Ogihara

It is time to turn to the point that Socrates makes about good

and bad people during the course of his argument. He contrasts
those who have all the virtues, such as justice and piety, with those
who have all the vices (39e10–40a2), and says that the pleasures
(of the kind under consideration) of good people—people loved by
the gods—turn out to be true for the most part, and the pleasures
of bad people—people hated by the gods—false for the most part
(40b2–c3). He gives an example of a bad person’s pleasure, but does
not illustrate a good person’s counterpart pleasure. What would
this pleasure be like? We have to speculate. If my interpretation is
right, we should think of a case in which a good person hopes and
pictures what she takes to be a happy moment. Having all the virtues,
including wisdom, she must know what human happiness really
consists in. To lead a happy life, one needs, crucially, knowledge
and other virtues, and also, less crucially, health and some external
goods of a moderate amount. The good person already possesses
the crucial part. She would hope that she will retain the virtues that
she has, and if there is room, she would hope for them to improve.
She would also hope that she would retain or acquire other goods
necessary for happiness. She, like the bad person, would imagine
hoped-for pleasant scenes to be taking place, and be pleased by
identifying with herself as thus imagined. But it is possible that
the good person, unlike the bad one, tends not to completely cease
from caring about what will really take place in the future even in
the midst of such an experience. For the good person, being wise
and philosophical, is likely to have a pervasive concern for truth and
knowledge, which may find its expression in all aspects of her life
including the current sort of experience (cf. Republic VI 485b–d).
There are (at least) two interpretations as to when a pleasure of
the kind in question becomes false. This much is clear: it is when
the “account” (as well as its image) is false. The question more
specifically is, when does this happen? Let us use our old example at
40a9–12. (And let me simply assume that “ἐπ’ αὐτῷ πολλὰς ἡδονάς”
at 40a10–11 means “lots of pleasures arising on account of the

Nehamas and Woodruff, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. J. Cooper [Indianapolis:

Hackett, 1997]). Cf. also Republic IX 591d5–e5.

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

acquisition of the gold” rather than “lots of pleasant things bought

with the gold coming to him.” See note 7 above.) According to one
interpretation, the pleasure is false when the person never obtains
plentiful gold and hence is never pleased at his acquisition of it.19
According to another interpretation, it is when, even if the person
obtains plentiful gold, he is not genuinely pleased as a result.20
I adopt the first interpretation. For I do not think the second
works. First, if the person happens to obtain plentiful gold, then
many pleasures will arise for him and he will be enormously pleased
with himself (cf. 40a10–12)—he being the sort of person he is.21
And there is no reason to assume that Socrates or Protarchus thinks
otherwise. Second, the genuineness of pleasures is simply not at issue
in the present discussion. Provided that lots of pleasures arise for
the person on account of his possession of plentiful gold, and that
he is intensely pleased with himself, then within the framework of
the current argument this pleasure is supposed to be true, no matter
that it is an inauthentic pleasure. Socrates would certainly treat
the pleasure as indicative of greediness (or perhaps even as itself
“greedy”; cf. 12c8–d6). He would regard it as deceptive in that it
appears to be pleasanter than it is. But all this does not deny that it
is a pleasure. Nor would he deny that it is an intense pleasure. For
him, there exist intense pleasures, which are indeed pleasures. But
they are appalling (46a12–b4), deceptive (51a6–9), and defiled
(51a7) in that they get their intensity from the fact that pain is
mixed in (for the mixture of bodily pleasure with bodily pain, cf.
46a12–47b7, and for the mixture of psychic pleasure with psychic
pain, cf. 47e5–48a2). Socrates might give an analysis of the intense
pleasure taken in the acquisition of gold by saying that it is made
intense by the background pain of a long-unfulfilled thirst for wealth
(cf. his account of the pleasure of laughter at 48a–50c).

  E.g., Thalberg, “False Pleasures”; Penner, “False Anticipatory Pleasures”; and
Frede, “Rumpelstiltskin’s Pleasures.”
  E.g., A. Kenny, “False Pleasures”; Cynthia Hampton, Pleasure, Knowledge,
and Being (Albany: SUNY, 1990), 57–60; Verity Harte, “The Philebus.”
  Unless in the meantime he has ceased to want a lot of gold by, say, taking
courses in ascetic philosophy. The point and the example are from Harte, “The
Philebus,” 121–122.

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Satoshi Ogihara

Let us move on to a related question. What is the mechanism

that makes it the case that the pleasures of good people turn out
to be true for the most part and those of bad people false for the
most part? We already know some interpreters’ answers to this
question. It is that the truth and falsity of one’s pleasures consist
in the correctness and incorrectness of one’s views on what things
are genuinely pleasant. But if this were the point, the qualification
“for the most part” would be superfluous.22
My account of the mechanism is as follows. The pleasures of
good people tend to be true, because what they hope for can be
easily realized (although they may fail to be realized, so that their
pleasures are sometimes false). As for the virtues, that is, the main
part of what they need for happiness, as we have seen, virtuous
people already have them ex hypothesi. If they lack health, their
moderate lifestyle will facilitate their acquisition of it. If they lack
some external goods, they need only a moderate amount. Besides,
good people, being moderate and wise, generally do not hope for
something unlikely to happen. The pleasures of bad people, by
contrast, tend to be false, because they, being greedy and stupid,
generally hope for something unlikely to happen (although their
hopes might be realized, so that their pleasures are sometimes true).
Having established that some pleasures are false, Socrates extends
his claim about pleasure to pain (40c6), fear, anger, and other
emotions (e2–4). Just as he was speaking about a special kind of
pleasure, he must have in mind similarly restricted kinds of pain,
fear, anger, etc. They are, I take it, those emotions that we have by
imagining ourselves to be having them. For instance, I imagine a
scene in which I am angry at someone who has done something to
me, and by identifying with myself being thus imagined, I am angry

  Brandt, “Wahre und falsche Affekte,” 1–18, explains the presence of this
phrase by suggesting that for Plato the absolutely good person is only an ideal,
and that good people as we see them in reality are not perfectly good (hence only
“for the most part” good). This suggestion has been accepted by Delcomminette,
Le Philèbe, 387n74. But I doubt that Socrates is speaking at 40b2–7 about good
and bad people as we see them in reality. There he refers back to the two kinds of
people that he has introduced at 39e10–40a1, and they are said to be good in all
respects (i.e., have all the virtues). This seems to me to suggest that he is speaking
about ideally good and ideally bad people.

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False Pleasures: Philebus 36c–40e

at him. But the imagined scenes also have to be images of certain

“accounts” (concerned with the future, the present, or the past).
The truth value of such an “account” transfers to its image, and to
the emotion that is painted therein, which is central to the image as
a whole. The truth value of the imagined emotion just is the truth
value of the emotion that one has by imagining the scene, since the
imagined emotion just is the emotion had by imagining the scene.
The type of pleasure at issue in Socrates’ argument is interesting
in more than one way. For one thing, we may consider it a most
“private” kind of experience. When having this sort of experience,
even the most cautious hypocrites show their true nature, the content
of their imagination being safely invisible to others. It is instructive
to be shown how such experiences can be open to evaluation in
terms of truth and falsity.23

  I thank Sarah Broadie, Dorothea Frede, Charles Kahn, Susan Sauvé Meyer,
Christopher Rowe, and Gerhard Seel for comments and questions on my pre-
sentation, as well as David Sedley for chairing the session in the Festschrift Sym-
posium. Thanks are also due to Myles Burnyeat, Jenny Bryan, Nicholas Denyer,
Malcolm Schofield, David Sedley, James Warren, and Harvey Yunis (the last of
whom also read my draft) for comments and questions in the B Club at the Uni-
versity of Cambridge, to Sylvain Delcomminette for comments, to Christopher
Gill, Daniel Ogden, and Richard Seaford for comments and questions in the
Graduate Seminar at the University of Exeter in 2010, and to Richard Patterson
for comments on a previous draft of this paper. On this occasion I wish to express
my gratitude, reverence, and love for Charles, my supervisor at the University of
Pennsylvania and one of my lifelong mentors.

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Pleasure, Pain, and “Anticipation”
in Plato’s Laws, Book I*
Susan Sauvé Meyer


In a memorable passage in Book I of Plato’s Laws, the Athenian

expounds upon the psychological sources of human action:

ATHENIAN: Do we assume that each of us is

one person?
ATH: But we have inside ourselves two opposite
and mindless advisors, which we call pleasure and
KL: That’s the case.
ATH: In addition to these, we have opinions about
the future, whose general name is anticipation
(ἐλπίς) and whose specific names are “fear” in
anticipation of pain, and “confidence” (θάρρος) in
anticipation of its opposite. And on top of all these
we have judgment (λογισμός) as to which of them
is better or worse. When this becomes the common
view of a city, it is called “law.” (644c4–d3)1

*  I am pleased to dedicate this essay to Charles Kahn, my colleague for the past
eighteen years, in appreciation of the encouragement he has given to my own
forays into the field of Platonic scholarship.
  All translations from Plato’s Laws and Timaeus are my own.

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Susan Sauvé Meyer

In the face of his interlocutor’s puzzlement (d4–6), the Athenian

follows up with a concrete illustration of this theory by means of
what he calls a “fable” ( μῦθος) (645b2):

ATH: Let us suppose each of us living beings is a

divine puppet (θαῦμα). Whether we are constituted
as the gods’ playthings or for a serious purpose is
not our present concern, but we do know that these
forces in us are like cords or strings tugging against
each other and pulling us toward opposing actions,
across the boundary dividing virtue from vice. One
of these pulls, on this story, is the one to which each
of us must cleave without fail and resist the pull of
all the other strings. This is the sacred and golden
pull of judgment, also called the city’s common
law. Being golden, it is soft ( μαλακήν), while the
others are hard (σκληράς) and iron (σιδηρᾶς), akin
to many different kinds of stuff. Each of us must
pitch in with the noblest pull, that of law, which is
noble owing to its source in reason but gentle, rather
than violent, so its influence requires assistants
(ὑπηρετῶν) if the golden element within us is to
win the struggle against the others. (644d7–645b1)

The psychological theory and its concrete illustration in the fable

of the puppets are offered to illuminate the nature of “self-mastery”
which has functioned as a paradigm for virtue since the beginning
of the work (626e2–6, 633d5–e6). Victory over oneself, however
paradoxical such a notion might appear at first, is to be construed
as victory of the better part over the worse in a complex whole
(626e7–627d4). So far in Book I, the distinction between “better”
and “worse” elements has been explored only in the context of
political or familial strife, with no attempt made to identify the
corresponding parts within a single person. It is in our present
passage that the Athenian turns to this analysis. The better part of
a person (the golden cord) is reason or judgment (λογισμός), and

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Pleasure, Pain, and “Anticipation” in Plato’s Laws, Book I

self-mastery consists in its victory over the “iron strings”—the sway

of pleasure, pain, and their “anticipations.”
A problem for those who would cultivate such self-mastery,
the puppets passage tells us, is that reason, being soft ( μαλακός)
and gentle (πρᾶος) in keeping with its “golden” nature, requires
“assistants” in order to win the struggle against the iron chords,
whose pull is, by contrast, hard (σκληρός) and violent ( βίαιος). The
kind and source of the assistance that the Athenian has in mind is
not evident in our passage. We might recall that on the tripartite
psychology of the Republic, it is θυμός (“spirit,” the middle part of
the soul) that, when properly cultivated, plays the role of reason’s
assistant in resisting the pull of the appetites (Republic 441e–442b).
But the puppets fable here in the Laws, in distinguishing between
golden and iron strings, makes what is on the surface at any rate, a
bipartite rather than a tripartite division.2
To be sure, the psychological division that precedes the fable
identifies further complexity within the “iron strings”—between
pleasure and pain on the one hand, and their “anticipations”
(ἐλπίδες) on the other—and we might wonder whether something
analogous to the Republic’s distinction between spirit and appetite

  Thus W. W. Fortenbaugh, Aristotle on Emotion, 2nd ed. (London: Duckworth,
1975), 24: “what had seemed a threefold distinction is to be construed
primarily as a dichotomy.” K. Schöpsdau, Nomoi, Buch 1–3: Übersetzung und
Kommentar (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1994), 229–230, argues
that the division is fundamentally bipartite, with the “anticipations” (θάρρος
and φόβος) not easily distinguished from pleasures and pains. The bipartite
diagnosis is defended most recently by M. Sassi, “The Self, the Soul, and
the Individual in the City of the Laws,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy
35 (2008), 125–148. Earlier endorsements include G. Müller, Studien zu
den platonischen Nomoi (Munich: Beck, 1951), Zetemata 3, 22; D. A. Rees,
“Bipartition of the Soul in the Early Academy,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 77
(1957), 112–116; H. Görgemanns, Beiträge zur Interpretation von Platons Nomoi
(Munich: Beck, 1960), Zetemata 25, 122, 137, 142; A. Graeser, Probleme der
platonischen Seelenteilungslehre (Munich: Beck 1969), Zetemata 47, 102–105;
T. Robinson, Plato’s Psychology (Toronto: 1970), 124–125, 145. A tripartite
analysis of the Law’s psychology was endorsed by O. Apelt, Platon-Index
(Leipzig: F. Meiner, 1923) s.v. Seelenlehre, and by C. Ritter, Platon: sein Leben,
seine Schriften, seine Lehre, Vol. 2 (Munich: Beck, 1923), 451, but has since fallen
out of favor; an exception is T. Saunders, “The Structure of the Soul and State in
Plato’s Laws,” Eranos 60 (1962), 37–55.

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Susan Sauvé Meyer

is to be found here.3 However, on a very natural reading of the

psychology outlined at 644c6–d3, this is not at all what we find.
The “iron strings,” whose multiplicity and variety are emphasized
in the puppets metaphor (645a4), are here distinguished into two
subsets. In the first are pleasure and pain, whose characterization
as “opposite advisors” (644c6) would seem to point to the fact that
pleasures attract us and pains repels us.4 Thus one set of iron strings
would amount to the attraction we naturally feel toward pleasant
experiences and the aversion we feel to painful ones. The other set
are “expectations” or “anticipations” (ἐλπίδες) of pleasure and pain.
It is easy to suppose that we are meant to understand the latter quite
simply as temporal extensions (in creatures capable of anticipating
the future) of the basic hedonistic responses invoked in the former.
We are attracted to pleasures we anticipate in the future, and repelled
by the pains we anticipate.5
  The question of “partition” at issue here concerns whether the impulses
classified as “iron” in the Laws can be further sorted into two fundamentally
different types of motivation, along the lines of the functional differences
between the impulses issuing from the appetitive and spirited parts of the soul
in the Republic. Such a conception of “partition” must be distinguished from
a much stronger one recently advanced by Christopher Bobonich, according
to which “parts” of the soul must be “agent-like” subjects of beliefs and desires
in their own right (“Akrasia and Agency in Plato’s Laws and Republic,” Archiv
für Geschichte der Philosophie 76 (1994), 3–36; and Plato’s Utopia Recast: His
later Ethics and Politics (Oxford: 2002), 260–267. On the basis of this stronger
conception of “partition” (criticized by Lloyd Gerson, “Akrasia and the Divided
Soul in Plato’s Laws,” Plato’s Laws: From Theory into Practice, eds. Luc Brisson
and Samuel Scolnicov (Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2003), 150–153),
Bobonich denies that there is any partition of the soul in the Laws; however, he
does not deny that the psychology of the Laws allows for conflicting occurrent
impulses within a unitary subject. The question of concern to us in the present
essay is whether these impulses may be classified as appetitive and “spirited” in
the weaker sense. Dorothea Frede, in the most sustained recent discussion of
the puppets passage (“Puppets on Strings: Moral Psychology in Laws Books 1
and 2,” in A Guidebook to Plato’s Laws, ed. Christopher Bobonich (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011, 108–126), finds no functional distinction
within the iron strings (18), but she neglects the distinction explicitly marked
by the Athenian between the motive force of pleasure and pain on the one hand
(644c6–7), and that of their “anticipations” on the other (644c9–d1). This is the
distinction, I shall argue, that recapitulates the functional distinction between
appetitive and “spirited” impulses.
  A claim made explicitly in a parallel passage at Timaeus 69d1–2.
  Such a “hedonistic” interpretation of the iron strings is, for example, endorsed

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Pleasure, Pain, and “Anticipation” in Plato’s Laws, Book I

On this interpretation of the iron strings, the non-rational aspect

of human motivation amounts quite simply to a basic psychological
hedonism. The non-rational impulses of the human soul would all
be what the Republic classifies as “appetitive” impulses, inasmuch
as they are directed toward what is perceived as or expected to be
pleasant (Republic 436a, 439d, 559d). Such a reading would imply
that, in contrast to the tripartite division of the soul in Republic,
Timaeus, and Phaedrus, we have a much simpler bipartite psychology
in the Laws.6 Part of my project in this essay is to argue against the
interpretation of the “iron strings” that would license this bipartite
diagnosis of the psychology of the Laws—with particular emphasis
on how we are to understand the “anticipations.” Although one of my
conclusions will be that something very like Republic’s tripartition
is not very far from the surface here in Laws, my main goal is not
to defend a unitarian interpretation of Plato’s psychological theory,
but to explore a development, in later dialogues such as Philebus
and Laws, in Plato’s understanding of the ways in which pleasure
and pain figure in the psychology of human action. Very roughly:
pleasures and pains play a role in our psychology not simply as objects
of pursuit and avoidance, but also as ways in which we respond to
our options and alternatives.7

by R. F. Stalley, Introduction to Plato’s Laws (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 60–

61. See also F. Bravo, “Le Platon des Lois est-il hédoniste?,” in S. Scolnicov and
L. Brisson (eds.), op. cit., 103–115.
  Not all adherents of the “bipartite” analysis of the psychology of Laws
I endorse (or take an explicit stand on) this “appetitive” interpretation of the
iron strings. For example, Fortenbaugh, Aristotle on Emotion, insists that the
iron strings are exclusively the seat of “emotional response” (24–26). Frede’s
assessment (“Puppets,” 116–120) is effectively in accord with Fortenbaugh on
this question, at least insofar as she takes the emotions to figure prominently
among the iron strings. But to defend such a position, it is necessary to rule out
the simple hedonist reading of the iron strings, which is my project.
  I will thus be defending a version of Fortenbaugh’s core claim (Aristotle on
Emotion, 9–11, 23–25, 29, 32–34) that in the Laws and Philebus Plato develops
an account of what he calls “emotional response,” as distinct from the impulses
attributed to the appetitive part of the soul in the Republic. I do not, however,
follow Fortenbaugh’s extremely narrow conception of “appetitive” impulses as
blind bodily “thrusts” devoid of cognitive content. An “appetitive” impulse, on
the conception I will be using, is directed toward an object qua pleasant, or away
from an object qua painful, and may very well involve a representation of the
object. What distinguishes an emotional response from the pleasures and pains

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Susan Sauvé Meyer


If the iron strings, as elucidated in 644c–d, are intended to
capture nothing more than our natural propensity to pursue pleasures
and to flee from pains, one might wonder why the Athenian goes
to the trouble of disti