The Skopos Assumption: Its Justification and Function in the Neoplatonic Commentaries on Plato

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
View More View Less
  • 1 School of Humanities, University of Tasmania, Hobart tas 7001, AUSTRALIA

Abstract

This paper examines the role of the theme (prothesis or skopos) in Neoplatonic interpretive practice, particularly with respect to Platonic dialogues. The belief that every dialogue has a single skopos and that every aspect of the dialogue can be seen as subserving that skopos is one of the most distinctive of the Neoplatonists’ intepretive principles. It is also the one that is most directly responsible for the forced and artificial character of their readings of Plato. The arguments offered in support of this principle are manifestly inadequate to justify the role that it plays. This is so even if we evaluate those arguments by the Neoplatonists’ own lights. If we want to understand how this practice seemed rational to them, we need to consider more than their texts and Plato’s. We need to consider the role that the shared act of reading a Platonic dialogue with the teacher had in transforming the souls of the students and in the self-understanding of Neoplatonic teachers. I. Hadot, among others, has argued that the continuous commentary was a kind of spiritual exercise. I largely agree with her conclusion, though I believe her analysis of the sense in which these were spiritual exercises needs to be deepened. I argue that the justification for the assumption that each dialogue has a single skopos is best understood by reference to the manner in which the practice of commentary functioned within the internal economy of their schools considered as textual communities.

  • Baltzly, Dirk. 2006. “Pathways to purification: the cathartic virtues in the neoplatonic commentary tradition.” In Reading Plato in Antiquity, edited by Harold Tarrant and Dirk Baltzly, 169-184. London: Duckworth.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baltzly, Dirk. 2014. “Plato’s Authority and the Formation of Textual Communities in Late Antiquity.” Classical Quarterly 64 (2):793-807.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brisson, L. 2006. “The doctrine of the degrees of virtue in the Neoplatonists: an analysis of Porphyry’s Sentences 32, its antecedents, and its heritage.” In Reading Plato in Antiquity, edited by Harold Tarrant and Dirk Baltzly, 89-106. London: Duckworth.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Festugière, A.J. 1971. “Modes de composition des Commentaires de Proclus.” In Études de Philosophie Grecque, edited by A.J. Festugière, 551-574. Paris: J. Vrin.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hadot, I. 1987. “Les introductions aux commentaires exégétiques chez les auteurs néoplatoniciens et les auteurs chrétiens.” In Les regles de l’interpretation, edited by Michel Tardieu, 99-122. Paris: Centre d’études des religions.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hadot, I. 1997. “Le commentaire philosophique continu dans l’antiquité” Antiquité tardive: revue internationale d’histoire et d’archéologie 5:169-176.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Heath, M. 1989. Unity in Greek Poetics: Clarendon Press.

  • Hoffmann, P. 1998. “La fonction de prologues exégétiques dans la pensée pédagogique néoplatonicienne.” In Entrer en matière: Les prologues, edited by J.-D. Dubois and B. Roussel, 209-281. Paris: Cerf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Karamanolis, George E. 2006. Plato and Aristotle in agreement?: Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry, Oxford philosophical monographs. Oxford and New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mansfeld, Jaap. 1994. Prolegomena: questions to be settled before the study of an author or a text, Philosophia antiqua, Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Praechter, Karl. 1910. “Richtungen und Schulen im Neuplatonismus.” In Genethliakon Carl Robert, 104-156. Berlin: Weidmann.

  • Sorabji, Richard. 2005. The Philosophy of the Commentators: Vol. 3: Logic and Metaphysics. 3 vols. Vol. 3. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tarrant, Harold. 2014. “Platonist curricula and their influence.” In The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism, edited by Pauliina Slaveva-Griffin Remes, Svetla, 15-29. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Watts, E.D. 1988. “Translating the Personal Aspect of Late Platonism in the Commentary Tradition.” In Interpreting the Bible and Aristotle in Late Antiquity: The Alexandrian Commentary Tradition between Rome and Baghdad, edited by J. Lössl and J. Watt, 137-150. Farnham (Surrey): Ashgate Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Westerink, L.G. 1962. Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 122 103 10
Full Text Views 518 178 2
PDF Downloads 71 28 1