For a correct understanding of Plato, account needs to be taken of the fact that his philosophical activity spanned some fifty years, during which time certain doctrines underwent considerable changes. To trace this development and so be able to identify the final expression of his thought, it is essential to know in what order the dialogues were written, but there is little help in this quest either from external sources or from the dialogues themselves. Regarding the former, the only information likely to be reliable is Aristotle's statement that the Laws was written after the Republic. This is repeated by Diogenes Laertius (III 37) and Olympiodorus [Prol. VI 24), who add that the Laws was still in an unrevised state on wax tablets when Plato died and was published posthumously by one of his students, Philip of Opus. As for internal evidence, cross references in the Sophist (217a) and Politicus (257a, 258b) indicate the prior composition of the former, while the Timaeus (27a) mentions the Critias as its sequel. Rather less definite is the apparent reference in the Timaeus (17b- 19b) to the Republic, in the Sophist to the Parmenides (217c) and Theaetetus (216a), and in the Theaetetus to the Parmenides (183e).
By a strange coincidence the two other investigations published in 1888 both introduced the same new material independently, as it seems, of one another. The surprising thing is that it took the scholars of Germany seven years to hit upon this rich linguistic field of reply formulae, even though Dittenberger had previously touched its brink with his observations on τί μήν; The works were those of H. Siebeck and C. Ritter, the latter's being by far the larger and more accurate.
Siebeck's was not an independent article but an appendix (pp. 253ff.) to the second edition of his book. Moreover its results were not intended to stand by themselves, merely to support where possible those obtained by the comparison of the dialogues’ contents, which were presented earlier in the book in the chapter on Plato. Just as the value he placed on his language statistics was of a secondary nature, so too apparently was the care with which he produced them.
The rules which he laid down for the application of these statistics to the determination of the chronological order of the dialogues were practical and precise. The subject of his inquiry was twofold; (a) simple, direct questions, i.e. those that can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’, (b) answers conveying assent. His method was to take the total number of instances of each particular expression in a dialogue, then calculate the percentage of its occurrence in relation to the aggregate of all the instances in that particular category, either (a) or (b). On the differences between these percentages in the various dialogues were based the conclusions regarding chronology.
The present book originates from my Ph.D. thesis, a critical survey of attempts to determine the order of composition of Plato's works by analysing their style, which has been brought up to date by the inclusion of two investigations carried out since that time. On the other hand, several investigations in the thesis have now been omitted, as they seemed to be of only slight significance. The idea of including an account of research on questions of authenticity was rejected as likely to lead to a volume of increased complexity and unmanageable proportions; although closely connected with the problem of chronology, that of authorship provides sufficient material to justify separate treatment.
In a work of this nature the accuracy of the statistics is of paramount importance, and the opportunity has been taken to check them, wherever feasible, with the Word Index which is now available. It should be remembered, however, that this relates to Burnet's Oxford text, which did not exist when most of the research described was carried out, so that some statistical discrepancies may have arisen from different textual readings rather than from careless observation. Nevertheless, as anyone will know who has tried to record by hand the incidence of words or phrases in a text, complete accuracy is almost impossible to attain, and the fact that checks generally revealed only small errors is a tribute to the painstaking diligence and dedication of the scholars concerned.
Dittenberger's research, as novel in Germany as Campbell's in Britain, provoked an immediate and sarcastic retort from A. Frederking in an article bearing the same title. In his view the stylistic method was a dangerous weapon requiring proper application, if it was to be of any service, and this was exactly what it had not received. It is by no means a foregone conclusion, he remarked, that an author's language has such a symmetrical development and is in every single work so perfectly in harmony with this development at its particular stage as Dittenberger was inclined to assume. It changes not only in accordance with the different period of the composition of individual works, but also within the same period according to the content and form of the work, the degree of logical and artistic perfection, and the character of the persons taking part in the dialogue, as well as for various other reasons which may conveniently be collected under the one name of ‘chance’.
This applies especially to particles, he said; if a particle is not used in some work, above all a small one, nothing at all can be deduced from its absence; nor can anything be gathered about the frequency of a particle in general from its more or less frequent occurrence in a single work; the opportunity for using it could be either entirely lacking or seldom offered. Frederking proceeded to illustrate his argument from some of the observations made by his predecessor.
The year 1889 saw the appearance of a second stylistic inquiry. It is fairly slight, concerning the forms of verbs used to refer to something already said in the dialogue, and not all of these, but only certain past tenses of the passive. There are five types: (a) ἐρρήθη and ῥηθείς (Table 12.1 on p. 93, where these forms are also expressed as a percentage of the total number of references, (b) ἐλέχθη and λεχθείς, (c) προερρήθη and προείρηται together with their participles, (d) λεχθείς and λεχθεῖσα used as an adjective, (e) the perfect passive of λέγω. In the case of the last two types, however, not just instances in references, but all occurrences are reckoned, including the imperative of the perfect passive of λέγω. A further point which should be made is that the reference totals are composed solely of references to the argument, and do not include any except such as go back to full, complete statements of the persons engaged in the discussion. Thus all words are omitted which refer to quotations of poetry, of tradition, or of any composition not original to the speakers of the dialogue. The only exception is the oration of Lysias in the Phdr. This is regarded as a component part of the dialogue, because it is read in full by Phaedrus and plays a prominent part in the succeeding discussion. In the whole argument Phaedrus himself acts as a passive listener and the opinions considered belong either to Socrates or Lysias.
The statistics can probably be accepted as accurate; at least a check of those for the five types in the Phil, showed them to be all correct.
It will be convenient at this point to depart from the chronological order of research, in order to treat together two investigators both of whom examined the rhythm of Plato's prose and arrived at similar conclusions. A separate account of each can then be followed by a common appreciation of their results.
The aim of Kaluscha's investigation was to ascertain which dialogues exhibited a clear prose rhythm or rhythms, then to deduce from a comparison of these their temporal relation to one another. For this purpose his concept of rhythm was a purely practical one; he confined himself to investigating the part of the sentence considered in antiquity to be the most important rhythmically, namely the clausula, which he interpreted as the end of a period or colon. Furthermore this was regarded as consisting of five syllables only, thus producing thirty-two different types, into which all the sentence endings were to be classified. Lastly, in order to make his data as unobjectionable as possible, he observed the following principles.
Clausulae containing a word ending in a long vowel before a word beginning with a vowel were omitted.
Similarly those in which a short vowel was followed by a combination of mute and liquid consonants.
The last syllable of the clausula was not regarded as anceps.
Two short syllables together were not reckoned as the equivalent of a long one.
The investigation fell into two parts. The first examined the clausulae of the Laws to establish the truth or otherwise of Blass's belief that under Isocrates’ influence Plato began to prefer certain rhythms to others.
Ritter was the first to write a book on the stylistic method and its use in determining the chronology of the dialogues. All previous investigations were either articles in periodicals or parts of theses and other works on Plato of a general character. Not only was it the first book, but also the largest collection of linguistic data up till that time.
His main inquiry, as mentioned in the chapter on Siebeck, was into answer formulae, but in addition to this he investigated the use of well over a hundred expressions of different kinds, though many of these turned out to be of no value for chronological purposes, and he did not therefore trouble to publish the actual statistics. As the number of facts presented is so large, the best arrangement will be to reverse Ritter's procedure of discussing the individual items and finally reproducing them all in statistical tables; that is to say, to give these tables first (pp. 58–62) and leave the examination of their results till afterwards. The first table contains the reply formulae, the second other expressions which Ritter believed to be chronologically noteworthy. In the latter are also included the phrases and words which were investigated by Ritter's two most important predecessors, Dittenberger and Schanz.
The first question is whether the statistics are accurate or not. As in the case of Siebeck, answering it is rather difficult, only this time it is not so much the problem of classifying the reply formulae into three acceptable groups, but of deciding the exact constitution and limit of each formula to be counted.
In a series of lectures Arnim published the results of an inquiry into Plato's use of reply formulae. He was apparently unaware of the existence of Ritter's work, but though much of the ground which he covered was the same, his material did differ to some extent from his predecessor's. His definition of his sphere of operation was as follows: ‘Ad eas tantum formulas animum attendi quae sive separatim sive initio orationis positae nil nisi meram affirmationem continerent, eamque ipsis verbis expressam neque cohaerentem cum verbis antecedentibus interrogantis.’ The method of presentation, too, differed greatly from Ritter's, and an attempt has been made to preserve its form while at the same time compressing it as much as possible by collecting the statistics into tables (pp. 110–14).
Regarding the accuracy of this investigation, the difficulty of checking statistics of reply formulae owing to the numerous variations has already been mentioned (p. 55). Arnim's classification was less strict than Ritter's, which means that his figures for the same formula are usually higher, and while for the most part they appear to be fairly accurate, there are some disturbing errors.
Following closely on Baron's article came an account of stylistic research carried out by the Polish scholar W. Lutoslawski in conjunction with his study of Plato's logic. Starting in 1891 he revealed from time to time details of his work, originally in Polish, but afterwards in periodicals of other countries. Later the fruits of his various labours were collected and published in one book. The greater part of it deals with the subject of the title; of concern here is only chapter 3 (pp. 64–193), entitled ‘The style of Plato’, which contains his investigation into the chronological order of the dialogues.
Lutoslawski's interest being primarily in Plato's logic and only incidentally in his style, he excluded from his inquiry not only suspected works, but also those ‘of no logical importance’. There remained twenty-two dialogues, the same as those accepted by Ritter as authentic together with the Parm., to be arranged in their order of composition. In contrast to earlier investigators he was acquainted with the achievements of all his predecessors, his own work being in fact a compendium of their inquiries. Knowing, therefore, that Campbell, Dittenberger, Schanz, Ritter and Arnim generally agreed on this, he regarded it as proven that Soph., Pol., Phil., Tim., Crit. and Laws constituted the last chronological group. His procedure was based on that of Ritter, the calculation of the number of ‘late’ linguistic characteristics in each dialogue, but whereas the latter used a mere 40 criteria, Lutoslawski aimed to amass 500.
After a break in 1887 the following year produced three further works to sustain the growing interest in research into Plato's prose style. The subject of the first of these was πᾶς and its compounds; the results are contained in Tables 8.1 and 8.2 (pp. 42, 43). Walbe himself made no claim to have discovered the probable chronological sequence of the dialogues, but believed that his statistics were capable of throwing some light on the correct positions of certain works.
Directing his attention first to the use of σύμπας (including συνάπας), which he considered ‘particularly noteworthy’, he decided that the earliest group of works comprised those in which this word occurred only once or not at all, the middle one those in which it occurred between two and five times, while to the last period, where alone it could be called reasonably common, belonged Tim. 17, Crit. 5, Laws 85, Phil. 23, Soph. 23, Pol. 46. ‘This’, Walbe declared, ‘agrees so well with the results of both Dittenberger and Schanz that it now seems almost criminal to doubt that Soph., Pol., Phil., Tim., Crit. and Laws are the latest dialogues.’ This was confirmed by the fact that συνάπας occurs only in these six apart from two considered spurious, Hipp. Ma. and Ale. I., the reason being presumably that the more συνάπας was used the more it appeared to lose its force, and so a new form was needed stronger and more important than all the rest.
Having found a continuous increase in the use of συνάπας Walbe turned to examine ἄπας.
A second inquiry by Arnim rivalled Lutoslawski's for the title of the most maligned work in the history of the stylistic method. This seems rather ironical in view of the fact that its express aim was to endow the chronological conclusions previously arrived at by the stylistic method with such a conclusive force that ‘any opposition would be impossible’. As it was, they did not have this force, simply because they were not absolute. In other words, while they showed that it was probable that certain dialogues belonged together by reason of a common possession of particular stylistic features, they did not show that different groupings according to other features were impossible. Although scholars had found, for instance, that a large number of features connected Soph, and Pol. to the Phil., Tim. and Laws and had consequently assumed their temporal proximity, they had never thought of investigating how many features connected these same two dialogues to, say, Hipp. Mi., Phdo and Crat. Yet it was theoretically possible that such an investigation would unearth a larger number of features than in the former case, and the whole chronological order would have to be revised.
This was the doubt which Arnim wished to eliminate. It meant that every dialogue would have to be compared with every other dialogue, a task which would occupy the lifetimes of several investigators, if the material were to be every possible feature of style. However, it did not have to be, since there existed a smaller, yet self-contained body of material to work on in the reply formulae.
For determining the order of Plato's works there is little help either from external sources or internally. Regarding the former, the only information likely to be reliable is Aristotle's statement, that the Laws was written after the Republic. This is repeated by Diogenes Laertius (3.37) and Olympiodorus (Prol. 6.24), who add that it was still on wax tablets when Plato died and was published posthumously by one of his students, Philip of Opus. As for internal evidence, cross-references in the Sophist and Politicus3 indicate the prior composition of the former, while the Timaeus mentions the Critias as its sequel. Rather less definite is the apparent reference in the Timaeus (17b–19b.) to the Republic, in the Sophist to the Parmenides and Theaetetus and in the Theaetetus to the Parmenides (183c). There is one other important piece of evidence: in the introduction to the Theaetetus (143c) Plato renounced his use of the reported dialogue form with a clear indication that the use of introductory formulae, such as καὶ ἐγὼ εἶπον, and of interlocutor's replies was becoming a nuisance. It seems unlikely, therefore, that any of his works written in this form are later than the Theaetetus.
In the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century attempts to solve this problem of chronology were based on an interpretation of the dialogues’ contents followed by the formulation of a line of development for Plato's thought. Unsurprisingly the subjective nature of this approach led to a considerable discrepancy between the conclusions of the various scholars.
The subject of this inquiry was several phrases used by Plato to express the contrast between ‘being’ and ‘appearing’, τῷ ὂντι and ὂντως on the one hand and ὡς ἀληθῶς, τῇ ἀληθείᾁ, ἀληθῶς on the other. Schanz's reasons for choosing these expressions were their independence of the dialogue form, the frequent necessity for a philosophical writer of bringing out the above contrast, and the series of synonyms which they provided.
In the case of the first two synonyms, τῷ ὂντι and ὂντως, though the latter did not find a place in Plato's literary vocabulary for some years, once introduced its greater succinctness gradually won preference for it over τῷ ὂντι, until finally it replaced the earlier expression completely. Its superiority is most manifest in those instances where the participle τῷò ὂν is involved; in fact, when this is in the dative, τῷ ὂντι is out of the question, e.g. Rep. vi 49Ob5 τῷ ὂντι ὂντως, Tim. 52C5 τῷ δὲ ὂντως ὂντι. The increasing use which Plato made of ὂντως is illustrated in Table 7.1 (P. 35).
The instances in the Euthd. (305e) and Crat. (413e) are dubious, the former extremely so. Editions earlier than that of Hermann in the Teubner series read ὂντως in both cases. Since Hermann (1879) opinion has varied. Whereas he and the Budé edition (1931) accept οὔτως the reading of the best manuscripts BTW for the Euthd. and ὂντως the reading of W for Crat., Burnet prefers ὂντως in the Euthd. (though attested only by an inferior MS, Venetum 184) and the reading of BT, ὂντος, in the Crat.
The next contribution to the stylistic method came from a scholar who had little sympathy with it, but whose view of Plato's philosophical development was threatened by its findings, which he sought to counteract in a series of articles. The first of these comprised three separate inquiries: an investigation to show that Plato's style did not develop uniformly (la); an examination of the author's vocabulary to determine the chronological order of his works, especially the position of the Phdr. and Theaet. (Ib); a similar investigation, but with a number of Lutoslawski's criteria for material (Ic). The second was a criticism of Lutoslawski's conclusions and so, indirectly, of most earlier research. The third, which appeared a year after the first two, was intended as an improved interpretation of the material which he had presented in the first article (Ib). In view of this no purpose would be served by reproducing his original interpretation, and in the following account it is replaced by the version he himself preferred.
For his first investigation (Ia) Natorp chose Plato's vocabulary; using Ast's Lexicon he compiled statistics of
(1) words peculiar to each dialogue (Table 16.1, series i). His figures were generally higher than Campbell's, because he took into account, as Campbell probably did not, words which apart from one of the genuine dialogues occurred only in dubious or unauthentic works. Which these were he did not say, but they almost certainly included works now regarded as genuine, such as Lys., Menex., Hipp. Mi., Ion;
Before the true genesis of the stylistic method in Germany at the hands of Dittenberger, an isolated but important observation was made which, like Campbell's, appears to have passed for the most part unnoticed. In his work on rhetoric1 Blass remarked almost incidentally that in striking contrast to his earlier practice Plato eventually adopted Isocrates’ principle of avoiding hiatus.
It is in the Phdr., at least in the dialogue part, that this avoidance of hiatus first becomes noticeable, since scarcely half as many instances occur as, for example, in the Symp. and Rep. At the same time, Blass pointed out, there is no need to put the Phdr. among Plato's last works, since a certain leaning towards Isocrates, who is mentioned in the dialogue, was only to be expected.
In the Laws, however, hiatus is very definitely avoided, so that in book i for example there are only just over ioo instances on 34 pages (Teubner). Next comes the Phil, with hardly on average 2 instances per page. Finally, in Tim. (87 pages) there are about 50, in Crit. only 5, in Soph. (82 pages) 20, and in Pol. (83 pages) 11.
Blass inferred that Soph., Pol., Phil., Tim. and Crit. belong with the Laws to the last period of Plato's literary career. Both his statistics and his deductions were later confirmed in their broad lines by G. Janell (q.v.) who drew up exact figures of hiatus for the majority of the dialogues.
A comparison of Blass's results with Campbell's makes it immediately apparent that they provide mutual support. The two investigators employed entirely different methods, yet arrived at exactly the same conclusion.
Campbell approached the study of Plato's style with the purpose of determining the date of the two dialogues which he was editing. He had reason to believe that they were later than was generally supposed and with this in mind made the following observations:
Socrates is no longer the chief speaker, and in this respect the Soph. and Pol. resemble the Parm., Tim. and Crit.
The Soph, and Pol. form the middle portion of an unfinished tetralogy, in which they again resemble the Tim. and Crit.
There is a certain didactic tone common to Soph., Pol., Phil, and Laws which is absent from other works like the Phdr. and Rep., where the movement is lighter and more spontaneous.
The natural order of the words is more frequently inverted in these works, the periods more elaborate.
There is a monotonous recurrence of a particular rhythmical cadence, which is also noticeable in certain parts of the Phdr., Rep., Theaet. and the myth of the Prot.
Finally, in the Soph, and Pol. there is a greater fondness for unusual words, poetical and technical, than in any other dialogues except the Phdr., Rep., Tim. and Laws.
It was on this last observation that Campbell based his investigation of the chronology of the dialogues. He had noticed the phenomenon of a technical terminology first of all in the Theaet., then to a greater extent in the Phil., Soph., Pol. and Laws.
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