The Neoplatonic Socrates explores the portrait of the great philosopher as developed by the Platonists in the first six centuries C.E. and examines Neoplatonic attitudes toward themes relevant to the contemporary studies of Socrates.
2014 | 264 pages | Cloth $75.00
Classics | Philosophy
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Table of Contents
—Danielle A. Layne and Harold Tarrant
Chapter 1. Socratic Love in Neoplatonism
Chapter 2. Plutarch and Apuleius on Socrates' Daimonion
—John F. Finamore
Chapter 3. The Daimonion of Socrates: Daimones and Divination in Neoplatonism
Chapter 4. Socrates in the Neoplatonic Psychology of Hermias
Chapter 5. The Character of Socrates and the Good of Dialogue Form: Neoplatonic Hermeneutics
—Danielle A. Layne
Chapter 6. Hypostasizing Socrates
Chapter 7. Socratic Character: Proclus on the Function of Erotic Intellect
—James M. Ambury
Chapter 8. The Elenctic Strategies of Socrates: The Alcibiades I and the Commentary of Olympiodorus
Chapter 9. Akrasia and Enkrateia in Simplicius's Commentary on Epictetus's Encheiridion
Chapter 10. The Many-Voiced Socrates: Neoplatonist Sensitivity to Socrates' Change of Register
—Danielle A. Layne and Harold Tarrant
Appendix: The Reception of Socrates in Late Antiquity: Authors, Texts, and Notable References
List of Contributors
Danielle A. Layne and Harold Tarrant
Or how, before this, could we examine anything else, either of the things that are or of those that come to be when we have heard Socrates himself say: "It seems ridiculous of me to consider the properties of other beings, when I do not know myself"?In one of the most romantic dialogues of his corpus, Plato depicts Socrates walking barefoot in the waters of the Ilissus, coyly tormented by a seemingly benign conundrum: "Who am I, and what are my intentions?" Turning to the handsome Phaedrus and admitting his real difficulty with his lack of self-knowledge, Socrates famously wonders whether he resembles "a monster more complicated and more furious than Typhon or a gentler and simpler creature, to whom a divine and quiet lot is given by nature." Unable to solve the problem immediately, Socrates spends the afternoon conversing with the boy on the nature of love, the soul, and the life of the philosopher and, in so doing, sets the question "Who is Socrates?" on the back burner. Yet, as we all know, years later, in a setting dramatically different from this meandering stroll on a hot summer day, this very same difficulty was readdressed before his peers and countrymen, the Athenians, and they replied rather forcefully, sentencing the philosopher to death for corrupting the youth.
—Proclus, in Alc. 6.12 (tr. O'Neill, modified)
As history testifies, the Athenians were not the last to respond indignantly to the question "Who is Socrates?" Timon of Phlius, skeptic and disciple of Pyrrho, apparently believed that Socrates was a wicked dissembler, while Cato, the Roman statesman and Stoic, deemed him a seditious babbler. With satirical wit, Lucian, in the imperial age, would unabashedly associate the philosopher with chicanery, branding Socrates a coward who would rather seduce boys than participate in the real affairs of the city. In contrast to such Athenian-like disdain, many others have felt the need to defend the philosopher and his activities, attempting at times to reconcile his beliefs with their own. Cicero famously regarded him as the father of the rival Academic and Stoic schools, while Julian, the last non-Christian Roman emperor, claimed that the son of Sophroniscus was more influential than Alexander the Great. In the Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino, a leader in the revival of Platonism, prolifically referred to Socrates' noble spirit and ability to save the youth, while in modern and contemporary philosophy Socrates' image and philosophical method have been invoked and heralded in the works of authors as esteemed as Hegel, Kierkegaard, Gadamer, and even the infamously cynical Foucault.
Patently, opinion on "Who is Socrates?" and whether he was a Typhonic monster or a sage has been decidedly split. In contemporary scholarship on Socrates this question has been revived and comprehensively analyzed. In fact, the library stacks of most research universities testify to the wealth and abundance of secondary literature on Socrates, and, like well-worn war trenches, the daunting material in the field can overwhelm and perhaps even frustrate students. In Socratic studies alone, the army of topics includes questions concerning the sufficiency of virtue for happiness, the necessity of knowledge for the good life, the sincerity or irony of Socrates' avowals of ignorance, the (im)possible nature of akratic action, Socratic method, and, most prominently, the so-called Socratic problem in which scholars debate the possibility of discovering the thoughts and beliefs of the "historical" Socrates.
Assuredly, one of the most important texts in Socratic studies is Gregory Vlastos's Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Written at the end of a long and industrious career in ancient philosophy, this book marked the beginning of a radical resurgence in Socratic philosophy as Vlastos advanced many remarkable and provocative theses that attempted to wrestle with and uncover the "historical" Socrates. Inspired by Vlastos's pioneering work, in the early 1990s several editions and monographs devoted to understanding the life and work of the philosopher began to appear, expanding the already abundant repertoire of appraisals on Socrates in Plato's dialogues. Consequently, many interested students hoping to come to grips with the infamous question "Who is Socrates?" began turning to editions like Hugh Benson's Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, K. J. Boudouris's Philosophy of Socrates, and William Prior's four-volume Socrates: Critical Assessments to navigate a path through this overloaded terrain of scholarship. These volumes offered students and scholars a rich compendium of essays devoted to various issues, not the least of which was responding to the Socratic problem and the search for the true Socrates, that is, the historical answer to the question "Who is Socrates?"
In the mid-nineties the quest for the so-called historical or true Socrates began to wane as specialists slowly forged the consensus that headway on the subject would not be possible without further evidence. In fact, many scholars voiced the opinion that the "Socratic problem" was a chimera, a Typhonic monster itself, as the literary genre that both Plato and Xenophon so eloquently employed, the logoi sokratikoi, allowed for considerable liberty and creativity, and thus neither of these authors could reliably be deemed the authentic voice of the historical Socrates. Accordingly, several experts maintained that what mattered in Socratic studies was not the discovery of the historical Socrates but rather the careful reconstruction of Socrates' legacy and the ideas that inspired various philosophical traditions. One need only think of Paul Vander Waerdt's edited volume The Socratic Movement, which, after examining Plato's and Xenophanes' depictions of Socrates, also included essays devoted to the philosopher's influence on the Cynics, Stoics, and Skeptics. In fact, in recent years there has been a remarkable surge of scholarship that explicitly endeavors to track the history of the Socratic commentary inaugurated in the Academy and surviving into the present age. For instance, Lindsay Judson and Vassilis Karasmanis compiled a collection entitled Remembering Socrates, whose final two essays explicitly deal at length with the appearance of Socrates in later antiquity. Similarly, Donald R. Morrison opens his Cambridge Companion to Socrates with a very dense essay by Louis-André Dorion on the decline of interest in the Socratic problem, but also brilliantly ends with a piece by A. A. Long entirely devoted to Socrates in the Hellenistic and imperial ages. Continuing this trend, Michael Trapp's two-volume Socrates from Antiquity to the Enlightenment and Socrates in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries meticulously devotes itself to tracing the image of Socrates throughout the history of philosophy and even concludes with essays on Kierkegaard's and Nietzsche's attraction to this Athenian personality. Finally, one of the best publications aiming to give its readers a more comprehensive answer to the question "Who is Socrates?" is Sara Ahbel-Rappe's and Rachana Kamtekar's Companion to Socrates, which dedicates almost half of its 510 pages to the Socrates envisaged by later thinkers in the medieval, Renaissance, modern, and contemporary periods. In this volume essays range over a variety of topics, including analysis of typical Socratic problems in Plato's dialogues, as well as more creative and stimulating theses like Socrates' sage-like status in the Arabic tradition and his methodological impact on Hegel. It closes with persuasive discussions concerning the philosopher's influence on contemporary teaching methods and even psychoanalysis.
In such circumstances the present-day student or scholar in Socratic studies hears a variety of voices, all of which are attuned to the immeasurable worth of the stonemason's son who challenged all comers to recognize that the unexamined life is not worth living. Nevertheless, it must be noted that despite this new wave of valuable resources in Socratic scholarship, there is a rather striking omission, a lacuna that assuredly resonates with anyone interested in the history of philosophy. Put simply, there seems to be an almost eerie silence with regard to the reception of Socrates in later antiquity; most predominantly in all of the publications mentioned above there is an unfortunate neglect of analysis on the reception of Socrates in the later Platonic tradition from the second to the sixth century CE. In other words, there is a marked neglect in engagement with the Neoplatonic rendering of Socrates. For example, both the Trapp and the Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar collections contain an assortment of essays spanning various contexts from Hellenistic and medieval Jewish literature to contemporary contexts, but, nonetheless, regardless of their comprehensiveness, there is not one paper devoted to the Socrates of later antiquity. Strikingly, more than half a millennium of commentary is passed over in silence.
This neglect is not completely unsurprising, as the oft-regarded father of this so-called school, Plotinus, rarely analyzes the character of Socrates and, moreover, pays little attention to what most consider the genuinely Socratic dialogues, that is, the early aporetic works. Furthermore, the Neoplatonic curriculum, first organized by Iamblichus in the late third or early fourth century, focused less on dialogues that modern scholars would see as somehow "Socratic" (e.g., the Apology and Euthyphro) and more on texts like the Timaeus or the Parmenides, dialogues where Socrates has ceased to be the protagonist. This tendency to bypass the 'Socratic' in the Enneads in general and in the Iamblichean curriculum in particular has led many scholars to conclude with W. Bröcker that this constitutes a Platonismus ohne Sokrates. For Bröcker it was clear that the Neoplatonic project stood counter to the Socratic tradition as it no longer valorized doubt and open inquiry but, in its lust to systemize Plato's metaphysics, seemed to white-wash both Socrates' association with skepticism and the ethical/political character of his divine mission. As Werner Beierwaltes neatly summarizes:
ãOhne Sokrates"—dies hieße: ohne politisches Engagement und ohne politishe Theorie, die auf eine durch philosophische Ethik gerformte Struktur der Polis hinwirken könnte, und ohne Dialog, ohne das Fragen in ihm, ohne das Bewusstsein des Nicht-Wissens dessen, was man wissen möchte oder sollte—beides gemäss dem Bild des Sokrates, wie es Platon geprägt hat. (Beierwaltes 1995: 97)In sum, for Bröcker, the Neoplatonic tradition, with Plotinus as its quintessential representative, fled from the dangers of aporetic and political discourse in favor of building a highly elaborate, but ultimately ethereal, metaphysical system; and so, as a result of Bröcker's enigmatic thesis, scholars began to echo his characterization of this tradition. As R. F. Hathaway was to conclude a few years later, the "decisive character of the Neoplatonic interpretation of Plato is its obliviousness to the genuine Socratic element in the dialogues." Hathaway continues: "[The Neoplatonists] were predisposed to disregard the aporetic character of the dialogues and therewith an essential feature of what we mean by Socratic dialectic. It also means that they took Plato's myths as dogmatic teachings in need of didactic exegesis rather than as Socratic elucidations of a certain kind bearing directly on the aporetic state of the moral questions." In short, Hathaway, in tune with Bröcker, believed that the Neoplatonists did not understand the intricacies of Socrates' methods and ignored his avowals of ignorance for the sake of systematizing Plato. As such, in Hathaway's eyes, they were not faithful to this fundamental feature residing in much of Plato's work and could be discounted not only as loyal adherents to the Socratic tradition but also, ultimately, as adherents to the Platonic tradition. To be sure, this undeserving characterization of the Neoplatonic project as "one without Socrates" only furthers the unfortunate stigma that this tradition did not authentically understand the Platonic dialogues but tirelessly transformed Plato's philosophy for its own metaphysical and religious purposes. In the end, it is wrongly assumed that serious scholars of either Plato or Socrates need not engage with this odd anomaly in the history of Platonism, as nothing of real value can be gleaned from Neoplatonists; either they completely misunderstood Plato and Socrates, or their conclusions are irrelevant to contemporary debates.
"Without Socrates"—this means: without political engagement and without a political theory, which could contribute to a structure of the polis that is formed through philosophical ethics, and without dialogue, without questioning in dialogue, without the consciousness of the not-knowing of that which one would like to or ought to know—both [of these aspects are] according to the image of Socrates as Plato has formed it.
To counter this image, this volume specifically tackles the idea that the Neoplatonists neglected the Socratic element of Plato's dialogues. As we shall soon see, several of them, especially in the later commentary tradition, analyzed and engaged with various Socratic subjects, including, but not limited to, analysis of Socrates' avowals and disavowals of knowledge, his irony, and his philosophical method, countering the thesis that this tradition kept its distance from the aporetic in Plato's dialogues. Furthermore, even if we are to take seriously the fact that Plotinus and other early Neoplatonists like Porphyry and Iamblichus rarely, if ever, discuss the life and methods of the son of Sophroniscus, they did, on the other hand, implicitly owe a debt to Socrates, particularly in their own use of open-ended philosophical discourse and their ceaseless commitment to the value of self-knowledge, virtue, and human happiness. As Andrew Smith argues, Plotinus, like Socrates, "possesses strong philosophical convictions and is driven at every stage to reassess and re-examine them." Overall, the Enneads, far from resembling a complex and closed treatise, emerges more as a kind of inner dialogue, stressing constant self-scrutiny and doubt not unlike Socrates. One should also note Plotinus's commitment to open-ended inquiry in his seminars where he notably encouraged his students to pose questions rather than dogmatically accept his theses. As Porphyry records, Plotinus's commitment to dialogue was so deep-seated that on one occasion he rebuffed a request that he, Plotinus, propound a longer treatise in lieu of debating with Porphyry. The account is worth quoting:
Once I, Porphyry, went on asking him for three days about the soul's connection with the body, and he kept explaining to me. A man, Thaumasius by name, entered the classroom, and declared that he wanted Plotinus to deal with general subjects, and that he should talk in such a way that what he said could be written down, because he could not stand these questions and answers exchanged between Plotinus and Porphyry. Plotinus replied, "But if we could not solve the problems Porphyry raises, we would be unable to say anything that could be written down."Here Plotinus shows that the question-and-answer method is indeed at the very fundament of his philosophical practice, evidencing that at no time can he be regarded as one who irrevocably discarded one of the touchstones of the philosophical activity first heralded in the life of Socrates. Again it will be useful to turn to the exegesis of Beierwaltes:
—Porph., Vita Plotini 13, 12-16 (tr. Armstrong)
Das dialogische Element im neuplatonischen Denken zeigt sich zwar nicht in der spezifischen literarischen Form des Dialogs, es ist aber für die mündliche Lehre bestimmend geblieben; als einen Spiegel dieses Vorgangs mag man das intensive Fragen ansehen, das die Traktate Plotins belebt, ohne dass jede Frage auch in eine abschliessende oder abgeschlossene Antwort überginge. Die Gedanken Plotins sind auch nicht—entgegen wenig bedachten aber gängigen Formulierungen—in ein starres, Alles erklärendes System gepresst, sie zeugen vielmehr von einer ihren jeweiligen Gegenstand inständig und meditativ umkreisenden Denkstruktur.Continuing his defense, Beierwaltes further trivializes the idea that Neoplatonism is a Platonism without Socrates, reminding his readers that the later Platonic tradition is Socratic simply insofar as its project readily endorses and continues the Socratic injunction "Know thyself." Of course, as many scholars of Neoplatonism readily highlight, Plotinus and his immediate predecessors like Porphyry would formulate a uniquely ontological hermeneutic of this maxim, but not one that would run counter to the Socratic project. As Beierwaltes concludes, "Wenn also Selbst-Gegenwart des Menschen durch das Erkennen seiner selbst (d.h. seines eigentlichen Selbst, des Geistes) allererst den Zugang zur Gegenwart des Seins im Denken selbst eröffnet" ("If, therefore, the self-presence of man is opened up through the knowledge of himself (i.e., of his authentic self, of the spirit), then the access to the presence of Being is opened up first and foremost in thinking itself" (Beierwaltes 1995: 109). As one may assume, for Plotinus true self-knowledge arises when one shuns the sensible and begins to care for the soul, discounting, as Socrates would readily lambast, the goods of the body such as health, wealth, and physical beauty. Plotinus regards such an outward leaning tendency as a kind of perverted self-care, a myopic "playfulness" that ignorantly or childishly looks to the "outside shadow of man." Rather strikingly, Plotinus explicitly invokes Socrates in his attempt to explain this perversion when he writes, "And even if Socrates too may play sometimes, it is by the outer Socrates that he plays." Here, Plotinus's quick mention of Socrates is itself a call to recognize the urgency of turning inward in serious contemplation, that is, to know oneself. In this statement Plotinus also implicitly reminds his readers of Socrates' characteristic banter, his penchant for irony. Not unlike Alcibiades' Silenic portrait in the Symposium, Plotinus suggests that Socrates' immediate appearance evidences one persona, it appears playful and is immersed in the world of sense, but this is only the external mask of the philosopher. Once one investigates within, one will uncover Socrates' seriousness and with it his wisdom and virtue. Moreover, we could also add that the Socratic aporetic impulse in Plotinus is mediated through the Neoplatonist's own recognition of the limits of human discursivity and knowledge. Ultimately, then, his entire philosophical project implicitly endorses the Socratic rejoinder to recognize one's ignorance or inability to ascend the heights of knowledge via clutching at mere human wisdom, as true philosophy "pursues what is venerable, not what is arrogant."
—Beierwaltes 1995: 98
The dialogical element in Neoplatonic thinking is certainly not manifest in the specific literary form of the dialogue, but it has remained decisive for oral teaching; one may view intense questioning as a mirror of these proceedings that enliven the tracts of Plotinus without every question also transitioning into a conclusive or definitive answer. The thoughts of Plotinus are also not—contrary to less thoughtful yet catchy formulations—compressed into a rigid system that explains everything; rather they testify to a structure of thought that imploringly and meditatively encompasses its respective object.
With these general points in mind, readers of Plotinus still might be disappointed with the fact that of the thirty-four occurrences of Socrates' name in the Enneads only the passage above on the philosopher's "outward play" refers to Socrates as anything more than an example of a concrete individual or a placeholder in a logical argument concerning all individuals. Yet, while this silence regarding Plato's main protagonist is odd for one who adheres to the Platonic tradition, it should not lead us to the hasty simplification that Plotinus is a philosopher for whom the Socratic character of philosophy itself has been lost. Spyridon Rangos attempts to explain why Plotinus's silence with regard to Socrates should not alarm the reader of the Enneads or signify any greater meaning. Emphasizing Plotinus's penchant for ascribing the views of Socrates in Plato's dialogues solely to Plato, Rangos writes:
Even when, as is frequently the case, the views that Plotinus ascribes to Plato are expressed through the mouth of Socrates, Plotinus seems both unwilling to refer to Plato with the character's name and uninterested in drawing inferences about Socrates from Platonic evidence. But no conclusions concerning Plotinus' opinion about Socrates can be drawn from this omission. For, with one single exception justified from within the context, the standard practice of Plotinus is precisely this: no Platonic characters are mentioned by name although it is often the case that Plotinus ascribes to Plato views voiced through, for instance, Timaeus or the Eleatic Stranger.Suggestively then it seems that Plotinus's motivations were primarily philosophical versus philological or historical, and as such the Neoplatonist was not interested in valorizing Socrates or understanding his historical personality. Plotinus, unlike the Stoics, may of had little interest in explicitly positioning him, or anyone else for that matter, as the ideal sage, because his motivation was ultimately a personal search within himself so that he might live the authentically philosophical life as opposed to describing it in the life of another. In short, perhaps like Socrates, Plotinus desired to be an iconoclast who withdrew from valorizing all but those texts that inspired him to question and engage in the study of reality, and as such he did not need to engage with the life and methods of Socrates. Finally, it should be recalled that, alongside recording that Plotinus and his school in Rome celebrated the birthdays of both Plato and Socrates, Porphyry, in his Life of Plotinus, records the words of the Delphic oracle, "No one was wiser than Socrates," just before recounting Apollo's own veneration of the divine Plotinus. In this invocation Porphyry gracefully substantiates his master's place as a true teacher and servant of Apollo, a tradition that is indebted, as Porphyry highlights in quoting the Apology, to Socrates.
Following Plotinus, the early Neoplatonists, like Porphyry and Iamblichus, also remain relatively quiet with regard to Socrates. Porphyry himself may even have maligned Socrates in his History of Philosophy, offering, as Socrates Scholasticus relates, an account one would expect from a hostile critic like Meletus or Anytus. Nevertheless, one should exercise caution when it comes to Porphyry's supposed disdain of Socrates in his History of Philosophy as the evidence needs to be mediated (1) by the fact that it depends on various Christian authors who may have had their own reasons for disparaging Socrates, and (2) by his praise and use of Socrates in De abstinentia, which paints a very different picture of the philosopher by including him in a list of the seven sages of Greece, venerating his disdain of pleasure, and extolling his commitment to the Olympian gods. As for Iamblichus, the Syrian does not, in his extant work, explicitly discuss the character of Socrates, mentioning him only once and seemingly out of context at De myst. I 8, 6. Nevertheless, given that Iamblichus was said to have written extensive commentaries on various Platonic dialogues, we can explain Iamblichus's silence on Socrates in terms of the loss of these invaluable texts. In fact, in the scattered fragments that we possess Iamblichus seems to have analyzed Plato's Socrates on a regular basis. For example, according to surviving scholia, Iamblichus described Socrates as one who is analogous to the Olympian deity Zeus, whereas Hermias, a later Platonic commentator, describes Iamblichus as regarding Socrates as one who can ascend the "ladder of love" and commune with the Beautiful itself while still retaining the ability to return to the levels below. While this evidence is scant, it should nevertheless be noted that Iamblichus's canonization of the Platonic dialogues into a set curriculum would keep the commentary tradition alive and stimulate later Neoplatonic authors to engage in extensive discussion of Socrates. As we shall see, Iamblichus is the last Neoplatonist to hold his tongue: Syrianus, Hermias, Proclus, Olympiodorus, and even Simplicius overtly engage Socrates and the Socratic character of Platonism in their commentaries.
Having discussed the silence of Socrates in Plotinus in particular and the early Neoplatonists in general, we should also counter the so-called neglect of Socrates in the later Neoplatonic curriculum, as this will provide evidence of why there seems to be a sudden rekindling of interest in Socrates in later antiquity. Here we shall concede that the late commentators underutilized texts like the Apology, but, nevertheless, it should be stressed that in the dialogues that they championed Socrates still stars in three out of every four texts. Specifically, in the first cycle of ten dialogues (Alcibiades I, Gorgias, Phaedo, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, Phaedrus, Symposium, and Philebus) only the Sophist and the Statesman lack the overwhelming presence of some version of "Socrates." In fact, the Alcibiades I, a dialogue whose authenticity is much debated in contemporary scholarship, fulfills many of our expectations of a "Socratic" text insofar as it:
Furthermore, as Danielle Layne argues in Chapter 5 of this volume, one must understand the basics of Neoplatonic hermeneutics to appreciate how this tradition understood and responded to the character of Socrates. Unlike the developmentalist wing of Platonic scholarship, the Neoplatonists followed Socrates' comments in the Phaedrus and read the dialogues as unified organic wholes, which, like all organisms, are complex—and therein less comparable to mere abstract arguments on paper than to real flesh-and-blood individuals. What becomes manifest in this kind of exegesis is that overall the Neoplatonists took seriously the "literary elements" of the dialogues and, as such, often focused on how every character contributes to an understanding of the dialogue as a whole. Consider Proclus's commentary on the Timaeus in which Proclus decidedly argues that Plato expertly crafted the dialogue to be both Pythagorean and Socratic in character. As Proclus writes:
So if there's anywhere else that he has combined the distinctive features of Pythagorean and Socratic, then he obviously does this in this dialogue too. In the Pythagorean tradition it contains loftiness of mind, intuition, inspiration, a tendency to link everything with the intelligibles. . . . From the considerate Socratic [manner] it possesses approachability, gentleness, a tendency towards demonstration, to study reality through images, to moral content, and so on.Considering it an expertly crafted combination of both the Socratic and the Pythagorean, Proclus believes that the Timaeus as a whole is elevated to perfection. In this way Proclus provides evidence that by no stretch of the imagination could he believe, contra Hathaway's estimation, that one could understand or even appreciate Plato's work without recognizing the Socratic element even in a dialogue like the Timaeus. In fact, later in this commentary Proclus makes a startling observation about logoi sokratikoi in general, arguing that a good rendition, like Plato's, must capture the spirit of the philosopher if it hopes to promote his teachings. Writing on the nature of poetry and imitation, Proclus confesses that
—Proclus, in Tim. 7.25-8.1 (tr. Tarrant).
inner dispositions obviously make a difference to speeches. Accordingly we ridicule those who have written defense-speeches of Socrates—most of them apart from Plato—because they haven't preserved the character of Socrates. Yet when they are recording this basic story, how Socrates was accused and defended himself and met with such and such a verdict, they wouldn't deserve of ridicule; rather it is the failure to capture a likeness in their imitation of words that shows up the imitators as ridiculous.Even Syrianus, Proclus's venerable master, clearly distinguished between the historical Socrates and the character portrayed in Plato's dialogues, and ultimately concluded, on the basis of Plato's virtue, that Plato's portrait of Socrates was authentic. Furthermore, while acknowledging that the dialogues cannot be altogether historically accurate, "for Plato could not have checked every small detail, such as that Socrates bent his leg," the anonymous author of the Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy argued that Plato's dialogues accurately depict the historical Socrates, as otherwise the dialogues would not be "true to life" and thus would not be effective in stimulating readers to the examined life. Striking for contemporary scholars, we see that the Neoplatonists are in agreement with Vlastos, as they also seem to argue that Plato truly captured the Socratic character in his work. Yet, in contrast to Vlastos, authors like Proclus never believed that this was limited to certain dialogues, for example, the shorter aporetic dialogues; rather, Proclus would argue that this Socratic element was present in all the dialogues in which Socrates is present, even as a secondary character. To be sure, in light of their hermeneutical strategies that preserve the integrity of the literary or dramatic devices like character, the Neoplatonists very rarely conflated Socrates with Plato. Rather, they typically regarded him as a distinct individual whose play with other characters like Timaeus contributes to the meaning of the text as a whole. In this way, the Neoplatonists avoided a problem that dogs much commentary in Socratic studies, that is, the need to reconcile Socrates' voice with Plato's. For this tradition, Plato's voice can only be gleaned by looking to the dialogue as a whole versus dissecting or extracting the arguments of any one character in the text. Of course, this approach is in tune with recent secondary literature that not only concentrates on what Socrates says, the overt philosophical arguments, but also analyzes why, how, and to whom he speaks, not to mention the significance of where and when he speaks.
—Proclus, in Tim. 65.22-28 (tr. Tarrant)
Given this manner of reading the character of Socrates and the dialogues as a whole, the Neoplatonists were able to reconcile the various contradictions that the philosopher seemingly makes throughout Plato's corpus. Like all dynamic characters, Socrates can change his methods and even meanings to accord with those to whom he is speaking and the subject matter at hand. In this vein, Harold Tarrant explicates, in Chapter 10 of this book, that Neoplatonists such as Hermias and Olympiodorus were quite conscious of the plurality of Socrates' voices or styles of speaking throughout individual dialogues as well as the entire corpus. As Tarrant writes on Olympiodorus's commentary on the Alcibiades I:
Olympiodorus . . . recognizes within three major sections of the [Alcibiades] three separate roles for Socrates as protagonist. In the first major section, to 119a, he employs elenchus in order to demonstrate to Alcibiades his shortcomings; in the second, to 124b, he employs protreptic discourse; and in the remainder he operates as the philosophic midwife, helping Alcibiades towards a correct understanding of the kind of creature that he really is in himself. Elenchus, protreptic, and midwifery all receive extensive discussion in the modern literature on Socrates, so that what Olympiodorus sees as the role of Socrates here may be regarded as genuinely Socratic.Through the use of computer analysis Tarrant intends to demonstrate that the Neoplatonists were well aware of real differences in Plato's language that reflect the broader difference between what is in some sense "Socratic" and what is Platonic, and between the different styles or registers invoked in Socrates' use of question and answer as well as in more divinely graced moments of mythmaking. In fact, according to Tarrant, the Neoplatonists recognized that while Socrates was not, like Plato, a divinely inspired author (for he failed to record his philosophy), he was nevertheless a divinely inspired partner in conversation, committed, first, to self-examination and, second, to the examination of others. Consequently, they took seriously his divine mission described in the Apology while never feeling the need to reduce this activity to one method, voice, or style. Rather, Socrates could speak soberly or divinely depending upon the context, situation, and intentions of Plato as author.
Moreover, as Griffin shows in his chapter, "Hypostasizing Socrates," (Chapter 6) the Neoplatonists, despite acknowledging a plurality of "Socratic voices," still had a single, consistent story to tell about Plato's dominant protagonist, and they consequently regarded Socrates as more than a mere literary device or character. Rather, Plato made Socrates a dynamic symbol that in some way mirrored the intelligible realm. For the Neoplatonists it was through Plato's consistent use of images, icons, and symbols that one is given the ability to depart from the mere perceptions of the senses and journey toward the intelligible realities grasped only by the mind. According to Griffin, Socrates is made to stand for the same level of being and knowledge in each dialogue, and thus, regardless of whether one is just beginning one's journey through the Iamblichean curriculum or finishing the cycle with Parmenides, every reader is compelled to see Socrates as a pedagogical symbol that lures all from material reality to the immaterial Good. While integrating Plato's doctrine of mimesis into Neoplatonic exegetical methods, Griffin shows that through a study of Socrates' behavior in each dialogue readers are induced to emulate his example as well as to follow in the footsteps of his interlocutors' transformations. As Proclus writes concerning the reason Plato wrote dialogues rather than treatises: "Plato . . . gives us an outline impression of our duties through dramatic depiction of the best men, an impression that has much that is more effective than what is committed to lifeless rules. That is because dramatic imitation informs the lives of the listeners according to its own distinctive character."
To be sure, in this commitment to imitating Socrates, the Neoplatonists felt compelled to detail and study Socrates' methods and forms of arguing, including but not limited to the now routinely discussed Socratic elenchus. For example, Olympiodorus treats of the Socratic elenchus in his commentary on Plato's Gorgias and Alcibiades I, while Proclus not only discusses the elenchus in detail in his commentary on Plato's Alcibiades but also situates its place within the various other forms of Platonic dialectic during his commentary on the Parmenides. Yet, regardless of this stunning display of material on late antiquity's interpretations, many students of Socratic scholarship still fail to realize that long before Robinson's and Vlastos's work on the subject, many Neoplatonists already identified Socrates' preferred mode of examination with the question-and-answer method characterized by refuting false beliefs, and, furthermore, argued that its intent was far from sophistic insofar as it restored the health rather than harmed the souls of its recipients. Seeing the elenchus as a combined moral and intellectual service, Olympiodorus, as François Renaud shows in Chapter 8, "The Elenctic Strategies of Socrates: The Alcibiades I and the Commentary of Olympiodorus," saw Socrates' method as intended to heal its recipients from the diseases of the soul caused by holding false or inconsistent beliefs. What is so arresting about Olympiodorus's reading of the Socratic method is the insistence that the elenchus, contra Vlastos, is neither a constructivist nor a deconstructivist truth-seeking device but a purgative/psychagogic activity. Furthermore, for none of the late commentators was the elenchus ever considered to be at odds with the other methods utilized in the dialogues; it was in fact one of several types of Socratic inquiry into the nature of things. As Akitsugu Taki has persuasively argued elsewhere, the concept of Socrates' dialectic could readily embrace both the elenchus and other styles of argument in which the philosopher is engaged in the dialogues of Plato.
Olympiodorus's characterization of Socrates as one who intends to heal the human soul had been foreshadowed earlier in the tradition by Hermias. In his Phaedrus commentary, Hermias had asserted that "Socrates has been sent down to the world of generation, in order to benefit the human race." As Christina-Panagiota Manolea argues in Chapter 4, "Socrates in the Neoplatonic Psychology of Hermias," this shows once again how the Neoplatonists from Syrianus to Olympiodorus prominently positioned Socrates as a kind of heroic personality and venerated his methods as necessary preliminaries to the philosophical life. In her work Manolea emphasizes how Hermias/Syrianus argued for Socrates' ease in communing with the divine and his preeminent ability to purify those in need. Through close analysis of Neoplatonic psychology we are led to realize that for Neoplatonists like Syrianus, Socrates had a decisively positive influence on his companions' struggle to cultivate their own souls in not only contemplating the divine cosmic soul but also ascending from the merely sensible level of existence.
For those interested in the role erôs or love plays in Socratic teaching, James Ambury's "Socratic Character: Proclus on the Function of Erotic Intellect" (Chapter 7) turns to Proclus's commentary on the Alcibiades I. Here Ambury examines the infamous relationship between the barefoot philosopher and the budding young socialite, eloquently arguing that for Proclus Socrates is far more than an intellectualist concerned with propositional truth. Rather, he is a divine lover who looks with philosophical vision on his beloved, taking Alcibiades as an image of Beauty itself. In this characterization of Socrates' activities it becomes clear that Alcibiades already confronts the fact that for Socrates his physical beauty, his character, and all his virtues are nothing more than an appearance or image of something more substantial, but inaccessible to sense perception. In this examination we see the archetypal Platonic/Neoplatonic theme that true knowledge has very little to do with sense perception but much to do with the activity that transcends it, that is, dialectical inquiry, which for Proclus was the erotic activity characteristic of Socrates.
To be sure, long before Proclus the problem of characterizing and understanding Socratic love was prominent enough in Platonism to have already raised a few eyebrows of suspicion in the earlier so-called Middle Platonic tradition. Some had questioned whether the philosopher exploited the youth for sexual gain. The incitement of others to potentially harmful sexual activity made some wonder whether Socrates could not justly be accused of undermining traditional family relations: a potential charge to which Plato's Republic gives additional credibility. Thus Geert Roskam's "Socratic Love in Neoplatonism" (Chapter 1) highlights these two contrasting attitudes that one might take toward Socrates' erotic affairs, beginning with the worldly and almost biting realism of Lucian, always keen to display the vices of notable philosophers, and then focusing on the almost puritan picture Hermias paints. Roskam slowly sketches out Hermias's defense of Socratic love, arguing that the philosopher's intentions were always higher and nobler than corporeal indulgence. Roskam admits near the end of his chapter that Hermias's view of Socrates is quite problematic for the contemporary reader because it refuses to stain the philosopher with any association of true human sexuality, but Roskam reminds us that this Neoplatonic portrait allowed more liberties in reconstructing Socrates sui generis. He poses the thoughtful question whether contemporary readers are actually acting differently, reminding us that like the Neoplatonists we have a view of the philosopher that is conditioned by time and context. As he writes: "If our claim to do more justice to both Plato's and Xenophon's picture of Socrates (and to that of Aristotle and Aristophanes) is not entirely unjustified, we may do well in any case to avoid the arrogance of cultural or intellectual superiority and recognize that our own view is not free from bias either."
In this same vein of contemporary interpretive critiques, within the history of modern classical and philosophical scholarship, Socrates has often been heralded as the champion of reason over faith. Despite recent challenges from some scholars, this view of Socrates as a precursor to Enlightenment philosophy remains the predominant perspective today. Yet as John Finamore and Crystal Addey reveal in Chapters 2 and 3 of this volume, philosophers throughout antiquity regarded Socrates as a man of knowledge and reason indeed, but also as a holy man or sage, even an inspired mystic or seer whose commitment to the divine fueled all of his activities. Their respective chapters show how the Middle Platonic to Neoplatonic portrayal of Socrates and his daimonion offer interesting alternatives to those who simply associate Socrates' divine voice with a secular notion of consciousness. Rather, in these Platonic traditions, Socrates becomes the fullest culmination of the philosophical life not simply because he is suprarational but precisely because he hears the voice of his daimonion. According to Finamore, the Middle Platonist philosophers Apuleius and Plutarch claimed that his ability to hear the voice arose from the purified and divinely graced nature of his way of life, and accordingly their claims laid the groundwork for later Neoplatonic demonology. Building on this, Addey focuses on the Neoplatonic interpretation of Socrates' daimonion that emphasizes the philosopher's constant and undying submission to his divine voice. Addey argues that for the Neoplatonists Socrates epitomizes the human potential to participate in divine wisdom and, ultimately, to become "like a god," the prototypical activity of the virtuous individual for the entire Platonic tradition.
The Neoplatonists also had plenty to say with regard to other routine subjects in Socratic studies, as they often voiced their opinion on subjects such as Socratic knowledge and ignorance. Yet one should be warned that on these subjects most Neoplatonists would disagree with contemporary scholars who feel comfortable associating Socrates with either skepticism or irony. As Layne argues elsewhere, the Neoplatonists, like Vlastos, similarly attempted to "save" Socrates from deceptive irony and skepticism by appealing to various forms of knowing as well as grades of not-knowing so that Socrates may avow both knowledge and ignorance without contradiction. Specifically, Olympiodorus and the anonymous author of the Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy simply distinguished human and divine knowledge, and Socrates' confessions of ignorance are attributable to this distinction. The anonymous author maintains that "when he says 'I know nothing,' he is comparing his own knowledge to that of divine beings. That knowledge is different from ours: ours is knowledge and nothing else, God's is effective; it apprehends by simple intuition, while ours depends on causes and premises." Proclus, on the other hand, furthered the teachings of Syrianus by arguing that the form of ignorance and the corresponding form of knowledge of Socrates center primarily on the distinction between the objects of knowledge vis-à-vis matters of flux and sense versus intelligible realities. For Proclus and Syrianus, what Socrates knows he knows through dialectic and contemplation of the eternal reasoning principles in our souls, and what he does not know simply refers to the inability of all individuals to know sensible particulars. Ultimately, all these differences between forms of knowing and kinds of ignorance allow Proclus and others like Olympiodorus and Hermias to contend that there should be no "doubtful weight attached to Socratic knowledge." Because of this, many of these commentators were able to insist that any use of irony by the philosopher should be understood as an appropriate pedagogical technique transforming the lives of those in need of salvation. As Olympiodorus would argue, there is a pedagogical or valid moral purpose to Socrates' use of irony, and so he concludes that while Socrates may speak with irony, this does not mean that there is no truth in his statements. Rather, as Vlastos would have preferred, his irony is complex and aims at the good of his interlocutor.
Finally, even if one were still in sympathy with those who believe that Neoplatonists were oblivious to the Socratic element in Plato's dialogues, it should be noted that none of the Neoplatonists, including Plotinus, could avoid responding to or engaging in problems that were typically Socratic. Socrates' infamous denial of akratic action in particular is normally deemed to be a peculiar Socratic axiom as even Aristotle ascribes this view to him. In arguing against Socrates, Aristotle instigated a debate that was to be inherited in various Hellenistic traditions, not least among the Stoics. Particularly Epictetus, a Stoic extremely influenced by the life and death of Socrates, often defended and attempted to explain how reason cannot be overpowered by desire and in so doing inspired another late Neoplatonic author, Simplicius, to expend a considerable amount of effort on unpacking the perennial problem of whether weakness of will was possible. As Marilynn Lawrence shows in Chapter 9, Simplicius, like both Socrates and Epictetus before him, was committed to both the identification of knowledge with virtue and the complex thesis that to know the good is to do the good. In light of this, Lawrence maintains that Simplicius offers in his commentary on Epictetus's Encheiridion a stunning explication of this typical Socratic difficulty.
Assuredly the late commentators offer a rich variety of perspectives on Socrates, and even if one cannot entertain their portrait(s) of him, one should not ignore the extensive pains these thinkers took to catalogue the particular debates and interpretations concerning Plato and his main protagonist—Socrates. No doubt, more than writers in any other tradition, commentators such as Simplicius, Olympiodorus, Proclus, and Hermias not only carefully analyzed the contradictions and enigmas associated with the character of Socrates but also argued against the conflicting perspectives of the Skeptics, Stoics, and early adherents of the Platonic tradition, thus preserving many of the debates in which we continue to participate to this day. Regardless of only being concerned with Plato's Socrates, Neoplatonists, just as much as Epictetus or Middle Platonists like Apuleius, are a part of the Socratic tradition, as they too capture an image of Socrates which informed their way of life. In their various projects and commentaries on a manifold of Plato's dialogues and thus a manifold of Socratic images, they continued to carry the torch of the examined life and, accordingly, offer an enriching and complex portrait both useful and inspiring for scholars in Socratic studies. We hope that this volume will give these interpreters at least a whisper of their voice, allowing contemporary students and researchers a chance to observe their rich and often convincing analysis of Socrates. To guide readers we have attempted to order the book both chronologically and, when possible, thematically. We open with an analysis of Lucian's biting portrayal of Socrates and Hermias's defense in Roskam's "Socratic Love in Neoplatonism." Subsequently, we further wind our way into Middle Platonism in Finamore's "Plutarch and Apuleius on Socrates' Daimonion," before turning to the detailed commentaries of Hermias, Proclus, and Olympiodorus in the chapters of Addey, Manolea, Layne, Griffin, Ambury, and Renaud. Lawrence's chapter on akrasia and Simplicius leads us to one of the final authors of this period before we come to Tarrant's "Many-Voiced Socrates: Neoplatonist Sensitivity to Socrates' Change of Register." We recognize that the ensuing chapters are not an exhaustive study of the portrait of Socrates in late antiquity and so have closed this volume with a short epilogue discussing some of our conclusions. We further note some of the possibilities for future paths of research, hoping that this volume will act as a catalyst for future attempts to answer the question "Who is Socrates?" in late antiquity.