Silencing Plato’s Text. On Plutarch’s III Platonic Question


  • Carlo Delle Donne La Sapienza-University of Rome



Omission, Plutarch, Plato, Ontology, Divided Line


Among Plutarch’s Moralia, the Platonicae Quaestiones are ten exegetical exercises on both contradictory and obscure passages of text by Plato. In the third quaestio (1001c-1002e), Plutarch examines a theoretical problem related to the similarity of the “Divided Line” (Resp. 509d6-511e5), i.e. whether the sensible segment is “greater” (meizon, 1001d) than the intelligible one, or vice versa. In briefly summing up the content of the Platonic similarity, Plutarch surprisingly leaves out Plato’s reference to the “criterion” which should mark the difference between the upper and the lower segments of the line: the sapheneia (Resp. 511e: ὥσπερ ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἐστιν  ληθείας μετέχει, οὕτω ταῦτα σαφηνείας ἡγησάμενος μετέχειν). How are we expected to understand this “silence”? My purpose is to demonstrate that Plutarch’s omission is voluntary, since this is meant to provide the quaestio with a more original, step-by-step analytical development, along with a clearer solution. Plutarch’s initial silence gives him the opportunity to accurately argue against any quantitative or materialistic reading of the word meizon. Any interpretation of Plato’s ontology which reduces the intelligible dimension to an “elementary” level (i.e. to one based on elachista) should be rejected. The difference between the sensible segment and the intelligible one (and, hence, the superiority of the latter over the former) has to be described in ontological terms. But sapheneia had this precise meaning in its original Platonic context: so, its omission at the very beginning of the quaestio turns out to be of use to Plutarch in order to guide the reader gradually towards the solution of the zetema.


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