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

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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.1 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.2 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.3

Affiliations: 1: School of Humanities, University of Tasmania Hobart tas 7001AUSTRALIA dirk.baltzly@utas.edu.au

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1. Baltzly Dirk 2006"“Pathways to purification: the cathartic virtues in the neoplatonic commentary tradition”" Reading Plato in Antiquity Tarrant Harold, Baltzly Dirk 169 184 London Duckworth
2. Baltzly Dirk 2014"“Plato’s Authority and the Formation of Textual Communities in Late Antiquity”" Classical QuarterlyVol 64Vol 2 793 807 [Crossref]
3. 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”" Reading Plato in Antiquity Tarrant Harold, Baltzly Dirk 89 106 London Duckworth
4. Festugière A.J. 1971"“Modes de composition des Commentaires de Proclus”" Études de Philosophie Grecque Festugière A.J. 551 574 Paris J. Vrin
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11. Praechter Karl 1910"“Richtungen und Schulen im Neuplatonismus”" Genethliakon Carl Robert 104 156 Berlin Weidmann
12. Sorabji Richard 2005 The Philosophy of the Commentators: Vol. 3: Logic and Metaphysics 3 vols. Vol. 3. Ithaca Cornell University Press
13. Tarrant Harold 2014"“Platonist curricula and their influence”" The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism Pauliina Slaveva-Griffin Remes Svetla 15 29 London and New York Routledge.
14. Watts E.D. 1988"“Translating the Personal Aspect of Late Platonism in the Commentary Tradition”" Interpreting the Bible and Aristotle in Late Antiquity: The Alexandrian Commentary Tradition between Rome and Baghdad Lössl J., Watt J. 137 150 Farnham (Surrey) Ashgate Publishing
15. Westerink L.G. 1962 Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy Amsterdam North-Holland
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/content/journals/10.1163/18725473-12341377
2017-11-02
2017-11-22

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