[Hankins] Plato in the Middle Ages

September 17, 2017 | Author: atomicus | Category: Neoplatonism, Platonism, Marsilio Ficino, Plato, Aristotle
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From Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. J. Strayer, vol. IX, New York 1987, pp. 694-704. To be reprinted in J. Hankins, Humanism and Platonism in the Italian Renaissance, Rome: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura. All rights reserved.


The philosophy of Plato (429-347 BC), the Athenian philosopher, transmitted both directly and indirectly, had a powerful effect upon the intellectual and cultural life of the Middle Ages, as upon all other periods of Western civilization. Much of this effect may be traced to the impact of Plato’s own works, or works attributed to him, upon medieval thinkers. The medieval Byzantines possessed all thirty-six of the dialogues ascribed to him by his ancient editors (the great majority of which are now accepted as genuine) as well as the standard collection of ancient spuria, and a number of other pseudonymous writings of later date and various origin that were attached to the name of Plato during the medieval period. The Latin West and Arabic South were less well supplied, but even there the handful of dialogues known in Latin and Arabic, when combined with reports of Plato’s thought found in various compendia and in works of other ancient authors, were sufficient to guarantee Plato’s position as a leading authority in philosophy. Yet even this direct transmission of Plato’s thought was of less significance in the Middle Ages than the indirect tradition. Already, prior to the medieval period, Plato’s thought had formed the basis of the most important philosophical traditions of late ancient times, now known as Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism, and it was primarily within these traditions that the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theologies had attained their intellectual majority. Thus, at an early period of their development, the sacred literatures

of the three great medieval religions were seeded with Platonic themes and language and informed by Platonic habits of thought, and this (as it were) latent Platonism in religion was responsible for much of the vitality Platonic philosophy enjoyed even after the Aristotelian revolution of the twelfth century. In this article, however, we shall not consider that broader and more diffuse stream of Platonic philosophy transmitted by the pagan and Christian writers of the later Roman Empire, but shall concern ourselves solely with the relatively smaller subject of the study and impact of Plato’s own works between AD 500 and 1500.

Plato in the Byzantine World By rights the Byzantine East ought to have been the most fruitful field for the study of Plato during the Middle Ages. Unlike Latin, Arabic, and Jewish students of Plato, the Byzantines had available the entire corpus of Plato’s writings, and in their own language. That Byzantium was not in fact, relatively speaking, greatly productive of Platonic scholarship was no doubt largely a result of the separation and polarization of inner (sacred) and outer (pagan) knowledge fostered by Orthodox Christianity, and the relatively greater importance within it of the mystical tradition and the doctrine of the unknowability of God. This led, despite the example of the three Cappadocian fathers and St. Maximus the Confessor (ca. 580-662), to an ambivalence about—often even to a positive hostility toward—the use of philosophical methods in theological speculation. After the eleventh century the hostility of Greek Christianity to philosophy intensified to the point where philosophy became devalued as an autonomous science.

Moreover, Platonic scholarship in many cases was actually hindered by the very availability of Plato’s works. In the West, Plato’s thought was gradually assimilated by Christian thinkers over a period of several centuries, and the incompatibility of his theological beliefs and moral attitudes with Catholicism was in many cases concealed by bowdlerized and even Christianized translations. The Greek East had no opportunity for such gradual and painless assimilation; there, the un-Christian and “immoral” features of Platonic thought were instantly evident to the (in the early period) more sophisticated theologians of Orthodoxy, and were only disguised with difficulty. The suspicion that attached to philosophy as an autonomous discipline thus prevented the Byzantines from accepting the Aristotelian view that philosophy was the architectonic science, and encouraged the tendency, going back to Isocrates in the fourth century B.C., to subordinate philosophy to rhetoric and literary purposes generally. The approach of the Byzantine scholar to the texts of Plato was thus that of the philologist, the educator, and the man of letters, rather than that of the pure philosopher. This meant that Byzantine disputes about Plato’s value rarely followed the lines they did in Latin scholasticism, where Plato’s scientific authority was defended or challenged according as his doctrines exhibited a logical consistency with one or another system of Christian thought. Instead, these Byzantine disputes were cast in the form of a debate (similar to that of the early Italian Renaissance) between a Christian humanism and a philistine fundamentalism. The defense of Plato made part of a general defense of the value of pagan literature, a defense drawing heavily on such sources as St. Basil of Caesarea’s epistolatory tract Ad adolescentes, in which Plato was highly praised. Byzantine humanists lauded Plato’s works both as models of pure style and as sources of pious

doctrine, the contemplation of which even in a pagan would strengthen a Christian in his faith. Much was made of the seeming consonance between Christian beliefs and the Platonic doctrines of creation, immortality, providence and free will, evil, rewards and punishments, and homoiōsis theō (becoming like God). Alternatively, doctrines considered immoral or heretical would be passed over or excised, and the rest declared fit for Christian consumption. Such an orientation did not entirely preclude free philosophical speculation on Platonic themes, but it was by nature a fragmentary and literary approach to Plato’s thought, an approach that stood in the way of a genuine grasp of Plato’s philosophical system, such as was achieved at a surprisingly early date in the Latin West. It was the Byzantine humanists who initiated the tendency, later followed by the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century, to reduce Plato to a set of pious and melodious loci communes, stripped of their connecting tissue of dialectical reasoning, and hence of their systematic force. It has sometimes been asserted that there was an unbroken continuity of the Platonic tradition in Byzantium from antiquity to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. And if the mere existence of manuscripts of Plato’s works were the sufficent condition of such continuity, the point would have to be granted. It is nevertheless difficult to find evidence for the study of the Platonic dialogues between what may be considered the end of the ancient Platonic school in the early seventh century, when Stephen of Alexandria lectured on Plato in Constantinople at the court of Emperor Heraklios (610-641), and the second and third decades of the ninth century, which find Leo the Mathematician teaching philosophy privately in Constantinople. Leo is thought to have made a recension (diorthosis) of Platonic texts, a fact which fits well with what is otherwise known of the

philological orientation of his teaching. Leo was likewise the key figure in the attempt by Caesar Bardas (d. 866) to found a school in the Magnaura Palace (ca. 855/856), where the second important student of Plato of the ninth century, Photios (ca. 810-ca. 897), also taught. Photios was later the patriarch of Constantinople (858) and one of the most powerful political figures of the age. Not withstanding his declared preference for Aristotle, Photios was well informed about Plato’s works, though his knowledge seems to have come chiefly, if not entirely, from intermediary sources. At least in the famous Bibliotheca (ca. 837/838), Photios relied for his information and opinions entirely on Hierokles, a Christian Platonist of the fifth century, the second-century rhetorician Aristides, and an anonymous life of Pythagoras. With Hierokles, Photios approves the view that Plato and Aristotle are fundamentally in accord on providence, the immortality of the soul, and cosmology, while reproving Plato for his belief in the pre-existence of the soul and in the eternity of prime matter, and for his immoral and utopian political views. With Aristides, he admits that Plato is a great stylist, but faults him for his attacks on Homer, Pericles, and rhetoric and poetry in general. Rhetoric is in fact more useful and complete (teleoteros) than philosophy, Photios declares, because while the latter merely avoids injustice, the former actively causes justice. Whatever Photios’ dependence on intermediaries, there can be no doubt that the text of Plato was thoroughly familiar to the next great figure of Byzantine Platonic scholarship, Photios’ student Arethas of Patras, later the archbishop of Caesarea (fl. 895ca. 944). Four surviving manuscripts and three sets of scholia have been plausibly associated with his studium, and to him also may probably be attributed the most important collection of philosophical prolegomena to Plato. As this last bit of evidence

indicates, Arethas’ interest in Plato was more than merely philological. While many of his scholia are textual and grammatical, a sizable number (especially in Vienna, sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS Phil. gr. 314) show a keen interest in philosophical issues. Though something of a Platonist himself, Arethas does not hesitate to reprove Plato (in the second person) for doctrines he considers contrary to Christian truth, and to warn future readers of potential dangers to their faith. The revival of humanistic studies in the mid-tenth century under Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (905-959) apparently did not lead immediately to a revival of philosophy, for Michael Psellos (1018-1078) in an autobiographical passage of his Chronographia claims sole credit for resuscitating the moribund discipline of philosophy, presumably in the middle years of the eleventh century. This cannot have been literally true, however, since Psellos himself shortly afterward speaks of having had teachers in philosophy; and the manuscript evidence for Plato’s text, at least, shows that a considerable number were copied and annotated in the later tenth and eleventh centuries (like the well-known Vienna, sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS Suppl. gr. 7). Psellos may have meant that he was the first in his day to take more than a literary interest in the philosophical authors of antiquity, an impression borne out by the list he gives of his reading—Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus—and by his own numerous writings on philosophical subjects. Psellos’ claim to have personally revived philosophy is further strengthened by the necessity he was under of defending philosophical study against the attacks of religious anti-intellectualism, as in his famous letter to his friend John Xiphilinos (patriarch, 1063-1073) in 1054. Yet despite his plea there to follow the example of the church fathers in using philosophy to refute heretics

and strengthen faith, Psellos’ own philosophical works, as far as they are presently known, do not attempt to execute such a program. His works on Platonic philosophy in particular are highly derivative, being based more or less closely on works of Proclus (as in his commentary On Plato’s Psychogony), Hermeias (in his Explanation of the Platonic Chariot-driving of Souls in the Phaedrus and of the Campaigns of the Gods), Plotinus (in his treatise On the Ideas Which Plato Mentions), and other Neoplatonic intermediaries. The Platonic renaissance of the eleventh century culminated in the career of Psellos’ student, the philosopher John Italos (ca. 1025-after 1082), who of all Byzantine philosophers came nearest to the methods and outlook of Western Scholasticism. For Italos was a genuine dialectician who wanted to use philosophical doctrines to elucidate truths of faith and who was even willing to entertain, hypothetically, philosophical theses contrary to Orthodoxy. But Italos might be viewed as well as having revived the tradition of Christian Platonism handed down by the Cappadocian fathers, John Philoponus, and St. Maximus the Confessor. His doctrines are in many respects similar to theirs, and his doctrines which appear novel are developments very much in their spirit. Italos used Platonic methods to prove the anti-Platonic doctrines that the world was created ex nihilo and that the soul was immortal but not eternal. He held that both the Forms and particulars were causally dependent on God and contingent on his will, an idea ultimately destructive of the notion of ontological hierarchy, since contingency is the differentia of that which shares in non-being. His psychology was a complicated mixture of Aristotelian and Platonic doctrines. What is interesting for our purposes is that Italos apparently based his teaching in great part upon a reading of Plato’s dialogues themselves

(particularly the Timaeus) as explained by the Neoplatonic commentators and illuminated by the Christian Platonism of the Fathers. Yet despite Italos’ adherence to the example of the Fathers, and despite, indeed, his complete orthodoxy, Italos ran into trouble during the regime of Alexios I Komnenos (reigned 1081-1118), which in a frenzy of politically motivated anti-intellectualism condemned him and his doctrines in a famous trial on the Feast of Orthodoxy, 13 March 1082. A number of years later appeared one of Italos’ pupils (and a friend of Alexios I): Eustratios, bishop of Nicaea (ca. 1060-1120), who wrote, among other works, a Platonizing commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Robert Grosseteste into Latin a century later); Eustratios, too, was condemned (on more substantial grounds) for theological error in 1117. These two condemnations reveal at once the difficulties serious students of philosophy faced in the Eastern empire, and help explain the general transfer of philosophical interests during the twelfth century to the safer waters of Aristotelian school philosophy. The greatest setback for medieval Greek Platonism, as for Byzantine culture in general, was the disaster of 1204. Aside from some copies of Plato’s works dating from the early Paleologan period there are few signs of interest in Platonic philosophy until the time of the great fourteenth-century polyhistor and humanist Theodore Metochites, who praises Plato as the “Olympus of Wisdom,” and cites him many times in his Hypomnematismoi or Commentaries. He, too, defends the orthodoxy of Plato’s cosmology. Although his knowledge of it would seem to be largely derived from Iamblichus’ (d. ca. 330) De communi mathematica scientia, the knowledge of it possessed by his opponent in the controversy that developed, Nikephoros Choumnos (ca.

1250-1327), was certainly based on a first-hand knowledge of the Timaeus and was probably informed by the speculation of the Cappadocian fathers as well. Metochites’ interest in Plato was continued by his student, the little-studied Nikephoros Gregoras (1290-1359/1360), who is regarded by some scholars as a forerunner of Georgios Gemistos Plethon (d. 1452). In the later fourteenth century, intellectual energies were absorbed in the hesychast controversy, in which Platonism took a part, but more as a rallying cry for the humanists than as an object of serious study. The last act of Byzantine Platonism came in the fifteenth century and was played out mostly on Italian soil by Byzantine migrés. One of the earliest, Manuel Chrysoloras (d. 1415), translated the Republic into Latin (ca. 1402) and inspired the first generation of Italian humanists, especially Guarino da Verona (1374-1460) and Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), with a keen interest in Plato. Gemistos Plethon, who had founded a school of Platonic philosophy in Mistra, near ancient Sparta, is credited with having inspired Cosimo de’ Medici with the idea of founding a Platonic Academy, if this story is not (as it is likely to be) an invention of Marsilio Ficino.1 Plethon’s political views (based obscurely on the Republic) and his even more bizarre proposals for the revival of a Neoplatonized paganism to serve as a unified world religion, replacing Christianity and Islam, gave rise to the important Plato-Aristotle controversy of the mid-fifteenth century, and to Cardinal Bessarion’s famous reply to George of Trebizond, the In calumniatorem Platonis (1469), a book which helped shape the Western reading of Plato for more than a century.

Plato in the Arab World The study of Plato in the Arabic world began at about the same time it was being revived in the Byzantine East, in the early ninth century. This age saw a number of Plato’s works translated into Arabic by Nestorian Christians working in the court of the caliphs in Baghdad. In the early ninth century the Timaeus was translated by Yahya ibn al-Bitriq; later in the century the famous Syrian Nestorian Christian Hunain ibn Ishaq (Johannitius, 808-873) and his school translated at least the Republic, the Laws, the Sophist (with Olympiodorus’ sixth-century commentary) and (for a second time) the Timaeus, as well as Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus and Galen’s medical commentary on the same work. The Jacobite Yahya ibn ‘Adi in the tenth century retranslated the Laws and revised the earlier translation of the Timaeus; to him may also be attributed the translations of the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo quoted by later philosophers. Of these translations, nothing today survives but fragments of Proclus’ and Galen’s commentaries on the Timaeus and some collections of sententiae. The translators not only provided the Arabic world with translations of Plato himself, they also made versions of a number of late ancient commentaries and compilations based on his work. In addition to the works of Olympiodorus, Galen, and Proclus already mentioned, they turned Galen’s Synopsis of the Platonic Dialogues (of which a part survives), Plutarch’s commentary on the Timaeus (now lost, or perhaps identical with his De animae procreatione in Timaeo, handed down with many Greek manuscripts of Plato), and a work on the order of Plato’s books by Theon of Smyrna (fl. second century), of which a fragment survives. A compilation based on Proclus and known later in the West as the Liber de causis was probably translated into Arabic from a

late Greek source and became an important authority in Islamic philosophy, just as did the Theologia Aristotelis, a work based loosely on Enneads IV-VI of Plotinus. A collection known as the Platonica (Istanbul, Aya Sophia MS 2821) contains a variety of political and moral maxims from Plato, with a commentary on the last book of the Laws at the end. There were in addition a number of apocryphal works attributed to Plato of apparently Arabic origin, including two letters (Istanbul, University Library, MS 1458, fols. 105-106 and fols. 206-211), a collection of medical recipes (Paris, Biblioth que Nationale, MS arab. 2577, fol. 104), the Liber de tredecim clavibus sapientiae majoris (surviving in Latin in Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS Zan. lat. 324), and the so-called Liber quartus, which was translated into Latin around 1200 with commentary and had some influence in the West. As the range and character of these texts suggest, the interest of the Arabs in Plato’s works was chiefly scientific, moral and metaphysical, and their interpretation of his philosophy regularly Neoplatonic. Philosophical ethics as a whole in the Islamic crescent was based on Plato rather than Aristotle, although it remains a matter of some doubt whether this situation reflected a genuine preference or arose merely from the accident that Plato’s Republic and Laws were available in Arabic, whereas Aristotle’s Politics was not. With Plato’s metaphysics, or his metaphysics as interpreted by Neoplatonic commentators, Islam had an obvious affinity, for the doctrine of emanation was the cornerstone of Arabic philosophy until the time of al-Ghazali (1058-1111). All Arabic philosophers, it may be said, were Platonists insofar as they were metaphysicians, but the degree to which this Platonism was the result of reading Plato himself was in most cases probably small.

The Islamic philosopher most influenced by Plato was al-Farabi (Alfarabius), who flourished in the first half of the tenth century (d. 950). Al-Farabi seems to have known nearly all of Plato’s works—at least he quotes their titles—as well as the important conciliatio of Plato and Aristotle preserved in Simplicius’ (sixth century) commentaries on the De caelo and the Categoriae, which the Islamic philosopher repeated with approval. He wrote a treatise on the order of Plato’s books and made an abridgment of the Laws with commentary; both works survive. In his theological works he shows himself a Neoplatonist, and his political philosophy makes interesting use of the Republic by introducing the notion of the philosopher-king as a way of reforming the Islamic caliphate. Other Islamic philosophers had less close relations with the text of Plato. Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037) was a Neoplatonist who espoused a hierarchical emanationism and shows considerable acquaintance with Plato’s cosmological and political doctrines. Ibn Rushd (Averroës, 1126-1198), though he wrote a commentary on the Republic, was chiefly concerned with cleansing the interpretation of Aristotle of Neoplatonic elements. So, too, al-Ghazali attacked Avicenna’s Neoplatonizing theology and cosmology in the name of Islamic fundamentalism, but by a curious irony became himself an important source of Neoplatonic doctrine for the West when the first book of his Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-Falasifah) – which summarized the doctrine of the philosophers (that is, Neoplatonists) as a prelude to refuting them – was translated into Latin and taken by the Scholastics as representative of al-Ghazali’s own views.

Plato in Jewish Philosophy Within the orbit of Islamic philosophy, at least until the early thirteenth century, moved also the Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, who indeed wrote most of their philosophical works in Arabic until the early twelfth century. There are, as far as is known, no Hebrew translations of Plato and no direct study of the dialogues by any medieval Jewish philosopher, yet most of the Jewish philosophy before the later twelfth century was marked more or less deeply by the Neoplatonism widely diffused in Arabic lands, and especially by the doctrine of the Theologia Aristotelis. Such philosophers as Isaac ben Solomon Israeli (ca. 855-ca. 955), who was translated into Latin in the midtwelfth century, Joseph ibn Saddiq (early twelfth century), and Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol (Avicebron, ca. 1021-ca. 1058) can be plausibly classified as Neoplatonists; the latter’s Fons vitae, translated into Latin in the thirteenth century, evidently influenced Bonaventure with its sub-Plotinian notion that spiritual substances were composed of matter and form. But in the later twelfth century, along with its Byzantine, Islamic, and Latin cousins, Jewish philosophy, led by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), became rigorously focused on the works of Aristotle. In the thirteenth century, Jewish philosophy shifted to Latin Christian lands, a circumstance which only reinforced its existing Aristotelian bias. It is indeed difficult to find any examples of Jewish study of Plato in Arabic or Christian lands in the later Middle Ages, aside from Samuel ben Judah ha-Marsili’s fourteenth-century Hebrew translation of Averroës’ commentary on the Republic, which in the fifteenth century was translated into Latin by the Jewish teacher of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Elijah ben

Moses del Medigo (ca. 1460-1497), and is preserved in Siena (Biblioteca Comunale, MS G.VII.32, fols. 158-188).

Plato in the Latin West It was within Latin Christianity, the last of the three medieval traditions to reach philosophical maturity, that the future of Platonic studies and the Platonic tradition lay. The Latin West had initially the smallest firsthand knowledge of Plato. The only dialogue it possessed until the twelfth century was the first third of the Timaeus, translated in late ancient times by Calcidius (or Chalcidius) and provided by him with a commentary whose philosophical character was highly eclectic. In the mid twelfth century (between 1154 and 1160), Henricus Aristippus, archdeacon of Catania under William I of Sicily (d. 1166), translated the Meno and the Phaedo, and in the later thirteenth century (between 1274 and 1286) the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (ca. 1215-1286) translated, at the request of Thomas Aquinas, Proclus’ commentary on the Parmenides, which included a substantial part of the dialogue itself. But the ad verbum technique employed by both translators rendered much of these versions obscure and thus limited their impact on medieval thinkers. It was chiefly the Timaeus, with Calcidius’ commentary, that represented Plato’s thought to the medieval Latin West; it has survived in over 180 manuscripts and was glossed and commented upon dozens of times between the late eleventh and the fifteenth centuries, though only a handful of these glosses have seen print. The portion of the Timaeus translated by Cicero under the title De mundo does not appear to have been the object of study or glossing before the late fifteenth century.

For the rest, Plato’s writings and opinions were preserved in testimonia and summaries contained in the writings of ancient Latin authors, particularly Cicero, Seneca, Apuleius, Macrobius, St. Augustine, and Martianus Capella. In late antiquity there was also translated into Latin a Middle Platonic summary of Plato’s dialogues, called by Raymond Klibansky the Summarium librorum Platonis, but whose correct medieval title was De Platonis pluribus libris compendiosa expositio. This unpublished work had some circulation and was apparently known to Albertus Magnus (ca. 1200-1280) and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). Boethius among other quotations reports the teaching of the Timaeus in metrum 9 of book III in his De consolatione Philosophiae, a poem that was commented upon frequently throughout the Middle Ages. Porphyry in his Isagoge and the Pseudo-Dionysius, translated respectively in the sixth and ninth centuries, gave accounts of a number of Plato’s doctrines, albeit in Neoplatonic dress. The great wave of Aristotelian translations in the thirteenth century further increased the West’s knowledge of the dialogues, for Nemesius, Themistius (both fourth century), Proclus (d. 485), Simplicius (fl. early sixth century), Avicenna, and Averroës between them provided a copious store of Platonic testimonia. Most important of all, ironically enough, was Aristotle himself, who in many of his works, especially the Metaphysics, Ethics, Politics, and De anima, gives Plato’s views on a given question (however tendentiously), thus supplying the matter for a revival within Latin Scholasticism of the ancient tradition of the comparatio, or comparison, of Plato and Aristotle. The net effect of this profusion of texts was, as might be expected, considerable confusion. Unlike the situation in Byzantium and Islam, where the Neoplatonic interpretation of Plato reigned relatively undisturbed, in the West Plato’s thought was

presented by Academic skeptics, Stoics, Aristotelians, and eclectics as well as Neoplatonists. In the books of auctoritates there thus appeared many doctrines ascribed to Plato that a modern scholar would have great difficulty in recognizing as Platonic. In some few cases this was a fructuosa confusio which allowed men of learning and philosophical penetration, such as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus, to develop a fairly sophisticated grasp of Plato’s doctrines concerning the forms, participation, the soul, and the process of cognition. But for most medieval thinkers, if the philosophy of Plato meant anything coherent at all, it meant the natural philosophy and cosmology of the Timaeus. It was the Timaeus, certainly, that engaged the attention of early medieval students of Plato. John Scotus Eriugena in the ninth century was familiar with the dialogue, and through it scholars of the tenth and eleventh centuries were able to recognize the philosophical paternity of Boethius’ Consolatio (III, 9), thus giving rise to a lively debate whether the latter was in his Consolatio writing as a Christian Platonist or as a Platonist simpliciter. This controversy was, however, largely a mask for a more fundamental debate on the value of secular learning. In it, Plato became the symbol of secular learning (or “philosophy”), just as Aristotle was to become in the thirteenth century. Bovo II of Corvey (d. 916) regarded the Consolatio as a work of pagan philosophy, and hence as a book to be studied with caution, if at all; yet, like Augustine, he would take the trouble for apologetic purposes at least to attempt to understand its doctrines and identify its errors. A more positive attitude is represented by Adalbold of Utrecht (d. 1026), who regarded Boethius as a Christian philosopher and Platonism as a kind of secondary source of divine wisdom. Of yet greater interest is a controversy with

political overtones in the late eleventh century (ca. 1085), this time between the Gregorian Manegold of Lautenbach and Wolfheim of Cologne, a Benedictine who was at once an opponent of Gregory VII and (through Boethius) a sectator Platonis. Wolfheim’s uncritical acceptance of heretical Platonic doctrines, says Manegold, has led to his refusal to obey the will of God in political matters, and to his belief that “we have no pontiff but Caesar.” Manegold admits that the Fathers did well to take over certain Platonic ethical doctrines, but he rejects the cosmological speculations of the early medieval schools as representing a dangerous challenge to the truths revealed in Genesis. It was in this heated polemical atmosphere that the Platonist masters of the cathedral schools of northern France set about their mission in the early twelfth century of reconciling the cosmology of Plato with the doctrines of Genesis. To counter the hostility exhibited in some quarters to pagan philosophy, they had recourse to the Christian Platonism of the Greek Fathers, which they had probably absorbed via Scotus Eriugena. Nature, and all objects presented to man’s senses and reason, they argued, are sources of divine light provided by God to pagan and Christian alike – inferior, no doubt, to Scripture, yet useful for bringing pagans to Christian truth and for enlarging the Christian’s knowledge of divine wisdom. Since all nature was modeled on Ideas contained within the mind of God, which were engendered in matter (hyle, materia, silva) by his Word (identified with Christ), a knowledge of creation will lead ultimately to a knowledge of the mind of the Creator. With this conviction, and with a new and broader literary culture, the Platonists associated with Chartres and other cathedral schools of northern France developed in

the course of the twelfth century an important body of commentaries and glosses on the Timaeus (mostly unpublished), which drew upon an ever-wider range of sources in the effort to fathom Plato’s thought, and especially upon Boethius, Macrobius, Apuleius, and Seneca. Although the chief goal of these works was to reconcile the Platonic and biblical accounts of creation, so that they were oriented primarily towards questions of physics and cosmology, the commentary form allowed digression into such diverse areas as medicine, politics, number theory, optics, and music. This is a progressive movement. While in Bernard of Chartres’s (d. ca. 1130) recently-identified commentary on the Timaeus the concerns remained primarily moral and theological, by the time of William of Conches (d. ca. 1154), the text of the Timaeus had become the focus of the entire range of early twelfth-century learning. The study of the Timaeus and other Platonic texts moreover gave rise for the first time in the Latin West to a large and independent body of Platonic literature, such as Thierry of Chartres’ (fl. 1121-1148) and Clarembald of Arras’ (d. ca. 1187) treatises on Genesis. Bernard Silvesters’ (fl. 11410ca. 1160) visionary dialogue, the Cosmographia, modeled on Boethius and Martianus Capella, gave literary expression to the Chartrean vision of God’s glory reflected in the order of nature. The most interesting of the group from the philosophical point of view was Gilbert of Poitiers (Gilbert de la Porrée, ca. 1076-1154), whom tienne Gilson credits with having encouraged “the diffusion of that particular form of Platonism we might call the realism of essences,” a form of Platonism that was to culminate in the metaphysics of Duns Scotus. The later twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the universities mature into the leading centers of learning; they saw a movement away from the literary concerns of the

twelfth-century masters, and the various branches of learning transformed into welldefined and ordered bodies of scientific knowledge, fully synthesized with Christian theology. Contact with Islam and heretical sects imparted a new apologetical direction to university studies, especially in the new preaching orders. All these changes were inimical to the study of Plato’s works, with their literary dress, dialogic uncertainties, and suspect doctrine. The works of Aristotle, now translated in great numbers, satisfied much better the new orientation of medieval learning: they had encyclopedic range, apparent scientific certainty, and a textbook approach ideal for university teaching. Moreover, their doctrine, if no less heretical in places than Plato’s, had had many of its blemishes disguised or excused by the Islamic commentaries that were translated at about the same time: hence, the Aristotelian revolution of the later twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and the consequent eclipse of Plato. Yet, though no longer the leading auctor in philosophy, Plato continued to be studied. The Timaeus was still copied and glossed, and remained an important authority in cosmology, physics, mathematics, and optics. The new translations of Aristotle and his commentators cast more light on Plato’s metaphysical, psychological, and political doctrines. Plato’s theory of forms and his notion of being exercised some influence (mostly indirectly) on realist metaphysicians; his psychology and cosmology were still adhered to by Albertus Magnus and his Rhenish disciples when the rest of the intellectual globe had turned to Aristotle; his doctrine of participation figured in Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on metaphysics and natural law. Plato’s political views, on the other hand, known chiefly through Aristotle’s inaccurate report of them in Politics II, were routinely condemned as impracticable and perverse. In the later thirteenth and

fourteenth centuries, though the so-called “light-metaphysics” of the Neoplatonists enjoyed a renewed vogue, the study of Plato remained restricted to a few scholars, such as Henry of Ghent (d. 1397), Henry Bate of Malines, and Petrarch. In the theological faculties of the universities the doctors had taken warning from the condemnation of 1277 and had begun to dissociate themselves from the thirteenth-century program of reconciling theology and philosophy. In the arts faculties, philosophical studies were concentrated upon logic, physics, and moral philosophy, and in all of these disciplines Aristotle was taken as the authority par excellence, although there are some signs that the Timaeus was occasionally used as a text in physics. Petrarch summed up the situation as he saw it in his well-known dictum, “A pluribus Aristoteles, a majoribus Plato laudatus est” (More men praise Aristotle; better ones, Plato).

The Italian Humanists and the Revival of Christian Platonism The revival of Platonic study in the West had to await the fifteenth century and the first generation of Italian humanists instructed in Greek. A new wave of Latin versions then appeared, this time translated into readable literary prose, often with bowdlerizations and Christianizations of passages the humanists thought inappropriate. The migré Greek Manuel Chrysoloras translated the Republic with his student Uberto Decembrio around 1402; this translation was thoroughly revised in the late 1430s by Uberto’s son Pier Candido, who also translated the Lysis (1456). Another student of Chrysoloras, Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), translated the Phaedo (1405), Letters (1411), part of the Phaedrus (1424), the Crito and the Apology (in two redactions, both before 1427), and a speech from the Symposium (c. 1435). During the 1430s Francesco Filelfo translated

three of the Letters and the Euthyphro. At mid-century George of Trebizond (Georgius Trapezuntius), despite his anti-Platonic prejudices; translated the Parmenides for Nicholas of Cusa (1459) and the Laws for the Senate of Venice (1450/1451). Perhaps the most popular dialogue was the pseudo-Platonic Axiochus, which was put into Latin by four different translators and had a wide circulation. The translation activity of the fifteenth century culminated in the work of Marsilio Ficino, who published the first complete translation of the nine tetralogies in 1484; this version became the most important channel of Plato’s thought to early modern Europe. Despite this extraordinary burst of translations, Plato did not succeed in reentering the universities during the fifteenth century. Platonism and the study of Plato flourished, to be sure, but outside the universities, among the educated gentlemen who formed the audience of the humanists, and in the courts of popes and princes. The early humanists had themselves no very profound understanding of Platonic philosophy and were chiefly interested in Plato as an example of one of their favorite themes (borrowed from their Byzantine teachers), the necessity of joining wisdom with eloquence. Then, too, they sought to use Plato in the defense of the studia humanitatis against the philistines by showing how his philosophical arguments strengthened Christian beliefs in such doctrines as the immortality of the soul and rewards and punishments after death. But the dialogic form of Plato’s works presented them with severe difficulties when it came to the task of interpreting Plato’s philosophy, and Bruni, Guarino, and Uberto Decembrio at least, like John of Salisbury and Petrarch earlier, tended consequently to embrace the easier Academic interpretation of Plato found in Cicero and in Augustine’s Contra academicos.

The revival of Christian Platonism as a real philosophical alternative came in the mid- and late fifteenth century with Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Cardinal Bessarion (ca. 1403-1472), Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). Nicholas of Cusa possessed and annotated copies of most of the medieval and humanistic translations of Plato, and though he wrote no study of Plato himself, he did much to spread Platonic thought in Italy and Germany by means of the original blend of mystical and Neoplatonic elements in his own philosophical works. The PlatoAristotle controversy of mid century, incited by Georgios Gemistos Plethon and continued by both Greek and Latin scholars, was a channel for the introduction to the West of the Byzantine study and interpretation of Plato; the two major works it produced, George of Trebizond’s Comparatio Platonis et Aristotelis (1458) and Bessarion’s In calumniatorem Platonis (1469), began the Renaissance tradition of comparing or synthesizing Plato and Aristotle which was to reach its peak in the sixteenth century. Bessarion was moreover responsible for the preservation of much of ancient Platonic philosophy through the donation of his large collection of Greek books to the city of Venice, a gift which became the nucleus of the present-day Biblioteca Marciana. There is, however, little doubt that the greatest contribution to Platonic study in the fifteenth century was made by Marsilio Ficino, who in addition to his own original synthesis of Christianity and Platonism translated the entire corpus of Plato’s dialogues into Latin and provided with them lengthy commentaries and arguments explaining the text. In these commentaries a Christian Neoplatonic interpretation of Plato predominated, but he exploited other sources as well, as in his Compendium in

Timaeum, which draws some of its material from the medieval glossary tradition of the dialogue. Ficino also translated Plotinus (1492) and several Neoplatonic commentaries on Plato. These translations were extremely influential; they were reprinted many times and successfully ousted their rival versions for several centuries. Ficino also exercised a personal influence as the leader of a circle of philosophers, theologians, doctors, and gentlemen scholars interested in the study of Platonic thought; through visitors to Florence and through his correspondence, Ficino was able to spread his revived Christian Platonism throughout Europe. Thus it was Ficino’s work, built upon centuries of medieval thought and learning, that presented Plato and Platonism to the modern world.

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY IN ENGLISH General works Arthur Hilary ARMSTRONG, ed., The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, Cambridge 1967, repr. with corrections 1970; Stephen GERSH, Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism: the Latin Tradition, 2 vols., Notre Dame (Indiana) 1986; Raymond KLIBANSKY, The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition During the Middle Ages, Oxford 1939; repr. with supplement, Munich 1981; James HANKINS, Plato in the Italian Renaissance, 2 vols., London—Leiden 1990.

Plato in the Byzantine world Lowell CLUCAS, The Trial of John Italos and the Crisis of Intellectual Values in Byzantium in the Eleventh Century, Munich 1981; Paul Oskar KRISTELLER, Byzantine and Western Platonism in the Fifteenth Century, in his Renaissance Thought and Its Sources, New York 1979, pp. 150-163; Leendert Gerrit WESTERINK, Texts and Studies in Neoplatonism and Byzantine Literature, Amsterdam 1980; Christopher Montague WOODHOUSE, George Gemistos Plethon, the Last of the Hellenes, Oxford 1986. Plato in the Arab world. Alexander ALTMANN, ed., Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1967; Muhsin MAHDI, tr., Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, rev. ed., Ithaca (New York) 1969; Franz ROSENTHAL, On the Knowledge of Plato’s Philosophy in the Islamic World, in , XIV, 1940; Richard WALZER, Platonism in Islamic Philosophy, in his Greek into Arabic. Essays on Islamic Philosophy, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1962, pp. 236-252.

Plato in the Latin West Michael J. B. ALLEN, The Platonism of Marsilio Ficino: A Study of His “Phaedrus” Commentary, Its Sources and Genesis, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1984; F. Edward CRANZ, The Transmutation of Platonism in the development of Nicolaus Cusanus and of Martin Luther, in Nicolò Cusano agli inizi del mondo moderno Florence 1970, pp. 73-102, reprinted in CRANZ’s Nicholas of Cusa and the Renaissance, ed. Thomas M. Izbicki and Gerald Christianson, Aldershot 2000, pp. 169-193; Peter DRONKE, Fabula: Explorations into the Uses of Myth in Medieval Platonism, Leiden 1974; The “Glosae super Platonem” of Bernard of Chartres, ed. Paul Edward DUTTON, Toronto 1991; Leopold GAUL, Alberts des Grossen Verhaltnis zu Plato, M nster 1913; Margaret GIBSON, The Study of the Timaeus in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, , XXV, 1969; Nikolaus M. HRING, Chartres and Paris Revisited, in Essays in Honour of Anton Charles Pegis, ed. J. Reginald O’Donnell, Toronto 1974; Robert John HENLE, Saint Thomas and Platonism, The Hague 1956; Édouard JEAUNEAU, "Lectio philosophorum": Recherches sur l’école de Chartres, Amsterdam 1973; Raymond KLIBANSKY, The School of Chartres, in Twelfth-century Europe and the Foundations of Modern Society, ed. M. Clagett, G. Post and R. Reynolds, 1961, repr. 1966, idem, Plato’s Parmenides in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in , I, ii, 1943; Paul Oskar KRISTELLER, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, New York 1943, repr. Gloucester (Massachusetts) 1964; idem, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, Rome 1956, and idem, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and The Arts, New York 1965; Stephan KUTTNER, Gratian and Plato, in Church and Government in the Middle Ages, ed. C. N. L. Brooke et al., Cambridge 1976, pp. 93-118, reprinted in KUTTNER, The History of Ideas and Doctrines of Canon Law in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed., Brookfield (Vermont) 1980; Arthur LITTLE, S. J., The Platonic Heritage of Thomism, Dublin 1949; Edward Patrick MAHONEY, Metaphysical Foundations of the Hierarchy of Being According to Some Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophers, in Philosophies of Existence, Ancient and Modern, ed. Parviz Morewedge, New York 1982, pp. 165-257; John MONFASANI, George of Trebizond. A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and Logic, LeidenLondon 1976; Richard W. SOUTHERN, Humanism and the School of Chartres, in his

Medieval Humanism and Other Studies, New York 1970, pp. 61-85, and idem, The Schools of Paris and the School of Chartres, in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, ed. Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1982, pp. 173-200; idem, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, Oxford 1995; Eugène N. TIGERSTEDT, The Decline and Fall of the Neoplatonic Interpretation of Plato, Helsinki 1974; Winthrop WETHERBEE, Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century: The Literary Influence of the School of Chartres, Princeton 1972.


[See article VIII, below.]

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