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Reviewed by:
  • Platon, Alcibiade, and: Plato: Alcibiades
  • Gábor Betegh
Jean-François Pradeau (ed.) and Chantal Marboeuf (tr.). Platon, Alcibiade. Paris: Flammarion, 1999. Pp. 243. €6.60 (pb.). ISBN 2-08070988-7.
Nicholas Denyer (ed.). Plato: Alcibiades. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xi, 245. $64.95 (hb.). ISBN 0-521-63281-1; $22.95 (pb.). ISBN 0-521-63414-8.

Two editions of Alcibiades 1 (henceforth simply Alcibiades) were published recently. First came the French translation by Chantal Marboeuf and Jean-François Pradeau with Pradeau's introduction and notes in the GF Flammarion Plato series, then Nicholas Denyer's edition of the Greek text with introduction and commentary in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series (the "Green and Yellow" series).

The first notable agreement is in the respective titles: no square brackets, no question marks, no "pseudo-" tags attached to the name of Plato. That is, both Pradeau and Denyer treat the dialogue as authentic.1 As a starting point, both refer to the ancient tradition that not only treated the Alcibiades as genuine, but also as the most useful introduction to the philosophy of Plato. Pradeau and Denyer agree also that most of the arguments that have been raised against the authenticity of the dialogue ever since Schleiermacher do not even merit serious consideration.

Pradeau and Denyer also agree that the most obstinate task for any defender of the authenticity of the Alcibiades is to find a proper place for it in Plato's oeuvre. The source of the trouble is that the dialogue shows stylistic, formal, and to some extent philosophical features characteristic of all three periods of the standard Platonic chronology. Pradeau and Denyer handle this difficulty differently. According to Pradeau, the dialogue's main interest—i.e., the relationship among psychology, ethics, and politics—safely places it in the Charmides–Meno–Euthydemus–Gorgias–Republic series, within which the Gorgias is its closest relative in both date and inspiration. This solution, however, does not seem to account for the presence of some features of Plato's late period emphasized by Denyer (Pradeau includes a very useful appendix summarizing the different views on the authorship and date of the Alcibiades from Schleiermacher to Hutchinson.)

Denyer's argument about the dating is more intricate. Indeed, eleven pages of his twenty-seven-page introduction deal with this question. For Denyer, the discussion of the authenticity and dating of the Alcibiades is also a test case for some major issues in current Platonic scholarship. He presents, for instance, a concise but powerful argument about the serious limitations of the stylometric method. He then submits that the stylistic and philosophical differences among the three clusters of dialogues traditionally termed "early," "middle," and "late" are real. He stresses, however, that the linear developmentalist model is not the best explanation for these differences. The three clusters do not correspond to three chronologically [End Page 185] distinct phases of Plato's oeuvre and are not separated water-tightly, for Plato could consciously move back and forth between the different dialogue types and write freely in the style of the different clusters. This model can still allow different explanations for the Alcibiades. Denyer takes the stance that the Alcibiades was written late in Plato's life and contains reflections on his disillusioning experiences of his third visit to Syracuse. According to Denyer, by using "early," "middle," and "late" features, Plato wanted to indicate the brisk intellectual progress Alcibiades made during his conversation with Socrates.

Although Denyer calls this solution "simple and obvious," I have some doubts. If this were the case, ancient readers of Plato entirely missed this point. They ignored the co-presence of the features of the three "clusters," corresponding to the three chronological phases of the modern developmentalist model, as indeed they ignored the three "clusters" altogether. Moreover, Plato can only expect this ingenious stylistic tool to work on someone who is not only able to perceive the shifting use of particles and other stylistic features in the course of this dialogue, but also has an interest in studying the entire Platonic corpus from this angle: to recognize clusters and connect the use of expressions with different clusters. But...


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