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  • The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary
  • Shawn Loht
Francesco Ademollo . The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xx + 538. Cloth, $140.00.

Filling a large gap in English-language Plato scholarship, this volume is the first dedicated book-length commentary on the Cratylus. No small feat, the work is the culmination of over a decade of the author's research investigating Plato's dialogue on language. This monograph will no doubt secure Ademollo's place as a top scholar in Plato studies and a leading expert on Plato's philosophy of language. [End Page 450]

With the main body of the text numbering nearly five hundred pages (some appendixes and significant back matter add to the length), this commentary functions as a highly compressed analytical reading of the Cratylus from start to finish. The work contains exhaustive scholarship engaging secondary sources and key issues related to the standard versions of the Greek text. Only the brief introductory chapter differs in this regard: this provides a very short overview of the dialogue by discussing its general questions, biographies of the principal characters, and some larger historical issues related to the dialogue's line of inquiry.

Ademollo demonstrates a masterful facility for dissecting Plato at a line-by-line, word-by-word level. He also gracefully incorporates thorough study of corresponding keywords and concepts elsewhere in Plato's work when there is a question of interpretation or translation choice. In general, despite its density, Ademollo's text is written in a lively and engaging style, with the best combination of critical reading and illuminating discussion.

With these considerations in view, readers of Plato looking for an authoritative study of the Cratylus may find Ademollo's text difficult to use depending on their needs. Insofar as the text gives a complete reading of the dialogue from beginning to end, those seeking a more general introduction to the Cratylus or its main themes likely will find this commentary's length somewhat overwhelming. For similar reasons, the commentary may be less accessible for those who wish to get a focused look at the dialogue's relevance for other works in Plato. Ademollo works from an approach that develops the dialogue's internal coherence rather than its continuity with the rest of Plato's corpus. Limited space is devoted to how the dialogue's themes relate to other key topics in Plato or to how the dialogue's overall messages fit into the larger contours of Plato's philosophy. When Ademollo does take up such broader issues, he is motivated primarily by exegetical purposes rather than by a wish to work out Plato's philosophical understanding of a given topic. On the whole, Ademollo's approach is a bit more philological in its scope than one might see in a more detached philosophical reading. The commentary does not advance a central philosophical argument or perspective, although many of the chapters are structured around their own arguments or leading questions.

The main body of the text consists of nine chapters, each of which is divided into several major sections and subsections that proceed through the dialogue stepwise, evaluating one passage at time. The chapters are organized according to the central movements of the dialogue: the dialogue's initial question regarding linguistic naturalism, Hermogenes's thesis for conventionalism, the dialogue's interlude on etymology, and so on. Ademollo's method of reading the dialogue is to present one small amount of text at a time—usually an individual argument—and then to analyze thoroughly all of the important issues it contains. It is here that Ademollo's commentary will be especially helpful for readers of the Cratylus if they seek an expert assessment of individual phrases and keywords in the dialogue or a deeper understanding of the minute turns in its argumentation. However, because the commentary's analyses of the dialogue's arguments often proceed slowly, unfolding over the course of several pages, one may still need to study an entire chapter or more in order to comprehend Ademollo's overall reading of specific passages.

Where this text shines on a philosophical level is in its very granular treatment...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 450-451
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-12
Open Access
No
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