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  • Platon: Meisterdenker der Antike by Thomas Alexander Szlezák
  • Rafael Ferber
Thomas Alexander Szlezák. Platon: Meisterdenker der Antike. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2021. Pp. 779. Hardback, €38.00.

Since 1976, when Thomas A. Szlezák held his inaugural lecture as a private lecturer (Privatdozent) at the University of Zurich entitled "The Dialogue Form and Esotericism: On the Interpretation of the Platonic Dialogue the Phaedrus" ("Dialogform und Esoterik. Zur Deutung des platonischen Dialogs Phaidros"), the now-emeritus professor at Tübingen has advocated a particular interpretation of the Platonic dialogues and especially of the Phaedrus: namely, that what is referred to in the latter dialogue—without further explanation—as "more valuable" (timiôtera) than what is set down in writing corresponds to Plato's "so called unwritten doctrines" (Aristotle, Physics IV.2, 209b14–15), or for Szlezák, "unwritten positions ascribed" (116–17) to Plato. This expression 'more valuable' does not merely refer to occasional oral help provided by the author in order to better understand his writings, but rather to those Platonic views that were transmitted in unwritten form, whose contents go beyond what is found in the written Corpus Platonicum and that specifically concern the principles of his philosophy. Having collected a large portion of his scholarly output in his Essays on Greek Literature and Philosophy (Aufsätze zur griechischen Literatur und Philosophie [Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag, 2019]), Szlezák now presents here a "summa" of his research in three parts for a broader public: (1) Life, (2) Works, and (3) Plato's Thought. Additionally, there are two appendices: one on the Seventh Letter and another dedicated to the concepts of irony and register.

In the first part of the book, Szlezák claims, among other things, that the "unforgettable" Socrates, as we know him from the early and middle dialogues, is a "creation of Plato" (43). Szlezák rightly notes that Socrates understood his philosophical activity—that is, his activity of "examining himself and others" (Apology 28e5–6)—as a service to the God (Apology 23c1), and that Plato's Apology was not written immediately after Socrates's trial in 399 BC, but "years later," as Nietzsche had already concluded ("The Apology is such a masterpiece, that it can only be attributed to a fully mature author" [Lecture Notes, WS 1874/75–WS 1878/79, History of Greek Literature I and II, in Nietzsche Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), II-5:196–97]). Szlezák sees the Platonic Academy as a cross between a private university and a life community oriented toward free research. Plato's three Sicilian voyages are recounted at length, along with his relationship to Dion, who was "the great love of Plato's life" (84).

In the second part of the book, Szlezák emphasises that "everything that Plato published" was "preserved for posterity" (95). However, Plato should not be understood solely on the basis of his written publications, but also on the basis of the "unwritten positions ascribed" (116) to him. In an extended interpretation of the Seventh Letter, whose authenticity according to Szlezák can be assumed in the absence of proof to the contrary, Szlezák interprets the famous claim that what Plato is seriously concerned with is not sayable, unlike other doctrines, in a twofold sense: on the one hand, the "transmission of the spark" (187) is not sayable; on the other hand, the "dialectical thought-processes leading to the illumination of understanding" (187) should not be communicated (in writing), because they would then also be accessible to readers who have neither the character traits nor the intellectual capacities necessary to understand them. [End Page 687]

In the book's voluminous third part, Szlezák provides specific interpretations of Plato's metaphilosophy, anthropology, theory of the soul, ethics, politics, cosmology, discovery of the Forms, and theory of principles, and, finally, of Plato's views of myths, religion, gods, and the "God." In doing so, Szlezák draws attention to the so-called "passages of omission" (Aussparungstellen) (198–200, 210–17, 242–44 passim), which point toward the "unwritten positions ascribed" to Plato; he provides an imposing overview of Plato's thought; and he...