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Review of  Plato. Ion Or: On the Iliad

Reviewer: Anne Mahoney
Book Title: Plato. Ion Or: On the Iliad
Book Author: Albert Rijksbaron
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): None
Issue Number: 20.2179

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EDITOR: Rijksbaron, Albert
TITLE: Plato. Ion Or: On the Iliad
SERIES: Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology
YEAR: 2007

Anne Mahoney, Department of Classics, Tufts University

This book contains the Greek text of ''Ion'' with a commentary by Albert
Rijksbaron. Rijksbaron has established a new text for the dialogue, for reasons
he explains in his introduction, and has paid particular attention to
punctuation. In addition to introduction, text, and commentary, the book
contains three appendices, on the uses of the phrase ''ti/ de/,'' on the vocative,
and on whether a particular word is to be read as present tense or aorist. A
10-page bibliography, a subject index, and an index of Greek words round out the

In this review, I will encode Greek in beta-code, a widely-used standard for
representing the Greek alphabet without recourse to Unicode. Beta-code is
documented at

''Ion,'' one of Plato's shorter dialogues, is a discussion between Socrates and
Ion, a rhapsode, or performer of epic. Ion has just come from winning a
competition. He boasts that he knows all about everything, because Homer's poems
talk about every subject in the world. Naturally, Socrates can't let such a
claim stand. He begins to question Ion about this knowledge and how the poetry
contributes to it. By the end of the discussion, Socrates has demonstrated (to
his own satisfaction, at least) that Ion doesn't really know very much at all,
and certainly has gleaned no knowledge or skill from memorizing the ''Iliad.'' The
dialogue fits in with ''what may be called Plato's programme to show that
traditional poetry, being mimetic of the imperfect world as we know it, ...
should be rejected, and should not be admitted to a state if that state is to be
well governed'' (p. 13). Plato makes the case against poetry in other dialogues
as well, such as ''Republic'' and ''Phaedrus.'' ''Ion'' is a good introduction to the
argument because it is so short -- only 19 pages in this edition.

In his preface (p. ix), Rijksbaron says he has taught the dialogue for several
years, accumulating notes on it. When he decided to turn these notes into a
publishable commentary, he noticed a few problems with the text of the standard
editions (Burnet 1903, Meridier 1931), so he decided to establish a new text of
his own. In this text, ''the choice of one reading rather than another has been
determined as much as possible by a detailed linguistic analysis of the readings
concerned'' (p. x), and ''it will be seen that the commentary has a strong
linguistic orientation'' (p. x), not surprisingly given Rijksbaron's extensive
prior work on the linguistics of classical Greek.

Readers who are not classicists may be surprised at the attention given to
establishing the text -- don't we know what Plato wrote? Well, we do and we
don't. We no longer have Plato's autograph manuscripts, and for ''Ion'' as for
most classical texts we don't even have copies from near the time of
composition. There are sometimes fragments on papyrus from the classical period,
though not for ''Ion'' (p. 26). For this dialogue our sources are four medieval
manuscripts, copies of copies of copies (and so on) at several removes from the
original text. Authors later than Plato sometimes quote from ''Ion,'' too, giving
another witness to what Plato wrote. Editing a classical text involves comparing
all these sources. Where they all agree, they are probably correct; where they
disagree, the editor must determine which word, form, or punctuation is correct.
Sometimes even when all available sources agree they may still be wrong, all
reproducing a mistake from a copy of an earlier generation; editors must be
alert for these cases as well.

There are two main differences between Rijksbaron's editorial procedure and that
of previous editors of ''Ion.'' First, Rijksbaron uses a fourth manuscript that
19th- and 20th-century editors considered less important, though it had been
used earlier. He determines, based on looking at mistakes they do or do not have
in common, that this manuscript is not in fact a copy of one of the other three,
and therefore has independent value (p. 30-35).

Second, Rijksbaron uses his expertise as a linguist, and the advances in the
study of Greek over the last half century or so. In particular he is concerned
with the pragmatics of Greek, an approach that is only slowly coming into the
mainstream of classical studies. For example, the opening words of the dialogue,
spoken by Socrates, are ''to\n )/Iwna xai/rein.'' This roughly means ''Hello, Ion,''
but it's an odd form: we would expect ''xai=re, w)= )/Iwn.'' In the text, the verb
''xai/rein'' (''rejoice'') is present infinitive active, not imperative, so the name
appears in the accusative case (subject of the infinitive), not the vocative.
The name also has an associated definite article ''to\n.'' Both the form of the
verb and the use of the article are unusual, making the tone of the greeting
more like ''My respects to the illustrious Ion'' (Rijksbaron's translation, p.
95). Rijksbaron devotes six pages of the commentary (95-100) to this phrase,
considering Plato's use of the definite article with proper names, normally only
in reported dialogue to mark turn-taking (p. 95); how this phrase functions in
this text to signal the speakers' names for the reader (p. 97); whether or not
the infinitive phrase is elliptical, omitting a verb like ''I bid'' or ''I wish''
(p. 98); and typical phrases of greeting elsewhere in Plato (p. 99). He
concludes that Ion is an acquaintance of Socrates but not a close friend, and
that the apparent solemnity of the address is ironic (p. 99). Along the way he
observes that Plato's Socrates never uses the ordinary greeting ''xai=re'' (the
present imperative active of the same verb; p. 99), and that the article with
proper names is not common in Plato, although it is not abnormal Greek (p. 97).
This is far more information than other commentators give on this single phrase.
While it's obvious even to relative beginners in Greek that this phrase is
Socrates greeting Ion, Rijksbaron draws out the implications of the way the
greeting is phrased. Thus although the commentary is primarily linguistic,
interpretive issues are not neglected either.

The introduction is mainly technical, explaining and justifying the principles
by which Rijksbaron has edited the text. It is in five sections. The first,
entitled ''Dramatic date; date of composition; authenticity,'' gives the basic
background on ''Ion'' itself. Rijksbaron accepts the dialogue as authentic work of
Plato and argues that it was written around the same time as ''Republic'' and
''Phaedrus,'' based mainly on Plato's use of the technical vocabulary of poetry.

In the second section, ''Some comments: Plato and poetry,'' Rijksbaron argues that
the attitude of Socrates to poetry in this dialogue is consistent with what we
see elsewhere in Plato. ''There is, in fact, no room for a te/xnh poihtikh/ in
Plato, i.e. in the sense of 'art of poetry''' (p. 9), he argues; for Plato,
poetry is not a ''te/xnh'' or art, but a divine inspiration that the poet does not
control. This section supports the authenticity of the dialogue.

The third section of the introduction is ''Title(s); the names of the speakers.''
The main title of the dialogue is ''Ion,'' but there is also a traditional
sub-title or alternate title, ''On the Iliad.'' Most of the dialogues have second
titles, but they ''are almost universally rejected by Platonic scholarship'' (p.
15) in favor of the title from the name of the principal speaker other than
Socrates. In fact, as Rijksbaron observes, there is good manuscript support for
these alternate titles, and it is plausible that they go back to the fourth
century, possibly even to Plato himself (p. 18). Thus Rijksbaron entitles his
book ''Ion, Or: On the Iliad'' and prints both titles at the head of the dialogue.
He prints them as well at the end of the dialogue, where they would have
appeared in an ancient scroll.

The fourth section is ''The textual foundation of the present edition of the
'Ion.''' This is an extensive discussion of the manuscripts, the first printed
edition, early Latin translations, and quotations from the dialogue in other
authors. In the fifth section, ''Some editorial decisions underlying the text of
the 'Ion' in the present edition,'' Rijksbaron explains his choices about
spelling and punctuation. There are variant spellings for certain forms in
classical Greek, as a result of changes in the alphabet and in pronunciation
from the fifth century BC on. Rijksbaron attempts to determine the forms in use
in Plato's day, and consistently prints one spelling for each instance, even
when the manuscripts are not consistent.

The punctuation in our manuscripts cannot go back to Plato, since the signs in
use were not invented until decades or centuries after his death. Nonetheless,
the punctuation reflects editorial decisions by native speakers of Greek, closer
in time to Plato than we are and with access to other texts now lost to us. Thus
it may be useful for interpreting the text. Rijksbaron discusses the Byzantine
punctuation marks found in the manuscripts (p. 69-72) in the last part of the
introduction, then pays attention throughout the text to punctuation. Some
editors, particularly when producing a text for students, re-punctuate according
to the conventions of their own native languages; in this text, Rijksbaron uses
modern symbols (comma, period, question mark, and so on) instead of the high,
middle, and low dots of the Byzantine scribes, but generally follows those
scribes' choices about what is to be set off by punctuation.

The text follows the introduction, with a detailed apparatus criticus (the Latin
term for the report of variant readings). Then comes the commentary, 147 pages
long, or about 7 1/2 pages of notes for each page of text. The first appendix
considers the phrase ''ti/ de/,'' which could introduce a question, ''what about
...?'' with a following noun, or could be a question on its own, ''what then?'' The
manuscripts and modern editors treat it inconsistently, sometimes punctuating it
with the following noun and sometimes not. Rijksbaron argues that Plato
consistently uses the phrase in the first way, to mark a change in Topic, so it
should never be punctuated as a stand-alone question. The second appendix
considers Plato's use of direct address (in the vocative case in Greek); while
at the beginning of a dialogue it is probably for the reader's convenience, to
identify the characters, elsewhere it seems to appeal to the person being
addressed, commanding his attention (p. 107, 258). The third appendix looks at
the verb ''a)kroa=sqai,'' the present infinitive middle of ''a)kroa/omai,'' meaning
''listen to,'' as it is used at 530d9 in the dialogue. One family of manuscripts
has this reading, while the other has the aorist infinitive ''a)kroa/sasqai.''
Socrates is saying that he will make time to listen to Ion, and the question is
what aspect is appropriate for the verb form; since Plato does not use the
aorist infinitive of this verb anywhere else, and normally uses the present
infinitive in the phrase ''leisure to (do something)'' except when it is negated,
Rijksbaron prints the present form in the text.

It should be stated that the differences between this text and other editions
are fairly small, more often in punctuation than anything else. As far as I can
see, Rijksbaron proposes only two emendations of his own, at 535b1 and 540d1. In
the first passage, where editors generally read ''e)/xe dh/ moi to/de ei)pe/,''
following two of the manuscripts (with slightly different punctuation),
Rijksbaron proposes instead ''e)/xe dh/: to/de moi ei)pe/.'' Although both
versions mean something like ''Hold on, now, and tell me this,'' in the first
version the two imperative verbs ''e)/xe'' (''hold'') and ''ei)pe/'' (''tell'') seem to
be in the same clause, with no conjunction. Rijksbaron's version treats them as
different clauses, with asyndeton; the pronoun ''moi'' (''me,'' dative singular, an
enclitic form) should then be second in its own clause. Extensive parallels show
that Plato often uses ''e)/xe dh/'' in just this way.

Rijksbaron's other emendation, at 540d1, reads ''nh\ Di/a'' (''yes, by Zeus'')
instead of ''nh/'' alone in all the manuscripts. Most editors since Aldus Manutius
in 1513 have emended to ''nai/'' (''yes''), because ''nh/'' does not appear without
the name of a god in classical Greek (p. 221); Rijksbaron prefers the more
forceful ''yes, by Zeus'' to plain ''yes.''

This is a detailed, technical study of a single text. Although ''Ion'' is short
and straightforward, accessible to intermediate-level Greek students, this book
is certainly not suitable for that audience, who may not be ready to appreciate
the details. Rather, the ideal reader is interested in the pragmatics of Greek
prose, the history of Greek punctuation, Plato's style, or textual criticism
(the establishment of a text from its sources) -- preferably all of these. For
such a reader the book is fascinating.

First of all, it is a lovely case study on editorial method. Rijksbaron says at
the outset (p. 26) that, for him, '''establishing the text' does not amount to
establishing the text which Plato wrote,'' because this is all but impossible
given the editorial work of Alexandrian scholars and the state of our evidence.
Moreover, ''it presupposes the existence of a single fixed, definitive, text
written or dictated by Plato at a fixed point in time, while in reality 'the'
text must for a long time have been in a more or less constant flux, by
interventions of Plato himself and of his pupils and audience.'' (p. 27) This is
the philosophy of, for example, Jean Irigoin (1997, cited p. 26) as opposed to
the more positivist view of M. L. West (1973, cited p. 27). The best we can hope
for, according to this principle, is to produce ''a text which can be interpreted
in conformity with the linguistic rules, the genre conventions, the
philosophical, cultural and historical ideas, as well as the material
conditions, of the period as a whole in which the text was written and
published.'' (p. 28) While as a practical matter this probably is the best we can
do, I myself am not ready to give up the idea of the ''original'' text, from the
hand of its author. Nonetheless, Rijksbaron's principles are clearly stated and
consistently applied, making this book an excellent model of editorial method.

Next, Rijksbaron makes useful observations about grammar and style on nearly
every page of the commentary. Two threads running through the book are
punctuation and particles. As noted above, the most visible changes in this text
are in the punctuation, which is closer to that of the manuscripts and better
reflects the organization of the Greek sentences. As for particles, they are a
characteristic feature of classical Greek; nearly every sentence has one or more
discourse particles thrown in to color its meaning or to show its connection to
the rest of the text. The major study of the particles is Denniston (1954), a
significant achievement (''epoch-making'' according to Rijksbaron himself (1997,
p. 1)) and a book that every Hellenist uses; it would be useful, however, to
have a new study of particles using some of the tools, techniques, and
frameworks of the last 50 years of work in linguistics. Rijksbaron's footnotes
keep up a running argument with Denniston -- ''Denniston only discusses h)=, not
h)/, which is in fact one of the two major lacunas in the 'Greek Particles''' (p.
105 note 179); ''The essential feature that distinguishes mh/n from o)=un ... is
mentioned by him all right, but only in passing'' (p. 110 n. 191); ''Denniston is
not very informative on mh/n'' (p. 117 n. 197); there are many more examples.
Rijksbaron's index of Greek words includes some 16 particles and various
collocations of particles. His discussion is largely limited to Plato's use,
sensibly enough as going beyond that would probably have entailed re-writing all
of Denniston's 660 pages, but it is a good foundation for further work on the
particles from a modern perspective.

Rijksbaron is primarily concerned with language, not philosophy, in this
commentary. Readers looking for analysis of Plato's views on Homer may be
disappointed. Readers interested in Plato's style, however, or in the grammar,
pragmatics, or editing of classical Greek prose, surely will not be.

Burnet, J. 1903. _Platonis opera omnia_. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Denniston, J. D. 1954. _The Greek Particles_, second edition. Oxford: Clarendon

Irigoin, J. 1997. _Tradition et critique des textes grecs_. Paris: Les Belles

Meridier, L. 1931. _Platon, Oeuvres completes_, tome V.1. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Rijksbaron, A. (ed.). 1997. _New Approaches to Greek Particles_. Amsterdam: Brill.

West, M. L. 1973. _Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique_ Stuttgart: B.G.

Anne Mahoney teaches in the classics department at Tufts University. Her
research interests include Greek and Latin meter and poetics, Indo-European
linguistics, and language pedagogy.

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ISBN-13: 9789004163218
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