'... largely fictions ...':
Aelius Aristides on Plato's
Narrative 1 (2000-2001), 32-54
This is the full text of the
original publication. The page numbers of the original are indicated
between square brackets. A PDF can be found here.
extant works of Aelius Aristides, there are three texts (orr. 2–4) that
answer the attack by Plato's Socrates, in the Gorgias,
on oratory and on the four leading statesmen of fifth-century Athens.
This paper focuses on the constant harping on the
fictional nature of Plato's dialogues
these so-called Platonic orations, a portion of the argument
is epitomized in the characterization of the dialogues as 'largely
fictions' (or. 3,586). The paper tries
to locate Aristides'
observations on this issue within the tradition of
anti-Platonic polemic, to determine their
theorizing on the dialogue form among early-imperial
and to elucidate the functions of this line of reasoning in Aristides'
apologetic strategy. It argues that, for
the dialogues as fictional compositions amounts to
the dialogue form as a pretence. In addition to clearing the way for
his own apologetic project
and to alerting his audience to the
persuasive force of Plato's use of the dialogue form, Aristides thus
sharpens the contrast between his own way of handling
with Plato and the philosopher's polemical methods.
observation that Plato's dialogues are fictional compositions rather
records of actual conversations will come as no shock to students of
Greek literature, history, or philosophy.
In fact, the characterization
dialogues implied in this observation seems to be generally accepted
classical scholars. This consensus is exemplified by the fact
monographs published during the last decade of the twentieth century,
proposing widely diverging views on the value of Plato's dialogues as
for Socrates' teaching, at least agree on their fictional nature: Socrates,
Ironist and Moral Philosopher by the late Gregory Vlastos
Charles Kahn's Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The
Philosophical Use of a
Literary Form (1996). Kahn, who rejects the notion of a
Socratic period in
Plato's oeuvre and who regards the early and middle dialogues as
than stages in 'the gradual unfolding of a literary plan for presenting
philosophical views to the general public',
unsurprisingly underlines the fictionality of the Socratic dialogue as
a genre. According to Kahn, Plato's dialogues are exceptional in this
only as far as their effectiveness in conveying the illusion
is concerned: the 'realistic' historical dialogue created by the
philosopher is 'a work of imagination designed to give the impression
record of actual events, like a good historical novel'.
But Vlastos, who thought it possible to distil the philosophy of the
historical Socrates from the early dialogues, did not deny the
of these texts either; what we are able to reconstruct on the basis of
early dialogues is, Vlastos held, 'the philosophy  (...) of the
Socrates, recreated by Plato in invented conversations which explore
content and exhibit its method'.
While the fictional nature of
Plato's dialogues seems to be beyond discussion, the value of part of
texts as evidence for Socrates' philosophy thus remains controversial.
addition, the serviceability of the dialogues as evidence for the views
the author himself is the subject of a lively debate. Many Platonic
nowadays are inclined to favour a non-dogmatic interpretation of the
their approach is characterized not just by a readiness to appreciate
significance of Plato's preference for the dialogue form but by an
refusal to treat Socrates or any other prominent character in a given
as the philosopher's spokesman. In other
words, the dialogues may be fictions but the dialogue form
is not. In a fairly recent debate on the Gorgias,
Barber described the mood of Plato's dialogues as 'monophony
polyphony', and this rather unfashionable reading
may serve to demonstrate that
consensus on this issue is not imminent.
The present author is qualified
neither to embark upon a discussion of the historical Socrates nor to
participate in a debate about the interpretation of Plato's oeuvre.
this contribution will deal with the observations made by the
Greek orator Aelius Aristides, in his so-called Platonic orations, on
fictional nature of Plato's dialogues and on the philosopher's use of
dialogue form. My aim is to elucidate the functions of these
Aristides' apologetic strategy, to locate them within the tradition of
anti-Platonic polemic in Antiquity, and to determine their
ancient theorizing on the dialogue form. In other words, this paper
the perception of fictionality in Plato's dialogues by an ancient
observer, as well
as on the concepts employed by him in this context.
This is not a wholly unnecessary
undertaking. Whereas we, as moderns, may follow Arnoldo Momigliano in
appreciating the fact that 'the Socratics moved to that zone between
fiction that is so bewildering to the professional historian',
the mental capability or intellectual readiness of the ancients to do
so is still contested. In a contribution to a recent collection of 
Dio of Prusa, Aldo Brancacci maintains that the ancients usually failed
distinguish the historical Socrates from the protagonist of Socratic
distinction between a "historic" Socrates and a "literary"
one, which for moderns represents a difficult historiographic problem,
present only in episodic and exceptional form in ancient literature.
the present inquiry succeeds in questioning the validity of this
will have served at least one useful purpose. Moreover, it is hoped
investigation into this line of reasoning in Aristides' Platonic
further our understanding of these curious texts, which together form
'un document sans équivalent dans la
littérature conservée' and which are
so characteristic of their author and of his
socio-political and cultural milieu.
In order to attain this twofold
aim, I shall first introduce Aristides' Platonic orations and briefly
matters of dating. This introductory section is followed by a
discussion of the
apologetic strategy employed by Aristides in his debate with Plato. As
orator's observations on the fictional character of Plato's dialogues
the philosopher's use of the dialogue form are inextricably linked with
strategy, this discussion is a necessary preliminary to the survey and
of these observations presented in the next section. Subsequently, we
to possible sources of inspiration for Aristides' characterization of
dialogues as fictional compositions: the tradition of anti-Platonic
theorizing on the dialogue form among contemporary Platonists.
the extant works of Aelius Aristides, there are three texts in which
Antonine orator makes a stand against the attack by Plato's Socrates,
in the Gorgias,
on oratory and on the four leading statesmen of fifth-century Athens:
Miltiades, Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles. In the edition by Charles
these are the second, third, and
fourth orations: To Plato: In
Defence of Oratory, To Plato: In Defence of the Four,
and To Capito
respectively. The titles of the second and third orations speak for
themselves; the fourth oration is, in fact, a letter addressed to an
Plato who had taken offence at the way in which Aristides had dealt
philosopher's Sicilian adventures in To Plato:
In Defence of Oratory. To
Capito is, therefore, later than In Defence of
Oratory, and as
Aristides' letter adumbrates a large portion of the argument of In
of the Four, it is
presumably earlier than the latter work. Capito was probably a
citizen of Pergamum, where
Aristides resided from 145 to 147 in the sanctuary of Asclepius.
attempted to fix exact
dates on these orations, assigning In Defence of Oratory
Capito to the years in Pergamum and In Defence of
the Four to the
early 160s. His propositions have not met with
general assent. David Sohlberg has
expressed his disinclination to believe that In Defence of
composed almost two decades before In Defence of the Four,
while Laurent Pernot has labelled Behr's dating of the latter oration
responding to Sohlberg's criticism, Behr appealed to 'the
of Aristides writing II, IV, and then III with little time
intervening'. At first
sight, the sheer scale of the Platonic orations — more than
400 pages in Behr's edition — lends a certain plausibility to this
It seems, however, inadvisable to underestimate Aristides' prolificacy.
Moreover, I think that rather than perusing the Platonic orations for
chronological indications, we should study these texts on the basis of
assumption that they are parts of an apologetic project that was
one entity. In doing so, we shall follow the lead of the author of a
of In Defence of the Four. This rhetorician —
Sopater according 
Friedrich Lenz —
characterizes the oration as a deuterologia, a
for the defence, thus
indicating that, in his opinion, In Defence of Oratory
In Defence of the Four should be considered parts of
a whole. The choice
of such a unitarian point of departure is justified to some extent by
that the line of reasoning on which this paper focuses can be found
the Platonic orations.
Hellenism without losing Plato
Plato was not an easy task; in fact, it placed Aristides in a
frightening proportions. The classical past of Hellas in general and of
in particular was of inestimable value for the Antonine
orator. It was
intellectual and emotional link with this past that constantly
self-confidence as a Greek living in a world dominated by
Rome. And it
oratory more than anything else that linked the contemporary Greek
the classical past and thus served as the medium par
excellence for the
continual reaffirmation of Hellenic identity. In short, for a
Greek gentleman and man of letters such as Aristides, the attack by
Socrates on oratory and on the four Athenian statesmen could never be a
of indifference given the importance of the classical heritage for his
the same time, Plato was also part and parcel of the
heritage, and the biting criticism of Athenian political discourse in
exemplified the contradictions within the classical tradition.
vindicating the victims of the attack by Plato's Socrates Aristides ran
risk of attacking a cultural icon and of undermining rather than
the integrity of Hellenism.
How does Aristides deal with this
dilemma? In the first place, a considerable portion of his arguments in
of oratory and of the four Athenians is borrowed from Plato's own
has scrutinized the philosopher's oeuvre for utterances which are at
the position in the Gorgias.
This part of his apologetic strategy permits the orator to present
as his strongest ally rather than his opponent.
By thus turning the plaintiff into a witness for the defence, Aristides
is able to refute the accusations against oratory and the four, while
same time maintaining that he does not mean to give offence to Plato
and to his
then could someone have good reason to be incensed with us when Plato
confirms the truth of what we say?
the second place, Aristides repeatedly goes out of his way to give
to his respect and admiration for Plato.
The philosopher is literally showered with compliments. The function
of this part of the orator's apologetic strategy is similar to that of
enlisting Plato as a witness for the defence. It can be illustrated by
passage from To Capito, where Aristides draws the
attention of the
addressee to the fact that, by taking offence at a small part of the
of In Defence of Oratory, the references to Plato's
Capito has failed to appreciate the introduction and the katastasis,
way in which Aristides has presented the facts of the case. Otherwise,
would not have missed the consideration and reverence that Aristides
for Plato. In other words, Aristides' foremost
aim in praising Plato was to avoid
being left empty-handed if confronted with the accusation that he had
the philosopher his due.
this velvet glove, however, there is an iron fist. Apart from some
compliments to Plato's knowledge of things human and divine,
Aristides' praise refers to the philosopher's literary genius: he
consistently extols Plato as 
an exceptionally gifted author or, in
words, as an orator. Already in
the proem to In Defence of Oratory, it is suggested
that the philosopher was not wholly averse to oratory.
Plato is hailed as 'greatest of the Greek tongues',
and accorded a place of honour in the chorus of Greek literature, an
accolade he earns by being 'closest to oratory'.
And in the peroration of the same oration, Aristides proclaims Plato
father and teacher of orators'. The
ultimate tribute, however, comes in the letter To Capito,
where the philosopher is ranked with Demosthenes as Aristides'
I certainly do not mean to
suggest that Aristides' admiration for Plato was insincere. The fact
dreamed about being placed on a par with Plato is sufficient proof to
the contrary: if
anywhere, it is in his craving for glory that we should
unhesitatingly trust Aristides. Nevertheless, in expressing
his esteem for the
philosopher in the Platonic orations, the Antonine orator had ulterior
As we have seen, praising Plato played a defensive role in his
strategy: it was
a way of anticipating the righteous anger of contemporary Platonists
might feel offended by Aristides' attempt to refute the Gorgias.
while allegedly meant to appease Plato's followers, Aristides'
Plato was likely to infuriate them, because it amounted to an attempt
appropriate the philosopher as a literary artist. Aristides must have
fully aware of this effect, and this gives his praise for Plato a
edge. This interpretation can be substantiated by a brief
the controversial nature of the literary appreciation of Plato's
oeuvre in the
second- and early third-century cultural scene.
Those who esteemed Plato
primarily as a philosopher were not always all that happy about their
philosophically-minded fellow-admirers. Aulus Gellius, for example,
how the Platonic philosopher Calvenus Taurus flew into a rage when
with a miscreant who read Plato's dialogues in order to improve his
style. The same deplorable habit is heavily
upon by Plutarch. Apparently,
the literary merit of Plato's work was a mixed blessing for
his philosophically-minded adherents. Calvenus Taurus teases those
his audience, whom he suspects of a primarily rhetorical interest,
grace and splendour of Plato's prose, but at the same time he warns
against an aesthetic appreciation of the dialogues.
If we can believe Isidorus of Pelusium, Plutarch went even further by
deploring the alleged impact of Gorgias on Plato's style; thus he
the fact that the philosopher's prose had lost the distinctive
of genuine Atticism, clarity and simplicity.
Plutarch's complaint reflects debates on the stylistic merits of
Plato's prose, as can be seen from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who
Plato of inappropriate 'Gorgianizing'.
Given that the literary
appreciation of Plato's dialogues was a potential embarrassment for
philosophically-minded devotees, it was to be expected that the
would seize the opportunity by making praise of Plato's literary merits
its polemic. This is what Philostratus does in
his letter to Julia Domna. The Severan
sophist gives Plutarch's criticism of Plato's style a
positive turn: if even the divine Plato emulated Gorgias, Hippias, and
Protagoras, it should be obvious that there is nothing wrong with the
This is the background against which we should read Aristides' praise
and I think that it is reasonable to conclude that the addressee of To
Capito must have been less than amused when he was offered,
in reply to his
objections, an encore of such double-edged compliments from In
far as the fictional nature of Plato's dialogues is concerned,
straight to the point. In the proem to In Defence of Oratory,
quoting the 
accusations against oratory made by Plato's Socrates in the
Gorgias, he claims
that Plato contrived a meeting between Socrates and Gorgias
at Athens (Γοργίου καὶ Σωκράτους ὑποθέμενος συνουσίαν Ἀθήνησι) in
order to make his over-contentious statements about oratory.
The use of the verb hypotithesthai does not
that the meeting is fictitious, but certainly strongly suggests so.
in her study on Literary and Rhetorical Theories in Greek
concludes from an analysis of the terms hypothesis
that these words do indicate that a poet 'occasionally deviates from
and reality if it suits him to do so'.
As far as Aristides' usage is concerned, it is relevant that he
employs the verb for Plato's presentation, in the Eighth
(355a-357d), of the by then dead Dio of Syracuse as a speaking person:
a textbook example of eidōlopoiia and, as such,
fictional device. Our
interpretation of the passage under discussion is supported by the
scholiast, who explains to the readers of In Defence of
Aristides meant to say: 'you invented the meeting in order to inveigh
The natural implication of
Aristides' assertion that the Gorgias is an account
of a fictional
meeting would be that the conversation between Socrates, Gorgias,
Callicles is also fictitious. For this obvious conclusion to be drawn,
we have to wait until the summary of the argument of In
Defence of the Four. In the
meantime, the orator limits himself to first insinuating and
then claiming that Plato's Socrates is the philosopher's mouthpiece —
which is, of course, central to his apologetic project.
That the Socrates of Plato's
dialogues is their author's spokesman is assumed rather than argued
Aristides quotes a statement by the Socrates of the Gorgias
order to elicit an answer from Plato to the question whether the
it is better to suffer than to do wrong entails the conclusion that
wronged is an experience to be welcomed (αἱρετόν). The statement is
introduced as follows:
Plato would answer us, it would be of great value for our argument. And
answer is at hand. How? In the way in which he has made Socrates
explicit formulation of the mouthpiece view is, however, preceded by a
subtle discussion of the protagonist of Socratic literature. Aristides
to the Alcibiades of Aeschines of Sphettos (fr. 11
Dittmar = fr. 53
Giannantoni 1990) in order to find support for his claim that denying
activity the status of a technē does not
necessarily imply a
depreciatory judgment. He justifies
the enlistment of Aeschines' help by pointing out that
Aeschines' writings have always been considered highly congenial and
to Socrates' character, a judgment that has even given rise to the
opinion that Aeschines' dialogues are Socrates' own writings.
But in spite of the fact that no writings of Socrates are extant,
Aristides continues, it is possible to make trustworthy statements
Such statements have to meet the criterion of unanimity among the
Thus, all Socrates' associates agree that he pleaded complete
he was nonetheless proclaimed the wisest of all men by the Pythia, and
received signs from his daimonion.
It is evident that the
introduction of the criterion of the consensus omnium
Socraticorum as a
touchstone for reliable statements about the historical Socrates is
very damaging to the trustworthiness of Plato's portrait of
Socrates. In the Defence
of Oratory, however, Aeschines' Socrates is not yet employed
Plato's Socrates. All that changes in the Defence of the Four,
orator contrasts with the disparagement of Themistocles in the Gorgias
laudatory statement on the Athenian statesman by Aeschines' Socrates,
in the Alcibiades
(fr. 8 Dittmar = fr. 50 Giannantoni
Unsurprisingly, Aristides holds that the view ascribed to Socrates by
Aeschines better fits the opinion of the historical Socrates than the
invectives of Plato's Socrates. What is interesting, however, is that
orator connects the lack of trustworthiness of Plato's portrait of
with the philosopher's superior literary talent.
While the less gifted
Aeschines is supposed to have limited himself to reporting what he had
or something very close to it, Plato's genius finds expression in his
to credit Socrates with views that he did not hold and with statements
issues in which he is agreed to have had no interest at all.
The link forged by Aristides between Plato's literary genius and the
fictional character of his portrait of Socrates underlines the
nature of his praise for Plato as a literary artist.
The contrast between Plato's and
Aeschines' Socrates is resumed in the part of In Defence of
the Four in
which Aristides summarizes his objections against the maltreatment of
fifth-century Athenian leaders in the Gorgias.
Again, the complimentary
statements about Themistocles by Aeschines' Socrates (fr. 7 Dittmar =
Giannantoni 1990) are favourably compared to a comment by Plato's
this case from the Alcibiades I (118b-c), on an
namely Pericles. And again,
acknowledgment of Plato's literary genius is very much a
part of the orator's polemic. In this case, however, Aristides does not
his remarks to Plato's Socrates, but broadens his argument to include
dialogues as such. For Aristides continues by pointing out that Plato's
superior talent finds expression in the majestic freedom that he
himself, and that this poetic licence is not just a matter of word
also applies to his handling of the subject-matter of his dialogues,
the hypotheseis. The
liberties taken by Plato with the historical facts are illustrated
by a discussion of the inconsistencies in the dramatic dates of the Menexenus
and the Symposium,
a line of reasoning that had already been introduced at the
end of To Capito.
In the Defence of the Four, the exposure of the
in the dramatic dates of the dialogues leads to the conclusion that the
dialogues are fictions, plasmata:
these incongruities result from the licence that is customary in the
For owing to the fact that they are all largely fictions and that one
liberty to construct the plot using any ingredient one chooses, these
such are not conspicuous for scrupulous preservation of the truth.
term plasma refers to the well-known tripartite
division of narrative
according to its truth-content in history, myth, and plasma.
This division goes back to the hellenistic period
and is reproduced by Sextus Empiricus, among others. Sextus defines plasma
as the narration of things that have not really happened but that are
as though they had. The
equivalent term in Latin sources is argumentum,
Cicero and the Rhetorica ad Herennium as ficta
res, qui tamen fieri
potuit. In other
words, the employment of the term plasma amounts
characterization of Plato's dialogues as realistic fiction. By now
has argued at length for the dialogues in general what had been
the Gorgias in the proem to In Defence of
Oratory: the meetings
between the interlocutors are fictitious.
Traditionally, the standard
examples of plasmata were comedy and mime.
Appreciation of the liberties taken by tragic poets in adapting their
traditional subject matter resulted in the addition of tragedy, and
entailed the introduction of the term dramatikon
an equivalent of plasmatikon diēgēma.
Interestingly, in the Defence of Oratory Aristides
calls Plato's dialogues dramata,
while the scholiast applauds the designation of the dialogues, in the Defence
of the Four, as plasmata, 'because they
It is certainly tempting to conjecture that in designating the
as dramata Aristides is already hinting at their
At any rate, in the Defence of
the Four the classification of the dialogues as plasmata
elaborated in an identification of the dialogues with comedy and
Aristides portrays Plato as a man who, despite his objections to
poetry, is full of comedy himself as well as a
tragic poet. Playing on the ambiguity of the verb
mimeisthai (meaning both 'to
imitate' and 'to represent'), Aristides accuses Plato of
because the philosopher does not heed his own warnings against dramatic
while you say that one should not imitate bad men and should not make
like one's inferiors, you yourself are not very consistent in following
precept, but you represent sophists, you represent sycophants, you
Thrasymachus who never blushed, doorkeepers, children, and countless
consequence of the characterization of the dialogues as dramatic poetry
such, works of fiction is spelled out when Aristides takes Plato to
the gratuitousness of his attack on the four Athenian statesmen. In the
orator's opinion, it would have been possible for the philosopher to
the argument without maligning them — just as comedy could do without
ridiculing people by name! The possible
objection that the names of Themistocles, Miltiades,
Cimon, and Pericles had been brought up by Callicles (Grg.
brushed aside as ludicrous:
who does not know that Socrates, Callicles, Gorgias, Polus, all of this
Plato, who turns the discussion in whatever direction suits him?
fact, Aristides claims, there was no Callicles to cause trouble for
Plato or to
prevent him from concluding the argument as he wished.
In other words, both the meeting hypothesized in the Gorgias
the reported conversation are products of Plato's literary creativity.
Aristides' manner of presenting this observation amounts to an exposure
dialogue form as a sham: after all, all
interlocutors are Plato's
This implication of the
identification of the dialogues as fictional literary texts was
the proem to In Defence of Oratory, where the Gorgias
characterized as an indictment and the role of Socrates'
defenders of oratory as a disguise: 
it would be terrible if he, in undertaking to make his indictment
least in a certain sense did not deny oratory its defence, but allowed
three men to oppose, maintaining at least the pretence of a dialogue,
we, who are able and intend to help in every way, shall lack the
courage to do
so, as if it would not be allowed to bring in other arguments against
than the ones that he chose to make against himself.
here that we touch upon the functions of Aristides' constant harping on
fictional character of the dialogues. By pointing out the illusionary
of the dialogue form, he alerts his audience to its persuasive force
the way for his own apologetic project. His praise of Plato's literary
has proven to be more than a way of dealing with the dilemma caused by
decision to enter the lists again the philosopher and of sweetening the
for Plato's admirers, who might take offence at his arguments. As it
to the claim that the dialogues are fictions, it is also a highly
ingredient in his polemic. At the same time, the exposure of the
dialogue as a
literary cover for an indictment adds a polemical dimension to the
used by Aristides to lessen his predicament: borrowing arguments
from Plato's own writings. But before this assertion can be
should examine the possible sources of inspiration for Aristides'
polemic and Platonic theorizing
started our inquiry with the observation that the characterization of
dialogues as fictional compositions would come as no surprise to modern
A concise survey of ancient views will suffice to demonstrate
same should have been true of Aristides' audience.
Plato's contemporaries and Greek
intellectuals of the next generation can hardly have failed to
his dialogues were not records of actual conversations. After all, in
Aristotle's Poetics the Socratic dialogue and the
prose mime are
bracketed together as examples of mimetic prose.
Aristotle's concept of mimēsis, elusive as it is,
room for a positive appreciation of what we would
call fiction: a
representation of reality which does not have to correspond to actual
but which constructs a course of events that reflects universal human
and experience. It is,
incidentally, likely that the bracketing of the Socratic
dialogue with the prose mime was primarily motivated by the fact that
also mimetic in the narrower sense in which Aristotle uses the word:
in both genres, the spoken word is directly represented.
In Aristotle's Poetics,
the labelling of Plato's dialogues as mimetic prose does not have a
edge. Things must have changed, however, in the early Hellenistic
the vanishing of the last generation that had personal memories of
fifth-century Athens, the fictional character of Plato's dialogues
ceased to be
a self-evident truth. Instead, it became the outcome of biographical
literary research, and the results of such scholarly efforts could well
to polemical use. Anecdotes such as the one told by Athenaeus about
and Phaedo, who protest never to have spoken the words that Plato puts
mouths, may originate in this period, and a
Timo of Phlius on Plato and plattein,
also quoted by Athenaeus, points in
the same direction: in the third
century BC the fictional
character of Plato's dialogues had become an argument in the armoury of
In the second century BC,
Herodicus of Babylon produced one of the most vehement attacks on the
written in antiquity, Reply to a Socrates-worshipper
Φιλοσωκράτην). Large extracts of this treatise are supposed
to have been preserved in the books 5 and 11 of Athenaeus'  Deipnosophistae.
Although Herodicus' pamphlet is mentioned only once by Athenaeus,
a good case has been made by Karl Schmidt for
the theory that the
attacks on philosophers in general and on Plato in particular in these
of the Deipnosophistae were, with few exceptions,
taken from Herodicus. A
characteristic ingredient of Herodicus'
anti-Platonic polemic is his
use of archon lists to expose inconsistencies in the dramatic dates of
Already Johannes Geffcken pointed
out that Aristides refers to eponymous archons in his exposure of the
inconsistency in the dramatic date of the Menexenus,
and suggested that the orator's treatment of
this issue might
ultimately stem from Herodicus' pamphlet.
Geffcken may well have been right, the more so
since there are other
rather striking similarities between Aristides' Platonic orations and
anti-Platonic polemic in the Deipnosophistae. For
combines a critical discussion of the dramatic date of the Parmenides
with censure of Plato's suggestion that Zeno had been Parmenides'
favourite; in To Capito,
Aristides for the first time brings up the
inconsistencies in the dramatic dates of the dialogues,
he takes exception at precisely the same
intimation in the Parmenides.
As Herodicus represented an extremely hostile
anti-Platonic polemic, it is nothing less than a provocation that
plays this card precisely in his letter to the already offended Capito.
Thus Aristides probably borrowed
the chronological arguments for his claim that the dialogues are
compositions from a tradition of anti-Platonic
polemic. For the claim
however, and especially for the exposure of the dialogue form as a
sustained argument, he may well have drawn on theorizing on the
contemporary Platonists. This becomes manifest if one takes a look at
definition of the dialogue prevailing among second-century Platonists.
provided by Albinus, in his introduction to the study of Plato's
dialogue] is nothing else than a text consisting of questions and
some political or philosophical subject, with proper characterization
persons employed and written in a polished style.
the same definition of the dialogue can be found in Diogenes Laertius'
treatment of Plato's writings, and the gist
of these Middle Platonist definitions is reproduced by the
sixth-century author of the anonymous Prolegomena to the
Platonic philosophy, who is also generous enough to
point out that the only difference
dialogue, on the one hand, and tragedy and comedy on the other, is that
dialogues are in prose.
there are minor
differences between these three definitions, they are consistent in the
importance they attach to ēthopoiia,
characterization. That ēthopoiia
is a procedure in which fiction has its part, is evident from the
we find in the Progymnasmata ascribed to
is the representation, through invented speech, of a person's character.
Aelius Theon, who prefers the term prosōpopoiia,
mentions in one and the same breath Homer's
poetry, the dialogues of
Plato and the other 
Socratics, and the comedies of Menander as models
art of characterization in ascribed speech.
The central importance of ēthopoiia
in Middle Platonic theorizing on the dialogue would, in itself, have
to enable Aristides to maintain that the conversations reported in the
dialogues are invented. More Platonist grist to Aristides' mill could
provided by treatises such as those reproduced by Diogenes Laertius or
preserved on a second-century papyrus. In both cases, Socrates,
Athenian Stranger, and the Eleatic Stranger are taken as Plato's
the words of Diogenes Laertius:
own views [Plato] expresses through four characters: Socrates, Timaeus,
Athenian Stranger, and the Eleatic Stranger.
characters such as Socrates' interlocutors in the Gorgias
to have been introduced by Plato as whipping-boys:
order to refute false opinions, he introduces characters such as
Callicles, Polus, Gorgias, Protagoras, and besides Hippias, Euthydemus
combination of the mouthpiece view with the whipping-boy interpretation
course, precisely what Aristides must have had in mind when he wrote
Callicles, Gorgias, Polus, all of this is Plato, turning the discussion
whatever direction suits him'. Nor is it
surprising in the light of such
theorizing on the dialogue by
contemporary Platonists that the orator maintains  that the
the conversations are also fictitious: according to Diogenes Laertius,
Plato who brings the characters on the stage.
We have established that, at the
very least, Aristides could have drawn on theorizing on the dialogue
Platonists. But what was the polemical point of bringing up the
character of the dialogues if Platonists themselves 'would have
that Plato chose the historical setting for fictional conversations to
philosophical purposes'? A possible
answer to this question can be
found in the hypothesis that
there were also second-century Platonists who maintained that the
were meant to be records of actual historical conversations. Proclus,
fascinating passage of his Commentary on the First Alcibiades,
that some (τινές) have made such an assumption,
and John Dillon has suggested that 'τινές will be the Middle
while Proclus' remark concerns the
dialogues as such, the
evidence adduced by Dillon for his suggestion pertains to the Atlantis
and is, therefore, inadmissible in the present context.
The identity of Proclus' τιvές must remain an enigma. In the meantime,
should assume that Aristides' characterization of the dialogues as
compositions would, in itself, not have met with opposition among
But perhaps the question raised
in the above paragraph is off the mark. For Aristides, the function of
of reasoning that we have followed in this paper did not depend on the
contemporary Platonists. By characterizing the dialogues as fictional
and by exposing the dialogue form as a cover for sustained argument the
had sharpened the contrast between his own way of handling the dispute
Plato and the philosopher's polemical methods. Whereas Plato had
discussion in whatever direction suited his argument, Aristides had,
borrowing arguments from Plato's own writings, allowed his interlocutor
speak for 
himself. Whereas Plato had disguised an indictment as a
Aristides had put into practice the principle of Plato's Socrates that
matters in a discussion is obtaining agreement from one's interlocutor. He had beaten the philosopher at
his own game
— and still, nobody
could deny that he had given Plato his due.
Vlastos 1991, 49.
e.g. Ostenfeld 2000, 211: 'It seems to be a widespread, if not general,
these days that Plato has no spokesman among the interlocutors of his
Barber 1996, 363.
Momigliano 1993, 46.
Brancacci 2000, 242f.; cf. Brancacci 1992, 3311.
Pernot 1993, 316.
Aelii Aristidis Opera Quae Exstant Omnia. Volumen I Orationes
Leiden: E.J. Brill 1976-80. Translation with copious annotation: Behr
discussion of orr. 2-4 by Boulanger 1923, 210-39
still makes instructive
reading; Pernot 1993 is the best treatment. Sohlberg 1972 and Karadimas
focus on or. 2.
Behr 1986, 479 n. 1: 'This little treatise is the forerunner of The
of the Four, ...'
4,5 and 4,22, with Behr 1986, 480 n. 31.
2 (145-47 AD): Behr 1968, 54-56 with n. 52; cf. Behr 1986, 449 n. 1. Or.
4 (towards the end of the same period): Behr 1968, 59f. with n. 60; cf.
1986, 479 n. 1: 'around August 147 AD'. Or. 3
(161-65 AD): Behr 1968,
94f. with n. 2; cf. Behr 1986, 460 n. 1.
Sohlberg 1972, 178 n. 6.
Pernot 1993, 316 n. 4.
1994, 1165f. n. 117.
1959, 15: 'It is Sopater who speaks to us in H1,
either directly or
through the medium of one of his pupils who set forth the thoughts of
teacher writing down his introductory lecture on the oration.'
158,5-11 Lenz = III 436,2-10 Dindorf.
Aristides' phrasing of his dilemma see e.g. or.
3,129f.; cf. Pernot
1993, 330f.; De Lacy 1968, 10.
Boulanger 1923, 212; De Lacy 1968, 10; Trapp 1990, 166f.; Pernot 1993,
e.g. or. 2,462 and or. 4,8.
οὖν ἄν τις νεμεσῴη δικαίως ἡμῖν, ὅταν αὐτὸς Πλάτων ὡς ἀληθῆ λέγομεν ἐπιψηφίζῃ;
De Lacy 1968, 10; Sohlberg 1972, 256-259; Pernot 1993, 323.
4,22f.: οὕτω πᾶσαν αἰδῶ καὶ
τιμὴν ἀπεδώκαμεν αὐτῷ, ὥστε εἰ αὐτὸς πρὸς αὑτὸν ἔμελλεν ἀντερεῖν, οὐκ
δοκοίη μᾶλλον αὑτοῦ φείσασθαι.
e.g. or. 3,461: ... ὁ τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων
πραγμάτων ἐπιστήμων, προσθήσω δὲ καὶ τῶν θείων ... I
think that Sohlberg 1972, 259 overvalues utterances such as these by
es nicht nur der Stilist Platon ist, dem Aristides Anerkennung, ja im
Sinne Verehrung entgegenbringt'.
Walsdorff 1927, 89: 'Dennoch schätzt er auch Platon vor allem als
2,72: ὦ μέγιστη σὺ
γλῶττα τῶν Ἑλληνίδων — quoting Cratinus (fr. 293 Kock)
on Pericles (cf. or. 3,51).
2,465: ... τὸν τῶν ῥητόρων πατέρα καὶ διδάσκαλον ...
4,6; cf. or. 3,508.
next paragraph draws on Hahn 1989, 86-88; see also Holford-Strevens
with n. 34; Schmitz 1997, 87-89.
profectibus in virtute, Mor. 79d.
NA 17,20,4-6; cf. the comments by Lakmann 1995,
fr. 186 Sandbach = Isid. Pel. Ep. 2,42.
. D.H. Dem.
5f.; cf. Walsdorff 1927, 9-15 and 85.
Gefcken 1929, 105: 'Die Verteidigung Platons als Stilisten hatte, weil
zugleich ein Angriff war, erheblichen Erfolg' [italics added].
73; cf. Penella 1979, esp. 164f.; see also Flinterman 1995, 32;
1997, esp. 81f.; and on the Severan empress as a patroness of
learning Hemelrijk 1999, 122-126.
4,26, quoting or. 2,428 and 465; cf. above, n. 28
2,22 = Pl. Grg. 463a-465c.
Meijering 1987, 133.
2,321 and esp. 324: ... ὁ
Δίων αὐτῷ τετελευτηκὼς ὑπόκειται λέγων ὡς ἔμπνους ...
the passages mentioned in the preceding note Aristides compares his own
introduction of the four Athenian statesmen as speaking characters to
presentation of Dio in the Eighth Letter. The same
device is employed by
him at greater length in or. 3,365-400. The latter
case is mentioned as
an example of εἰδωλοποιία by [Hermog.] Prog. 9 (=
and Aphth., Prog. 11 (= 44,28-45,1 Spengel). The
remark of the scholiast
at or. 3.365 about τὴν
θρυλλουμένην (III 671,6-7 Dindorf) does not refer to
art of characterization (as Ausland 1997, 376 n. 13 thinks) but bears
to the fame of this passage from In Defence of the Four
363,13-14 Dindorf: διὰ
τὴν συνουσίαν, ἵνα χωρήσῃς κατὰ ῥητορικῆς.
below, text to nn. 74 and 75.
αὐτὸς ἡμῖν ἀποκρίναιτο, πλείστου γένοιτ'
ἂν ἄξιον τῷ λόγῷ. ὑπάρχει δὲ καὶ τοῦτο. πῶς; ὡς αὐτῷ Σωκράτης
ἀποκρινομένος πεποίηται. Cf. the remark on the Apology
in or. 28,82 Keil.
2,77; for the false opinion see e.g. D.L. 2,60; cf. Döring 1979, 68
with n. 90.
3,348-351; cf. Tarrant 2000, 132.
3,351: ..., ὁ
δὲ τῆς φύσεως οἶμαι κέχρηται τῇ περιουσίᾳ, ὥσπερ καὶ ἄλλα μυρία δήπου
διεξέρχεται ἐπὶ τῷ Σωκράτους ὀνόματι, περὶ ὧν ὁμολογεῖται μηδὲν ἐκεῖνον
πραγματεύεσθαι. Cf. S.E. M. 7,9f. = Timo
of Phlius fr.
62 Di Marco = Supplementum Hellenisticum 836:
ἔνθεν καὶ ὁ Τίμων
αιτιᾶται τὸν Πλάτωνα ἐπὶ τῷ οὕτω καλλωπίζειν τὸν Σωκράτην πολλοῖς
"ἢ γάρ" φησι "τὸν οὐκ ἐθέλοντα μεῖναι ἠθολόγον." I owe this reference
to Rein Ferwerda.
3,575: ... ὅ
γε ἐκείνου (i.e. Aeschines')
Σωκράτης οὐ τὴν
ἀπὸ τῆς τῶν διαλόγων ἐξουσίας καὶ συνηθείας ὡρμημένα. τῷ γὰρ ἅπαντας
ἐπιεικῶς εἶναι πλάσματα καὶ πλέκειν ἐξεῖναι δι' ὧν ἄν τις βούληται,
κἀν τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῖς οὺ σφόδρα τηροῦν τὴν ἀλήθειαν.
this classification see Barwick 1928; Meijering 1987, 76-90.
Hose 1996, who advances the hypothesis that the division originated in
republican Rome; Erler 1997 argues that it ultimately stems from Plato
1,263: ... πλάσμα
μὴ γενομένων μὲν ὁμοίως δὲ τοῖς γενόμενοις λεγομένων (sc. ἔκθεσις
cf. M. 1,252.
Inv. 1,27; Rhetorica ad Herennium
2,13; see above, text to nn. 42-46.
ὡς αἱ κωμικαὶ ὑποθέσεις καὶ οἱ μῖμοι. Cf. M.
1,252; Rhetorica ad Herennium 1,13.
this development see Meijering 1987, 87-90, with e.g. [Herm.], Prog.
(= 4,17f. Rabe): ...
τὸ δὲ πλασματικόν, ὃ καὶ δραματικὸν καλοῦσιν, οἷα τὰ τῶν τραγικῶν.
2,164: ... ἐν
ἄλλοις τισὶ δράμασι ἢ λόγοις ...
Οr. 3,586, quoted above (n. 58); Σ Aristid.
καλὸν τὸ πλάσματα· ἐοίκασι γὰρ οἱ διάλογοι δράμασι, διὰ τὸ ἔχειν καὶ
αὐτοὺς οἱαδηποτοῦν πρόσωπα, καὶ λόγούς περικεῖσθαι, οὓς δοκεῖ τῷ
this connection, we should note the juxtaposition, in the mosaic floor
triclinium of the House of Menander at Mytilene, of a panel
Socrates, Simmias, and Cebes, the chief interlocutors in Plato's Phaedo,
with eight panels showing scenes from Menanders comedies and one
comic poet himself. See Charitonidis/Kahil/Ginouvès 1970, 33-36 and,
date (third quarter of the third century AD) of the mosaic floor, 12. I
this reference to Heinz Hofmann. At Rome Plato's dialogues were staged
diversions during drinking-bouts, see Plu. Quaestiones
711b-d; cf. Lakmann 2000 (non vidi).
Ἀριστοφάνη τίς ἔσθ' ὁ κωμῳδῶν; ὅτῳ πολὺ τῆς κωμῳδίας, φαίη τις ἄν,
περίεστιν. The comic representation of Aristophanes to
which Aristides takes exception,
can be found in Smp. 185c, see or.
3,579 and 581; or.
4,50; and cf. Ath. 187c.
3,615, taking the Athenian Stranger as Plato's double and the
in Lg. 817b literally.
καὶ λέγεις ὡς μὲν οὐ χρὴ μιμεῖσθαι τοὺς φαύλους οὐδ' ἀφομοιοῦν αὑτὸν
χείροσι, αὐτὸς δὲ οὐ πανὺ χρῇ τούτῳ διὰ τέλους, ἀλλὰ μιμῇ σοφιστάς.
συκοφάντας, μιμῇ Θρασύμαχον τὸν οὐδεπώποτε ἐρυθριάσαντα, θυρωρούς,
μυρίους. The same accusation can be found in Ath. 505b.
3,631; cf. or. 3,8.
γ' εἰ καὶ ὁ
Καλλικλῆς ἔτυχεν περὶ αὐτῶν ὑπολαβών, ἔστι μὲν οἶμαι γέλως πᾶν τοῦτο.
γὰρ οὐκ οἶδεν ὅτι καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης καὶ ὁ Καλλικλῆς καὶ ὁ Γοργίας καὶ ὁ
Πώλος πάντα ταῦτ' ἐστὶν Πλάτων, πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτῷ τρέπων τούς λόγους.
the scholium ad loc. (Σ Aristid. III 724,8 Dindorf): πάντα
οὐδεὶς αὐτὸν ὁ Καλλικλῆς παρὼν ἐτάραττεν, οὐδ' ἐκώλυεν τὸ μὴ ὅπως
βούλεται περαίνειν τὀν λόγον.
γὰρ ἂν εἴη δεινόν, εἰ ἐκεῖνος μὲν ὑποστὰς κατηγορεῖν ἐκ προφανοῦς οὐκ
ἀπεστέρησεν τρόπον γέ τιν' αὐτὴν τῶν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς λόγων, ἀλλ' ἀπέδωκεν
τρισὶν ἀντειπεῖν, ὡς γοῦν ἐν σχήματι διαλόγων, ἡμεῖς δὲ οἱ τὸ ὅλον
ἔχοντες καὶ προῃρημένοι μὴ τολμήσομεν, ὥσπερ τοσαῦτ' ἀντιλέγειν Πλάτωνι
ὁπόσα ἂν αὐτὸς πρὸς αὑτὸν βουληθείη. Incidentally, Aristides
labels the attack on oratory in the Gorgias
sometimes a κατηγoρία,
sometimes a ψόγoς, an invective, see e.g. or.
2,15. Accordingly, his own Defence
of Oratory vacillates between an apology and an encomium. The
same is true
of In Defence of the Four, which goes a long way to
difficulties experienced by Sopater in pigeonholing the latter oration
either forensic or encomiastic, H1 158,13-162,6
Lenz = III
Arist. Po. 1447a28-b11. On the tradition that Plato
was indebted to
Sophron see Haslam 1972; Clay 1994, 33-37.
Halliwell 1986, 132f.; Rösler 1980, 309-311.
1460a5-8; cf. Halliwell 1986, 126-131; Haslam 1972, 22.
505d-e = Swift Riginos 1976, anecdotes 37 and 58.
505e = fr. 19 Di Marco = Supplementum Hellenisticum
ὁ πεπλασμένα θαύματα εἰδώς.
Ἡρόδικος ὁ Κρατήτειος ἐν τοῖς πρός τόν Φιλοσωκράτην. In
addition, Athenaeus twice refers to Herodicus without mentioning a
title. In 192b
a comparison of the convivial customs of the Homeric heroes with the
during the symposia described by Plato, Xenophon, and Epicurus (Ath.
presumably derived from a treatise Περὶ
συμποσίων, is rounded off with a quotation
from Herodicus; in 219c Herodicus is cited as the source for a poem,
by Aspasia, portraying Socrates as chasing after Alcibiades instead of
other way round.
Schmidt 1886. Schmidt was followed by Düring 1941, an edition with
of Herodicus' fragments; see also Geffcken 1929, 98-101, esp. 99 n. 1,
Trapp 2000, 359f.
3.577f.; cf. above, text to n. 56.
Geffcken 1929, 106 n. 12: '..., so kann hier Herodicus vorliegen.'
prints or. 3,577-582 as fragments from Herodicus'
505f, referring to Prm. 127b.
4,50f.; cf. above, text to n. 57.
4,37; note also the parallels mentioned above, nn. 69 and 72.
147,17-21 Hermann (the pagination of Hermann's edition is reproduced in
edition by Nüsser 1991): ἔστιν
τοίνυν οὐκ ἄλλο τι ἢ λόγος ἐξ ἐρωτήσεως καὶ
ἀποκρίσεως συγκείμενος <περὶ> τινος τῶν πολιτικῶν καἰ
πραγμάτων, μετὰ τῆς πρεπούσης ἠθοποιίας τῶν παραλαμβανομένων προσώπων
κατὰ τὴν λέξιν κατασκευῆς.
14,4-10 Westerink 1990.
[Hermog.] Prog. 9 = 20,7-9 Rabe: Ἠθοποιία
μίμησις ἤθους ὑποκειμένου προσώπου, οἷον τίνας ἂν εἴποι λὁγους
Ἕκτορι. The element of invented speech is explicitly
when the author explains what is, in his view, the difference between
ἠθοποιία and πρoσωπoπoιία (20,13f. Rabe): ἐκεῖ
γὰρ μὲν ὄντος προσώπου λόγους πλάττομεν, ἐνταῦθα οὐκ
ὂν πρόσωπον πλάττομεν.
Theon, Prog. 10 = 115,11ff. Spengel.
Theon, Prog. 2 = 68,21-24 Spengel.
περὶ μὲν τῶν αυτῷ δοκούντων ἀποφαίνεται διὰ τεττάρων προσώπων,
Σωκράτους, Τιμαίου, τοῦ Ἀθηναίου ξένου, τοῦ Ἐλεάτου ξένου. The version
of the mouthpiece view found in
the papyrus (P. Oxy.
3219 fr. 2 col. i) is different from Diogenes Laertius' in
accepts without further ado what is denied by the latter: that the
Stranger is Parmenides and the Athenian Stranger Plato; cf. Tarrant
27-29. As we have seen above (or. 3,615, mentioned
in n. 70), Aristides
implicitly endorses the view expounded in the papyrus.
δὲ τῶν ψευδῶν ἐλεγχομένους εἰσάγει οἷον Θρασύμαχον καὶ Καλλικλέα καὶ
Πώλον Γοργίαν τε καὶ Πρωταγόραν, ἔτι τ' Ἱππίαν καὶ Εὐθύδημον καὶ δὴ καὶ
4,632 (quoted above, n. 75).
. Εἰσάγει (D.L. 3,52) is the crucial
word, see Mansfeld
1994, 80 n. 134; cf.
Orig. Cels. 1,28 about the introduction by Celsus
of a Jew as an
anti-Christian polemicist (Ἐπεὶ
δὲ καὶ προσωποποιεῖ [...] καὶ εἰσάγει Ἰουδαῖον πρὸς
τὸν Ἰησοῦν λέγοντά τινα μειρακιωδῶς καὶ οὐδὲν φιλοσόφου πολιᾶς ἄξιον),
with Andresen 1981, 339f.
Tarrant 2000, 9.
Procl. in Alc. 18,15-19,2 Segonds 1985.
Dillon 1973, 232.
Dillon 1973, 294f., referring to Procl. in Tim.
75,30ff. Diehl; cf.
Tarrant 2000, 54f. with 225 n. 5, where it is suggested that ἱστορία
ψιλή (the characterization of the Atlantis story attributed to Crantor
Proclus) 'signifies a bare narrative rather than unadulturated history
471e-472c; cf. Karadimas 1996, 163. This passage from the Gorgias
paraphrased in or. 3,643.
groundwork for this paper was done during a stay at Oxford in the
1997 as a visiting scholar of Corpus
Christi College, made possible by the
College's φιλoξεvία and by grants from the Netherlands Organization for
(NWO) and from the Faculty of Arts of Utrecht University. Previous
were given in the Seminar Room of Corpus Christi College, at a
occasioned by a visit of Suzanne Saïd to the Department of Ancient
Classical Culture of Utrecht University, and at ICAN 2000. Those
these occasions have been extremely generous in providing me with
criticisms, and helpful suggestions. Some of the debts incurred along
have been acknowledged in the above footnotes. Thanks are also due to
Bowie and Simon R. Slings for repeatedly
allowing me to draw on their
expertise. The sole responsibility for any shortcomings or factual
of course, mine.
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