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Lecture 18: Plato


PASSING over the minor Socratic schools, who are of comparatively little importance in connection with the subject of our inquiry, I propose to devote the remaining lectures to Plato.

It is related by Diogenes Laertius that on the night before Socrates met Plato for the first time, he dreamt that a young swan rested for a moment on his knees, and then suddenly grew wings and flew aloft, uttering a sweet cry.1 The story is admirably devised to illustrate not only the peculiar character of Plato's genius, but also the relation in which he stood to the master whom he so greatly loved and honoured. The most powerful intellectual and moral impulse of Plato's life was communicated to him by Socrates; but although he started from a basis of Socraticism, lie soared to heights of religious and poetical idealism which Socrates never contemplated. In another way, too, Plato differs from the teacher of his youth. We have seen that Socrates was interested only in man: physical speculations he abjured, and the so-called exact sciences appeared to hint worse than useless. Plato's intellectual horizon is incomparably wider. He was acquainted with all the culture of his own and previous generations, Although first and foremost a humanist, and always prone to interpret nature in the light of anthropology, he nevertheless aspired to construct a system of philosophy which should afford an explanation both of man himself and also of the universe in which he lives. The spirit of that philosophy is in a marked degree religious, as I will endeavour to show by a consideration of some of its principal doctrines. So vast a subject would require for its adequate treatment at least a course of lectures to itself, but so far as my powers and opportunities extend, I will try to explain the general religious significance of Plato's thought.

We shall find, I think, that the famous allegory of the Cave in the Republic is a convenient starting-point for our investigation. At the end of the sixth book, Plato draws a sharp distinction between the objects of sense-perception and opinion on the one hand, and the invisible objects of knowledge or reason on the other. The simile of the Cave, with which the seventh book opens, is intended to make us realise more clearly the relation which Plato believes to exist between the visible and the invisible. The proportion by which the simile should be interpreted is this: as the Cave stands to the world of visibles, so the visible world stands to that which is unseen and eternal.

We are first invited to conceive of a number of prisoners immured in a long and gradually sloping subterranean chamber. They are so firmly bound that they cannot move head or limb; they see nothing either of themselves or of one another, the necessity of their situation compelling them always to direct their gaze on the wall in which the cave ends. At some distance above and behind the prisoners, a fire is burning, and between them and the fire is a transverse path, flanked by a low wall. Along this roadway carriers are constantly passing, with all kinds of manufactured implements and images upon their beads, statuettes of men and other animals, wrought in wood and stone and every sort of material. The wall skirting the pathway intercepts, of course, the shadows of the carriers, but the objects they carry overtop the wall, and are reflected by the light of the fire upon the end wall of the dungeon. Thus it happens that the prisoners see only a constant succession of “shadow-shapes that come and go,” and having never seen anything besides, they naturally suppose these moving phantoms to be the sole realities. They have no conception of the images by which the shadows are cast, still less of the originals from which these images themselves are copied. “Truly a strange similitude and strange prisoners!” says Glauco. ĺΟμοίουςἡμι̑ν, is the reply: “they are like ourselves.”2

The next division of the simile deals with the prisoner's release from bondage. When the chains are unloosed, and he is suddenly compelled to stand erect, and turn round, and walk, and raise his eyes towards the light, he is at first dazzled and perplexed (ἀπορϵι ̑), and in his bewilderment would fain still cherish the delusion that after all there is more light and truth in the shadows he formerly saw, than in the originals he now beholds. Finally, his guide succeeds in dragging him forth into the upper world, away from the “sun-illumined lantern” into the actual sunlight. Slowly his eyes become accustomed to the brightness. At first he discerns only the shadows and images of what we in this world call real; afterwards he is able to look upon the originals from which they come, and so on progressively from higher to yet higher, until at last he endures to gaze upon the Sun and see him as he is in his own domain. “And then,” says Plato, “he will begin to reason concerning the Sun, concluding that it is he who causes the seasons and years, and is the steward (ϵ̓πιτροπϵύων) of everything in the visible sphere, and in a certain sense the cause of all that he and his fellow-prisoners formerly beheld.”3

It would be premature at the present stage to attempt to formulate the doctrine contained in this allegory: we shall understand it better as our exposition advances. In the meantime, let us concentrate our attention on the main lesson which the allegory is intended to teach. Plato means that just as the Cave is an image of the visible world, so the visible is an image of the invisible. The prisoners see only shadows of images produced by a light which is itself no more than an image, compared with the Sun. In like manner that which we see around us is the visible image of invisible reality; it is created by the Sun; and the Sun himself in turn is but an image—theἔκγονος or offspring, Plato says4—of the Father of all, that is, the Good. To Plato the true reality—that which is—is the invisible, the perfect, the eternal; the world of sense and opinion is transitory and imperfect, consisting at best only of ἀντίτυπα τω̑ν ἀληθινω̑ν, “things like in pattern to the true,“5—things that reveal to us the truth darkly, as in a mirror: βλϵ́πομϵνγὰρ ἄρτι δι̕ ϵ̓σόπτρου ϵ̓ν αἰνίγματι, as it is said by St. Paul.6 It was from the invisible that Plato drew his inspiration: with St. Paul, he might have said, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”7 The substance of Plato's message to the world could hardly be more accurately expressed than in the words of St. Paul: τὰ ἄνω ζητϵι̑τϵ τὰ ἄνω ϕρονϵι̑τϵ, μὴ τὰ ϵ̓πὶ τη̑ς γη̑ς: “Seek the things that are above, set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.”8 At the end of the Republic he says, “We will ever cleave to the upward road (τη̑ς ἄνωόδου̑ ἀϵὶ ϵ̔ξόμϵθα), and follow after righteousness and wisdom.”9 The object of all his philosophy is to make the soul look upward (ἄνωὁρα̑ν), to lead us from things seen to things unseen—ἀπὸ τω̑νϵ̓νθϵ́νδϵ ϵ̓κϵι̑σϵ,10 that we may “set our minds on things immortal and divine.”11 I have ventured to quote these parallels from the New Testament, partly because outside the circle of Plato's own writings it is impossible to find language better suited to convey his meaning, and partly also with the subsidiary object of calling attention to the real kinship of thought—illuminating, I think, so far as it goes—between Plato and St. Paul.

Returning now to our simile, we have to distinguish three different stages in the career of the prisoner who is ultimately brought out of darkness into light. There is first of all the period before he is released; next in order comes the release itself and subsequent journey up the “rough and steep ascent” into the light of day; and, finally, the goal is attained. By explaining and illustrating from the dialogues of Plato each of these three stages in their natural order, we shall be able to form some idea of the religious affinities of Platonism.

First, then, we have to study the position of the soul while she is still a prisoner. What are the chains by which, in her unregenerate condition, the soul is bound?

Perhaps we shall most readily arrive at the answer to this question by taking the Timaeus as our guide; and a brief investigation of the leading philosophical and religious ideas of that dialogue is necessary also on its own account. In the Timaeus, Plato furnishes us with an account of the creation of the world and the creation of man. Whether the whole or any part of this account is mythical, and what part, if any, should be so regarded, is one of those perennial questions which beset the student of Plato on every side. It is a question which will never, perhaps, be finally settled, because men are made so differently that what one man takes for mere poetic fancy, mere “figurative investiture,” as Zeller calls it, another will suppose to be literal. Similar difficulties arise, of course, in connection with the interpretation of the Old Testament and other writings of the kind. For my own part, I think that Plato's emphatic statement about the creation of the world—by which, of course, he means the introduction of order into chaos12—is intended to be understood literally, and not figuratively; but the details of the exposition are mythical in the Platonic sense of the word—an ϵἰκὼς μυ̑θος,13 that is to say, as we may learn, perhaps, from the Phaedo, a story about which it may be said, “This or something like it is true.”14 The business of a critic of the Timaeus should therefore be to separate the underlying principles or ideas from the particular form in which they are expressed; and so far as concerns the subject of these lectures, I will endeavour, however imperfectly, to perform this task.

“The World,” says Plato, “is a mixed creation, resulting from a combination of Necessity and Reason.”15 According to the account in the Timaeus, the Deity is inevitably hampered by the intractable nature of the material on which he has to work. When speaking of the Creator's efforts to make the world beautiful and good, Plato constantly introduces a qualifying phrase. In one passage we read, “God, desirous that all things should be good, and that, so far as possible (κατὰδύναμιν), there should be nothing evil,” etc.16 In another, it is said that God introduced into this material substance “as many proportions as it was possible for it to receive.17 And similarly in other cases: we nearly always meet with a caveat—μάλιστα, ὅτι μάλι στα, τὰ πλϵι̑στα, or some such expression.18 That these phrases are not otiose, but point to the existence of a Necessity not belonging to God's own nature, we are bound to infer from the attribute of goodness which Plato invariably ascribes to God. Already in the Republic, Plato had emphasised the essential antagonism between the necessary and the good;19 so that the principle of Necessity, which plays so prominent a part in the Timaeus, must be something altogether distinct from the Deity: otherwise the unity of the Divine nature is impaired. It is true, of course, that Necessity, according to the teaching of the Timaeus, is to a considerable extent submissive to the will of God. Thus we read that in the process of creation, “Reason ruled Necessity by persuading her to guide the majority of things created to the best end.”20 But, as Jowett has observed, “the Creator in Plato is still subject to a remnant of Necessity which he cannot wholly overcome.”21 Plato expressly declares that God made the world perfect only in so far as Necessity, willingly, and having yielded to persuasion, allowed.22 And elsewhere we read that “evil can never perish…nor yet can it be situated in heaven; but of necessity it haunts our mortal nature and this present world.23

It would seem, therefore, although this is another of the many disputed questions of Platonic scholarship, that the cosmology of the Timaeus is dualistic. Anaxagoras had said, “All things were together: then Reason came and set them in order.” To much the same effect, only with a characteristic expansion of the teleological idea, Plato writes: “Having taken over all that was visible, not in a condition of rest, but moving without harmony and order, God brought it out of its disorder into order, thinking that this condition was in every way a better one.”24 In itself, the θϵι̑ον γϵννητόν or “Divine Child”—for so in the Republic Plato designates the Universe25 —consists, like the human child, of a body and a soul. Plato begins by describing the generation of the body of the world. The Creator takes in hand the primeval matter, and fashions it, as far as Necessity allows, in accordance with the perfect model in his own mind. The details of the narrative do not concern us: they are almost entirely a priori, poetical, or fanciful. But Plato's cosmology is nevertheless pervaded from beginning to end by one great idea, the importance of which every physicist must recognise, namely, that the world is constructed on mathematical principles. It is by means of “forms and numbers,” that is to say, mathematical forms and mathematical numbers, that the Creator, who, according to the famous Platonic text preserved by Plutarch, is always playing the mathematician—θϵὸς ἀϵὶ γϵωμϵτρϵι̑—brought order out of chaos.26 The four elements, from which God makes the body of the world, result from the union between certain portions of the original undetermined substance and the specific mathematical forms which are imprinted on them by the Creator.27 On its poetical and religious side, as I have elsewhere pointed out,28 the Platonic conception should be compared with the famous passage in Isaiah: “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”29 Or we may compare the lines of Milton, which Isaiah, perhaps, inspired:

“Him all his train

Followed in bright procession, to behold

Creation, and the wonders of his might.

Then stayed the fervid wheels, and in his hand

He took the golden compasses, prepared

In God's eternal store, to circumscribe

This Universe, and all created things.

One foot he centred, and the other turned

Round through the vast profundity obscure,

And said, ‘Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds;

This be thy just circumference, O World’!”30

The scientific import of Plato's notion is precisely expressed by a modern writer, who describes the Laws of Kepler as “three Laws of divine working in Nature, discovered by Kepler,”—a statement which, apart from its theological setting, would, I imagine, be accepted by men of science. We shall afterwards see how this conception of mathematics as the instrument by which God works in Nature, helps to explain the great importance which Plato attaches to mathematical studies. If the Universe is constructed by God in accordance with mathematical laws, it is clear that the way to understand it and its Maker is to study mathematics. We may fairly suppose that this was one of the reasons why on the gate of Plato's Academy were inscribed the words ̓Αγϵωμϵ́τρητος μὴ ϵἰσίτω.

Besides this fundamental principle, the germ of which was already present in pre-Platonic Pythagoreanism, there is another point deserving of particular notice in connection with the cosmology of Plato. I have spoken of Necessity as the power which is responsible for the evil and imperfection in the world. But we must carefully observe that, in proportion as Necessity yields to the persuasion of the Deity, her maleficent influence is held in check. Or, to put the same statement in another form, so far as the primeval chaos submits to be mathematically determined, its inherent ugliness and evil are controlled. It is true, of course, as we have already noticed, that Necessity is sometimes obdurate, and that imperfection always cleaves even to the fairest of created things. With the praefervidum ingenium characteristic of the idealist, Plato in one remarkable passage of the Republic disparages the starry heavens. It is absurd, he says, to imagine that the sun and stars, possessed as they are of visible and material bodies, can possibly be uniform or flawless in heir movements. The genuine astronomer will dispense with the visible stars,—τὰ ϵ̓ν τῳ̑ οὐρανῳ̑ ϵ̓άσομϵν,—or at most he will use them only as a kind of orrery for the purpose of illustrating those perfect mathematical movements which they imperfectly reproduce, and with which alone the true science of astronomy is concerned.31 At the same time, when Plato lets his mind drink in the grandeur of the heavens, when he thinks of the harmonious and well-ordered movements of the celestial bodies in contrast with the life of man upon the earth, he is capable of writing with equal or even greater enthusiasm to the opposite effect, particularly in his latest works, the Timaeus and the Laws. In the Laws he declares that the very name of planet or “wandering star” is a blasphemy;32 and in the Timaeus God is said to have bestowed on us the gift of sight, expressly in order that we might behold the movements of Reason in the sky, and assimilate thereto the kindred movements of our own intelligences.33 No ancient writer has a livelier sense of the beauty and magnificence of the Universe: it shows itself again and again throughout the Platonic writings, more especially in the myths of the Phaedrus, the Phaedo, and the Republic; but all the beauty, all the beneficence is of God: whatever is malignant and foul comes from Necessity.

These, I think, are the principal points requiring to be noticed in connection with Plato's account of the way in which God creates the body of the World. Far more important in its bearing on our subject is his theory of the World-soul. Plato is careful to point out that soul is in reality older than body, although in his narrative he describes the creation of body first. “In birth and excellence,” he says, “God made soul prior to and older than the body, to be the mistress and ruler whom the body should obey.”34 It is interesting to observe how the Platonic doctrine of a soul that animates the World revives the old analogy between the macrocosm and the microcosm; but the reason assigned by Plato for the existence of the World-soul is just the divine goodness, and nothing else.

“God was good: and no one who is good can ever be jealous of aught at any time: so being free from jealousy he desired that all things should be made as like as possible unto himself.”35 “To the best it never was and never is permitted to do aught but that which is most beautiful. So the Creator bethought himself and found that of the things which are by nature visible, nothing destitute of Reason, taken as a whole, would ever be fairer than what is possessed of Reason taken as a whole, and that without soul Reason could not be present in anything. Arguing in this way, when he framed the Universe, he set Reason in soul, and soul in body, in order that he might be the author of a work that in its nature should be as beautiful and good as possible.”36

Thus the world, according to Plato, lives because of the divine excellence; but out of what elements did God fashion this cosmic soul, and what are its attributes?

On the first of these questions we need not go into detail. It will suffice to say that the elements of the World-soul are three in number—Sameness, Otherness, and the substance which is formed by blending the Other with the Same.37 These three ingredients are first combined by the Creator into a unity or whole, which he afterwards divides and recombines in accordance with certain numerical proportions borrowed or adapted from Pythagorean systems of astronomy and harmonics. In fashioning the soul as well as the body of the Universe, the Deity, you will observe, is still a mathematician—θϵὸς ἀϵὶ γϵωμϵτρϵι̑. The next and penultimate stage is to redivide the substance of the World-soul into two halves; and finally, by means of manipulations which we need not here describe, one of the two halves is made into the outer or exterior motion, that is to say, the movement of the circle of fixed stars, while the other, having been differentiated into seven separate circles, furnishes the motion of the sun, moon, and planets. The outermost circle, revolving daily from East to West, Plato calls the circle of the Same; while the seven inner circles, representing the movement of the planets from West to East, collectively form the circle of the Other, but are also “comprehended” by the movement of the Same; which is Plato's method of accounting for the apparent daily movements of the planetary bodies along with the celestial sphere from East to West.38
The attributes belonging to the cosmic soul are motion and intelligence. On the first of these attributes I have already touched, so far as it is manifested, in the movements of the planets; but one or two further points require to be noted. According to a definition propounded in the Laws, soul is ἡδυναμϵ́νη αὐτὴ αὑτὴν κινϵι̑ν κίνησις—“the species of motion which is able to move itself.”39 The essential quality of soul is self-movement—movement derived from no external source whatever, but spontaneously originated from within.40
It is further to be observed that soul not only moves itself, but is the cause of movement in all other thing that move; and to the word “movement” (κίνησις), Plato gives a much more comprehensive meaning than we usually do. In the Laws he enumerates ten species of motion, among which are included not only locomotion in its various forms, but also separation and combination, growth, decay, and dissolution, in a word everything comprehended under the name of physical change.41 Of each and all of these movements, therefore, so far as they take place throughout the physical world, we may suppose that the World-soul is the cause. The entire life and energy of the Universe proceed from it.42

With regard to the second attribute, that of intelligence or Reason, if we understand the word in its strictest possible sense, we must hold, I think, that this is coextensive with the element of the Same in the composition of the World-soul; for Reason, according to Plato, is always stable and uniform, like that which it cognises. What then are we to suppose to have been the significance of the two remaining ingredients, namely, Otherness and the mixture of Otherness and Sameness? The quality of Otherness belongs to the world of sense and opinion; for Otherness is the principle of multiplicity and change, just as Sameness is the principle of unity and permanence. In virtue, therefore, of its element of Otherness, the World-soul will apprehend the sphere of sensibles; and this, in one passage of the Timaeus, it is said to do: only Plato is careful to point out that its opinions and beliefs are free from every admixture of error, and in so far, perhaps, we may call them rational.43 I cannot find that Plato himself anywhere explains the function of the intermediate element—the mixture of Otherness and Sameness—in the constitution of the World-soul. Symmetry would seem to demand that this ingredient should enable it to apprehend certain objects which are at once, in a sense, both Same and Other. Perhaps the realities of mathematics, as they were conceived by Plato, supply what is required. It should be premised that the perfect triangles, circles, squares, etc., which are the true objects of mathematical study, as distinguished from the figures we draw upon the board, were apparently invested by Plato with a substantial existence on their own account. They are the instruments by means of which, as we have already seen, the Deity introduces limit into the unlimited in His creation of the world. Now these mathematical realities—τὰμαθηματικά is Aristotle's name for them—would appear to participate at once in Sameness and in Otherness. By reason of their quality of Sameness, they are eternal and unchangeable, like the transcendent Ideas between which and phenomena they form the connecting link; but to the element of Otherness we must ascribe the plurality which they share in common with the visible world—for Plato, if I understand him rightly, holds that although there is but one Ideal Triangle, many “mathematical triangles” exist; nor does anyone, I think, deny that Aristotle attributes such a view to his master.44 If this conjecture is admitted, we must suppose that the World-soul, through its three component elements, Otherness, Otherness mixed with Sameness, and Sameness itself, apprehends the three successive stages of truth, namely, Sensibles, Mathematical realities, and Ideas. It need only be added that the World-soul, as described in the Timaeus, has nothing analogous to the principles of anger and desire,—θυμοϵιδϵ́ς and ϵ̓πιθυμητικόν,—which, according to Plato, constitute so large and turbulent a portion of the human soul. In this negative sense, therefore, as well as by virtue of its intelligence, the soul of the World is rational.

The soul and body of the World being now completed, God

“set the soul in the centre of the body and drew it through the whole framework, yea, and wrapped the whole body with a covering of soul, and made it a sphere revolving in a circle, one only Universe in lonely splendour, but able by reason of its excellence to be its own companion, and needing none other, being sufficient unto itself for acquaintance and friend.”45

Let us now briefly consider the theological significance of Plato's account of the World-soul. It is to be observed, in the first place, that he calls the World ϵἰκὼντου̑ποιητου̑, μονογϵνής, “the image of its Maker, only-begotten.” The relation between them is that of Father and Son.46 In the second place, the World is itself a God—a θϵὸς αἰσθητός or “perceivable God,” like the World-God of Xenophanes.47 Further, when the Creator had finished his task, “he abode,” says Plato, “in his own nature,”48 or, according to the myth of the Politicus, he retired to his watch-tower,49 having delegated, apparently, his providential functions to the God whom he had begotten. From this point of view, we may look upon the World-soul as the steward or vicegerent of the Creator or Highest God, always present in the Universe. The Timaeus draws a clear distinction between the two deities, a distinction which we shall apprehend, perhaps, most readily if we compare the World-soul of Plato with what would seem to be its most noteworthy parallel in early Greek philosophy, the Logos of Heraclitus. We have found reason for believing that Heraclitus conceives of the Logos as rational and divine; he identifies it, in short, with the immanent, omnipresent Godhead; and so far it corresponds to the Platonic World-soul, although the Heraclitean Logos is something material, whereas Plato distinguishes between the soul and the body of the world. But the important point to notice is that in the Timaeus there are, if the expression may be allowed, two persons in the Godhead, whereas in Heraclitus there is but one. The Platonic Creator is transcendent, and resembles the world-ordering Nous of Anaxagoras, which we found to be mainly, though not perhaps exclusively, transcendent; the Platonic World-soul is immanent, and recalls not only the Heraclitean Logos, but also the Socratic conception of God as ἡ ϵ̓ν τῳ̑παντὶ φρόνησις, “the Wisdom residing in the universe.” The distinction which Plato here introduces into the being of the God-head prepared the way for the theology of Philo. Not a few of the epithets which Philo applies to the Logos are taken from Plato, such as ϵἰκὼν θϵου̑, the “image of God.” When he calls the Logos a δϵύτϵρος θϵός or “second God,” he exactly reproduces the meaning, if not the actual words, of the Timaeus. At the same time, Plato recognises a unity in difference, as well as a difference in unity; for the World is itself divine, and possessed of a soul that proceeds from the supreme God. In this conception of the divine nature as a differentiated unity we may perceive, with Baur, a certain resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, without, of course, endorsing the extravagant speculations of the Cambridge seventeenth-century Platonists on the subjects50 of the “Trinity in Plato.”

One interesting and significant feature in the theology of the Timaeus is the extent to which it foreshadows the distinctively Neoplatonic tendency to separate the highest God by an infinite distance from the world and man. “The maker and father of this Universe,” Plato says, “it is difficult to discover; nor, if he were discovered, could he be declared to all men.”51 In like manner Plato in the Republic exalts the Idea of Good above both knowledge and existence, though still regarding it as the ultimate cause of both. This belief in the transcendence or ὑπϵρουσ ιότης of the Highest rendered it necessary to postulate one or more mediating links between the infinite and the finite; and of these links the World-soul is in Plato the most important. It contributes, as Dr. Caird has said, “a kind of bridge to connect two terms which it is impossible really to unite.”52

Before we leave the subject of the World-soul, it is necessary to touch upon the difficult question, “What does Plato mean by describing it as created?” It should be observed that the reason assigned for holding that the Universe is generated, namely, that it is visible, corporeal, and tangible,53 does not apply to the soul, but only to the body of the world. Assuming, however, that we are right in supposing the body of the Universe to have been constructed by the Creator at the commencement of time, we can hardly escape the conclusion that its soul was also in some sense or other created or “begotten”: and Plato certainly speaks of it in this way. But in what sense? There seems to be no alternative except to regard the World-soul as a kind of “power” or emanation from the creative mind.54 On this hypothesis we should conceive of the whole matter in the following way. At the beginning of Time, God created the Universe. A spirit or soul went forth from him, and inhabited the body which he redeemed from chaos by imprinting mathematical forms on primordial matter.

From the strictly philosophical or scientific point of view, the cosmology of the Timaeus is full of difficulties, but so is every other religious or poetical cosmology—unless, indeed, we take refuge in the type of allegorical exegesis which Alexandrian Hellenism applied to the first chapter of Genesis; and even then we only exchange one set of difficulties for another. The true view of the Timaeus is that which was expressed by the rhetorician Menander, when he described it as a “hymn of the Universe.”55 Considered as a contribution to physical science, it errs by neglecting the maxim laid down by a Platonist of the third century before Christ: “in physical investigation, we should not lay down laws, but rather search out the things of nature.”56 But it is difficult to overestimate the influence which the dialogue exercised on religious thought and speculation during the last century and a half before the birth of Christ, and also in the early centuries of the Christian era. The Timaeus did more than any other literary masterpiece to facilitate and promote that fusion of Hellenism and Hebraism out of which so much of Christian theology has sprung. This is the surpassing interest and importance of the dialogue to the student of religious history. The way in which it contributed to this great movement is thus described by Grote. “Though the idea of a pre-kosmic Demiurgus found little favour among the Grecian schools of philosophy, before the Christian era—it was greatly welcomed among the Hellenising Jews at Alexandria, from Aristobulus (about B.C. 150) down to Philo. It formed the suitable point of conjunction between Hellenic and Judaic speculation. The marked distinction drawn by Plato between the Demiurgus, and the constructed or generated Kosmos, with its in-dwelling Gods—provided a suitable place for the Supreme God of the Jews, degrading the Pagan Gods in comparison. The Timaeus was compared with the book of Genesis, from which it was even affirmed that Plato had copied. He received the denomination of the atticising Moses: Moses writing in Attic Greek. It was thus that the Platonic Timaeus became the medium of transition, from the Polytheistic theology which served as philosophy among the early ages of Greece, to the omnipotent Monotheism to which philosophy became subordinated after the Christian era.”57
  • 1.

    iii. 5.

  • 2.

    515 A.

  • 3.

    516 B.

  • 4.

    507 A f.

  • 5.

    Heb. ix. 24.

  • 6.

    1 Cor. xiii. 12.

  • 7.

    2 Cor. iv. 18.

  • 8.

    Col. iii. 1, 2.

  • 9.

    621 C.

  • 10.

    Rep. 529 A.

  • 11.

    φρονϵι̑νἀθάνατα καί θϵι̑α, Tim. 90 C.

  • 12.

    Tim. 28 B; cf. 53 B.

  • 13.

    Tim. 29 D.

  • 14.

    See Phaed. 114 D.

  • 15.

    Tim. 47 E f.

  • 16.

    Tim. 30 A.

  • 17.

    Tim. 69 B.

  • 18.

    e.g. 29 E, 30 D, 32 D, 48 A.

  • 19.

    vi. 493 C.

  • 20.

    48 A.

  • 21.

    Plato iii. p. 391.

  • 22.

    Tim. 56 C.

  • 23.

    Theaet. 176 A.

  • 24.

    Tim. 30 A.

  • 25.

    viii. 546 B.

  • 26.

    Plut. Quœstiones Conviviales, viii. 2, p. 718; Tim. 53 B.

  • 27.

    Tim. l.c. and 53 C ff.

  • 28.

    The Republic of Plato, vol. ii. p. 163.

  • 29.

    xl. 12.

  • 30.

    Paradise Lost vii. 221 ff.

  • 31.

    Rep. vii. 529 C–530 C.

  • 32.

    vii. 821 C ff.

  • 33.

    47 B f.

  • 34.

    Tim. 34 C.

  • 35.

    Tim. 29 E.

  • 36.

    Tim. 30 A f.

  • 37.

    I regard Sameness and Otherness as virtually synonymous with the “indivisible” and the “divisible” (Tim. 35 A).

  • 38.

    For details, reference may be made to my edition of the Republic of Plato, vol. ii. p. 448 ff.

  • 39.

    Laws x. 896 A.

  • 40.

    Cf. Phaedr. 245 C.

  • 41.

    x. 893 B ff.

  • 42.

    Cf. Laws x. 896 E ff.

  • 43.

    37 B. Contrast the ἄλογος αἴσθησις of the human soul, 69 D.

  • 44.

    This subject is discussed more fully in my edition of the Republic of Plato, vol. ii. pp. 159–162. It is right, however, to say that many distinguished critics deny that Plato himself regarded μαθηματικά as intermediate between Ideas and Sensibles: see, for example, E. Caird, The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers i. p. 164, and J. Cook Wilson, Classical Review xviii. p. 251 ff. The view developed above is like that of Ueberweg-Heinze, Gesch. d. Philosophie i. p. 180.

  • 45.

    Tim. 34 B.

  • 46.

    Tim. 92 C; cf. 37 C.

  • 47.

    Tim. 92 C.

  • 48.

    Tim. 42 E.

  • 49.

    272 E.

  • 50.

    Baur, “Sokrates und Christus” in Drei Abhandlungen zur Gesch. d. alten Philos., ed. Zeller (1876), p. 301 ff. As to the so-called “Trinity of Plato,” see Cæsar Morgan, An Investigation of the Trinity of Plato and of Philo Judaeus, re-edited by Holden, 1853. The Trinity of Plotinus is expounded by E. Caird, Evolution of Theology ii. p. 258 ff. See also Harrison, Platonism in English Poetry p. 167 ff.

  • 51.

    Tim. 28 C.

  • 52.

    Evolution of Theology, etc. ii. p. 266.

  • 53.

    Tim. 28 B.

  • 54.

    This use of the word δύναμις, “power,” appears to be foreshadowed in at least one passage of the Timaeus: μιμούμϵνοι τὴν ϵ̓μὴν δύναμιν πϵρὶ τὶν ὑμϵτϵ΄ραν γϵ́νϵσιν, 41 C.

  • 55.

    See Grote, Plato iii. p. 245.

  • 56.

    Atticus, quoted by Grote, l.c. p. 270 n.

  • 57.

    l.c. p. 284.