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A Study on Composition and Reception: ἄλλο προοίμιον of Plato’s Theaetetus (PBerol inv. 9782)

Marta Antola

University of Durham, UK

PBerol inv. 9782 (LDAB 3764, MP3 1393) is a fragmentary volumen made of papyrus that preserves a commentary of Plato’s Theaetetus dating back to the II century AD. Amongst the many features that make it unique (e.g., it is the only extensively preserved exemplar from Middle Platonism), there is the fact that it quotes the only alternative version of a προοίμιον (prologue) of Plato’s Theaetetus (ἄλλο προοίμιον at col. 3 ll. 28-34), a unicum in the Platonic corpus. Although scholars have overlooked this variant (see Tarrant 1988, Carlini 1994, Bastianini/Sedley 1995, Tulli 2011, Capuccino 2014 for exceptions) and it does not appear in the latest OCT edition (1995), this alternative προοίμιον of Plato’s Theaetetus sheds light on the very composition process and reception of the dialogue. By (re)opening the debate about the authorship of this προοίμιον (i.e. is it Platonic? Is it spurious?), this paper explores the impact of this variant, as well as the commentary as a whole, on the study of Plato’s work: thereby it re-contextualises the reception of Plato’s work in Hellenistic times and accordingly throughout the history of scholarship.

From Republic 3.392c-398b we know that Plato himself was theoretically interested in the formal aspects of a work, whether it was written as a plain narrative, mimetic discourse, or a mixture of the two, and different modes of presentation were applied to his very written production (i.e. narrated, dramatic, and mixed dialogues, cf. DL III, 50). Together with the later sources suggesting that Plato died revising the προοίμιον of the Republic (cf. Euphorion - 187 Van Groningen, Panaitios - 130 Van Straaten), this evidence shows the potential importance of such alternative prologue for reconstructing the stages of Plato’s reworkings and the revisions of this work.

First, the comparative analysis of extant evidence on the προοίμιον of the Theaetetus – papyri (PBerol inv. 9782, P.Ant. 2 78) and manuscripts – highlights an apparent lacking of points of contact between the version of the prologue preserved in the overall tradition and the one handed down by PBerol inv. 9782. A further examination of the variant in PBerol inv. 9782 vis-a-vis the Platonic dialogues that share (or do not share) the narrative strategies adopted in the Theaetetus presents a compelling argument for finding a connection between the two versions and attributing the alternative prologue to Plato; in so doing, it sheds new light on the composition process of the Theaetetus and the Platonic dialogues as a whole.

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Culture and Society in Greek Roman and Byzantine Egypt

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