You are here

75.3.Layne

The importance of allegory for the Neoplatonic interpreters cannot be overestimated. For the purpose of this paper, we shall see how allegorical exegesis allowed these thinkers to respond to a question which haunts almost all of the secondary literature on Plato: Why dialogue form? Why the use of characters, e.g. Socrates or Timaeus, and not one’s own authoritative voice? Further, why the need for extensive preludes, the elaborate references to settings like the public market or the gymnasium? In short, why did Plato use a literary medium to convey his philosophy? Was the choice of dialogue form and the use of characters like Socrates arbitrary, mere window dressing to the arguments of the author; a charming addition that can be passed over or ignored? To this last question the Neoplatonists would have responded negatively as many of the these thinkers, like Proclus, regularly began their Platonic commentaries with a detailed analysis of the literary elements of the text(s), arguing that what is “other” to the overt arguments or proofs (apodeixeis) needs to be read allegorically. To focus this project we will turn to the hermeneutics of the late Neoplatonist Proclus. We shall primarily focus on how the dramatic form of Plato’s dialogues support the aim/skopos or intellect of the text while further promoting the manifestation of the Good of the text, i.e. the achievement of the skopos in the reader herself. First, the opening of the essay will discuss how Proclus’ metaphysics undergirds his hermeneutical strategy, concentrating on the fact that every part of the dialogue in some way corresponds to the whole of reality, i.e. the living cosmos. In the next section of the essay, we shall examine in detail the three parts of the dialogue that are central for understanding the integrity of the literary devices: 1) the “matter” or the characters, time and setting—what is sometimes referred to as the dramatis personae; 2) the “form” or the style of writing employed as well as the manner of conversation invoked by various characters; and, finally, 3) the “soul” or the overt subjects and/or arguments under discussion. In the penultimate section we shall discuss how these literary features contribute to discovering the intellect or overall aim of the dialogue. What shall become evident here is the importance of Proclus’ doctrine of cyclical creativity, where all the parts of the dialogue are connected in a series of causes to the “intellect” of the text that informs or causes the matter, form and soul of a dialogue in much the same way as “intellect” informs/causes all the various parts of the cosmos, from soul to matter. We will conclude with a discussion of the Good of the text which, should be regarded as clearly distinct from the aim/skopos. Remarkably, for Proclus, the dialogues are, as many contemporary scholars now assert, protreptic, i.e. they are intended to initiate a way of life insofar as they possess a transformative or purgative power. Nonetheless, as Proclus insists, for this Good of the text to be fully realized the reader of the text must engage with the text appropriately. In other words, the reader has to question and understand the pertinent symbols, icons and analogues so as to discover how all the parts of the text contribute to the skopos. More importantly, for the Good of the text to emerge, or be made actual, the reader must be affected in such a way as to actualize or realize that skopos in their life. Ultimately, Proclus shows that through the methods of allegorical exegesis Plato’s dialogues have the potential to assist in the “salvation” of all individuals “who now live” and also “for those to come hereafter.” (In Parm., 618. 11)

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy