|© 1996, 2001 Bernard SUZANNE||Last updated November 17, 2001|
|Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.|
|"But those gardens made up of letters, it is by way of play, it seems, that he will sow and write them; and each time he writes, building up a treasure of recollection against the forgetfulness of old age, for him if he ever reaches it, and for all those who follow in his footsteps, he will find pleasure in watching the growth of these tender shoots. And when other men will indulge in other kinds of plays, drinking-parties and the like, he, on the contrary, will likely spend his time playing the way I said. " (Phædrus, 276d)|
The works that have been transmitted to us through the middle ages under the name of Plato consist in a set of 41 so-called "dialogues" plus a collection of 13 letters and a book of Definitions (1). But it was already obvious in antiquity that not all of these were from Plato's own hand.
Dialogues which are certainly or likely from Plato include (in the order they were published starting in 1920 in the Budé collection (2), which purported to be more or less "chronological", that is, to represent the supposed order in which they had been written by Plato) : Hippias minor, Alcibiades, Socrates' Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Hippias major, Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, Phædo, Symposium, Phædrus, Ion, Menexenus, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Republic, Parmenides, Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timæus, Critias, Laws, Epinomis.
To these may be added the following works, that are most likely or certainly not Plato's : Second Alcibiades, Hipparchus, Minos, The Rival Lovers, Theages, Clitophon, About Justice, About Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Eryxias, Axiochus. The Definitions and most of the Letters (with a likely exception for the VIIth, as has already been said) are probably not from Plato either (3).
At some point in antiquity, it became traditional to arrange Plato's dialogues in groups of four called "tetralogies" after the grouping of Athenian theater : Diogenes Lærtius explicitly relates this grouping to that of Greek tragedies and quotes his source for such grouping as attributing it to Plato himself, if not for the reported grouping, at least for the fact of writing them in tetralogies (DL III, 56). Our known source for such grouping, and the one cited by Diogenes, is a certain Thrasyllus, of which we know very little, and who might have lived during the 1st century AD. Unfortunately, his grouping in 9 tetralogies, which survived in medieval manuscripts, mixes wheat and weed, and thus does not do much to help us believe it dates back to Plato himself. It goes as follows :
But the same Diogenes mentions also a grouping in trilogies (groups of three), which he attributes to Aristophanes of Byzantium (IIIrd century BC) and which covers only a subset of the dialogues. This one goes as follows :
One point we may mention is that the tetralogies of Greek theater were made up of one comedy and a trilogy of tragedies. If there is anything in the idea that Plato grouped his dialogues according to such an arrangement, it might explain why we sometimes hear of tetralogies, sometimes of trilogies... But more about that later.
A complete alphabetical list of all works by or attributed to Plato may be found at the end of note 3 in the contents description of the latest complete edition of their English translation (Hackett, 1997), or on the page of this site that provides links to Plato's works on the Web. Note 3 also provides a selection of various editions of the dialogues in English, linking to the appropriate page of the site amazon.com for purchase online.
Students of Plato interested in getting a feel for what a "book" might have looked like in Plato's time may go to the page called "As in Plato's time..." elsewhere on this site, by clicking here.
Lastly, readers wishing to put Plato's dialogues in context with regard to the litterary and historical activity of his time will find in the bibliography on and around Plato available elsewhere on this site bibliographical indications on works whose reading may shed light on the dialogues.
(1) There are also a few epigrams, that is short poems intended as funerary inscriptions or the like, that have been transmitted to us in various ways under Plato's name (some of them are quoted in Diogenes Lærtius' life of Plato). As is the case with the Letters, whether they are actually by Plato has to be decided on a case by case basis. (back)
(2) The Budé collection is a French collection of works by many ancient Greek and Latin writers including, for each selected work, a critical edition of the Greek or Latin text accompanied by a French translation of that text, plus introduction and apparatus criticus. The edition of Plato's complete works in that collection started in 1920 and is now completed. All volumes are regularly reprinted. The English equivalent of this collection (though with generally less developed introductions and apparatus criticus) is the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press. Most of Plato's dialogues, with the exception of some of the spurious ones, are available in that collection (Greek text and English translation). (back)
(3) The text of most of the genuine
dialogues, and that of some of the spurious ones, is available online on the
Web in English translation and in the Greek original. For more information on
the way to get to it, go to the page on links to Plato's
works on the Web
The Greek text of Plato's dialogues composing the nine Thrasyllian tetralogies (see above), plus that of several of the spurious dialogues (Definitions, About Justice, About Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Eryxias and Axiochus), is published in critical edition in the five volumes of Platonis Opera in the Oxford Classical Texts (OCT) collection, at Oxford University Press:
The same dialogues, in a different order, are available, with Greek text and English translation, in the 12 volumes edition of the already mentioned Loeb collection
Two editions are worth a special mention, because they offer all (the first one) or most (the second one) of Plato's works in English translation in a single volume for a very affordable price :
Many English translations of various dialogues are available from different publishers, including, for most of them, paperback editions in economy collections. Here are the translations available in the Penguin Classics edition:
Other noteworthy editions of some of Plato's dialogues include:
Readers who don't have knowledge of Greek are strongly advised to make use of several translation of the same dialogue as soon as they want to do serious work on them, if only to avoid building "wild" theories on what may in the end only be a feature of a single translation, not of Plato's text, and to get a feel for where there might be translation problems, when they see varying translations for the same section. (back)
Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
First published May 16, 1996 - Last
updated November 17, 2001
© 1996, 2001 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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