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Hermias on the Unity of the Phaedrus


Baltzly, D and Gardiner, Q, Hermias on the Unity of the Phaedrus, Studies in Hermias' Commentary on Plato's Phaedrus, Brill, JF Finamore, CP Manolea and S Klitenic Wear (ed), Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 68-83. ISBN 978-90-04-41431-0 (2020) [Research Book Chapter]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden

DOI: doi:10.1163/9789004414310_007


Two broad types of error might be attributed to Hermias' view on the unity of Plato's Phaedrus. First, you might object that Hermias misunderstands Soc­rates' principle of speech-composition (Phdr. 264a-e) and defends a single unitary theme at the expense of appreciating the thematic variety of the dia­logue. The dialogue simply has no skopos in the Neoplatonic sense of the word. Second, you might grant that the Phaedrus has a single unifying theme but object that Hermias' identification of that theme is mistaken. The real unifying theme of Plato's dialogue is not, as Hermias supposes, 'beauty on every level'. It is something else.

Recent scholarship on the Phaedrus reveals that both these criticisms would find supporters. An influential argument by Malcolm Heath backs the first ( and undermines the second): the kind of compositional unity discussed at Phdr. 264c (and presumably applicable to Plato's own text)l is a less-demanding classical concept of formal or dramatic unity which lacks the distinctly Neoplatonic requirement of a single theme that governs all elements of a work. Therefore, the search for a unifying skopos of the dialogue is, both then and now, anachronistic. A broader feature of the scholarship on the unity of the Phaedrus might validate Hermias' second error: while many commentators suggest a unifying theme of the dialogue, hardly any argue that it is 'beauty' (let alone 'beauty on every level'). For both these reasons contemporary literature on the Phaedrus tends to ignore Hermias. This essay attempts to make better sense of Hermias' position on the unity of the Phaedrus. In section 1 we argue that Heath has failed to show that the Neoplatonists over-interpret Socrates' insistence on the unity of discourses at Phdr 264c. In section 2 we discuss and defend the views of two modern commentators who agree with Hermias in accepting (at least) that there is a unifying theme for the Phaedrus and that it involves beauty. In section 3 we consider Hermias' defence of his more demanding notion of a skopos for the dialogue and the identification of that skopos with 'beauty at every level'. There may be many details of Hermias' interpretation of Plato's dialogue that we who are not Neoplatonists cannot find even vaguely plausible. But when it comes to general features of the Phaedrus, like its unifying theme, we think that Hermias deserves to be taken seriously.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:Plato, Phaedrus, Hermias, journeys
Research Division:Philosophy and Religious Studies
Research Group:History and philosophy of specific fields
Research Field:History of philosophy
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies
UTAS Author:Baltzly, D (Professor Dirk Baltzly)
UTAS Author:Gardiner, Q (Mr Quinton Gardiner)
ID Code:135721
Year Published:2020
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2019-11-08
Last Modified:2021-04-28

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