Category: Historical subjects

The Organization of the Academy: Publishing Procedures

What was the procedure of publishing a text in Plato’s day, who was the recipient of this procedure and to what extent does it represent a common practice in his time?

Before Plato

The concept of the “publisher” of written texts, in the sphere of philosophy at least, is perhaps a very old one. Diogenes Laertius relates with regard to the life and works of Pherecydes (D.L., Ι, 22), that in his will the philosopher entrusted his unpublished writings to Thales of Miletus, in order for him to publish them. No similar cases relating to publications in this period are known. However, the method that Socrates had imposed in his circle, namely, the reading aloud of writings of other philosophers, with the aim of stimulating discussion so as to evaluate the content of treatises of Sophist paternity mainly, but also of works by the natural philosophers, can be understood as a “pre-publishing” procedure. Xenophon records in his Memorabilia I (VI, 14) Socrates’ admission that “The treasures also of the wise of old, written and bequeathed in their books, I unfold and peruse in common with my friends”. Euclid from Megara certifies also the role played in this procedure by a slave (probably an educated war captive), who read aloud in stentorian tones in front of Socrates’ audience (Xenophon, Symposium, IV, 27). Moreover, we know that Socrates owned a copy of Anaxagoras’ book, which he had obtained in the Agora, purchasing it for “one drachma”, just as any Athenian could (Plato Apology 26d).

The publishing activity in the Academy

It is not known when the publishing procedure introduced by Plato, which gave the so-called “anagnostes” (reader, lector) a special role, began to be implemented. From the time the operation of the Academy was organized, the role of the “reader” was certainly upgraded, as borne out by the fact that Plato entrusted it to Aristotle. The intelligence of Plato’s brilliant pupil in this position led to the Athenian philosopher being dubbed the “nous” (mind) or the “mind of the treatise” (John Philoponus Περ. Αϊδ., VI, 27), which permits us to assume that this procedure of simple reading aloud was turned into a philological inquisition. Just how decisive the role of the “reader” was in the Academy is deduced also from words attributed to Plato: ὁ [νοῦς] ἄπεστι, κωφὸν τὸ ἀκροατήριον (absent [mind], deaf audience) (Vita Marciana 7). Last, everything shows that in the Academy premises a special room had been set aside as the oecus or apartment of the reader, since Plato is said to have ordered: Ἀπίωμεν εἰς τὴν τοῦ ἀναγνώστου οἰκίαν (We withdraw to the house of the reader) (Vita Marciana 6).

Of the other philosophical schools at Athens, the only one that seems to have adopted the publishing procedure imposed by Plato is the Lyceum. There is no information of publishing procedures in the Lyceum in Aristotle’s day, nor during the period of the Peripatos with Theophrastus as scholarch. However, according to Diogenes Laertes (D.L., V, 73), the scholarch Lycon, who succeeded Strato, bequeathed in his will all his books that had been read aloud (ανεγνωσμένα) to his “anagnostes”, and all his unpublished ones to Callinus, so that he edit and publish them with care.

The issue that remains open with regard to the role of the “anagnostes” in the Academy is precisely which texts for publication he was charged to read aloud? Perhaps all the Dialogues of Plato, excepting the Laws and Epinomis (which were unpublished at the time of Plato’s death) passed through this procedure. However, this is merely a hypothesis, as no secure information has survived. Two snippets of information regarding the circulation of Plato’s Dialogues support this hypothesis: Plato’s objection to the channelling of his works to the Agora by his pupil Hermodorus – perhaps they had not been subjected to the said publishing procedure – (Zenobius, Epitome V, 7, 1-4) –, and the locating by Panaetius and Euphrion of copies of the Republic with different introductory notes (D.L., ΙΙΙ, 37). The role of the “reader” during the intervals of Plato’s absence from the Academy, in Sicily (367-366 BC and 361-360 BC), also remains an open question.

The publishing procedures in the Academy were not limited to the publication of Plato’s Dialogues, but extended to essays and treatises written by Academy students and which circulated in the book market, in the framework of the school’s activities. Outstanding among these many and diverse treatises is Aristotle’s Protrepticus, which arose as follows. Isocrates personally and his circle of students too fulminated against the teaching in the Academy. Aristotle, in his capacity as “representative” of the Academy, replied around 362 BC with scathing comments on the standard of studies in the art of rhetoric in the School of Isocrates. His censures did not go unanswered by the Athenian orator and were condensed in an “apologia” entitled Antidosis, in which Isocrates clarifies the reasons why he criticizes the Academy and the community of philosophers in general. The publication of Antidosis, around 353/2 BC, gave Aristotle an excellent pretext for composing a programmatic rejoinder on behalf of the Academicians. These were the circumstances in which Protrepticus was born, with which the Stagirite derided Isocrates’ views on philosophy. Primary aim of Aristotle, as well as of the most important of Plato’s students, was to emphasize the necessity of philosophizing for philosophizing’s sake. Indeed, they point out that even those who argue against philosophy do no more than philosophize.

Although the case of Protrepticus is a characteristic example of the publishing activity within the fold of the Academy, another related activity should also be taken into account. If we examine the bibliographical notes accompanying the Lives of Speusippus, Xenocrates and Aristotle, we shall ascertain that many titles are related to Plato’s dialogical works: On Friendship, On Justice, Letters to Dion by Speusippus, From the Republic, Objections, To Gorgias, On Forms and Species by Aristotle. In other words, essays and treatises were composed by distinguished students of the Academy, in the context of its internal activities and with axis of reference the oeuvre of Plato.

Author: Konstantinos Sp. Staikos
  • During, I. Aristotle’s Protrepticus. An Attempt at Reconstruction. Göteborg, 1961.
  • Staikos, K. Sp. The Library of Plato and the Academy. Athens, 2013.
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