Category: Plato in 80 entries

The manuscript tradition of Plato

The main source of knowledge about Plato’s work in Byzantium and the Greek-speaking world was the direct, manuscript tradition, while the Arab and the Latin world had access to his work mostly through its translations.

The oldest papyri texts from the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. are fragmental. Plato's work had survived in its entirety thanks to the Byzantines’ copying activity (*Copies of Platonic works in Byzantium). The basic form in which the Platonic texts were transferred are the codes, manuscript notebooks stapled like a book, containing either the complete works of Plato (along with the dubious and spurious works) or selected passages –sometimes in special editions of collected works (as in ancient codes), often together with other philosophical texts (usually Neoplatonic).

The manuscript tradition of Plato's works, although falling short of that of Aristotle, is rich: the extant Greek manuscripts are more than 250 and spread over a long period, from the 9th until the 16th century. This certifies the great interest for knowledge and study of Plato and of Platonic tradition in general.

For several centuries in the eastern world (Syrian, Arab-speaking and, later, Islamic) access to the Platonic corpus was relatively limited. The tradition of Platonic texts (or their summaries) includes only accounts for a few –lost– translations of integral dialogues in Syriac (*Translations of Platonic works in Syriac) and Arabic (* Translations of Platonic works in Arabic).

In the Latin West until the end of the 14th century the manuscript tradition included copies of fragmentary translations of Timaeus (Chalcidius 4th century), Parmenides (William of Moerbeke, 13th century), Menon and Phaedo (Henricus Aristippus, 12th century).

In the West the direct knowledge and use of Plato, since the Renaissance, was made possible thanks to the transfer of Greek manuscripts and the translations of the 15th century; with the later we enter into the period of printed versions of Plato's work (*Archetypal Latin translations of Plato's works).

Author: George Zografidis
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