Episode 37: Peter Adamson on Plato

Professor Peter Adamson is a man who knows a thing or two about Plato, and, while he comes from an analytical philosophy background, he is very concerned with the historical context of the philosophers he studies. He also produces an epic podcast on the history of philosophy the outrageous ambitions of which are an inspiration to us all. So who better to ask the question: how can the Plato of your podcast, the Plato of argumentation and logic, be the same man as the Plato of my podcast, the Plato of myth, mystic imagery, and divine inspiration?

The answers Peter gives are extremely illuminating, and this episode provides a perfect capstone to our series on Plato, re-integrating the forgotten materials we have been discussing on the SHWEP into the mainstream discourse of philosophy, where they belong.

A few of the topics covered are:

  •  The possibility of reconciling the seemingly different images of Plato we get from analytic philosophical interpretation and esoteric readings of his works,
  • Different approaches to reading Plato esoterically, from the Late Platonists to the Tübingenschule to the Straussians,
  • The esoteric and exoteric works of Aristotle,
  • The significance of Plato’s critiques of the written word and his use of his multiple frame narratives,
  • The role of religious language in interpreting the dialogues, and the status of Plato’s myths,
  • Changes in the ‘Plato industry’ of professional scholarship over the last fifty years or so, and the distortions which the economic realities of professional academe have given rise to in scholarship on Plato,
  • Suggestions for increasing the amount of Platonic text we possess (!),
  • The need for philosophers and historians of philosophy to take a much broader selection of texts seriously in their endeavour to understand the big questions – good philosophy often hides in the most esoteric places.

Corrigendum on the Pseudo-Platonic Liber vaccae, the Book of the Cow: this magical text, originally composed in Arabic (c. 850-900 CE), survives in that language in a single fragment (Bibliotheque Nationale MS arabe 2577, ff. 104-105). It had a long life as a Latin-language magical text under various titles. It contains four magical operations, all involving animals, and while there is lots of blood, semen, flagellation, and other nasty stuff present in the workings, the exact ritual I describe in this episode is not quite right, and we look forward to devoting an episode to this text when the time comes to set the record straight.

Works Discussed in this Episode:

  • Ausland, H. (2002). ‘Critical Approach: On Reading the Platonic Dialogues Esoterically’. In: Reale, G. & Scolnicov, S. (Ed.), New Images of Plato: Dialogues on the Idea of the Good, Academia.
  • Cherniss, H., 1945. The Riddle of the Early Academy. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  • Gaiser, K. (1980). ‘Plato’s Enigmatic Lecture ‘On the Good”, Phronesis 25 : 5-37.
  • Proclus, Diehl, E. (Ed.), 1903-1906. Procli Diadochi in Platonis Timaeum commentaria. Teubner, Leipzig.
  • Strauss, L., 1975. The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.


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