Reading Out, Reading In, Or Not At All: Plato and Porphyry on Interpretation

Plato, Protagoras 347e

“Thus as well, these kinds of gatherings, if they have men the likes of which most of us claim to be, require no other voice, not even from poets, whom it is not possible to interrogate about what they mean, and when their works are introduced some people say the poet meant these things, some say they meant something different, and they dispute about a matter which they are incapable of testing.”

οὕτω δὲ καὶ αἱ τοιαίδε συνουσίαι, ἐὰν μὲν λάβωνται ἀνδρῶν, οἷοίπερ ἡμῶν οἱ πολλοί φασιν εἶναι, οὐδὲν δέονται ἀλλοτρίας φωνῆς οὐδὲ ποιητῶν, οὓς οὔτε ἀνερέσθαι οἷόν τ᾿ ἐστὶ περὶ ὧν λέγουσιν, ἐπαγόμενοί τε αὐτοὺς οἱ πολλοὶ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις οἱ μὲν ταῦτά φασι τὸν ποιητὴν νοεῖν, οἱ δ᾿ ἕτερα, περὶ πράγματος διαλεγόμενοι ὃ ἀδυνατοῦσιν ἐξελέγξαι·

From Porphyry’s “Concerning Styx” [Preserved by Stobaeus, 2.1.32]

“The poet’s belief is not easily understood as someone might believe. For all the ancient authors communicated about the gods and the goddesses through riddles—and Homer especially cloaked material about them even more by not talking about them straightforwardly and by using the things he said for the indirect expression of different things. Of the people who have tried to revive the things which he said by such secondary meaning, the Pythagorean Kronios seems the most adept at working them out. Still, generally, he applies different material in his interpretations of the established texts since he cannot apply Homer’s: he has not dedicated himself to deriving his beliefs from the poet but instead he interprets the poet by his own beliefs.”

     Πορφυρίου ἐκ τοῦ Περὶ Στυγός.

     ῎Εστι δὲ ἡ τοῦ ποιητοῦ δόξα οὐχ ὡς ἄν τις νομίσειεν εὔληπτος. Πάντες μὲν γὰρ οἱ παλαιοὶ τὰ περὶ τῶν θεῶν καὶ δαιμόνων δι’ αἰνιγμῶν ἐσήμαναν, ῞Ομηρος δὲ καὶ μᾶλλον τὰ περὶ τούτων ἀπέκρυψε, τῷ μὴ προηγουμένως περὶ αὐτῶν διαλέγεσθαι, καταχρῆσθαι δὲ τοῖς λεγομένοις εἰς παράστασιν ἄλλων. Τῶν οὖν ἀναπτύσσειν ἐπιχειρησάντων τὰ δι’ ὑπονοίας παρ’ αὐτῷ λεγόμενα ἱκανώτατα δοκῶν ὁ Πυθαγόρειος Κρόνιος τοῦτ’ ἀπεργάσασθαι, ὅμως ἐν τοῖς πλείστοις ἄλλα τε ἐφαρμόζει ταῖς τεθείσαις ὑποθέσεσι,  τὰ ῾Ομήρου μὴ δυνάμενος, οὔ<τε τοῖς> παρὰ τοῦ ποιητοῦ τὰς δόξας, τοῖς δὲ παρ’ ἑαυτοῦ προσάγειν τὸν ποιητὴν πεφιλοτίμηται.

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