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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2014

Robbert M. van den Berg*
Leiden University


In their introduction to the recent excellent volume Plato & Hesiod, the editors G.R. Boys-Stones and J.H. Haubold observe that when we think about the problematic relationship between Plato and the poets, we tend to narrow this down to that between Plato and Homer. Hesiod is practically ignored. Unjustly so, the editors argue. Hesiod provides a good opportunity to start thinking more broadly about Plato's interaction with poets and poetry, not in the least because the ‘second poet’ of Greece represents a different type of poetry from Homer's heroic epics, that of didactic poetry. What goes for Plato and Hesiod goes for Proclus and Hesiod. Proclus (a.d. 410/12–85), the productive head of the Neoplatonic school in Athens, took a great interest in poetry to which he was far more positively disposed than Plato had ever been. He wrote, for example, two lengthy treatises in reaction to Socrates' devastating criticism of poetry in the Republic as part of his commentary on that work in which he tries to keep the poets within the Platonic pale. This intriguing aspect of Proclus' thought has, as one might expect, not failed to attract scholarly attention. In Proclus' case too, however, discussions tend to concentrate on his attitude towards Homer (one need only think here of Robert Lamberton's stimulating book Homer the Theologian). To some extent this is only to be expected, since much of the discussion in the Commentary on the Republic centres on passages from Homer. Proclus did not, however, disregard Hesiod: we still possess his scholia on the Works and Days, now available in a recent edition by Patrizia Marzillo.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2014 

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1 Boys-Stones, G.R. and Haubold, J.H. (edd.), Plato & Hesiod (Oxford, 2010), 1Google Scholar.

2 On Proclus' discussion of poetry and that of Homer in particular, see, in addition to Lamberton, R., Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1986)Google Scholar, Sheppard, A.R.D., Studies on the 5th and 6th Essays of Proclus' Commentary on the Republic (Göttingen, 1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. also Kuisma, O., Proclus' Defence of Homer (Helsinki, 1996)Google Scholar and Stern-Gillet, S., ‘Proclus and the Platonic Muse’, AncPhil 31 (2011), 363–80Google Scholar.

3 Marzillo, P., Der Kommentar des Proklos zu Hesiods ‘Werken und Tagen’. Edition, Übersetzung und Erläuterung der Fragmente (Munich, 2010)Google Scholar.

4 Adamson, P., ‘Booknotes’, Phronesis 56 (2011), 426–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 434–5. He rightly rejects the suggestion by Marzillo that a discussion of an ethical work would be more attractive to a Christian public than a poem that was concerned with pagan theology. As Adamson points out, this explanation sits ill with the fact that Proclus discusses in some detail issues like the nature of daemons and the causal influence of the gods. On Proclus' theological project, see §3 below.

5 For an overview of references to Hesiod in Plato, see G.W. Most, ‘Plato's Hesiod: an acquired taste?’, in Boys-Stones and Haubold (n. 1), 52–67, at 57–61.

6 As stressed e.g. by A.L. Ford, ‘Plato's two Hesiods’, in Boys-Stones and Haubold (n. 1), 133–54 and Most (n. 5).

7 Pl. Resp. 378d6-e4: ὁ γὰρ νέος οὐχ οἷός τε κρίνειν ὅτι τε ὑπόνοια καὶ ὃ μή, ἀλλ' ἃ ἂν τηλικοῦτος ὢν λάβῃ ἐν ταῖς δόξαις δυσέκνιπτά τε καὶ ἀμετάστατα φιλεῖ γίγνεσθαι· ὧν δὴ ἴσως ἕνεκα περὶ παντὸς ποιητέον ἃ πρῶτα ἀκούουσιν ὅτι κάλλιστα μεμυθολογημένα πρὸς ἀρετὴν ἀκούειν.

8 Cf. Most (n. 5), 63.

9 Ford (n. 6), 153–4.

10 Ibid. 153.

11 Koning, H.H., Hesiod: The Other Poet. Ancient Reception of a Cultural Icon (Leiden, 2010), 326CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 On Hesiod's measured style, see Hunter, R., ‘Hesiod's style: towards an ancient analysis’, in Montanari, F., Rengakos, A. and Tsagalis, C. (edd.), Brill's Companion to Hesiod (Leiden, 2009), 253–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for his avoidance of metaphors, see pp. 266–7.

13 For Proclus' discussion of the nature of Platonic Theology, see Theol. Plat. 1.3–7; for a discussion of the theme of the agreement of Platonic philosophy with the theologoi, see further Saffrey, H.D., ‘Accorder entre elles les traditions théologiques: une caractéristique du néoplatonisme athénien’, in Bos, E.P. and Meijer, P.A. (edd.), On Proclus and His Influence in Medieval Philosophy (Leiden, 1992), 3550CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 Procl. in Remp. 1.72.2–5: ἐπεὶ δὲ πρὸ τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων ὁ Σωκράτης αἰτιᾶται τὸν τῆς μυθοποιΐας τρόπον, καθ' ὃν Ὅμηρός τε καὶ Ἡσίοδος τοὺς περὶ θεῶν παρέδοσαν λόγους, καὶ πρὸ τούτων Ὀρφεὺς καὶ εἰ δή τις ἄλλος ἐνθέῳ στόματι γέγονεν τῶν ἀεὶ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ ὡσαύτως ἐχόντων ἐξηγητής …

15 ‘A very curious reading of Plato’ indeed, as Stern-Gillet (n. 2) demonstrates at some length (quotation on p. 368).

16 Procl. in Remp. 1.80.20–3. According to Proclus, allegorical poetry may unite us with the divine because it consists of symbola. These symbola channel the divine energy that lifts us up towards the divine. For this very particular type of symbolic poetry and its relation to Neoplatonic ritual practices (theurgy), see e.g. Sheppard (n. 2), 145–61.

17 Procl. in Remp. 1.80.23–6: ὅστις οὖν ἡμῶν τὸ παιδαριῶδες τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ νεαροπρεπὲς ἀπεσκευάσατο καὶ τὰς τῆς φαντασίας ἀορίστους ὁρμὰς κατεστήσατο καὶ νοῦν ἡγεμόνα προὐστήσατο τῆς ἑαυτοῦ ζωῆς …

18 Procl. in Remp. 1.81.11–17: ὅτι δὲ καὶ τῷ Σωκράτει δέδοκται καὶ τὸ τῶν μύθων εἶδος εἶναι διττόν, ἐκ τῶν εἰρημένων ὑπέμνησται, λέγω δὲ ὡς τὸ μέν ἐστι παιδευτικόν, τὸ δὲ τελεστικόν, καὶ τὸ μὲν πρὸς τὴν ἠθικὴν ἀρετὴν παρασκευάζον, τὸ δὲ τὴν πρὸς τὸ θεῖον συναφὴν παρεχόμενον, καὶ τὸ μὲν τοὺς πολλοὺς ἡμῶν ὠφελεῖν δυνάμενον, τὸ δὲ ἐλαχίστοις συναρμοζόμενον …

19 Procl. in Op. 1.1–18 ed. Marzillo (n. 3): Τὴν μὲν Θεογονίαν ὁ γενναῖος Ἡσίοδος δοκεῖ μοι συνθεῖναι πάσης τῆς περὶ τὸν κόσμον τῶν θεῶν προνοίας τὰς ἀρχὰς ἐθελήσας παραδοῦναι τοῖς μεθ' ἑαυτὸν κατὰ τὴν πάτριον τῶν Ἑλλήνων φήμην ἀπὸ τῶν ἐν τοῖς ἱεροῖς θρυλουμένων μύθων τὸ σύγγραμμα περιεργασάμενος· τὰ δὲ Ἔργα καὶ τὰς Ἡμέρας εἰς τὴν οἰκονομίαν καὶ ἀπράγμονα ζωὴν παρακαλῶν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγοραίου καὶ φορτικῆς, οὐχ ἁπλῶς εἰς ἡδονὴν ἀποβλέπων τῶν ἐντευξομένων, ἀλλὰ ταύτην μὲν πάρεργον θέμενος, τὴν δὲ ὠφέλειαν τὴν εἰς τὸ ἦθος προηγούμενον σκοπὸν ποιησάμενος, ἵνα τὸν ἴδιον βίον κοσμήσαντες, οὕτω καὶ τῆς περὶ τὸ θεῖον γνώσεως ἐπήβολοι γενώμεθα. Διὸ καὶ ἀπὸ τούτου προσήκει τοῦ συγγράμματος ἄρχεσθαι· τοὺς γὰρ τὸ ἦθος ἀκοσμήτους τὸν κόσμον γνῶναι παντελῶς ἀδύνατον. Ὁ μὲν οὖν σκοπὸς τοῦ βιβλίου παιδευτικός· τὸ δὲ μέτρον ὥσπερ ἥδυσμά τι τῷ σκοπῷ τούτῳ τῆς ἑρμηνείας ἐπιβέβληται, θέλγον τὰς ψυχὰς καὶ κατέχον εἰς τὴν πρὸς αὐτὸ φιλίαν. Διὸ καὶ ἀρχαιότροπός ἐστιν ἡ ἐν αὐτῷ τῆς ποιητικῆς ἰδέα· τῶν γὰρ καλλωπισμῶν καὶ τῶν ἐπιθέτων κόσμων καὶ μεταφορῶν ὡς τὰ πολλὰ καθαρεύει· τὸ γὰρ ἁπλοῦν καὶ τὸ αὐτοφυὲς πρέπει τοῖς ἠθικοῖς λόγοις.

20 On the issue of the σκοπός (or ὑπόθεσις as it also called) as one of the so-called isagogical questions, see J. Mansfeld, Prolegomena: Questions to be Settled Before the Study of an Author, or a Text (Leiden, 1994), esp. 30–6 with regard to Proclus.

21 Already Ch. di Sarzana, Faraggina, ‘Le commentaire à Hésiode et la paideia encyclopédique de Proclus’, in Pépin, J. and Saffrey, H.D. (edd.), Proclus lecteur et interprète des anciens (Paris, 1987), 2141Google Scholar, at 30–2 has, correctly to my mind, stressed the paideutic function of the Works and Days. She did not, however, discuss the relation between the Works and Days and the Theogony. Marzillo (n. 3), 306–7 rejects this interpretation. She argues that for Proclus the Works and Days represents a specimen of superior, inspired poetry. I shall deal with Marzillo's interpretation in §6.

22 I owe this point to Hugo Koning.

23 Most, G.W., ‘Two Hesiodic papyri’, in Bastianini, G. and Casanova, A. (edd.), Esiodo, cent' anni di papyri (Florence, 2008), 5570Google Scholar; cf. Koning (n. 11), 282–3.

24 On Iamblichus' reading order of Plato's dialogues, see the anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy 24–6; cf. Sorabji, R. (ed.), The Philosophy of the Commentators 200–600 AD. A Sourcebook (London, 2004), 1.319–22Google Scholar for an English translation and secondary literature.

25 The idea that some form of preliminary purification of the passions was indispensable for a student may be traced back to Middle Platonists such as Albinus and Galen, as Mansfeld (n. 20), 94–5 and 164–5 points out.

26 Porph. Sent. 32; cf. Sorabji (n. 24), 1.337–41.

27 See e.g. E.E. Pender, ‘Chaos corrected: Hesiod in Plato's creation myth’, in Boys-Stones and Haubold (n. 1), 219–54. Especially relevant in the context of the present paper is Pender's discussion of the teleological role of the Muses according to Timaeus (pp. 242–5). As we have seen, Proclus denies that Hesiod was interested in providing aesthetical pleasure (ἡδονή) to his public; his only aim was to order the souls of his audience. Pender calls attention to Ti. 47d32–7: the utility of poetry is not, as it is now thought to be, irrational pleasure (ἡδονὴν ἄλογον), ‘but an ally against inward discord that has come into the revolution of the soul, to bring order (κατακόσμησιν) and consonance with itself’. Pender comments: ‘for Plato … the gifts of the Muses … offer human beings the chance to transcend entirely their physical limitations and thus become divine’.

28 It may be objected that the private life that the Works and Days advocates is precisely the opposite of a public, political life. Here we hit on a paradox of Neoplatonic ethics. Since the political virtues are about the care for the soul, the acquisition of these virtues may well result in a withdrawal from the public life. Proclus' biographer Marinus (Proclus 14–15) reports that Proclus possessed all the political virtues to the highest degree, yet did not himself enter the political arena. Instead he practised the Pythagorean maxim ‘Live unnoticed!’.

29 Procl. in Op. 76 ed. Marzillo.

30 Ibid. 102.

31 Ibid. 161.1–6: τὰ μὲν ἔμπροσθεν ῥηθέντα πάντα κοινὰ παιδεύματα ἦν εἰς πολιτικὴν τείνοντα ζωήν, ἀναμιμνήσκοντα τῶν τῆς κακίας αἰτιῶν καὶ τῆς ποικιλίας τῶν βίων καὶ τυποῦντα γνώμαις τισὶ τὸ ἦθος. τὰ δὲ ῥηθησόμενα τῶν μὲν κακοπραγιῶν ἀπάγει τὸν ἀκροατήν, ἄγει δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν γεωργικὸν βίον καὶ τὸν ἐκ τούτου δίκαιον πόρον.

32 Ibid. 259.2–3: τοῦτο τὸ τέλος ἐστὶ τῶν παραγγελμάτων ἱκανὸν, εἰς τὸ παιδεῦσαι ἡμᾶς τὸ ἑαυτῶν ἦθος εὐλαβουμένους τὴν φήμην.

33 Ibid. 1.27–35.

34 Ibid. 158.2–3.

35 Marzillo (n. 3), XXII–XXXII and 306–7.

36 Cf. Procl. in Op. 53–93 ed. Marzillo.

37 Cf. Procl. in Remp. 1.192.6–195.12.

38 As Anne Sheppard has kindly pointed out to me.

39 Cf. Procl. in Remp. 1.177.7–179.32.

40 As already Sheppard (n. 2), 162–3 observes.

41 Procl. in Remp. 1.179.6–7: τὴν οὐσίαν τῶν ὄντων καὶ τῶν καλῶν καὶ ἀγαθῶν ἔργων τε καὶ λόγων.

42 Ibid. 1.179.9–13: οἷα δὴ πολλὰ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ποιητῶν εὕροις ἂν γεννήματα, ζηλωτὰ τοῖς εὖ φρονοῦσιν, νουθεσίας καὶ συμβουλῶν ἀρίστων πλήρη καὶ νοερᾶς εὐμετρίας ἀνάμεστα φρονήσεώς τε καὶ τῆς ἄλλης ἀρετῆς προτείνοντα τὴν μετουσίαν τοῖς εὖ πεφυκόσιν …

43 Sheppard (n. 2), 184; cf. Beierwaltes, W., ‘Suche und ‘Denke’ des Einen als Prinzip der Literatur’, in id., Denken des Einen. Studien zur neuplatonischen Philosophie und ihrer Wirkungsgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main, 1985), 296318Google Scholar, at 304 and Kuisma (n. 2), 126–7, who both prefer the term ‘epistemic’ poetry in order to bring out that this poetry appeals to the rational part of the soul.

44 Sheppard (n. 2), 97 and 182; cf. Lamberton (n. 2), 191: ‘his concept of didactic or instructional poetry is something of an anomaly’.

45 I am not sure whether this is correct; cf. van den Berg, R.M., Proclus' Hymns. Essays, Translations, Commentary (Leiden, 2001), 141–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Procl. in Remp. 1.86.21–3: τῆς τε εἰς τὴν φύσιν βλεπούσης καὶ τὰς φυσικὰς δυνάμεις ἀφερμηνευούσης, καὶ τῆς τὰ ἤθη τῶν ψυχῶν παιδεύειν προστησαμένης; on this phrase, cf. Sheppard (n. 2), 193.

47 Cf. Pl. Resp. 605c5–8 for the ‘most serious accusation’ against poetry – that it corrupts even the best characters. Note that even in this passage, though, Socrates acknowledges the existence of good, healthy poetry, ‘hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men’ (Resp. 607a3–5).

48 See Pl. Resp. 379a7–9. Talking about God, one of the possible subjects of educational poetry, Socrates remarks: ‘God must, obviously, always be depicted as he is, be it that someone represents him in epic, lyric or tragic poetry’.

49 Procl. in Remp. 1.188.13–14: οὔτε δι' ἐνθουσιασμὸν οὔτε δι' ὀρθὴν δόξαν, ἀλλὰ δι' ἐπιστήμην κρίνοντα. One is reminded again of Koning's observation (T.3 above) that in the Greek tradition after Plato Hesiod is called γενναῖος, φρονίμος etc. because he was not considered to be an inspired poet.

50 Cf. Procl. in Remp. 1.179.15–16: ‘the third type of poetry in addition to these (i.e. inspired poetry and paideutikos poetry) is a mixture of opinions and imagination (ἡ δόξαις καὶ φαντασίαις συμμιγνυμένη)’. For an example of mimetic poetry based on correct opinion, see Procl. in Remp. 1.194.18–27, where he describes the bard who prevented Clytemnestra, at least for the time being, from committing crimes (allusion to Od. 3.267–8) as a singer ‘capable of mimicking things as they appear to him while using correct opinion’ (μιμητικός τις ὡς ἔοικεν καὶ ὀρθῇ δόξῃ χρώμενος).

51 Festugière, A.J., Proclus: Commentaire sur la République. Traduction et Notes (Paris, 1970)Google Scholar, 1.206 n. 3: ‘il ne faut pas trop urger cette opposition ὀρθὴ δόξα–ἐπιστήμη’.

52 Procl. in Remp. 1.188.24–7: εἰκότως δὴ οὖν τὴν τοιαύτην ποιητικὴν ἔμφρονα καὶ ἐπιστήμονά φαμεν ὑπάρχειν· ἡ γὰρ ταῖς μέσαις ἕξεσιν τὰς ὀρθὰς ἀφορίζειν δυναμένη δόξας αὕτη δή που κατὰ τὴν τελέαν ἐπιστήμην ὑφέστηκεν.

53 Simpl. in Cat. 5.21–3: δεῖ οὖν πρώτης τῆς ἀπὸ τῶν ἠθικῶν καταρτύσεως, οὐκ ἀποδεικτικῶς, ἀλλ' ὀρθοδοξαστικῶς τὰ ἠθικὰ παραλαμβανόντων ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς αὐτοφυεῖς περὶ τῶν ὄντων ἐννοίας. Translation of this passage and subsequent quotes from Simplicius, On the Categories (5.25–6: μετὰ διαιρέσεων καὶ ἀποδείξεων τῶν ἐπιστημονικωτάτων; 5.24–5: κατηχήσεις … παραινετικαὶ καὶ ἀναπόδεικτοι, οἷαι πολλαὶ παρὰ τοῖς Πυθαγορείοις ἐλέγοντο) are by Chase, M., Simplicius. On Aristotle's ‘Categories 1–4’ (Ithaca, NY, 2003)Google Scholar; see his instructive n. 70 (at 101) on the phrase ‘οὐκ ἀποδεικτικῶς, ἀλλ’ ὀρθοδοξαστικῶς'. According to Chase the idea of ‘correct opinion first, knowledge later’ goes back on Porphyry.

54 Hierocles in Aur. Carm. 2.3–4: τινὰς ἔχειν ἐν βραχεῖ διωρισμένους οἷον ἀφορισμούς τινας τεχνικούς; 4.8–10: καὶ οὗτος μὲν ὁ σκοπὸς τῶν ἐπῶν καὶ ἡ τάξις, χαρακτῆρα φιλόσοφον πρὸ τῶν ἄλλων ἀναγνωσμάτων ἐνθεῖναι τοῖς ἀκροαταῖς. Translation taken from Schibli, H.S., Hierocles of Alexandria (Oxford, 2002), 170–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who also provides a useful running commentary on this passage.

55 On Simplicius' pedagogical motives for writing a commentary on Epictetus' Encheiridion, see Hadot, I., Simplicius. Commentaire sur le Manuel d'Épictète (Paris, 2001), 1, xcii–xcviiGoogle Scholar; cf. Hadot, I. and Hadot, P., Apprendre à philosopher dans l'Antiquité (Paris, 2004), 4854Google Scholar.

56 I. Hadot and P. Hadot (n. 55), 52.

57 Procl. in Op. 252.1–7 ed. Marzillo.

58 I fail to see how one could read this scholion as an attempt to defend Plato and Neoplatonism against Christianity, as Marzillo (n. 3), XLVIII does.

59 A previous version of this paper was read at the conference ‘La Poética de Platón y su recepción en la antigüedad’ (Bogotá, 2011); I thank the participants for their comments. I am especially grateful to Frans de Haas, Hugo Koning, Anne Sheppard and the anonymous reader of CQ for their useful observations and stimulating suggestions.