I am dating the Charmides in 404 B. C., in the early days of the reign of the Thirty, and in the preceding post I quoted Xenophon’s description of the actions of the Thirty in those days (Hellenica II.iii.11-12). I have found it inconceivable that Plato could have written the dialogue after the Thirty ordered Socrates and four others to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, and Socrates disobeyed their order; in support of this terminus ante quem I referred to Plato’s Apology and to his Seventh Letter. Let me now return to Xenophon’s Hellenica to get a clearer picture of the situation in Athens that led to that incident.
Xenophon went on to say:
‘When, however, the Thirty began to consider how they might become free to do just as they pleased with the state (epei de êrxanto bouleuesthai hopôs an exeiê autois tê̢ polei chrêsthai hopôs boulointo), their first act was to send Aeschines and Aristoteles to Lacedaemon (ek toutou prôton men pempsantes eis Lakedaimona Aischinên te kai Aristotelên) and persuade Lysander (epeisan Lusandron) to help them to secure the sending of a Lacedaemonian garrison (phrourous sphisi sumpraxai elthein), to remain until, as they said, they could put “the scoundrels” out of the way (heôs dê tous ponêrous ek podôn poiêsamenoi) and establish their government (katastêsainto tên politeian); and they promised to maintain this garrison at their own charges (threpsein de autoi hupischnounto).’ (II.iii.13, tr. Brownson)
The Aristoteles here named figures in Plato’s Parmenides. Let me quote the relevant passages from the dialogue: ‘According to Antiphon (ephê de dê ho Antiphôn), Pythodorus said (legein ton Puthodôron) that Zeno and Parmenides once came to Athens for the Great Panathenaea (hoti aphikointo pote eis Panathênaia ta megala Zênôn te kai Parmenidês) (127a8-b1) … they stayed at Pythodorus’ house (kataluein te autous ephê para tô̢ Puthodôrô̢) in Cerameicus, outside the city walls (ektos teichous en Kerameikô̢), and Socrates came there (hoi dê kai aphikesthai ton te Sôkratê) with a number of others (kai allous tinas met’ autou pollous), eager to hear (epithumountas akousai) a reading of Zeno’s treatise (tôn tou Zênônos grammatôn) (127b6-c3) … Zeno himself read to them (anagignôskein oun autois ton Zênôna auton), but Parmenides, as it happened, was out (ton de Parmenidên tuchein exô onta). Pythodorus said he came in (autos te epeiselthein ephê ho Puthodôros exôthen) with Parmenides (kai ton Parmenidên met’ autou) and Aristoteles (kai Aristotelê), who was later one of the Thirty Tyrants (ton tôn triakonta genomenon) (127c5-d3).’
At 135c8-d2 Parmenides says to Socrates: ‘You undertake to mark off something beautiful and just and good and each one of the characters [‘forms’] too soon, before being properly trained (Prô̢ gar, prin gumnasthênai, ô Sôkrates, horizesthai epicheireis kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon kai hen hekaston tôn eidôn). I realized that yesterday (ennoêsa gar kai prô̢ên), when I heard you (sou akouôn) discussing here with Aristoteles (dialegomenou enthade Aristotelei tô̢de). Believe me, your impulse toward argument is noble and indeed divine. But train yourself more thoroughly while you are still young.’
In response to this criticism, Socrates asked Parmenides what sort of training he had in mind (135d7). Not satisfied with Parmenides’ explanation, he asked him to exemplify it (136c7-8). When Parmenides excused himself – ‘You impose a difficult task (Polu ergon prostatteis) for a man of my age (hôs têlikô̢de, 136d1) – Socrates asked Zeno to do so (136d1-3). Zeno replied: ‘Don’t you see how great a task you propose (ouch hora̢s hoson ergon prostatteis; 136d6)? … So Parmenides, I join in Socrates’ request (egô men oun, ô Parmenidê, Sôkratei sundeomai), so that I too may learn from you (hina kai autos diakousô) after all this time (dia chronou). After Zeno said this (tauta dê eipontos tou Zênônos), Antiphon said (ephê ho Antiphôn) that Pythodorus said (phanai ton Puthodôron) that he and Aristoteles and the others begged Parmenides (auton te deisthai tou Parmenidou kai ton Aristotelê kai tous allous) to exhibit what he meant (endeixasthai ho legoi), and not refuse (kai mê allôs poiein).’ (136e3-8)
Parmenides in the end agreed: ‘Then who will answer me? he asked (Tis oun, eipein, moi apokrineitai;). Perhaps the youngest (ê ho neôtatos;)? For he would give least trouble (hêkista gar an polupragmonoi), and be most likely to say what he thinks (kai ha oietai malista an apokrinoito). At the same time, his answering would give me a chance to rest (kai hama emoi anapaula an eiê hê ekeinou apokrisis). – I am ready, Parmenides, said Aristoteles (hetoimos soi, ô Parmenidê, phanai, touto, ton Aristotelê). ‘You mean me (eme gar legeis): I am the youngest (ton neôtaton legôn). Ask your questions (alla erôtâ), and I will answer them (hôs apokrinoumenou).’ (137b6-c3, tr. R. E. Allen)
Let me give a few questions and answers with which the training began, and which are characteristic of the training in its entirety.
Parmenides: ‘If unity is (ei hen estin), is unity many (allo ti ouk an eiê polla to hen;)?’ – Aristoteles: ‘No (Pôs gar an;).’ – Parmenides: ‘So it must have no parts, nor be itself a whole (Oute ara meros autou oute holon auto dei einai).’ – Aristoteles: ‘Why (Ti dê)?’ – Parmenides: ‘Part (To meros), I take it (pou), is part of a whole (holou meros estin).’ – Aristoteles: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Parmenides: ‘What about whole (Ti de to holon;)? Is not a whole that from which no part is absent (ouchi hou an meros mêden apê̢ holon an eiê;)?’ – Aristoteles: ‘Of course (Panu ge).’ – Parmenides: ‘So if a unity were a whole and had parts, on both grounds it would be composed of parts (Amphoterôs ara to hen ek merôn an eiê, holon te on kai merê echon).‘ – Aristoteles: ‘Necessarily (Anankê).’ – Parmenides: ‘So on both grounds (Amphoterôs an ara) unity would be many but not one (houtôs to hen polla eiê all’ ouch hen).’ – Aristoteles: ‘True (Alêthê).’ – Parmenides: ‘But it must be, not many, but just one (Dei de ge mê polla all’ hen auto einai).’ – Aristoteles: ‘Yes (Dei).’ – Parmenides: ‘So if unity is to be one, it will neither be a whole nor have parts (Out' ara holon estai oute merê hexei, ei hen estai to hen).’ – Aristoteles: ‘No (Ou gar).’ – Parmenides: ‘Then if unity has no part (Oukoun ei mêden echei meros), it would have neither beginning, middle, nor end (out’ an archên oute teleutên oute meson echoi); for such things would forthwith be parts of it (merê gar an êdê autou ta toiauta eiê).’ – Aristoteles: ‘Correct (Orthôs).’ – Twenty-nine Stephanus pages later, at 166c5, the dialogue ends with Aristoteles’ ‘Most true’ (Alêthestata). (The translation is R. E. Allen’s)
Xenophon continues: ‘Lysander consented (ho de peistheis), and helped them to secure the dispatch of the troops and of Callibius as the governor (tous te phrourous kai Kallibion harmostên sunepraxen autois pemphthênai). But when they had got the garrison (hoi d’ epei tên phrouran elabon), they paid court to Callibius in every way (ton men Kallibion etherapeuon pasê̢ therapeia̢), in order that he might approve of everything (hôs panta epainoiê) they did (ha prattoien), and as he detailed guardsmen to go with them (tôn de phrourôn toutou sumpempontos autois), they arrested the people whom they wished to reach (hous eboulonto sunelambanon), – not now “the scoundrels” (ouketi tous ponêrous te) and persons of little account (kai oligou axious), but from this time forth the men who, they thought, were least likely to submit to being ignored (all’ êdê hous enomizon hêkista men parôthoumenous anechesthai), and who, if they undertook to offer any opposition (antiprattein de ti epicheirountas), would obtain supporters in the greatest numbers (pleistous an tous sunelthontas lambanein).’ (II.iii.14, tr. Brownson)
I discuss the dating of the Parmenides and the historicity of the Parmenides-Zeno-Socrates encounter on my website in ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’. In the paper, I defended Plato’s insistence on its historicity by interpreting the dialogue in its light. What do I mean by Plato’s insistence on the historicity of the Parmenides-Zeno-Socrates encounter? In the introductory scene Cephalus, the narrator, says that he met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora of Athens, and that he said to the former: ‘These gentlemen here are fellow citizens of mine, much interested in philosophy. They’ve heard that your Antiphon used to associate with a certain Pythodorus, a companion of Zeno’s, and that he can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus.’ – ‘True (alȇthȇ),’ said Adeimantus, ‘for when he was a youngster (meirakion gar ȏn), he used to rehearse them diligently (autous eu mala diemeletȇsen)’ (126b-c). Adeimantus and Glaucon were Plato’s brothers, Antiphon was their half-brother.
The references to Aristoteles in Plato’s Parmenides provide an additional argument for its historicity. For if the dialogue were a pure invention of Plato, as the modern interpreters insist it must be, then one would have to presuppose that Plato put ‘Aristoteles (kai Aristotelê), who was later one of the Thirty Tyrants (ton tôn triakonta genomenon, (127d2-3)’ into the dialogue for a reason, which the reader should be able to detect. Strangely enough, I haven’t come across any interpreter who would consider it.
Thus R. Allen writes in the ‘Comment’ to his translation of the dialogue: ‘The Parmenides is fiction, meant to be read as such (p. 73) … Cornford’s argument by itself is decisive: “To suppose that anything remotely resembling the conversation in this dialogue could have occurred … would make nonsense of the whole history of philosophy in the fifth and fourth centuries” (p.74)’.
Discussing the ‘Characters’, Allen says about Aristoteles: ‘He is younger than Socrates (137c) but old enough to answer questions. He may be the Aristoteles son of Timocrates mentioned by Thucydides (III 105) as an Athenian general in 426, who in turn may have been a treasurer of the Delian League in 421’20 (Corpus Inscriptionum Atticorum I 260). We learn more of him from Xenophon’s Hellenica. He returned from exile to Athens in 405 (II 2. 18), when, if the Parmenides is accurate, he must have been in his sixties; he joined the Thirty (II. 3.2 [Allen mistakenly III 3.2]), was sent by them as envoy to Sparta, and later acted as a general, fortifying the peninsula commanding the Piraeus (II 3.46 [Allen mistakenly III 3.46]) during their last desperate days. All this may be proof that some Greek graybeards were singularly venturesome (it may be observed that Nicias was fifty-five when sent to Sicily, and regarded as extremely old to be a general). But it may also suggest that Plato, in making Aristoteles a youth in 450 B.C., was engaging in conscious anachronism, a device he uses for other purposes in other dialogues.’ (Plato’s Parmenides, translated with Comment by R. E. Allen, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 73)
As can be seen, the only reason for Plato’s mentioning of Aristoteles in the dialogue, that Allen can think of, is ‘the conscious anachronism’ concerning the age of Aristoteles, which, if Allen’s tentative suggestion could be substantiated, would support the view of the dialogue as Plato’s fiction. Allen says: ‘The Parmenides is a fiction, meant to be read as such (p. 73).’ But since Plato in the introductory scene adduced his brother Adeimantus as a witness to the historicity of the Parmenides-Zeno-Socrates encounter, I can’t help finding it strange that he would want to alert the reader to its being a fiction by a ‘conscious anachronism’. Why Aristoteles in his sixties could not have supervised the fortification of the peninsula commanding the Piraeus, the harbour of Athens?
Isn’t it time to ask Plato’s interpreters, who view the dialogue as Plato’s fiction, to give us a plausible reason for his putting Aristoteles in the dialogue as he did? For if Plato wrote the Parmenides as a fiction, he must have had a reason for his having Aristoteles in it.
On my view, Aristoteles figures in the dialogue as he does because he happened to be there on the occasion, happened to have a discussion with Socrates on moral concepts that Parmenides overheard, and happened to act as Parmenides’ answerer in the discussion with which the dialogue culminated.
***I put in bold Allen’s ‘He [Aristoteles] returned from exile to Athens in 405 (II 2. 18)’ The reference is wrong. Narrating the events of the year 405 B.C., Xenophon says in Hellenica II 2. 18: ‘Lysander meanwhile sent Aristoteles, an Athenian exile, in company with some Lacedaemonians, to report to the ephors (Lusandros de tois ephorois epempsen angelounta met’ allôn Lakedaimoniôn Aristotelên, phugada Athênaion onta …’ It was only later, after the capitulation of Athens, that Aristoteles could return: ‘After this (meta de tauta) Lysander sailed (Lusandros te kateplei) into Piraeus (eis ton Peiraia), the exiles returned (kai hoi phugades katê̢san) …’ (Hellenica II 2. 23, tr. Brownson)