Plato and Platonism°

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The influence exercised by the Greek philosopher Plato on posterity both directly and through his interpreters was enormous and has been detailed in a vast literature. The direct influence of Plato on Jewish circles is much less pervasive. It seems quite clear that Greek philosophical writings in general had little or no influence on biblical and rabbinic literature, though current popular philosophic notions evidently became known also in the Jewish world. In Alexandria, one of the great centers of *Hellenistic civilization, Philo in the first century c.e. was faced with the necessity of effecting a reconciliation between Greek philosophy and scripture. This he did by reading the principles of the Platonism of his day into the Pentateuch by interpreting the latter in an allegorical manner. Philo did not leave any direct impression on later Jewish literature until reintroduced by Azariah de' *Rossi in the 16th century. After the Hellenistic period Plato did not have a great influence on Jewish thought until the period of the Arabic translations from the Greek, at which time Jews shared in general humanistic culture.

Among the dialogues reported to have been translated into Arabic were the Republic, the Timaeus, and the Crito. Quotations in Arabic from the Republic, Timaeus, Laws, and Symposium, among others, have been identified. Another source was the synopses of certain of the Platonic dialogues by *Galen. *Maimonides quotes from Galen's "commentary" on the Laws (Galeni Compendium Timaei Platonis, ed. by P. Kraus and R. Walzer (1951), 101), and his contemporary and friend Joseph ibn *Aknin quotes from Galen's Summary of the Republic (ibid., 100; and A. Halkin "Classical and Arabic Material in Aknin's 'Hygiene of the Soul'" in: paajr, 14 (1944), 135). However, it was mainly through the works of his later interpreters and followers that the doctrines of Plato had an effect on Jewish intellectuals in the Islamic cultural sphere, first of all through quotations and interpretation of Platonic doctrine occurring in the body of Aristotle's writings, and secondly through neoplatonic interpreters of Plato, mainly Plotinus and Proclus. The doctrines of Plotinus became known through the medium of the pseudepigraphical Theology of Aristotle, which consists of excerpts from the fourth, fifth, and sixth Enneads of Plotinus, as well as other works. The longer version of the Theology of Aristotle includes extracts from an as yet unknown neoplatonic work cited in the works of Isaac*Israeli and translated partially into Hebrew by Abraham *Ibn Hasdai in *Ben ha-Melekh ve-ha-Nazir ("The Prince and the Ascetic"), which itself is a translation of an Arabic work which goes back to the legend of Buddha. Also interpolated in the longer version are texts relating to the doctrine of the Divine Will, which are not Plotinian and had an influence, along with the whole Theology, on Ibn *Gabirol in his Fons Vitae. The longer version is extant in Leningrad in three fragmentary manuscripts, all Arabic in Hebrew script, which testify to its influence on Jewish circles. In the early 16th century, Moses Arovas made a Hebrew as well as an Italian translation of the longer version. The Italian version was then translated into Latin and published in Rome in 1519.

*Avicenna utilized neoplatonic sources in the construction of his philosophic system and had a vast influence on philosophic circles, Jewish as well as non-Jewish. The influence of neoplatonism on Jewish mystical (kabbalistic) thought is also very great. A third major source of Platonic doctrine was through the works of al-*Fārābī, who seems to have been dependent on a tradition of Platonic interpretation which emphasized the political aspect of his thought. The influence of the Republic and the Laws as well as the Statesman are apparent in his political works. In his Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, he summarizes briefly all of the dialogues and considers them from a political point of view. Extensive excerpts from this work were translated into Hebrew by the polymath 13th-century historian of philosophy, Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera. Maimonides in his Guide leans heavily on al-Fārābī in his attempt to explain the relationship which should obtain between philosophy and religion. Plato indirectly thus influenced the whole course of later Jewish medieval philosophy, which was mainly a reaction to the position taken by Maimonides in his Guide. Maimonides' esotericism in the Guide may also have been influenced by the tradition of Platonic esotericism common in Arabic philosophic literature.

The Politics of Aristotle was not known in the Arabic west, where Plato was the major classic of political philosophy. *Averroes composed an Epitome of the Republic in which he expresses interesting personal views more openly than he would in works addressed to a more religious audience, on the relationship between philosophy and politics. This work, along with Averroes' Middle Commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics, was translated by Samuel b. Judah of Marseilles into Hebrew in the 14th century, and marks the first time that a classical work of political philosophy was translated into Hebrew. The work was soon summarized by Joseph ibn *Kaspi, Samuel's contemporary, and exercised some influence on the course of later Jewish philosophy. In the 16th century the Jewish physician Jacob *Mantino translated it from Hebrew into Latin and it appears in the standard Latin editions of Aver-roes' works.

Another source of Platonic sentiments were the collections of the sayings of the philosophers, notably that of Ḥunayn ibn Ishāq, which was translated into Hebrew by Judah *Al-Ḥarizi in the 13th century. Joseph ibn Aknin includes a number of Platonic dicta in his "Hygiene of the Soul" (see Halkin, as above in: paajr, 14 (1944), 69ff.).

Finally, Judah *Abrabanel or Leone Ebreo, the son of Isaac Abrabanel, utilizes the basic ideas of Platonic philosophy in his Dialoghi di amore. Moses *Mendelssohn wrote on the immortality of the soul in his Phaedon (1767) and follows the Platonic dialogue of the same name.


A.H. Armstrong (ed.), Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1967); Walzer, in: ei2, S.V. Aflāṭūn; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; H.A. Wolfson, Philo, Foundations of Religious Philosophy…, 2 vols. (1947), index; Plessner, in: Tarbiz, 24 (1954/55), 60–72; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 128–36; Stern, in: Oriens, 13–14 (1961), 58–120; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, tr. by S. Pines (1963), ixxvff. (introd.); E.I.J. Rosenthal (ed.), Averroes' Commentary on Plato's Republic (19662).

[Lawrence V. Berman]

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Plato and Platonism°

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