Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Damascian sarcasm?

I've just found this comment in Damascius' lectures on Plato's Philebus §171.  Damascius is listing the various possible forms of false pleasures.  After those experienced by people in dreams or by the insane he gives this example:
ἀπὸ τῶν ἐν ἐλπίσι κεναῖς· ὃ καὶ οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι πάσχουσιν ἀρίστας πολιτείας ὑπογράφοντες καὶ ταύταις μὴ παρούσαις ἐφηδόμενοι.

Next: those that come from empty hopes.  This is what educated types experience when they sketch out ideal constitutions and take pleasure in them although they are not real.
Westerink's note assures the reader that Damascius certainly cannot have been making a sarcastic remark about Plato himself, who may, we can suppose, have taken a certain amount of pleasure in thinking about ideal yet unrealised constitutions.  Instead, Westerink sees a reference to some otherwise unknown contemporaries of Damascius.  I don't know enough about Damascius to judge his sense of humour (I suspect he may not have had one) but I like the comment all the same.


AGL said...

Hi James,
Is he saying '_even_ the educated'? That seems a bit more respectful.

James Warren said...

Yes, thanks. That would make a difference. Still, it's an interesting observation to make about the pleasures of utopian planning...

BvdB said...

Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander 328E-329B is perhaps instructive. Plutarch, himself a card-carrying Platonist, explicitly mentions Plato and Zeno as examples of people who dreamt up constitutions without much practical effect: Plato failed to persuade anybody to adopt his Politeia; his Laws are virtually unread. Zeno wrote his famous Politeia as a ‘dream’ and ‘eidolon’ of a philosopher’s well-organised society. Alexander the Great, by contrast, put their theories into practise, and therefore deserves the title of philosopher.