Plato Against the Atheists . . .


  A wise man said that it would more avail us to bend our minds on the ‘ignorance of Plato,’ than the knowledge of other men. And so it is. The passage of centuries, the services of a million commentators, the long line of philosophical posterity, who have shared the name and copied the features, though they inherited but little of the blood or etherial energy of Plato, have had no power to waste his reasoning by diffusion. Still the expression of a mind so vast, so lofty, and so full, lies before us as a mountain, which all eyes may see, towering to the heavens, but which only the boldest and freest foot may hope partly to climb. The loadstone has communicated magnetic power to a million bodies, without any perceptible diminution of its own.

  The father of lies, who teaches men in their lower moments a base sneer at that part of their life which tends to immortality, can as yet find no better term than PLATONIC by which to assail the noblest desire by wisdom to comprehend the universe and draw near to its soul, by aspiration to purify human Love.

  The action of the mind of Plato is such that it is impossible to read or repeat him with absolute servility. It is impossible to get at the outmost sense sense of his speech without some action of one’s own intelligence. Unless with him you learn to re-create the world, unless with him you pass through the successive efforts of its animating powers, you cannot speak of him or even read him. The attempt which Mephistopheles recommends to the would be philosopher: “In all cases serve yourself with words,” is useless here. You cannot put a word in place of the thing. You cannot, as men delight to do, catch up some superficial statement whereby to defraud yourself and others of the natural influence of great truths, great life. These frauds of indolence and vanity cannot be practiced here. The hand of the intellectual sharper is palsied when he strives to take up this gold. It really argues good, argues activity and hope for a man even to read Plato.

  Knowing this, we must hail with pleasure the appearance of this book in aid of the student. Plato is given in the original Greek, but the volume is mainly filled with notes and dissertations made by the author. He says:

  This book “was chosen as forming, in our judgment, one of the best positions from whence to make excursions over a large part of the Platonic philosophy. *  *  *  * Our object has not been merely to make a classical text-book, but to recommend Plato to the student or reader by every means through which attention could be drawn to our favorite author; believing that in no other way could we render a better service to the cause of true philosophy and religion. *  *  *  *  *

  In pursuance of this favorite plan of recommending Plato and the Platonic philosophy, the method followed in the present work was adopted. The text and critical notes form by much the smallest part, and even these accompanying annotations frequently exhibit as much of a philosophical and theological as of a critical character.

  “The longer dissertations annexed, and which, for the reader’s convenience, we have divided into numbered sections, with general and running titles, are devoted almost entirely to the elucidation of some of the main points of the Platonic philosophy, in their connexion with other systems of antiquity, to a comparison, wherever there was occasion for it, with the sentiments of Aristotle, illustrations drawn from the Grecian poets, together with a continual reference to the Holy Scriptures, by way of resemblance, contrast, agreement, or condemnation. For these purposes, there have been introduced, from almost all other Platonic dialogues, very frequent and extended quotations of the most striking passages; being such as, besides having a natural connexion with the subject discussed, would promote our main design, by producing in the reader a desire to have a deeper knowledge of Plato than is generally possessed by the greater part of our philosophical and theological writers. To these quotations, in almost every case, full translations have been given, sometimes literal, and sometimes periphrastic. The exceptions to this course are, when the nature and substance of the quotation were sufficiently indicated by the manner of its introduction. The main references are to the Timæus, the Republic, the Phredon, Gorgias, Theætetus, Parmenides, Philebus, Protagoras, Symposion, Politicus, Cratylus, Sophista, and the other books of The Laws, with occasional citations from most of the minor dialogues having any claims to be regarded as genuine.

  “The work has been the result of a careful examination of the Platonic writings; in which we have sought to interpret Plato mainly by himself, and by the aid, on the one hand, of his jealous rival, Aristotle, and on the other, of his enthusiastic admirer, Cicero. Of modern critical and philosophical helps, whether English or German, we make little display, because, in fact, we have made but little or no use of them. In regard to the text, we have followed that of Bekker and Ast, who hardly differ at all, either in words or punctuation.—Wherever there has been a departure from them, the reasons are assigned, mainly in the shorter notes. The critical means within our power have been very limited, and we therefore, in this department, ask indulgence for any errors which may have been committed. For the philosophical opinions advanced no such plea is interposed. By their own merit, and their accordance with the true interpretation of the Platonic system, they stand or fall.

  “One design of the work is to serve as a text book for senior classes in college, not so much by way of furnishing an exercises in the study of the Greek language, as for the higher object of exhibiting, in connexion with the Platonic, the other systems of Greek philosophy, and their bearing upon the Christian theology. On the same grounds, it is supposed that it may be found useful to students in our theological seminaries, and form no unprofitable addition to the libraries of clergymen, besides commending itself generally to the attention of our scholars and literary men.”

  “We speak with confidence on this point. The young man who is an enthusiastic student of Plato can never be a socialist in regard to education, a quack in literature, a demagogue in politics, or an infidel in religion.

  “Our main object, then, is to recommend this noble philosopher to the present generation of educated young men, especially our theologians.—The present work by no means professes to set forth his system as a whole, but merely to present some of its attractive points, to allure other minds among us to a more thorough examination. The main doctrine of ideas, although alluded to in almost every dissertation, is not discussed under its own title, because we had formed the design, if permitted to accomplish it, and if the present work should be acceptable to the public, of treating it by itself in an examination of another of the most interesting of the Platonic dialogues.”

  For the manner in which this worthy task has been performed we have as our guarantee the high reputation of Mr. Lewis. An examination of the work is, of course, a study demanding leisure, time, and devotion. Should such be given us for it, we may take up the book again as affording a subject of general, of permanent, and daily interest.*

“Plato Against the Atheists. . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 14 May 1845, p. 1.