Plato’s Cratylus by David Sedley

By David Sedley

This e-book provides a world reintrepretation of the Cratylus, which bears at the dating of language to wisdom, a subject that hasn't ever ceased to be of imperative philosophical value. it truly is designed to be obtainable to a person both in Plato or within the background of linguistic concept. the most textual content doesn't presuppose earlier services in Plato or wisdom of Greek; such scholarly features are constrained to the footnotes.

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418e5–419b2, where the choice between conflicting alternatives is made on the criterion of coherence with the messages revealed by the broad run of related etymologies. 4 The skill of decoding 37 The reason why the Cratylus etymologies are not usually viewed as similarly innocuous is that most of them are far more ingeniously inventive and, to us, implausible than the examples I have just given. I shall be looking at many of these etymologies in Chapters 4 and 5, but to glance ahead, one example frequently cited by critics as obviously ridiculous is the analysis of anthr¯opos, ‘man’ or (more correctly) ‘human being’, which according to Socrates in the Cratylus originally went anathr¯on ha op¯ope, one who ‘reviews (or “reflects on”) what he has seen’ (399c).

That the underlying meanings of the ancient words could not be so easily read off as those of later coinages made the task harder, but no less legitimate for that. Similarly, most of our modern acronyms have well-documented meanings, but even where they do not – think of the many competing theories about the origin of ‘OK’ – we readily assume, rightly or wrongly, that they must have originally encapsulated some apposite phrase or expression. 18 Notably 395b–e on Atreus and Tantalus, 404e–406a on Apollo, and 409a on h¯elios (‘sun’).

He derives Aphrodite from ˆjrÛdhv, ‘foamy’, observing that the choice of name reveals the ancients’ recognition that sperm is foamy in nature: GA 736a18–21. Here he follows the (fairly obvious) derivation from ˆjr»v at Crat. 406c, but differs from the explanation offered there that the name reflects the goddess’s birth from the sea. As Palmer (2000: 195 n. 21) rightly remarks, Aristotle’s other etymologies may not explicitly mention the ancients, but he must be assuming the opinions revealed by these etymologies to be at least as old as the names themselves.

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