Reading Plato

2014.03.14

Zina Giannopoulou

Plato’s Theaetetus as a Second Apology

Zina Giannopoulou, Plato’s Theaetetus as a Second Apology, Oxford University Press, 2013, 205pp., $55.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199695294.

Reviewed by Luca Castagnoli, Durham University

In this compact monograph Zina Giannopoulou makes a case for the value of ‘interweaving’ Plato’s Apology and Theaetetus, that is, for ‘bring[ing] together the two dialogues on the basis of their thematic interconnectedness and . . . argu[ing] for a “mutually enriching reading” of them’ (3). This approach clearly aspires to go beyond the uncontroversial acknowledgement of the rich intertextuality and web of philosophical resonances interconnecting virtually all the Platonic works. According to Giannopoulou, Socrates’ defence speech in the Apology ‘serves as the subtext which informs [Plato’s] exploration of knowledge in Theaetetus‘ (3) and ‘offers a dramatically apt and comprehensive framework that unifies the dialogue and explains many of its puzzles’ (4). She describes the Theaetetus as ‘a philosophically sophisticated elaboration of Apology that successfully differentiates Socrates from the sophists’ by ‘enacting’ their distinction: it represents Socrates as a barren ‘mental midwife’ (2) who practises the craft of testing and discarding the sophists’ inconsistent teachings about knowledge which Theaetetus unreflectively espoused. The suggestion that the Apology ‘informed’ the theme of the Theaetetus, and the latter is an ‘elaboration’ of the former, is difficult to reconcile with Giannopoulou’s over-cautious disavowal of any assumption about issues of chronology and development (‘the phrase “second Apology” of the title bears no chronological connotations; it is used synonymously with the phrase “another Apology” (3)). The apologetic vein running through the Theaetetus and the intertextuality with the Apology have been noticed and discussed by several scholars before Giannopoulou, and especially by Anthony Long in his 1998 article on ‘Plato’s Apologies and Socrates in the Theaetetus‘, clearly a source of inspiration for her approach. How successful her attempt is in making this the key for a novel interpretation of the Theaetetus will be judged on the basis of how systematic and effective a tool the ‘interweaving’ with the Apology turns out to be when reading the dialogue as a whole.

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