Friday, October 3, 2008

Did Plato exist?

I previously referenced a document in another context (namely, how printed documents or online information do not always survive), but now I'd like to refer to it in its original form. Not that Robert Scoble or Steven Hodson would necessarily be interested in this context.

It always amuses me when people start looking for the historical Jesus, or the truth about Jesus, because the documents about Him are unreliable.

Yet some of these same people accept the existence of other people...well, as a matter of faith.

Take people such as Julius Caesar, Plato, Livy, Pliny, and Sophocles. How many copies of their works have been preserved from antiquity?

b) Caesar's "Gallic wars" (10 manuscript copies)

c) Livy (20 manuscript copies)

d) Plato's 'Tetralogies' (7 manuscript copies)

e) Pliny The Younger's 'History' (7 manuscript copies)

f) Sophocles (193 manuscript copies)

Compare this to Homer, whom we supposedly know nothing about - there are 643 manuscript copies of the Iliad that have survived. Oh, and there are over five thousand Greek copies of the New Testament.

There are almost 20,000 versions of the New Testament in other languages (such as Latin), but these copies are not acceptable to some because they were written hundreds of years after the original.

Again, what about Homer, Julius Caesar, Livy, Plato, and Pliny? The copies of their works are contemporary, aren't they?

a) The 'Iliad' by Homer - the earliest copy is 500 years removed from the original

b) Caesar's "Gallic wars" - 1000 years

c) Livy - 350 years (and the earliest copy is only a fragment).

d) Plato's 'Tetralogies' - 1200 years.

e) Pliny The Younger's 'History' - 750 years.

So if we only have 7 manuscript copies of Plato's "Tetralogies," the oldest of which was created 1,200 years after Plato lived...should we begin a search for the historical Plato?

P.S. Incidentally, I did find a somewhat relevant comment at Robert Scoble's blog post:

We will never be able to read the entirety of Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Unbound” apart from a few fragments that have survived, quoted by other authors; or read any but a few of books of Livy’s history of Rome.

P.P.S. For a slightly different view of Jesus, see While Jeffrey Jay Lowder grants the existence of a historical Jesus (or, as he put it, "[t]here is simply nothing intrinsically improbable about a historical Jesus; the New Testament alone (or at least portions of it) are reliable enough to provide evidence of a historical Jesus"), he does not believe that other sources provide independent confirmation.

And, although he doesn't make a big issue of it, Lowder notes that McDowell cites Pliny the Younger as a source for the historicity of Jesus. How many copies of Pliny's epistles existed? How long after the fact were they written?

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