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Polus, Plato, and Aristotle.

In the famous opening chapter of the Metaphysics Aristotle, in his analysis of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], introduces the important concept [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 'experience'. In the course of the discussion he cites the sophist Polus, [981.sup.a] 1-5:


W. D. Ross ad. loc. remarks, 'Polus was a well-known pupil of Gorgias, and this jingle is in Gorgias' style. Polus makes the remark in Pl. Gorg. 448C, but it is implied that it also occurred in his work on oratory (ib. 462B)' (emphasis mine).(1) As we shall see, the facts are somewhat more complex. I first cite some other distinguished authorities to set the problem in perspective. Radermacher (loc. cit., above n. 1) lists Met. [981.sup.a]3-5 ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]) as the fifth entry under Polus; he then states 'Fortasse ex Gorgia Platonis. Vide seq.' What follows, as the sixth entry, is Gorg. 448C; the speaker is Polus:


Werner Jaeger in his Oxford edition of the Metaphysics (1957) at [981.sup.a]4 annotates 'cf. Plat. Gorg. 448C'. What he meant by this we learn from an article of his, where, in reference to this passage, he remarks, '... Aristotle is quoting Plato's Gorgias 448C but this time sides with Polus, who is mostly wrong'.(2) E. R. Dodds also, in his note at Gorg. 448C 4-9, states, 'That Aristotle attributes the doctrine of our passage to Polus need not, of course, mean that he found it elsewhere than in the Gorgias'. It thus appears to be a widely held view that Aristotle is not citing Polus's words from first-hand knowledge but is rather borrowing directly from the Gorgias, and specifically from p. 448C, when he 'quotes' Polus. This immediately entails a serious problem. What exactly did Polus say? For the passages in the Gorgias and the Metaphysics are by no means identical. What they have in common are the two contrasting pairs, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], the verb [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. But differences there are. Plato does not have Polus say that experience made art and inexperience chance, as Aristotle represents Polus as having said. Rather, the Platonic Polus says that experience makes 'our life to proceed in accordance with art', whereas inexperience causes it to proceed 'in accordance with chance'. For all the similarities of thought, that remains a different statement; to assert, as scholars have, that Aristotle is 'quoting' Plato's Gorgias 448C is, at best, not entirely accurate. Notice also that Aristotle uses an aorist tense, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], and Plato a present, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. This will be seen to be significant (below).

At this point it will be convenient to consider the other passage from the Gorgias which scholars have rightly compared with 448C, namely 462 B-C, where Polus and Socrates are conversing:





Thus, according to Socrates, Polus in a treatise ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]) stated that a certain 'thing' made art - a thing which, it turns out, is experience.(3) The direct statement which one may reconstruct from the oratio obliqua would be something like [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. That is very close to the first part of Aristotle's version, aorist tense and all, and rather different from the phrasing of Gorg. 448C. If Aristotle is dependent upon Plato alone, one must assume that he started from 462 B-C and then, at least partially on the basis of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in 448C, generated the second half of his sentence, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. That is not, I suppose, impossible, but it is surely too convoluted, especially when one reflects that Aristotle's phrasing, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is a concise and epigrammatic sentence which shows not the slightest trace of being the product of patchwork. By contrast, Gorg. 462B can be seen, with the help of Aristotle's passage, to be based on an epigrammatic saying, rather than being itself such. As regards Gorg. 448C, as Dodds (ad. loc.) correctly observes, 'its peculiarities of style mark it as either a quotation or a parody ... parody is more likely in Plato than verbatim quotation.' In short, if Aristotle has patched together a sentence from two passages of the Gorgias, the resultant hybrid is in fact more neat and pointed than either of its originals, which is a very curious situation indeed. On the other hand, if one takes Aristotle at his word and accepts that he is quoting Polus himself, then we have recovered a verbatim quotation of Polus.(4) As a further gain we can identify and isolate some of the parody in Gorg. 448C5-7(5) and verify that in Gorg. 462B Plato is paraphrasing closely, if partially, the sentence which Aristotle, on the basis of independent knowledge, reproduced in full. The treatise by Polus which Plato represents Socrates as having read recently (462C: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]) really existed and Aristotle knew its contents.

There are other considerations which favour the view that Aristotle possessed direct knowledge of the historical Polus's work. First, observe that Aristotle quotes Polus with approval ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]).(6) This favourable judgement on the importance of experience is decidedly at variance with Plato's position in the Gorgias where a mere empiric 'knack' is derogatorily contrasted with a genuine art; see especially Gorg. 463B where Socrates remarks [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Secondly, the very words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] make more sense if Aristotle is referring to an historical personage's actual words. After all Aristotle says simply' as Polus says,' not 'as Polus says in the Gorgias'.(7) Here a telling detail of linguistic usage enters the picture.

According to the so-called 'Fitzgerald's Canon' Aristotle writes anarthrous [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] when he is referring to the historical Socrates and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] when he is referring to the Platonic Socrates of the dialogues.(8) This distinction is of obvious importance both for the interpretation of Aristotle himself and for what he has to say about his predecessors. Now Aristotle's practice with the name [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is no idiosyncrasy of his own but a specific application of normal Greek usage with the article. W. D. Ross states explicitly, 'The canon is on the whole confirmed very strongly by Aristotle's usage with other proper names'.(9) In our passage Aristotle writes [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. The omission of the article clearly shows that Aristotle is referring to the historical Polus. Had he been alluding to the Gorgias, at a minimum he would have written [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. A few parallels will suffice. SE [173.sup.a]8 ... [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. GC[335.sup.b]10 ... [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. De An. [406.sup.b]26 [GREEK TEXT OMITTED].(10) A particularly apt parallel occurs in the EN, p. [1140.sup.a]17-20: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] [= fr. 6 Snell]. Here metre proves that we have a verbatim quotation from the historical Agathon. The article is absent precisely as in our passage - and for the same reason.(11) Clearly Aristotle has quoted the historical Polus's actual words here on the basis of his own learning; he is not dependent upon the Gorgias. This having been established, one may (as suggested above) then use the Aristotle passage to confirm that the Platonic Polus, in the two passages in question from the Gorgias, is paraphrasing the views of the historical Polus with reasonable accuracy.

This fragment of Polus preserved by Aristotle is actually of some historical interest. The conjunction of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] had, of course, become a commonplace in the sophistic period;(12) doubtless the jingle which the two nouns produced encouraged this. But Polus seems to be the oldest extant writer to bring together [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in this way. Whether he was the very first to have done so is unlikely, but clearly the lapidary phrasing of his sentence was sufficiently memorable that it prompted Plato to parody it in the Gorgias and Aristotle to appeal to it in the Metaphysics, in his account of the origins of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Unlike Plato who set in conscious opposition [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (perhaps for the first time),(13) Aristotle derived the one from the other. Now empiric observation was obviously of importance also for medicine, even if the full extent to which the conscious linking of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] had proliferated in medical circles in the fifth century is no longer discoverable. In this connection the sequel in the Metaphysics deserves to be noticed. The sentence immediately following the quotation from Polus goes: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] ([981.sup.a]5-7). Then Aristotle gives an illustration; it is taken from medicine (disease and fevers, [981.sup.a]7-12). This is not likely to be coincident. Be that as it may, it is well known that a formal school of medical theory in time developed, the so-called Empiricist school.(14) The later Empiricists themselves derived their school from a certain Akron.(15) It is at least curious that Akron and Polus both go back to the same time and place, namely fifth-century Akragas. Michael Frede, in a survey of medical schools and theories, has written 'this debate within medicine also has to be seen against the background of another, much more general debate ... Plato in the Gorgias makes Socrates criticize Polus' claim that rhetoric is the highest of all human arts, the master discipline, by arguing that rhetoric, at least as Gorgias and Polus conceive of it, is merely a matter of experience and knack or practice [tribe] and not an art [techne]. But there is good reason to believe that Polus himself did in fact hold the view that rhetorical knowledge is a matter of experience (Ar. Met. [981.sup.a]4), and it is certainly no accident that two terms Plato uses here to discredit Gorgianic rhetoric, namely empeiria 'experience' and tribe 'knack' or 'practice', are both terms later Empiricists used in a positive sense.'(16) It would be absurd to pretend that Polus was a major figure, but he has earned his footnote in the history of Greek thought.

Additional note: E. R. Dodds' Interpretation of Gorg. 462B-C. At issue is the meaning of the words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Dodds ad loc. states: 'This is usually understood to mean "Something which you yourself in your treatise assert has created art", and is taken as a reference to Polus' speech at 448C, which is assumed to be a quotation from the treatise. But the assumption is doubtful ... nor does Polus actually say at 448C that [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] "created" [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; nor does he himself recognize the alleged reference. Moreover, the position of the words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] suggests that they qualify not [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] but [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. But if so, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] can hardly be the subject of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]: we seem obliged to understand [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as the subject and translate ... "Something of which you claim to have made an art in your treatise"...' If Dodds is correct, my assertion that Aristotle is quoting Polus himself in the Metaphysics (which of course does not mean that Aristotle was not also aware of the passages in the Gorgias) loses some of its support. But can Dodds really be right? The traditional interpretation of 462B (since the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], as we have seen, is [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]) yields a statement identical with Aristotle's: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; Dodds' interpretation is equivalent to [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. The Greek of 462C will admit of either rendering; it depends upon whether one takes [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as subject accusative of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] or rather as direct object of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] with an unexpressed 'you' as subject of the infinitive. (Dodds' observation that the position of the phrase [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] argues against taking it with [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is beside the mark. Place [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] after [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and it will be apparent why Plato did not place the words here. Place the full expression [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] after [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and it will be more apparent. If any really object to the word order, it is an easy matter to place a dash after [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and take the following words as a sort of afterthought: '... I mean in the treatise which I recently read.')

Here are what I take to be serious objections to Dodds' position: (i) Aristotle's statement at Met. [981.sup.a]3-5. I have indicated above the difficulties involved in deriving Aristotle's phrasing exclusively from the two passages of the Gorgias and provided independent evidence which points rather to a direct quotation of Polus on Aristotle's part. If Aristotle is citing the historical Polus, this immediately refutes Dodds, for Aristotle's (and Polus's!) [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] leaves no doubt whatsoever how the Greek of Gorg. 462B is then to be interpreted. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] must be the subject accusative of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. (ii) Even if one were to derive Aristotle's passage only from the Gorgias (which he surely knew), serious problems would remain. First, one must assume that Aristotle, the author of the Rhetoric, the spokesman of the Academy against major rhetoricians such as Isocrates, and a student of the history of earlier rhetorical treatises (compare, e.g. S.E. [183.sup.b]17-35), has misunderstood the Greek at Gorg. 462B. For, if he is echoing only the Gorgias, his words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] certainly go back to 462B rather than to 448C. While not impossible, this scenario is surely most improbable. (iii) Moreover, while Dodds is correct in observing that at 448C Polus does not actually say that experience made art, what he does say there clearly implies this. (Note especially the preceding sentence, 448B 4-5.) What is most difficult to explain away is the language ... [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] at 448C. The presence of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as subject of a form of the verb [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], with [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in the same clause, is so close to Aristotle's phraseology and to that of Gorg. 462B (as traditionally understood) as to make coincidence very unlikely. All three passages are stressing the importance of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. (iv) Finally, on Dodds' interpretation Polus makes a very bold claim: 'I have made experience art.' Is it really probable that this derivative follower of Gorgias would have presumed to make such an extravagant boast? Aristotle for one did not think so. Nor, I think, did Plato.

R. RENEHAN University of California, Santa Barbara

1 For the little that is known about Polus see further W. Nestle in RE Band XXI.2, coll. 1424-1425, s.v. Polos 3 and E. R. Dodds in his edition of the Gorgias (Oxford, 1959), pp. 11-12. The scant testimonia, true and false, that have survived can be found in Ludwig Radermacher, Artium Scriptores (Reste des voraristotelischen Rhetorik) = Sitzb. Akad. Wien 227 (1951), Abh. 3, 112-114.

2 'Contemporary Evidence on the Text of the First Chapters of Aristotle's Metaphysics', SIFC 27-8 (1956), 152 = Scripta Minora II (Rome, 1960), p. 485.

3 Dodds interprets this sentence differently, contrary to most scholars and, in my view, wrongly. See the Additional Note at the end of this paper.

4 Whether Polus expressed or omitted the definite article and whether [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] are original must remain not quite certain. Gorg. 448C and Met. [981.sup.a]4-5, taken together, support the genuineness of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Aristotle could have added the articles himself because of the preceding context (the so-called anaphoric use of the article). Whether Polus wrote [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] or [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] matters little.

5 It is of course just possible, though unlikely, that at 448C the words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] are a second verbatim quotation from Polus completely distinct from the one preserved by Aristotle and Gorg. 462 B-C. No one, so far as I can discover, has advocated this position.

6 The words [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] at Met. [981.sup.a]4 are omitted in the Ab recension; for their genuineness here see W. Jaeger, loc. cit. (above, n. 2).

7 Jaeger remarks that 'Aristotle is quoting Plato's Gorgias 448C but this time sides with Polus, who is mostly wrong' (above, n. 2, emphasis mine). As Jaeger means that Polus is 'mostly wrong' specifically in the Gorgias, this would entail a very forced interpretation of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] here.

8 The usage is discussed in detail by W. D. Ross, Aristotle's Metaphysics. A Revised Text with Introduction and Commentary, vol. I (Oxford, 1924), pp. xxxix-xli. Compare also LSJ s.v. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] B.I.i.c.

9 op. cit. (above, n. 8), p. xli.

10 [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] = Plato's Timaeus. In accordance with Fitzgerald's canon [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] T. is A.'s way of distinguishing a character in a book from an historical character.' W. D. Ross ad loc. R. D. Hicks, for example, renders [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] here by 'the Platonic Timaeus' and W. S. Hett by 'Plato's Timaeus.'

11 I note in passing Pol. [1260.sup.a]27-8: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Scholars tend to see an allusion to Plato's Meno here, despite the fact that Gorgias does not appear in that dialogue. In addition to commentators on the Politics see R. D. Hicks on Arist. De. An. [406.sup.b]26 and R. S. Bluck on P1. Meno 71E3. The absence of the article with [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] ought to have given one pause. (Diels-Kranz, Vorsokr.(10) II (Berlin, 1960), p. 305 correctly print this sentence from the Politics as a fragment [18] of Gorgias.)

12 See Dodds on Gorg. 448C 4-9 for some evidence and references.

13 See on this W. Capelle, 'Zur Hippokratischen Frage', Hermes 57 (1922), 263-5.

14 See, e.g. Ludwig Edelstein, 'Empiricism and Skepticism in the Teaching of the Greek Empirical School', in his Ancient Medicine. Selected Papers of Ludwig Edelstein (Baltimore, 1967), pp. 195-203.

15 Gal. 14.683 Kuhn; Plin. HN 29.5.

16 Galen. Three Treatises on the Nature of Science. Translated by Richard Walzer and Michael Frede with an Introduction by Michael Frede (Indianapolis, 1985), pp. xxiii-xxiv.
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Author:Renehan, R.
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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