(Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 341) Gabriele Cornelli - Plato’s Styles and Characters Between Literature and Philosophy-Walter de Gruyter (2016)
part without the whole, so that, following Zalmoxis, it would not be possible to
cure the head without the body (156c) nor the body without the soul (156e). Thus
the healer has to begin “by curing the soul” which seems to be the whole in
which “all good and evil originates” and, as we know, the soul is cured through
those charms and rational incantations of the Socratic logoi (157a).
Nevertheless, in the Phaedrus Socrates gives us another different account of
the whole involved in medical treatments. In the context of the dispute against
the technical character of rhetoric, Plato presents once more the art of medicine
as a normative instance (270b) and Socrates affirms that just as medicine has to
study the nature of the body, so rhetoric should study the nature of the soul, but
that it is not possible to “understand the nature of the soul satisfactorily without
the nature of the whole” (270c). This passage has been profoundly scrutinized in
the secondary literature, because it is by no means clear what the nature of this
whole is, not only in Plato’s own intentions but in the supposed medical theory
of the Hippocratic corpus to which he alludes. Scholars have given very different
interpretations of this whole and have taken it as a reference to the universe, to
the total environment, to the body as a whole or to the totality determined by the
genus of any given object of definition²¹. I will not embark on the discussion of
this highly controversial issue at this moment, but I agree with J. Mansfeld when
he asserts that Plato places the dialectical study of soul within a larger context,
which in his opinion is that of the dialectical study of reality as a whole²². Given
the references to Pericles and Anaxagoras and the declared necessity that all arts
have need of “discussion and high speculation about nature” (ἀδολεσχίας καὶ
Brown, 1998, 21.
Taylor’ s translation (Hamilton, Cairns, 1982).
Cfr. Isnardi Parente 1974, pp.497–8, Mansfeld, 1980, pp.341–362, Edelstein, 1987, pp.116–
118, Vegetti, 1995, 102f.
Mansfeld, 1980, p. 352.
Socrates as a physician of the soul
μετεωρολογίας φύσεως πέρι, 270a), it would be natural to assume that this
hólon has a cosmological significance, but it could also be interpreted in a
more general way as a universal methodological instance. In the Republic its po-
litical significance is evident: the tendance or care of the soul and the medical
treatment advocated by Socrates as physician of culture cannot cure the soul
without the purgation of the city and the treatment of the whole to which the
soul belongs and this totality is the state. As a scholar has expressed it²³, the rel-
evant whole for Plato in matters of health is the society at large. This version of
the Socratic idea of the care of the soul with its epistemological presuppositions
is so different from the project explained in the Apology that it offers one more
perspective to affirm without hesitation that the Socrates of the Republic has
been converted into a very different character from the one of the Socratic dia-
The nature of this whole which requires the treatment of the soul is also very
different from the medical practices and the methodological treatments that we
find in the Corpus Hippocraticum. Many scholars from Littré in 1839 to Vegetti in
1995 have conjectured that “the nature of the whole” mentioned in the Phaedrus
was a reference to the Hippocratic treatise On Ancient Medicine (cfr. § 20 –21),
while others have referred it to Prognosticon (cfr. § 25), to Airs, Waters, Places,
or to Regimen (§ 2.27), but I think that in all these cases it is a different whole
which, despite its theoretical and speculative presuppositions, is to a high de-
gree observationally and empirically founded and, most of all, it is a relational
whole constituted by a determined constellation of particular factors that need to
be observed. In other cases it is more a heuristic totality than a closed whole
supposedly already known, as it is, on the contrary, in the Socrates of the Repub-
lic. The author of the treatise On Ancient Medicine affirms that medicine offers a
good method for the science of nature and that “this knowledge is to be attained
when one comprehends the whole subject of medicine properly”, but he recog-
nizes that we still have a long way to go until we attain it. It seems closer in its
procedure to Popper’s piecemeal social engineering than to the holistic concep-
tion which he rightly criticizes. On the contrary, the Platonic whole has a utopian
character and this means that it has a normative instance, closed as the model of
an ideal city and a “pattern laid up in heaven”, the possibility and internal con-
sistency of which is very poorly demonstrated, as we realize through the histor-
ical experience of all the other utopias that have been brought into reality. It
could even be internally inconsistent, as I. Berlin has tried to show, with what
he calls “the Ionian monism” which presupposes the compatibility of all values
W. Stempsey, 2001, 205.
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
in the perfect unity of the ideal society²⁴. Nevertheless, the Socrates of the Re-
public, a different Socrates from that character in the Apology who wanted to
remain far from a public realm, seems to be convinced that this whole to
which we have to refer the medical treatment of culture constitutes a unity
whose knowledge is possible to attain and that it is worth enough to sacrifice
the autonomy of any individual person.
Berlin, I., “The Decline of the Utopian Ideas in the West”, in I. Berlin, El Fuste Torcido de la
Humanidad, Barcelona, 1992, 39–63; The Proper Study of Mankind, ed. by H. Hardy and
R. Hausheer, London, 1998.
Brown, L., “How Totalitarian is Plato’s Republic”, in E.N. Ostenfeld (ed.), Essays on Plato′s
Republic, Aarhus, 1998, 13–27.
Dodds, E.R., Plato, Gorgias, Oxford, 1990 (1959).
Hipócrates, Tratados Hipocráticos, Introd., trad. y notas de C.García Gual, M.D.Lara Nava, J.A.
López Férez, B. Cabellos Álvarez, Madrid, 2000.
Edelstein, L., Ancient Medicine: Selected Papers of L. Edelstein, Baltimore, 1987.
Hamilton, E. and Cairns, H., Plato, The Collected Dialogues, Princeton, 1982.
Isnardi Parente, M. in E.Zeller, -R.Mondolfo, La Filosofia dei Greci nel suo Sviluppo Storico,