Skip

The Plato Code
June 30, 2010 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Dr. Jay Kennedy, a philosopher from Manchester University, claims to have uncovered a series of secret messages hidden in some of the most influential and celebrating writings of the Ancient World,"--that is, in the dialogs of Plato. His findings have been published in the most recent issue of Apeiron, a well-respected journal of philosophy.

His research can be found here. His blog is here. The University of Manchester's press release is here.
posted by resiny (45 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.
posted by yhbc at 6:55 PM on June 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


Whoops, there should be an opening quote at the beginning of the link. Also, two Plato posts on the front page at the same time. We'll philosophize you yet, MetaFilter.
posted by resiny at 6:55 PM on June 30, 2010


Be. Sure. To. Eat. Your. Liquamen? Liquamen?! A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!
posted by griphus at 6:59 PM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Y...O...U...M..A...Y..H....A...V...E...A..L..L...R...E..A...D..Y...W...O...N
posted by The Whelk at 7:00 PM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Shakespeare was really written by Bacon." (Is there anything bacon can't do?)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:01 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Apeiron, a well-respected journal of philosophy

Not to be confused with Ape Iron, which is my buddy's motorcycle zine.
posted by box at 7:01 PM on June 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


ctrl-f A-T-L-A-N..what, no hits?! Daily Mail, I'm verrrrry disappointed.
posted by DU at 7:02 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


HELP I'VE BEEN CHAINED IN A CAVE FOR ALL OF MY LIFE, FACING A BLANK WALL.....
posted by codswallop at 7:04 PM on June 30, 2010 [29 favorites]


"The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion."

LOLpressreleasez
posted by O Blitiri at 7:04 PM on June 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd love to comment about the Platonic (and Neoplatonic) philosophies embedded in classical Tarot symbolism, but a thread about secret illuminati codes in ancient texts is already going to be under heavy surveillance from the woo-woo police.
posted by hermitosis at 7:06 PM on June 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm not saying that humans tend to find meaning in patterns when they aren't necessarily there. All I'm saying is that if the FPP after the FPP after this one is also about Plato, I'm going to be totally freaked out.
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:07 PM on June 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's with all the Plato press?! Are we entering a Neo-Classical phase?
posted by Fizz at 7:12 PM on June 30, 2010


If the author is right, this is real Da Vinci Code stuff right here, and with a genuine philosophical purpose:
At each point in the text of the Symposium corresponding to a musical note, Plato included a passage with a special structure. To maintain a balance between concealment and communication, he varied the content of these passages. If they were all the same or obviously similar, the underlying musical structure would be too apparent.

The scheme for varying the passages accords well with Platonism. Generally speaking, a Platonic form is recognised when a similarity between different particulars is recognised. A red hat and a red ball share a similarity, and this shared element is the ‘form’ of their colour. In the dialogues, the passages marking the notes have different contents but are also similar. Recognising the similarity of the disparate passages, and thus the regular pattern which forms the musical scale, requires grasping their common form. In short, the notes are marked by passages containing concepts that are many species of an over-arching genus.

All the genuine dialogues and some of the so-called spuria use the same musical scale and the same scheme for varying the marking passages, but the genus differs from dialogue to dialogue. To take a hypothetical example, it is as if a dialogue mentioned roses at one-twelfth, lilies at two-twelfths, violets at three-twelfths, and so on. Recognising the musical scale depends upon observing that the species of the genus ‘flower’ are mentioned at regular intervals.
However, the examples he presents are not very reassuring:
'To think of all this bustle about such trifles, and not a single man ever essaying till this day to make a fitting hymn [7/8] to Love! So great a god, and so neglected! [SHAME] Now I think Phaedrus’s protest a very proper one. Accordingly I am not only desirous of obliging him with a contribution of my own, but I also pronounce the present to be a fitting occasion for us here assembled to honor the god. [177d] So if you on your part approve, we might pass the time (diatribe) [NOTE 1.1] well enough in speeches; [HARMONY: KRASIS RESTORES VIRTUE] for my opinion is that we ought each of us to make a speech in turn, from left to right, singing praises to Love as beautifully as he can. Phaedrus shall open first; for he has the topmost place at table, and besides is father of our debate.’ ‘No one, Eryximachus,’ said Socrates, ‘will vote against you: [HARMONY: ORDER, AGREEMENT] [1/8] I do not see how I could myself decline, [177e] when I set up to understand nothing but erotics; nor could Agathon and Pausanias either, nor yet Aristophanes, who divides his time between Dionysus and Aphrodite; nor could any other of the persons I see before me.'
Sorry for bolding, it's as in original.
posted by shii at 7:12 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


What, exactly, is new here that Leo Strauss hasn't already done?
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:20 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks like 'gub' to me.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 PM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


What, exactly, is new here that Leo Strauss hasn't already done?

You know, the paper is not hard to read.
posted by kenko at 7:59 PM on June 30, 2010


So, All of Our Base really did Belong to Them?
posted by Balisong at 8:14 PM on June 30, 2010


hermitosis: "I'd love to comment about the Platonic (and Neoplatonic) philosophies embedded in classical Tarot symbolism, but a thread about secret illuminati codes in ancient texts is already going to be under heavy surveillance from the woo-woo police."

Why comment, dude? Build the fpp and they will come. (I turn the card: The Tower.)


or maybe not.
posted by mwhybark at 8:21 PM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Be… sure to… drink… your…

Oh damn it, there's a smudge or something there. Now we'll never know.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:26 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh feh. I should have probably read basically any part of the thread because I've been beaten to it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:28 PM on June 30, 2010


This seems crazy on the face of it. Like many crazy-seeming things, it's argued in depth and with impressive logic and measurement. But it still seems crazy.

Structuring a written poem with well defined lines like that, like Dante? Sure. Structuring a prose dialogue where the only definition of the "lines" is the way they fall on the page, not anything inherent to their actual composition? I just don't see it.

But the guy's sure amassed a lot of impressive arguments. Maybe there's something to it. Doubt it, but maybe.

One point in his favor -- there are many places in Plato's dialogues where the course of the argument or exposition is so damn weird that it is easy to believe there's no reason for it but to fill out another three dozen lines before it's the mathematically designated moment to say "dikaion" or "hegemoneuo" again!
posted by edheil at 8:33 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some reaction to this from readers of Leiter Reports, an influential academic philosophy blog.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on June 30, 2010


But how can we really know how long Plato's Dialogues are supposed to be? I mean, with all the copying and recopying over the ages, is it reasonable to assume that the original line lengths have been preserved? Dr. Kennedy says that The Apology is 1000 lines long and The Republic is 12000 lines, but is isn't it possible that that those lengths aren't what Plato intended, but might instead be the result of later scribes making everything look tidy?
posted by Kevin Street at 9:03 PM on June 30, 2010


I'm glad for this guy and his academic coup, and I hope there's really something to it. It does sound suspicious to me, like he's providing a mathematical meaning to a text that was probably written, and meant to be read, as verse. It's not like I'm going to learn ancient Greek and try to debunk him though.
posted by Locobot at 9:17 PM on June 30, 2010


W E A P O_ L O G I Z_ E F O R T_ H E I N C_ O N V E N_ I E N C E
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:32 PM on June 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Guess I'm wrong.

In the paper he says "There is substantial evidence, reviewed at length in Birt [12] and Ohly [54], that the lengths of classical prose compositions were typically measured by the number of standard ‘lines,’ which were each as long as one of the hexameter lines of epic poetry. Perhaps verse compositions like Homer’s poems were the first longer texts written down in Greek and thereby established his line-length as a conventional unit even for prose."

And "The number of letters per standard line is discussed by Graux [29], Birt [12], and Ohly [54]. Birt [12], 202 concluded: ‘This standard line (Normalzeile) of circa 35 letters herefore ... dominated book production unchanged through at least five hundred years from Dionysius’ copy of Thucydides until the time of Justinian.’"

So they do know how long Plato's lines were supposed to be, since they followed the convention of their time.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:45 PM on June 30, 2010


I wonder how well this pattern holds up across different manuscripts. If the "code" is real, it could be used to assess how faithful a given manuscript is to the original.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:11 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


So he is saying Plato was a cryptic Pythagorean. Is there any evidence that Plato ate beans?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:34 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Daily Mail's illustration, described as a bust of Plato, clearly says "Zeno" in Greek. Another cryptogram? And to think that hundreds of classics Ph.D's can't find work...
posted by homerica at 12:03 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder how well this pattern holds up across different manuscripts. If the "code" is real, it could be used to assess how faithful a given manuscript is to the original.

Unless the manuscript is a composite from many hands over time (like - gasp - teh Bible); a collation of oral traditions (Homer, probably) or has been revised by the author.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:11 AM on July 1, 2010


Oops - you probably meant, manuscripts and the original of Plato, right?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:13 AM on July 1, 2010


There seem to be two distinct claims being made here. One is that Plato's works feature complex repeating patterns, like music or perhaps more like a kind of loose poetry. That seems interesting and fairly plausible.

The second is that they encode secret messages, or an alternative philosophy. There doesn't seem to be any evidence for this: what secret messages? The only thing I can see is the suggestion that the codes show Plato was influenced by Pythagoras - but that's not an encoded message. (Not altogether a sensational discovery either, though you might argue that it would be better to say that both Plato and the Pythagoreans display in different ways a general ancient Greek interest/belief in harmony and numbers and their fundamental importance).

What's slightly irritating is the way some of this tries to position Plato's dialogues as riddling nonsense whose real value lies in some obscure coded message. Plato was not trying to keep his philosophy secret.
posted by Phanx at 1:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's very irritating is stuff like:

Dr Kennedy explains: “Plato’s importance cannot be overstated. He shifted humanity from a warrior society to a wisdom society...

I mean, what utter bollocks.
posted by Phanx at 2:07 AM on July 1, 2010


Y...O...U...M..A...Y..H....A...V...E...A..L..L...R...E..A...D..Y...W...O...N

You spelled it incorrectly.

What? You were all thinking it too.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:56 AM on July 1, 2010


I haven't got around to reading the article myself, but I have to say I'll feel quite embarrassed for philosophy if he didn't at least try to find similar patterns in other random works... if he found this pattern all through Plato - when Plato uses quite different styles with different dialogues, so there's no reason to think he'd repeat this particular trope - I can't help but think the author might find it anywhere he looked.
posted by mdn at 4:01 AM on July 1, 2010


So he is saying Plato was a cryptic Pythagorean. Is there any evidence that Plato ate beans?

You're overthinking this.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:46 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


F U CN RD THS U CN GT A GD JB
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:36 AM on July 1, 2010


The Daily Mail's illustration, described as a bust of Plato, clearly says "Zeno" in Greek.

That really is believed to be a bust of Plato, despite the inscription. It's in the Vatican Museum. I can't find a good citation that isn't behind a paywall but it seems to have been recognized as portraying Plato since at least the 19th century.
posted by gubo at 5:54 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, maybe since the early 20th century. (Damn Pythagoras beans.)
posted by gubo at 5:58 AM on July 1, 2010


Always...no, no...never...forget to check your references.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


   
posted by y2karl at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2010


"Plato died at the age of eighty-one. On the evening of his death he had a Thracian girl play the flute to him. The girl could not find the beat of the nomos. With a movement of his finger, Plato indicated to her the Measure."

Plato, Eric Voegelin

* nomos has two meanings: law and melody.

-----

As a few commenters on Leiter's blog pointed out, the talk of structure is interesting but it hasn't yet been used to advance a thesis about Plato's positions. Leo Strauss once showed Seth Benardete some of his notes on Xenophanes. He had documented where each "He said." was placed in the dialogues. The Straussian interpretations may or may not be correct, but Strauss, Rosen, Benardete, etc. use them to advance an argument which makes their claims about a hidden structure far more interesting. It's plausible that Plato would see the need for caution in advancing what some of the Straussians claim are his hidden positions, e.g. no soul, necessity of the state to use myth, incompatibility of philosophy and politics. Setting aside these more radical claims, Plato also makes some indirect suggestions through his characters that would have been unpalatable in ancient Athens: women (Diotima, Aspasia) as teachers of wisdom, the slave boy in Meno used to demonstrate that the Forms are accessible to all through reason which means there is no hierarchy of souls. But there's no danger in agreement with the Pythagoreans. If his claims about the structure prove to be more than statistical noise, then they might well be there solely for rhetorical effect.

I am very curious though to see what kind of results it yields when applied to some of the works where Plato's authorship is in question: Theages, Menexenus, Seventh Letter.
posted by BigSky at 1:02 PM on July 1, 2010


If there is a pattern it might not say anything new about Plato's beliefs, but it gives us another clue towards imagining what the man may have been like. It's haunting to imagine this bearded guy sitting at his desk back there in ancient times, editing and rewriting every book over a fifty year span until the form of the words is as pleasing to him as their content. Layer upon layer of symmetry and balance, with the dialogs becoming both instruction and artworks in their own right, songs made of words.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:28 PM on July 1, 2010


> This seems crazy on the face of it. Like many crazy-seeming things, it's argued in depth and with impressive logic and measurement. But it still seems crazy.

What he said. I find it hard to imagine anything that would convince me of this. It's right up there with the various alternate-Shakespeare theories.
posted by languagehat at 1:40 PM on July 1, 2010


I don't see how this changes much. What's interesting about Plato is the philosophy, and even if some guy can document that Plato used certain literary techniques that align with various mathematical properties, I don't see how that teaches us anything new about his philosophy, or any other philosophy for that matter. If this told us anything new about Plato's unwritten doctrine, maybe it would be a little closer to the breathtaking prose of the press release. None of the articles linked here (as far as I can tell) present any concrete "secret codes", nor any substantial philosophy or message. Vague references to positive or negative words don't count.
posted by simen at 2:19 PM on July 1, 2010


« Older they play music as if there is something at stake   |   Babakiueria Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post