Empedocles in Dublin


Salvator Rosa, ‘The Death of Empedocles’, c. 1665 – 1670, Oil on canvas, 135 x 99 cm, Private collection (Helen Langdon, Salvator Rosa – Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2010, p. 213). According to Helen Langdon, the real theme of the work is ‘man’s desire to lose himself in the immensity and violence of natural forces’. [ Public domain image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Empedocles#/media/File:The_Death_of_Empedocles_by_Salvator_Rosa.jpg ]

Jenny Bryan


At the end of October 2018, I followed in to the footsteps of two of my colleagues, Alison Sharrock and Peter Liddel, in travelling to Trinity College Dublin to give the 2018 W. B. Stanford Memorial Lectures. The Stanford Lectures were established in honour of Professor William Bedel Stanford who was Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College between 1940 and 1980 and it was a privilege to be invited. I used this as an opportunity to try out, across three lectures, some of the material I have been working on for my ongoing project on the early Greek philosopher Empedocles. Empedocles has long been one of my favourite philosophers and I am particularly interested in the relationship between the form and content of his philosophical teachings. Like his predecessors, Xenophanes and Parmenides, Empedocles’ philosophy is presented in hexameter verse of which only parts survive, almost exclusively as quotations in later authors. The primary focus of my project is on the role and nature of knowledge, wisdom and perception in Empedocles’ poem. This topic demands a consideration not only of what he has to say about how perception works or what kind of knowledge we can achieve, but also of the kind of knowledge and authority Empedocles himself claims in communicating his teachings in verse.

My first lecture sought to get to grips with the implications of the various labels we use to discuss both Empedocles and other early Greek philosophers and their teachings: ‘poet’, ‘philosopher’, ‘poet-philosopher’, ‘science’, ‘philosophy’, ‘religion’ etc. My worry is that, in applying such terms, we are categorizing Empedocles’ thought in ways that are not always justifiable on the basis of the evidence. Such labels encourage us to construct and impose illegitimate distinctions in our discussions of the evidence. However, it is also fair to say that it is almost impossible to talk about early Greek thinkers without using such labels and distinctions. So what are we to do? My suggestion is that we can make a useful start from Empedocles’ claims of authority. He makes various such claims in different ways which touch on and combine many of the aspects of his thought to which we are likely to apply labels. In asserting the value and truth of his teachings, he sometimes appeals to the Muse, sometimes to empirical evidence and sometimes even to his own divinity. We need to think about the implications of these claims and their relationship to one another. In doing so, we may find a more robust and inclusive context in which to consider his teachings as a whole.

My second lecture focused on fragment B23, in which Empedocles appears to liken the creation of the world to the creation of painted images. Just as painters mix a limited number of pigments to produce a whole range of images, so the cosmic ‘forces’ of Love and Strife mix together four physical principles (earth, aether, fire and water) to produce everything in the cosmos. Scholars generally focus on what this fragment implies about the physical process of creation, asking whether it means that Love and Strife cooperate and what sort of mixture or blending of physical principles the analogy might imply. For me, what is interesting is that Empedocles uses an everyday example of creation to explain cosmic processes. In this way, he is pointing to our experience to ratify his teachings. In the final lines of the fragment, however, he insists on the authority of his teaching on the basis that he is divine (‘know these things clearly, having heard the story from a god’). The question here is what sense we can make of the relation between an appeal to the authority of experience (which seems to ask to be judged on its own terms) and an appeal to divine authority (which seems to be independent of the evidence)

My final lecture discussed B129, a fragment that describes ‘a man of exceptional knowledge’, someone who has achieved a great ‘wealth’ of knowledge. Scholars have often followed ancient commentators in assuming this fragment to be about Pythagoras, particularly because of what appears to be a reference to remembering past lives in the final lines. In fact, however, the fragment does not name Pythagoras, nor does it actually state that the wise man is wise as a result of remembering the experience of past lives. I am particularly interested in the possibility and implications of reading this fragment as suggesting that access to the experience of multiple lives is a consequence of wisdom, rather than its cause.

I am immensely grateful to the staff and students of TCD for their enormously kind invitation to give the Stanford lectures, for their hospitality and, especially, for the stimulating and helpful discussions they offered for each of my lectures. I have plenty of work to do in developing these lectures further and expanding my discussion, but it was a privilege to be able to take some first steps with the help of such a receptive audience.


Letters of a Roman Emperor

A.D. Morrison, Antonia Sarri

One of the most interesting Greek letter collections surviving from antiquity is that of the Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus (331–63 C.E.), usually known as ‘Julian the Apostate’, because of his conversion to paganism, despite being brought up a Christian. In fact, however, ‘collection’ is somewhat misleading, since the manuscripts transmit smaller collections of Julian’s letters, often (partly) overlapping, in various combinations. The largest ms collection is transmitted by Laurentianus pl. 58.16 (15th c.), which contains 43 letters, but the total number of letters preserved across the different collections is 85.

Standardly this larger number of letters is collected into a single group and read as one collection (though this does not reflect the way in which the letters are preserved in the mss). The number of letters so collected has grown over time, as more ms groups were discovered: the editio princeps (the Aldine, 1499) included only 48 aggregated letters, Hercher’s (1873) edition 78 letters, Hertlein’s (1875) edition 79 letters, Wright’s (1923) edition 85 letters. The extraordinary number of 207 letters in Bidez-Cumont’s edition (1922) is formed by including letters extracted from other sources, such as Byzantine historians and the Suda.

If one turns to the ms groups of letters one can see that there remains a lot of work to be done to untangle the ordering principles visible in those groups, which are obscured in modern editions, since these generally aggregate the distinct ms collections and re-order them chronologically (as in Bidez-Cumont and Wright, for instance). The two main ms groups are those headed by Vossianus 77 (12th c.) and Ambrosianus B 4 sup. (10th c.), respectively. There seems to be clear evidence of thematic arrangement in these groups: in Vossianus 77, the first group of letters (26, 7, 50, 6, 9, 23; we employ the numbering of Hertlein 1875, since it is closest to the orders in the mss) concern the administration of Egypt, while there is another group of letters (14-19), in which literary or philosophical themes are prominent and which praise the rhetorical ability of the addressee.

In the case of Ambrosianus B 4 sup. we seem to be dealing with a selection of letters representative of his life and beliefs. The two first letters (75, 3) are pairs of letters, 75 to Basil with the latter’s reply and 3 to Libanius’ with the latter’s reply. The next letter (14) is also to Libanius, referring to a speech that Libanius has sent to Julian and may have been been placed there on purpose, since in the previous letter (3) Julian asked Libanius to send him a discourse. In 64 and 13 Julian’s pagan religious beliefs are displayed. Letters 65, 178 and 157 seem to be extracts from historians or excerpts from longer Julian’s letters brought together.

Tell Nabasha: The City of the Snake Goddess

Nicky Nielsen

In 2014 during work in the North-eastern Nile Delta, I and two colleagues had the opportunity to visit the site of Tell Nabasha. Tell Nabasha (also known as Tell Fara’un) consists of a series of tells (hillocks of decomposed mudbrick from ancient settlements) surrounded by modern occupation. The site was initially explored in 1886 by the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) and since 1906 by successive rescue excavations conducted by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. In ancient times, the site was known as Imet, a regional capital and the cult centre of the snake goddess Wadjet who was worshipped in association with the fertility god Min and the Young Horus (or Harpocrates in later times).

When we arrived at the site we saw evidence of looting as well as damage to the archaeological area by modern construction activity. This led to a decision to organise a survey of the site with three overarching aims: (a) to create the first topographic map of the archaeological area, (b) to conduct limited excavations to gauge the depth and type of archaeological deposits with a view to determining the most efficient non-invasive surveying techniques to use at the site in future and (c) document the looting of archaeological materials from the site.

The Wainwright Fund kindly agreed to sponsor the first season of work which began in late 2015. After putting down an initial sondage in an area of the eastern tell with scatters of Late Period and Ptolemaic pottery, we uncovered mudbrick walls less than 0.1m under the surface. We expanded the sondage to a grid square and over the next weeks uncovered a series of walls and hearths dating to end of the Late Period (664-332 BCE).

During the excavation we recorded more than 300 small finds and thousands of pottery sherds. Among the small finds was faience in the form of vessel-fragments and amulets, but also two dozen fragmentary and whole ceramic figurines and a sculptor’s model showing the face of the god Harpocrates in profile.

After the end of the excavation we established a cooperation with Dr Hannah Pethen of the British Museum to conduct a remote-sensing survey of the site using a multi-spectral bundle of satellite images. The survey not only revealed extensive mudbrick architecture on the eastern tell but also the possible remains of a large temenos wall and a limestone pylon on the western edge of the site.

Work on material from Tell Nabasha, both the material found during our season and the older material recovered by Petrie and kept in the British Museum, continues. We hope to return to Tell Nabasha soon where our primary goal will be to ground-truth the results of the satellite survey to gain a broader understanding of this fascinating ancient site.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1: A satellite view of the archaeological site of Tell Nabasha and the nearby town of el-Hosayneya.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3: View from the eastern edge of the site looking due west.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4: Top plan of Trench 1 at the end of the 2015 excavation season.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5: A Late Period cooking pot found in situ standing in a bed of charcoal.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6: Three faience amulets found during the 2015 excavations season, two wadjet eyes and an amulet depicting the ibis-headed god Thoth.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2: A topographic map of the eastern tell area showing the location of the excavated grid square.

Fig. 7

Fig. 7: A sculptor’s model showing the god Harpocrates in profile.


Aelian and Philostratus: contrasting manuscript traditions of two Greek fictional letter collections

by A.D. Morrison and Antonia Sarri

There is a striking difference in the degree of order one finds in two Greek fictional letter collections which are often read alongside one another, the letters of Aelian and Philostratus. The order of the letters of Aelian is stable, but the mss of Philostratus present two competing orders. As we shall see, the order in which the letters of the latter are read most commonly today turns out to be an order with a problematic claim to authoritativeness. The critical consequences are far from negligible.

Aelian’s twenty letters are transmitted in the mss under the title ἐκ τῶν Αἰλιανοῦ ἀγροικικῶν ἐπιστολῶν and have traditionally been ascribed to the Roman sophist Claudius Aelianus, which would put them in the late second or early third century A.D. (Philostratus refers to Aelian in his Lives of the Sophists 624–5). The order of the letters is 1–20 in all three of the earliest mss that preserve the letters of Aelian, which is the order (naturally enough) adopted in printed editions. (The mss relevant are Ambrosianus B 4 sup. (= Martini-Bassi 1906, no 81), Matritensis 4693, and Vallicelianus gr. 182 (=92 All.).

This stability in the mss and printed editions contrasts sharply with the situation for the letters of Philostratus. The critical consensus is that the author of these letters is Philostratus II ‘of Athens’, born in the latter part of the second century A.D., that is the same author as the author of the Lives of the Sophists and the Life of Apollonius of Tyana. There are a total of 73 letters: no MS preserves all of these. Most are erotic in character, and have anonymous addressees, but not all. The order in which the letters are usually read today reflects one of the main manuscript families identified by Kayser in his 1844 edition of the works of Philostratus (and also reflected in his 1870 Teubner). His ‘Family 1’ contains 58 letters, ordered (for the most part) in the sequence in which we usually read the letters today, though not all of the manuscripts preserve all 58 of these letters.  Kayser’s ‘Family 2’, on the other hand, preserves 53 letters (1-39, 46-7, 50, 54-64) in a quite different order:  3, 54, 1, 2, 46, 20, 9, 55, 17, 63, 4, 21, 27, 22, 5, 47, 6, 7, 23, 8, 28, 11, 50, 10, 12, 56, 29, 24, 25, 57, 26, 30, 13, 31, 58, 59, 15, 60, 33, 32, 16, 61, 34, 62, 14, 35, 36, 37, 18, 38, 19, 39, 64.

Of the forty-seven letters  shared between these two families (all of which are erotic in content, and all to unnamed addressees), twenty are found in abbreviated form in Family 1 (7-8, 10, 12-13, 15, 18-19, 21-22, 25-9, 33-4, 36, 38-9). Letters 65-72 are found in independent manuscript f (Laurentianus 59.30) and 73 in M (Matritensis 4693) and Parisinus 2775. These letters are different in content from the erotic letters, since they are written to named addressees and concern a variety of topics.

Why did Kayser prefer the order of Family 1? It appears that he thought the abbreviated versions of the shared letters as the work of a mature Philostratus revising his earlier work (Kayser 1844: i). But in fact (as Raïos has pointed out),  there is in fact no evidence to support this hypothesis of two Philostratean editions of the letters, and good reasons for thinking that the shorter versions must be alterations of the longer. Letter 19, for example, clearly shows not only abbreviation, but also a change of addressee (from male to female) and some alteration of pronouns, with the omission of material which identified the addressee as male, to produce the shorter version. There remains much work to be done (not least on the letters not preserved in Family 2, esp. the non-erotic letters 65-73), but we can provisionally conclude that for the letters of Family 2, the order preserved in those manuscripts is likely to be more authoritative, and that we should read the letters in that order, not in the order used by Kayser and most editions since. Happily, the order of Family 2 is the one used by Kai Brodersen in his recent (2017) text and translation of the letters of Philostratus (Erotische Briefe / Erotikai Epistolai, Wiesbaden).

From Philoctetes to Justinian and beyond: CAHA students at Velika

by Maria Kopsacheili

In August 2018, three undergraduate CAHA students had the fascinating opportunity to participate – fully-funded by SALC- in the excavation project of Kastro Velikas in the northeast part of Thessaly in Greece. Kastro Velikas is a fortified site on a low hill on the north-east slopes of Mount Kissavos and just at 500 m from the sea-side. In Late Antiquity, it saw its heyday in the time of Justinian, as an affluent commercial and military post. The site, however, is one of the strongest candidates as the location of the city of Melivoia – a key station in the defence system of Thessaly in the Classical and Hellenistic periods located on the coastal path that linked Thessaly with Macedon to the north.


Kastro Velikas. View to the East from the area of the Building by the Southern Gate.

In the summer of 2017 the Larisa Ephorate of Antiquities (EFALAR, http://larisa.culture.gr/ ) and the Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford (https://www.classics.ox.ac.uk/ ) commenced a collaboration led by Drs Stavroula Sdrolia and Maria Stamatopoulou. A year later, the team grew with the participation of three students from Manchester under my supervision. The project draws on the results of the previous research done at the site by the EFALAR and the University of Thessaly, which had revealed buildings of military and commercial character as well as a basilica of the 6th c. CE. Amongst the finds were abundant pottery sherds of the Classical period, the visible remains of a pre-Justinian phase of the fortification wall, and a dedicatory inscription to Zeus Akraios (Zeus “Of the Peaks”) indicating the existence of an important earlier settlement at the site. The current project aims at examining the extent and nature of the earlier city and ultimately at contributing to the understanding of the historical topography of the region and Melivoia’s location. Melivoia is mentioned in the Iliad (B717) as a city in the kingdom of the Homeric hero Philoctetes.

We have so far revealed earlier phases of Byzantine structures adjacent or very close to the wall that had been previously located- such as the ‘Building by the Southern Gate’. We also identified concentrations of Classical black-glazed pottery in the backfills created for the construction of the Byzantine buildings. Such have been found in all the trenches we opened. New pottery findings have reinforced the theory that the site had particularly strong trading links with the Black Sea in the proto-Byzantine period and that it survived well into the 7th and 8th centuries CE. At the same time, large concentrations of metal objects point to the use of specific rooms as units for storage of military gear and perhaps as workshops.


Manchester students Jessica Charlesworth and Elena Marian at work in one of the excavation trenches

The students from Manchester worked in small groups alongside experienced postgraduates and familiarised themselves with a broad range of skills that are essential in archaeological fieldwork, such as topographical survey, excavation, photography in the field, plans and section drawing, processing and recording artefacts.[1] They also had the opportunity to learn about the material culture of the Justinian period and northeast Thessaly – topics which are not mainstream in the taught syllabi of most UK institutions – and by doing so to place their own knowledge into a broader context. This became possible not only by working on site, but also through a series of museum tours and visits to other sites of the region organised by the EFALAR and the Municipality of Agia.[2] This field season closed with a public lecture attended by local stakeholders, where we presented both the new findings and the value of the project for student-training.


Post-excavation work: sorting and recording pottery (PGR, PGT and UG students from Oxford and Manchester)

The Late Antique and Byzantine deposits at the site are several metres deep and there is no doubt that we are only at the beginning of our efforts to expose the Classical city. Work is expected to resume in the summer of 2019 and the prospect of applying non-intrusive archaeological methods alongside excavation is being examined.


Members of the excavation team, Kastro Velikas 2018

[1] The CAHA students were Jessica Charlesworth (Level 1, Ancient History), Isabel Turnbull (Level 2, Ancient History), Elena Marian (Level 2, Archaeology & Anthropology) —as in 2017/8.

[2] Our department is immensely grateful to the two institutions  — the EFALAR and the University of Oxford —which were willing to add our team from Manchester to the project. In addition, the Municipality of Agia http://www.dimosagias.gr/  provided free-of-charge accommodation for staff and students, storage rooms for the finds as well as support staff who took care of subsistence and we are deeply grateful for their support.

A Conference on Ancient Philosophical Letters


At the beginning of September, following the restarting of the Ancient Letters Collection project at Manchester, the department hosted a two-day conference on ancient Philosophical Letters. The full programme can be found here. The conference featured scholars with a wide range of interests and backgrounds presenting papers on a fascinatingly diverse set of texts and issues.

We opened proceedings with two general papers. Jenny Bryan (Manchester) kicked things off with a paper aiming to focus our minds on the question of how and, indeed, whether we might define either the ‘philosophical letter’ or ‘epistolary philosophy’. Admitting the difficulty of producing such definitions, she presented the claim that letters provide the best context in which to construct a philosophical persona, superior even to the philosophical dialogue in this regard. Several of the issues she raised resurfaced in subsequent papers and discussions. Owen Hodkinson’s (Leeds) paper served to showcase the diversity and scope of the material available to those with an interest in ancient philosophical letters. Surveying the uses of scholē across the extant Greek philosophical letters, Owen noted the influence of specifically philosophical connotations (particularly in the late fictional works drawing on earlier traditions) as well as pointing to the limited role of the idea when contrasted with the presence of notions of otium in Latin letters.

Our second panel considered the Platonic Epistles and their afterlife. Andrew Morrison (Manchester) offered a reconsideration of the erotic features of the letters, arguing for the importance of considering the different ways in which the letters have circulated as a collection (more on the different collections of the Platonic Epistles can be found here). Simon Smets (UCL) broadened our horizons by introducing the letters of Marsilio Ficino, the fifteenth century author of translations and commentaries on Plato. Simon presented a fascinating discussion of the ways in which Ficino’s letters and epistolary pedagogical persona are informed not only by the Platonic Epistles, but also by his reading of the letters of Seneca and Pliny.

Thursday’s final panel had a Stoic focus. Ada Bronowski (NCH) presented an account of Seneca’s engagement with Epicurus’ letters in his own Letters to Lucilius. Ada argued that Seneca often quotes Epicurus in a manner that explicitly distorts his thought but which serves Seneca’s own Stoic position. In doing so, he signals his agonistic attitude philosophical epistolary practice. Janja Soldo (ICS) discussed Fronto’s use of philosophical references and tropes within his letters, offering an argument for the relevance of these texts for our thinking about ancient philosophical letters. Elizabeth Mattingley Conner (Maryland) introduced us to the use of Stoic thought in the letters of fifth and sixth century sophists in Gaza as a means of exhortation and the encoding of values and ideologies within their wider communities.

We returned on Friday with a panel focussed on the place of Pythagoreanism in ancient philosophical letters. Carol Atack (Oxford) considered the themes, purpose and authorship of the letters attributed to Pythagorean women, arguing that the Pythagorean philosophical context is used to support a relatively conservative understanding of gender roles and relations. Elsa Simonetti (Durham) presented a detailed discussion of the letters attributed to Apollonius or Tyana, demonstrating the ways in which they appear to represent and communicate philosophical positions as well as constructing the philosophical identity both of the author and his audience.

Friday’s second panel focussed on Epicurean questions, with both papers also touching on the relationship of the letter to dialogue. Pamela Gordon (Kansas) presented an intriguing discussion of the way that Cicero’s dialogic epistolary interactions with Cassius on Epicureanism inform the more trenchant anti-Epicurean polemic of De Finibus. Federico Giulio Corsi (Sapienza) considered the relationship between the epistolary philosophical didactic of Diogenes of Oenoanda and that of Epicurus. Federico noted that Diogenes’ Letter to Antipater is more dialogic in nature than the abridged treatises we find in the letters of Epicurus. He raised the interesting question of how the monumental nature of the letter’s inscription at Oenoanda relates to its attempts to stimulate philosophical critique.

In the final panel of the conference, Claire Jackson (Cambridge) scrutinized the philosophical coherence of the fictional letters of Chion of Heraclea, arguing that they serve to challenge the suitability of letters as a vehicle for philosophy. Anna Peterson (Penn State) drew our attention to issues of the interaction of epistolarity and philosophy in Lucian’s Negrinus and On the Passing of Peregrinus, arguing that the complexity of the relation between author, addressee and subject serve as a context for considering the nature and significance of philosophical self-reflection. In the last paper of the conference, Malcolm Heath (Leeds) presented a discussion of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus with a focus on what it can tell us about significance and function of philosophical letters within the third-century philosophical community.

 Every paper stimulated lively and productive discussion sessions and it was particularly rewarding to recognize the connections between the questions asked and answers given on this wide range of texts and topics. It is clear that this is a fruitful area of research in which there is much more work to be done. We look forward to seeing how our discussions and understanding continue to develop.

The ‘Platonic’ Epistles and their orders

A.D. Morrison & Antonia Sarri

We’ve recently tackled one of the most famous and controversial ancient letter collections, the Epistles attributed to Plato, including the famous (and very long!) Seventh Letter, which is written as if by Plato, defending his entanglements in Sicily and offering a species of autobiography.

The authenticity of the letters is still debated, of course, though our own view as a project is that they are most unlikely to be authentic (for the debate see Isnardi Parenti–Ciani, Platone: Lettere 2002, xi-xv and on the Seventh Letter  Burnyeat–Frede , The Pseudo-Platonic Seventh Letter, 2015, Huffman, Archytas of Tarentum 2005, 42-3). Putting aside the question of authenticity, the earliest evidence for the existence of the collection suggests it was formed fairly early: Diogenes Laertius (3.61), reporting the content of Thrasyllus’ division of Plato into nine groups of four works each (the ‘tetralogies’), gives the same addressees for the thirteen letters as in our manuscripts (with one exception, Aristodemus for Aristodorus, which is probably an error). This suggests the collection was formed at least by the first century AD, possibly earlier, since  Cicero (first century BC) refers to letters 7 (Tusc. Disp. 5.35; De Fin. 2.28) and 9 (De Fin. 2.14 and De Off. 1.7); part of letter 8 (356a6-8) survives in a third century BC papyrus (P.Worp=P.Lugd. Bat. XXXIII 1).

The collection has survived in two orders. The first is the order 1-13, which has descended as part of the wider Platonic corpus (and which is reflected in modern printed editions of the collection). This is the oldest order and seems to have been preserved intact at least since the arrangement of Thrasyllus (first century AD), positioning the letters at the end of the ninth tetralogy. The oldest manuscripts of the Platonic corpus are Parisinus 1807 (=9th century AD) and (of about the same age) its apograph Vaticanus 1 (ninth-tenth century AD), both of which contain the letters in the order 1-13, positioned at the end of the ninth tetralogy, followed by the Definitions and the spurious dialogues.

The 1-13 order seems to reflect a narrative with flashbacks in letters 1-4, a pause in letters 5 and 6, with the narrative continuing in letters 7 and 8, focusing on Plato’s unhappy association with the Syracusan court. The last five letters (9-13) take us back to an earlier stage, before the end of the events as described by letter 8. The narrative is thus roughly chronological in the first section (1-8), the events being presented in dramatic retrospect, which the second section (9-13) then exploits to advert to the dramatic irony of the earlier phase of the relationship between Plato and Dionysius II.

The second order, which has received much less scholarly attention, is derivative from the first one; it consists of a selection of the thirteen without interrupting their order: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10. These six letters address respectively Dionysius II (the tyrant of Syracuse, the addressee of both 1 and 2), Dion (engaged in a struggle for control of Syracuse, who overcomes Dionysius II but is later killed), Perdiccas III, king of Macedonia, Archytas of Tarentum (the philosopher and general), and finally Aristodorus (in a very brief letter commending him for his support of Dion; he is otherwise unknown). This order needs more attention, but one can perhaps see that the first three letters tell briefly the story of Plato’s association with Dionysius II and then his support for Dion, who has overcome Dionysius II, thus miniaturising the story of the struggles for supremacy at Syracuse, while the latter three letters show Plato engaged in more typical epistolary communication, writing a  letter of recommendation (letter 5) and apparently responding to one in letter 9, while writing a short affirmation of his addressee’s ‘true philosophy’ in letter 10.

As such the selection perhaps reflects the context in which it is found in the manuscripts, since in the manuscripts reflecting the derivative order 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, the letters are transmitted mainly with other Greek epistolographers, especially philosophers, often near the collections of the letters of the Socratics and the Cynics. When exactly these collections of epistolographers (or ‘epistolaria’) were compiled is uncertain, but they could date as back as early as the fourth century AD, because the collection 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10 is often preceded by excerpts from letter 2, which are also found in Stobaeus (fifth century AD).

In a very important sense, then, this post on the Plato collection epitomises the project: we’re attempting not only to establish ancient ordering(s), but also the effects those orders have on reading practices including especially ancient orders that have been neglected in the modern critical tradition. Much more work remains to be done!