Sunday, November 10, 2013

Title and Length of the Work

Update (2013 December 16): see below for an informative comment by Professor Harold Tarrant.

We have just posted to a short essay on the title and length of Aristotle's Protrepticus, based on the evidence of the ancient lists of titles of Aristotle's works, and similar titles by other authors. Let us know what you think!

From Harold Tarrant:

Just looked at your brief account of the Protr. length, and I wondered whether this investigation might go on to tell us a little more. One consideration is that a ‘Protreptic’ is going to be addressed to somebody not yet committed to philosophy, which means that a long work of philosophy would be unlikely to retain attention, unless other factors (literary presentation, humor etc.) were involved. Something relatively succinct would have been most effective. One-book Platonic dialogues of an obviously exoteric kind, range from about 1600 words (for the Clitophon, significant?) to around 10000, with the big exception being Gorgias, at over 26000, and there is (as Dodds points out) a papyrus list of philosophic books (associated with the book trade) that makes reference to Against Callicles in 3 books, which may be the Gorgias. Average length of books of Republic = 8880, Laws 8582 words, and a three-book Gorgias would have come in at 8772 (my count separates out hiatus and will vary slightly from others). I reckon that a book intended to circulate widely in one book would originally have been written for some kind of standard length papyrus-roll, coming in at 10000 words or under. I doubt that Protr. would have been much longer. A quick count of my files of the relevant material in Iambl. Protr. 5-12 suggests that we may already have about 5000 words of Aristotle, so I'm guessing  that only another 3500 would have been needed to bring it up to the length of (e.g.) Charmides or a book of the Republic—some of which can be supplied from DCMS. I reckon that if he had written more than 12000 words it would be recorded as two or more books, since 2-3 books are quite common in the lists. It would be gratifying if we did in fact have the bulk of Protr. already!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Upcoming talk at UC Davis on the reception of the Protrepticus

Next Saturday I will be giving a talk at the 2013 Receptions Studies conference at UC Davis-- Receptions: Reading the Past across Time and Space. About the conference:
In keeping with the National Endowment for the Humanities’ new call for interdisciplinary transcultural projects, this conference will focus on “intercultural receptions” across time and space. Reading, in the title, is broadly conceived in the sense of reception of “cultural” forms and genres, including texts, buildings, art works, rituals, and performances. This year’s conference will particularly focus on the reception of ancient, medieval, and early modern texts, whether literary or philosophical, across genres, periods, and geographical spaces.
Here is the abstract for my own paper:
Reception and Reconstruction: The Case of Aristotle’s Protrepticus-- Monte Johnson
Aristotle’s Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy) was one of the most famous books in antiquity, but it was not copied in the middle ages and so is now a lost work. But because of the way the book was received and used by later scholars (e.g. imitated in other philosophical works, excerpted in anthologies, and integrated into pedagogical syllabi), it can be substantially reconstructed. The result is precious insight into Aristotle’s contribution to the genre of prose dialogue.
I will be on a panel with Jan Szaif (UC Davis), speaking on "Meeting the Stoic Challenge: The Reception of the Aristotelian ‘Formula’ of Living Well in the Context of Late Hellenistic Philosophizing", and Michael Griffin (UBC), speaking on "Now we must consider that some of the ancients discovered the truth”: Reception and antiquity in ancient Neoplatonism". Click here for their abstracts, and the others at the conference-- we are panel number 6, from 4:30-6pm on September 28.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Computer Reads Aristotle's Protrepticus: Harold Tarrant's approach to ancient source criticism through computational linguistics

Professor Harold Tarrant (Conjoint Prof. Harold Tarrant at The University of Newcastle, Australia) has in a number of recent papers (2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2012a, 2012b, 2013) researched various aspects of ancient philosophical texts by means of powerful statistical methods of computational linguistics developed and employed at the University of Newcastle's Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing.

Recently, Professor Tarrant has begun applying these methods to "the detection of layers of borrowed material in later Greek philosophy". When he told me in Cambridge last March that he was applying these methods to the source criticism of Porphyry and Proclus, I was interested to hear what he thought about the application of these methods to the Protrepticus, since our reconstruction of Aristotle's Protrepticus is based in large part on the detection of borrowed material in later Greek philosophy (e.g. in Iamblichus' Protrepticus and On the Common Mathematics). In less than a month since our conversation in Cambridge, Harold has produced a report, entitled: "The Computer Reads Aristotle: Iamblichus, Protr. VI-XII and On the Common Mathematics XXI-XXVII". He has graciously granted me permission to post it to our website at:

(By the way, the paper is very nice to read in electronic format, since it contains colored figures. Please do not reproduce or quote the paper without Professor Tarrant's permission.)

The statistical methods involve multivariate analysis, in particular principal component analysis and cluster analysis, in order to determine the proximity of a set of texts on the basis of their use of common, everyday terms (as opposed to technical philosophical vocabulary). Although such methods are in themselves fairly elementary, they yield highly useful and suggestive results, and yet are rarely seen applied in the field of Greek Philosophy. Perhaps this is because, although computers in principle make the mathematical-logical aspect of the work fairly easy to carry out, the research still requires competence not only in ancient Greek (or at least the ability to reduce Greek verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives into single forms), but also field-specific knowledge (in order to select significant versus insignificant function-words from lists of common words). Further, in the case of source criticism, one must not only be familiar with the hypothetical source text (e.g. Numenius of Apamea) but also the cover text (e.g. Porphyry's Cave of the Nymphs, which may have used Numenius as a source). (I draw this example from an unpublished manuscript of Prof. Tarrant's.) This is an area requiring intense interdisciplinary work and collaboration between mathematicians, logicians, linguists, computer scientists, and, last but not least, classicists and philosophers. Thus I view Harold Tarrant as a true renaissance man in his pioneering application of these methods to ancient philosophy.

Over the next several weeks, I plan to discuss parts of Professor Tarrant's paper in greater detail, because not only do the results arguably confirm (by a completely independent method) some of our hypotheses about the relationship between Iamblichus' cover text and the source text of Aristotle's Protrepticus (such as the authentication of Aristotle as the source of Protr. VI-XI + DCMS XXVI), but they can also help us interpret the source or sources of DCMS XXI-XXV and XXVII.

But the article is fascinating even apart from the specific issues raised by the application of its method to the Protrepticus: this methodology seems to me to be very important for the future of source criticism and thus for Classical Studies and the History of Philosophy in general. The Protrepticus might serve as a model of the power of this method.


Tarrant, H. (unpublished manuscript) 'The Computer Reads Aristotle: Iamblichus, Protr. VI-XII and On the Common Mathematics XXI-XXVII. Available online at:

Tarrant, H. (2013) ‘Narrative and Dramatic Presentation in Republic III’, in N. Notomi & L. Brisson eds. Dialogues on Plato's Politeia (Republic): Selected Papers from the Ninth Symposium Platonicum, Sankt Augustin: Academia, 309-313.

Tarrant, H. (2012) ‘Appendix 2: Report of the Working Vocabulary of the Doubtful Dialogues’ (with T. Roberts), in Marguerite Johnson and Harold Tarrant (eds), Alcibiades and the Socratic Lover-Educator, London: Bristol Classical Press, 223-236.

Tarrant, H. (2012) ‘The Origins and Shape of Plato’s Six-Book Republic’, Antichthon 46, 52-78.

Tarrant, H. (2011) ‘A Six-book version of Plato's Republic: Same Text Divided Differently, or Early Version?’, ASCS 32 Selected Proceedings: Refereed papers from the 32nd Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies, Auckland, NZ. Available online at: 

Tarrant, H. (2011) ‘The Mythical Voice in the Timaeus-Critias: Stylometric Indicators’ (with E.E. Benitez, and T. Roberts), Ancient Philosophy 31, 95-120.

Tarrant (2010). ‘The Theaetetus as a Narrative Dialogue?’, in N. O’Sullivan (ed.) ASCS 31 Proceedings, 2010: Available online at:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Upcoming talks in the UK and Italy

During the month of March, we will be giving presentations on the latest results of our research into Aristotle's Protrepticus in the following cities:

8 March Oxford
11 March Cambridge
13 March Edinburgh
14 March Durham

19 March Florence
26 March Venice
27 March Padua

Please let us know if you might be be able to attend one of the talks.

Below, a picture of Doug working on some of the handouts that we have developed for the talk (including a booklet of the latest version of the reconstruction). "There will be handouts."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Protrepticus VI and De Comm. Math. XXVI

An important aspect of Iamblichus' citation of Aristotle's Protrepticus in his Protr. VI (but one misunderstood in the scholarly literature) is the fact his citation there overlaps (at exactly four stretches, it turns out) with a citation (evidently from the same work) in his De communi mathematici scientia XXVI. Because of the overlap, scholars going back to Rose 1889 have attributed various stretches of DCM XXVI to Aristotle's Protrepticus. Our study of Iamblichus' techniques of chapter construction in his Pythagorean Sequence (of which the Protr. and the DCM are the second and third works) indicates that Iamblichus would have utilized Aristotle's Protrepticus as a source throughout that chapter.

We have recently posted to draft translations of Iamblichus, Protr. VI and DCM XXVI. For Protr. VI, we have also posted a text with apparatus criticus and commentary. The text in Bold we attribute verbatum to Aristotle; italics for Iamblichus; plain text is used for zones of uncertainty. (As always, we would greatly appreciate your feedback.)

Once it has been established that Iamblichus used Aristotle's Protrepticus as a source in DCM XXVI, the next question that needs to be asked is: where exactly did Iamblichus start and stop using Aristotle's Protrepticus as a source in the DCM?

Our answer, that we plan to defend in a series of upcoming talks in the UK and Italy (details forthcoming), is that Iamblichus used Aristotle's Protrepticus as a source throughout DCM XXI-XXVII. Realizing that has allowed us to attribute and authenticate around 600 lines of new material to Aristotle's Protrepticus.