AFLATUN Arabic for Plato, the Greek philosopher, who became, together with Aristotle, the
standard philosopher in late Greek philosophy.
(i) Works and doctrine; (ii) Lives; (iii) Sayings.
(i) Plato is known to Arab authors according to the different ways in which his genuine works or
those erroneously attributed to him were read and studied in the Greek sections of the Roman
Empire during the centuries preceding the Arab conquest of Hellenized lands in the Eastern
Mediterranean. Most Arab thinkers did not consider Plato the main representative of Greek
thought as St. Augustine e.g. had done (Civ. Dei, viii, 4, 1t) but subordinated him to Aristotle;
they were however like e.g. Porphyry, Ammonius and Simplicius aware of an identity of purpose
and a basic agreement between the two great philosophers.
Just as commentaries on Aristotle written outside the Neoplatonic schools survived in Arabic
translations and, partly, in Arabic translations only (as in the case of certain writings of
AAlexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius, etc.), interpretations of Plato, untinged by
Neoplatonism, found their way to the Arabic philosophers and were studied by them. Part of
Galen's (Dhalinus [q.v.]) Platvnik«n dialÚgvn sinociw in eight books, lost in the Greek original
but still partly accessible to Hunayn b. Ishaq (Ma Turdhima min Kutub Dhalinus (Bergstraesser), no.
1t4) and his school, has been traced and recently published, viz. the summary of the whole of
the Timaeus, with many verbal quotations, a fragment of his paraphrase of the Republic, a
fragment of his summary of the Laws and a reference to his summary of the Parmenides (P. Kraus
and R. Walzer, Plato Arabus, i, 1951). Fragments of his medical commentary on the Timaeus
(Hunayn, no. 1tt) have been recovered from Arabic medical writers (H. O. Schrkder and P.
Kahle, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Supplementum, i, 1934). Many quotations from Plato and
references to him reached the Islamic world through translations of other works by Galen. As
had happened in the case of Aristotle, late Greek philosophers tried to arrange Plato's dialogues
in systematic order. An otherwise unknown work of this type, completely freeqfrom Neoplatonic
influence and still fully aware of the political aspects of Plato's thought, was used and partly
reproduced by al-Farabi (F. Rosenthal and R. Walzer, Plato Arabus, ii, 1943). The author of the
Greek treatise, who had even regarded this systematic ordering of the dialogues as a
chronological arrangement by date of composition, is unknown. A commentary on the Republic
of similar provenience was widely used by al-Farabi; it constitutes the main part of Ibn Rushd's
commentary which is available in a Hebrew translation and a 16th century Latin one (edition
in preparation by E. J. Rosenthal). A summary of Plato's Laws, of a similar type, was used by
al-Farabi in his compendium of the work (F. Gabrieli, Plato Arabus, iii, 195t). Al-Razi commented
on Plutarch's commentary on the Timaeus (S. Pines, Atomenlehre, 90) and Yahya b. 'Adi copied
Plutarch's book (Fihrist, t46).
But, in general, Arabic philosophers look at Plato through the eyes of his Neoplatonic
interpreters, Plotinus [cf. al-shaykh al-yunani], Porphyry (Furfiriyus [q.v.]), Proclus (Buruqlus
[q.v.]) and others. In the preface to his translation of a fragment of Proclus' commentary on the
Timaeus 89E-90C: E. Pfaff, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Supplementum, iii, p. xlii, 1941) Hunayn b.
Ishaq (cf. also Ma Turdhima, no. 45) says: 'Galen is the standard interpreter of Hippocrates, and
the man who is best entitled to explain the meaning of Plato's words is Proclus the most famous
of scholars'. An instructive example of this Proclean interpretation of Plato is to be found in
Miskawayh's al-Fawz al-Asghar, in the section on the immortality of the soul (F. Rosenthal, 399
ff.), based probably on Proclus' work On the immortality of the soul according to Plato, in three books,
which was known to the Arabs (Fihrist, t5t). A tradition of this kind is followed by al-Kindi, in
whom the Platonic element is strong (cf. Rasa'il (Abu Rida), nos. 10-13) not only in psychology
but also in his extremely orthodox neoplatonic metaphysics of the One and in his ethics. The
Plato to whom al-Farabi (with the exception of his theory of the ideal state), Ibn Sina, Ibn
Badhdha and Ibn Rushd refer is, whether explicitly or implicitly, always the Plato of Plotinus and
his followers. Yahya b. 'Adi had Olympiodorus' (6th century A.D.) commentary on the Sophist
(lost in the Greek original) in his library (Fihrist, t56) in the translation of Ishaq b. Hunayn. We
find an interesting account of Plato's metaphysics, cosmology and psychology, derived from an
unknown but valuable neoplatonic source, in al-Shahrastani, t83 ff. (German transl. by Th.
Haarbrücker, ii, 117). On the whole, since Neoplatonism claims to be a reinterpretation of
Plato, influential Neoplatonic writings deserve to be mentioned here as well, the Theology of
Aristotle, in which Aristotle is supposed to have become a Platonist in his old age, the Liber de
causis based on Proclus' Elements of Theology, the new Plotinian text discovered by P. Kraus (cf.
Bibliography) and the Arabic Plotinus source discussed by F. Rosenthal [cf. aristutalis and
A new development starts with al-Suhrawardi al-Maqtul [q.v.] and the Ishraqis [q.v.], who,
criticizing al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, emphasize the mystical aspects of Platonism, or rather
Neoplatonism, and make Plato the mystic the chief authority in philosophy. The ‘ufis now
become the true followers of Plato (cf. e.g. al-Suhrawardi, Opera Metaphysica et Mystica (Corbin), i,
p. viii, xxxiii ff.). An anonymous book On the Platonic Ideas (ed. 'A. Badawi,qCairo 1947), written
probably in the 14th century (Corbin, op. cit., 4, n. 79), depends on al-Suhrawardi's strange
interpretation of the Platonic ideas.
Another special tradition of Platonism is represented by Muhammad b. Zakariyya' al-Razi [q.v.],
who also claims to follow Plato as his main authority. His Platonising ethics (cf. al-tibb al-Ruhani)
may be connected with his study of Galen, and his rejection of the eternity of the world with the
interpretation of the Timaeus put forward by Plutarch and Galen, but his five eternal principles
are of Neopythagorean provenience, although he considered them to be Platonic. His theory of
the atomic structure of matter may go back to Plato's lecture On the Good, it is certainly found in
a neopythagorean version of Plato's metaphysics (Sextus Empiricus, Adversus Physicos, ii, t49 ff.).
The Arabic bibliographers list the titles of all the dialogues to be found in the Greek Corpus
Platonicum, but give little information about Arabic translations. They mention a commentary
on the Republic (translated by Hunayn b. Ishaq); translations of the Timaeus by Yahya b. al-Bitriq,
Hunayn b. Ishaq and Yahya b. 'Adi. (Hunayn wrote also a treatise That which ought to be read before
Plato's works.) Ibn al-Nadim also mentions a copy of the Crito in Yahya b. 'Adi's handwriting. Part
of Proclus' commentary on the Phaedo (lost in the Greek original) was translated from the Syriac
by Ibn Zur'a.
No manuscripts of these or other Arabic translations of a Platonic dialogue have so far been
traced. A verbal quotation from the Republic (apart from the more or less verbal references in Ibn
Rushd's paraphrase and references to its contents in works of other philosophers) occurs e.g. in
the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-‘afa', Cairo 1347, iv, 134 (the story about Gyges, Rep., ii, 359 ff., cf.
Rosenthal, 397). Al-Kindi wrote a treatise on the Platonic number (Rep., viii; Fihrist, t56).
Quotations from the Timaeus occur frequently, but it is difficult to decide whether they are taken
from Plato or from some intermediary. For the quotations from the Laws to be found in
al-Biruni's India cf. F. Rosenthal, 359 f. and F. Gabrieli, Plato Arabus, iii, p. xii, n. t. There are
numerous quotations from the Phaedo in the same work. The closing section on Socrates' death
is to be found e.g. in Ibn al-Kifti, t00-6 and Ibn Abi Usaybi'a, i, 45. A Persian version of the
dialogue exists in Brusa (Bell., 195t, 114). The Alcibiades-speech from the Banquet has been
traced by F. Rosenthal in Istanbul, Kkprülü 1608, fol. t16. Persistent research will no doubt
trace more quotations of Platonic dialogues in Arabic philosophical and non-philosophical
Among the pseudepigrapha of a philosophical kind can be mentioned: the neophythagorean
treatise Plato's Exhortation of young men, probably of Greek origin (F. Rosenthal, Orientalia, x,
383-95), a letter by Plato addressed to Porphyry (!) about the banishment of grief, depending on
a treatise on consolation by al-Kindi (Mash., 19tt, 884-9, see H. Ritter-R. Walzer, Memorie Ac.
dei Lincei, 1940, 388 n. t) and Plato's will addressed to Aristotle.
But the Arabs are acquainted not only with the different interpretations of Plato's thought
which are familiar to the student of Greek philosophy but also with a Plato who had been
associated with the superstitions which had become an integral part of the teaching of most of
the neoplatonic schools: magic, astrology and alchemy (Olympiodorus and other late
Neoplatonists had dabbled in alchemy and made Plato their patron). The Arabs went aqstep
further and made Plato the author of alchemical works. Dhabir quotes a Musahhahat Aflatun in
which Plato initiates his disciple Timaeus in the secrets of alchemy; but the passages of the
Timaeus referred to by Dhabir have nothing to do with the original dialogue of Plato (P. Kraus,
Jabir et la science grecque, 48 ff.). Another work of a similar character, a philosophical alchemical
book attributed to Plato is the Rawabi' Aflatun known to the West as Liber Quartorum and preserved
in two Arabic MSS. It contains a dialogue between Ahmad b. al-Husayn b. Dhahar Bukhtar and
the well known Harranian mathematician and astronomer øhabit b. qurra (P. Kraus, op. cit., 51,
339). Another alchemical treatise, the Liber Platonis de XIII clavibus, is supposed to have been
translated from the Arabic into Latin in A.D. 1301 (L. Thorndike, A History of Magic, iii, 57). Cf.
also Kraus, op. cit., 51, n. 9.
Among the magical treatises ascribed to Plato the al-Nawamis, which deals with artificial
generation, appears to be worth mentioning (P. Kraus, op. cit., 104 and n. 1t), as well as al-Sirr
al-khafi (ibid., 5t).
(ii) The Arabic 'Lives of Plato' do not add anything substantial to the material to be found in
the Greek tradition as represented by Diogenes Laertius, book iii, Olympiodorus, and the
Prolegomena to the Platonic philosophy by an anonymous Neoplatonist (cf. H. Breitenbach, F.
Buddenhagen, A. Debrunner, F. von der Muehll, Diogenes Laertius III, 1907; J. Kirchner,
Prosopographia Attica, no. 11855). There is, however, no direct connection between them and any
of the Greek texts known. Part of the Arabic tradition can be traced back to an introductory
work by Theo of Smyrna (tnd century A.D.), referred to by the Fihrist, t45, and quoted at
length by Ibn al-qifti, 17-9 (cf. J. Lippert, Studien auf dem Gebiete der griechischarabischen
Übersetzungslitteratur, i, Braunschweig 1898, 39 ff.). The Fihrist refers also to (Ps.-) Plutarch, see H.
Diels, Doxographi Graeci, t87. Al-'Amiri, a philosopher of the 4th/10th century (quoted in the
Abbreviation of Abu Sulayman al-Mantiqi's ‘iwan al-Hikma, introduction), probably following
some lost Greek tradition, made Plato one of the five pillars of wisdom, the others being
Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates and Aristotle (Anbaduqlis, Futhaghuras, Suqrat, Aristutalis
[qq.v.]); these philosophers derived their wisdom from the Prophets. According to him Plato
retired in old age into solitude and prayer. He also gives an account of Plato's solution of the
Delian problem (cf. Plutarch, De gen. Socr., 7, p. 579; idem De Ei ap. Delphos, 6, p. 386; Tannery,
La Geometrie grecque, 110; al-qazwini, Athar al-Bilad (Wüstenfeld), 45; Lutfi al-Maktul, Tad'if
al-Madhbah (S. Yaltkaya, A. Adnan, H. Corbin), Paris 1940). On him depends ‘a'id al-Andalusi,
tabaqat al-Umam, t3; ‘a'ids life was used, as a minor source, by Ibn al-qifti, passim.
The life in Mubashshir b. Fatik's Mukhtar al-Hikam (MS Brit. Mus. Add. t5893, fol. 44 ff.; on this
work cf. F. Rosenthal, in Orientalia, 1937, t1 ff.) was copied by Ibn Abi Usaybi'a, i, 50 ff. He
made both Plato's parents descendants of Asclepius, probably misinterpreting the epigram to be
found in Diog. Laertius, iii, 45 (cf. E. J. and and L. Edelstein, Asclepius, Baltimore 1945, i, no.
3tt, ii, 1t7). Alone among the Arab biographers he mentions Plato's supposed stay in Egypt.
For the physiognomical section cf. F. Rosenthal, loc. cit., 38.
Ibn al-qifti based his long and detailed life (17-t7) on the Fihrist, on Theo of Smyrna (cf. above)
and on an unidentified Greek source (19 line 16-t5q1. 3). There are Greek parallels to almost
everything mentioned. Stories similar to the discussions reported to have taken place at
Dionysius' court (t1) are to be found in Olympiodorus' Life and in Plutarch's Dio. There are a
very few confusions, such as the story of Socrates' stay in Sicily and the introduction of Plato's
two female disciples as his wives and the inclusion of Proclus among his pupils. The section
t54-t614 is taken from al-Farabi (cf. the anonymous Proll. Phil. Plat., cap. 7-16); t615-t714
reproduces ‘a'id al-Andalusi, 19. Plato's prayer in neoplatonic language (t715-7) is worth
mentioning (cf. also MS Oxford, Hunt. 16t, fol. t0tr).
Al-Shahrazuri's account of Plato's life in his Nuzhat al-Arwah (in MS) is based on Mubashshir.
In later centuries Plato's tomb could be visited at qonya (F. W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam
under the Sultans, Oxford 19t9, 363 and passim).
(iii) The main source for the various compilations of sayings of Plato is H
unayn b. Ishaq's Nawadir al-Falasifa wa 'l-Hukama' (cf. the Hebrew transl., ed. by A. Lkwenthal,
Frankfurt 1896, and translated by him into German, Berlin 1896; and K. Merkle, Sinnsprüche der
Philosophen, Leipzig 19t1). Another primary source is Ibn Hindu, al-Kalim al-Ruhaniyya fi 'l-Hikam
al-Yunaniyya, Cairo 1318. The life in the Abbreviation of Abu Sulayman's ‘iwan al-Hikma contains
only sayings. Ibn Abi Usaybi'a, i, 517-5316, reproduces the section on sayings to be found in
Mubashshir. Sayings attributed to Plato occur very often in Arabic literature.
A. Müller, Die griechischen Philosophen in der arabischen Überlieferung, Halle 1873
M. Steinschneider, Die arabischen Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen, Centralblatt für
F. Rosenthal, On the knowledge of Plato's Philosophy in the Islamic world, IC, 1940, 387 ff.
idem, As-‘ayÉ al-Yunani and the Arabic Plotinus source, Orientalia, 195t ff.
P. Kraus Plotin chez les Arabes, BIE, 1941, t93 ff.
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