NOTES ON THE ETYMOLOGIES IN PLATO'S CRATYLUS

Classical Quarterly


Recent scholarship on Plato's Cratylus (= Cra.) has yielded interpretations that assign various functions of philosophical importance to the dialogue's lengthy etymological section. Barney (2001) considers the section an ‘agonistic display’ (69–73) in which Socrates beats contemporary practitioners of etymology at their own game while, at the same time, offering a cosmological theory intended for serious intellectual competition. In this context, Barney emphasizes the importance of Parmenides, a charioteer who journeys towards Truth, as a literary point of reference for Socrates’ own etymological quest after the true meaning of names which, from Cratylus’ naturalist perspective on language, are considered indicative of their referents’ essential nature. The contents of the etymologies may be a ‘rational reconstruction’ (52–7) of Cratylus’ linguistic naturalism. Sedley (2003) stresses the encyclopedic character of Socrates’ lexical interpretations and argues that these are ‘exegetically correct’ (28) in representing the opinions of the name-givers of old who subscribed to a Heraclitean view of a world in flux, as is reflected in the original form of the names they devised. Ademollo (2011) stresses that Socrates’ etymologies display the evolution of Greek intellectual thought, shown to be heavily reliant on the assumption of a universe in flux, and serve to exhibit the weaknesses in Cratylus’ naturalist view of language.