Stranger Fruit

More on Timaeus

A few months ago, I quoted George Sarton’s low opinion of Plato’s Timaeus. Jonathan Barnes has reviewed David Sedley’s Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity and has this to say about Timaeus:

Above all, Sedley lauds the Timaeus. It is a ‘uniquely rich and seminal text’. It is ‘the most influential of all Plato’s works, and probably the most seminal philosophical or scientific text to emerge from the whole of antiquity’. And ‘it could hardly be denied that Plato had been stunningly successful in explaining the natural world as the product of craftsmanship.’ Well, I deny it with both hands. Plato’s efforts are not stunningly successful: the Timaeus is a dismal commixture of pseudo-science and cod philosophy (and it is written in disgusting Greek). ‘Is this science or fable?’ Sedley asks of one passage, and gives a darkling answer. He does not consider a third possibility: that it is guff. The Timaeus is incontrovertibly a text of the first importance, as Sedley says, ‘seminal’, but from its seeds grew rank and stinking weeds.

That said, I’m looking forward to reading Sedley’s book which Barnes later describes as “golden”.


  1. #1 Thony C.
    June 22, 2008

    and it is written in disgusting Greek

    I love it 😉 and that was written by the man who is famous for doing a literal translation of the Posterior Analytics. However much I agree with both Sarton and Barnes, it’s stunning when one considers how much influence this heap of garbage had on the formation of scientific theory in the Middle Ages.

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    June 22, 2008

    I don’t like Barnes’ translations myself. He tends to make Aristotle into a logical positivist. But I agree the Timaeus is a piece of fetid dingoes’ kidneys.

    I ordered Sedley’s book, and I’ll review it if Lynch doesn’t beat me to it. The title alone gives me the willies. Creationism was invented int he 17th century, so it’s already anachronism.

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