Book Review: Thorwald C. Franke: Platonic Myths
Fig. 1 Cover: Thorwald C. Franke:
What they are and what they are not – From A for Atlantis to Z for Zamolxis
BoD, Norderstedt, 2021
Price: EUR 16,90
Pb, 315 pages, author index
(rmh) The author approaches the not quite simple topic by dealing with the vague concept of the “Platonic myth” and presenting an empirical finding. Among other things, the narrative perspective and the level of meaning are important to him. Franke provides an overview of the range of variations in Platonic myths, notes that some aspects seem to contradict each other, and wonders how all these explanations in Plato’s dialogues could be understood under a term of Platonic myth. There is a lack of a common thread that allows all these different explanations to be brought into a logical order and to form a concept of Platonic myth that is not arbitrary but understandable and comprehensible.
To this end, he first deals with the basic concepts of myth and logos. These are, mind you, ancient Greek terms that do not have too much to do with the definition of the word “myth” in the German language. A complete dissolution of familiar mythical concepts is necessary in order to understand Plato.
Franke notes that myth in Plato’s core means an unsupported statement – a statement without evidence, without witnesses, without argumentation and without certification; a statement that stands as a mere assertion by its spokesman, who does not have sufficient trustworthiness among his listeners that could be regarded as support for the statement. Therefore, this statement could be wrong – but it does not have to be. It may as well be true. It could also be simply invented. “A true myth would cease to be a myth the moment it became known to be true. Also a false myth. The essence of the myth is the ambiguity about whether it is true or false.” (p. 36)
The author deals intensively with the term eikos mythos. This term refers to a “probable myth” and Franke emphasizes explicitly that this eikos myth is explicitly used in the scientific presentation in the Timaeus myth. One must assign a much more sober meaning to the word myth than the modern word myth has. The logos differs from the myth in that it has an underpinning.
According to Franke, philosophers such as Timaeus and Critias, who spoke about Atlantis in the respective dialogues, are able to “tell probable mythoi [plural of myth, note RMH] because of their quality as philosophers and because of their expertise , which approach the actual truth, as in the Timaeus myth.” (p. 52)
Franke continues to deal with typical misconceptions about myths and logos. Thus, he addresses the claim of many Plato researchers that in Plato logos and myth merge into each other or disappear and merge. It is simply wrong. In Plato’s case, the two terms are clearly separated and separated, as Franke notes. Moreover, parables are not mythoiical.
The author goes on to discuss historical wrong courses in detail and another approach of Franke is the term “Platonic myth” itself. In painstaking detail work, Franke finally finds his common thread. He states: “The central aspect of all Platonic myths is the question of trust in their truth, of the confidence of probability in the respective presentation. This is the common thread that connects all Platonic myths and with which one can unite all Platonic myths in a common order scheme.” (p. 81)
Franke describes Plato as a “true weaver of knowledge” who wants to free the mythoi from its untruth and no longer want to see untruth spread. In addition, he credibly explains that a poet does not necessarily have to be an inventor, as is often claimed. On the contrary, within the framework of “Plato’s Truth Program,” “poets, as those who ‘make’ myth, are obliged to approach the truth as closely as possible in their poetry.” Furthermore, Franke recognizes in the writings of Plato – with clear references – that untrue mythoi are “forbidden”. In summary, Franke rightly states that Plato as a philosopher is to be taken completely seriously.
At the end of the main part, Franke deals with the topic of Atlantis and clarifies that the Atlantis story is one of the Platonic myths and is probably the most complex Platonic myth of all. Franke was able to lay a foundation for the fact that “a theory of Atlantis can be considered well-founded if it can build on the secure foundation of a thoughtful conception of the phenomenon of Platonic myth.”
The main part of the book ends on p. 114. This is followed by numerous long appendices with topics such as “Constellation and Analysis of Platonic Myths”. In addition to all other Platonic myths, Franke discusses here in detail the Theut myth, which is based on an Egyptian folk tale according to which after the god Theut in Egypt invented the script. This topic is dealt with by Plato in the Phaidros Dialogue. For Plato, this is at least for a real tradition from Egypt.
Also interesting are Franke’s explanations of the Phaeton myth, which is part of the Atlantis myth. Franke notes that Plato exceptionally demythologizes the Phaeton myth and emphasizes that this myth does not imply a fall of a celestial body such as a comet to Earth, especially since Phaeton and the chariot of the sun god “clearly stands for the sun itself and not for celestial bodies, as they actually fall to earth again and again.”
With regard to the Nomoi Dialogue, Franke refers to the explicit statement in the text that Egypt is ten thousand years old and that this statement is not meant in a figurative sense. This 10,000 years is to be regarded as a lower limit, so that this figure “fits perfectly with the 11,340 and more years of Herodotus for the age of Egypt”. However, Franke brushes aside this interesting statement with the words “In truth, of course, Egypt was not founded until around 3000 BC, as we know today” and assumes a “typical misperception from the Egyptian late period”. I believe that there is more room for manoeuvre on this issue.
In another appendix, Franke compiles the group of Platonic myths and in yet another, he discusses in detail different opinions on the subject. Particularly interesting are his views on the
Wikipedia page on the keyword “Platonic myth”. The book is completed by two reviews that have it all!
I consider the book to be absolutely recommendable, as it clears up numerous misunderstandings. It is an exemplary and absolutely thorough research work, as you rarely find it!