|© 2001 Bernard SUZANNE
|Last updated March 8, 2009
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People not familiar with Plato may wonder what are those weird numbers and letters used in references to his works after the name of the quoted dialogue. Here is the answer.
The figures and letters used almost universally to quote Plato refer to a Renaissance edition of his works published in Geneva in 1578 by a famed printer and humanist of the time named Henri Estienne (1528-1598), also known by the Latinized version of his name : Stephanus. This complete edition of Plato's works was in three volumes, whose page were continuously numbered from beginning to end of each volume. Each page of this edition is split in two columns, the inner one providing the Greek text and the outer one a Latin translation (by Jean de Serres). In between the two columns are printed letters from A to E dividing the column into five sections (another page of this site dedicated to this edition includes pictures of some of its pages, thus alowing a more visual understanding of this disposition).
Based on this, a quotation of Plato includes the name of the dialogue (plus the book number for Republic and Laws), the page number in the Stephanus edition followed by the letter of the section including the first word of the quotation. No volume number needs to be provided because no dialogue splits over two volumes, and thus, the dialogue name suffices to make the reference unambiguous. Thus, quotations take the form Sophist, 247d (the "provisional" definition of being) or Republic, V, 473c (the principle of the philosopher-king). Quotations are usually given with reference to the start and end point of the quoted section. If the end point is in the same page as the start point, only the end section letter is added, and the quotation takes the form Sophist, 247d-e. If the end point is in a different page, the end page number and section letter are provided too, and the quotation takes the form Apology, 29e-30a (the summary of Socrates "mission" at the center of the Apology).
In order to help in using this quotation system, most editions of Plato's works, in Greek or in translations, provide the Stephanus references, either in margins or within the text itself, sometimes in running titles. Obviously, with translations, the changes of sections are only approximate, due to the fact that a translation never faithfully follows the order of the words in the original language.
In some instances, as when refering to a single word or a short sequence of words, a line number is added after the section letter (this is obviously the case with a "word index", such as Leonard Brandwood's "Word Index to Plato", a book listing in alphabetical order all Greek words appearing in Plato's works with Stephanus references for all occurrences). Unfortunately, accurate line numbering for such references is much harder to get and is almost never reproduced in modern editions of the Greek text (obviously, this line numbering could only be approximate in translations, even more so than section changes). The reference edition used for line numbering is usually the Oxford Classical Texts (OCT) edition of Plato's works in five volumes.
The distribution of dialogues across the three volumes of the Stephanus edition is as provided in the table below, with start and end reference of each dialogue.
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