‘ … largely fictions …’: Aelius Aristides on Plato's dialogues
Among the extant works of Aelius Aristides, there are three texts (orr. 2–4) that answer the attack by Plato’s Socrates, in the Gorgias, on oratory and on the four leading statesmen of fifth-century Athens. This paper focuses on the constant harping on the fictional nature of Plato’s dialogues in these so-called Platonic orations, a portion of the argument that is epitomized in the characterization of the dialogues as ‘largely fictions’ (or. 3,586). The paper tries to locate Aristides’ observations on this issue within the tradition of anti-Platonic polemic, to determine their relationship to theorizing on the dialogue form among early-imperial Platonists, and to elucidate the functions of this line of reasoning in Aristides’ apologetic strategy. It argues that, for Aristides, identifying the dialogues as fictional compositions amounts to exposing the dialogue form as a pretence. In addition to clearing the way for his own apologetic project and to alerting his audience to the persuasive force of Plato’s use of the dialogue form, Aristides thus sharpens the contrast between his own way of handling the dispute with Plato and the philosopher’s polemical methods.