What Time is Not: εἰκών and ἀριθμός in Plato’s Account of Time in the Timaeus (37d5–7) and the Platonic Tradition
1 December 2020
Thomas Seissl (Vienna)
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This video is part of the PROTEUS project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 758145)
In one of the most famous, but equally obscure passages in the Timaeus, Plato characterises time’s and the heavens’ coming into being as an “everlasting image moving according to number” (37d6–7). This is commonly understood as Plato’s most general characterisation of time. This reading goes back to Plotinus’ seminal interpretation of time as a “movable image according to the paradigm of eternity” (Enn. III.7.13,24–25). Modern scholars agree with the Plotinian interpretation in this crucial respect, conceiving time in relation to eternity. Rémi Brague, however, challenged this standard interpretation claiming that Plato actually did not conceive of time as an “image” (εἰκών), but rather as a “number” (ἀριθμός). This alternative reading finds an unexpected support in Simplicius’ commentaries on Aristotle. As a result, Simplicius’ reading of the Timaeus does not only show where and why the conventional interpretation falls short, but it also offers an alternative interpretation perfectly consistent with Plato’s text. In the end, Timaeus 37d5–7 is not primarily intended to concern time’s relation to eternity on Simplicius’ reading, but rather the cosmos’ relation to its cause.