Eikos logos and eikos muthos: A study of the nature of the likely story in Plato's "Timaeus"

Ryan Kenneth McBride, Marquette University


The nature of the eikos logos (likely story) in Plato's Timaeus is the subject of continued debate; there is no consensus even on the terms of the debate. This dissertation separates the various schools of thought into those who hold the work to be more scientific, the work of a philosopher/scientist, and those who hold the work to be more mythological and poetic, the work of a seer/poet/philosopher. The dissertation then offers an analysis of the terms "myth" and "science" which is resumed intermittently throughout the dissertation. In order to establish the ways in which the eikos logos owes debts to the poets and mythmakers, the dissertation compares the eikos logos to the projects of Homer and Hesiod and even some Babylonian and Hittite works. From there, the dissertation illustrates the way Xenophanes and Parmenides blend theological and poetic notions inherited from the poets with a certain logical/philosophical rigor--a methodology that in many ways anticipates and illuminates Plato's blend of these modes of thought in eikos logos . In order to investigate the sense in which the nature of the eikos logos can be understood as scientific, this dissertation looks to the projects of Anaximander, the Atomists, and Empedocles to show strong correspondences to and even incorporation of their thought into Plato's system. Plato's eikos logos is so closely related to these projects that he should be seen, I argue, as the last writer of that tradition. The early Greek medical writers also seem to have had a much deeper impact on Plato than is generally acknowledged. Plato's detailed, systematic, and nearly comprehensive treatment demanded a deep grasp of current medical thought. Additionally, comparing the eikos logos to the early medical writers allows us to grasp more clearly how and why Plato diverges from them--as he does with his self-consciously speculative physiological explanation of the way the spleen and the liver enable human imagination. In sum, the eikos logos owes great debts to precursors that are commonly, though problematically, held to be "scientific" as well as those that are commonly, and equally problematically, regarded as "mythological."

Recommended Citation

McBride, Ryan Kenneth, "Eikos logos and eikos muthos: A study of the nature of the likely story in Plato's "Timaeus"" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3172491.