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Horky, Phillip Sidney (2013). 'Theophrastus on Platonic and "Pythagorean" Imitation.'. Classical Quarterly 63(2): 686-712.

Author(s) from Durham


In the twenty-fourth aporia of Theophrastus' Metaphysics, there appears an important, if ‘bafflingly elliptical’, ascription to Plato and the ‘Pythagoreans’ of a theory of reduction to the first principles via ‘imitation’ (μίμησις):

Πλάτων δὲ καὶ οἱ Πυθαγόρειοι μακρὰν τὴν ἀπόστασιν, ἐπιμιμεῖσθαι τ' ἐθέλειν ἅπαντα· καίτοι καθάπερ ἀντίθεσιν τινα ποιοῦσιν τῆς ἀορίστου δυάδος καὶ τοῦ ἑνός, ἐν ᾗ καὶ τὸ ἄπειρον καὶ τὸ ἄτακτον καὶ ὡς εἰπεῖν πᾶσα ἀμορφία καθ' αὑτήν, ὅλως δ' οὐχ οἷον τ' ἄνευ ταύτης τὴν τοὺ ὅλου φύσιν, ἀλλ' οἷον ἰσομοιρεῖν ἢ καὶ ὑπερέχειν τῆς ἐτέρας, ᾗ καὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς ἐναντίας. Διὸ καὶ οὐδὲ τὸν θεόν, ὅσοι τῷ θεῷ τὴν αἰτίαν ἀνάπτουσιν, δύνασθαι πάντ' εἰς τὸ ἄριστον ἄγειν, ἀλλ' εἴπερ, ἐφ' ὅσον ἐνδέχεται· τάχα δ' οὐδ' ἂν προέλοιτ', εἴπερ ἀναιρεῖσθαι συμβήσεται τὴν ὅλην οὐσίαν ἐξ ἐναντίων γε καὶ ἐν ἐναντίοις οὖσαν.

(Theophrastus, Metaphysics, 11a26–b12)
Plato and the Pythagoreans make the distance [between the first principles and everything else] a great one, and they make all things desire to imitate fully; and yet, they set up a certain opposition, as it were, between the Indefinite Dyad and the One. In the former [resides] the Unlimited and the Unordered and, as it were, all Shapelessness as such; and they make it altogether impossible for the nature of the universe to exist without this [that is, the Indefinite Dyad] – it [that is, the Indefinite Dyad] could only have an equal share in things, or even exceed the other [first principle, that is, the One] – whereby they also make their first principles contrary [to one another]. Therefore, those who ascribe causation to the god claim that not even the god is able to reduce all things to the best, but, even if at all, only in so far as is possible. And perhaps he wouldn't even choose to, if indeed it were to result in the destruction of all existence, given that it [that is, existence] is constituted from contraries and consists of contraries.