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Today, the Republic is often considered to be Plato's best known and most influential work. Some even consider it as one of the best known and most influential works of all of philosophy; at least it is a contender for this populist view.

However, during the Medieval ages, it was largely lost to Western Europe, and part of the Timaeus was the only Platonic work available before the 12th century (when the Meno and the Phaedo were translated, but not widely read). Except for this, Plato's works were unavailable to the Latindom until the Renaissance when Marsilio Ficino translated the complete works of Plato in the late 15th century (see also note [1]).

When they re-emerged, did the Republic become Plato's most popular work right away, or is that a more recent development? How long was it until it could be considered a contender in the public's eye or among philosophers as one of the most influential or famous works of philosophy?

Finally, I put "(re-)" in the title, is that appropriate? Was the Republic considered to be Plato's most popular work in antiquity (say during the Hellenistic period, when many schools formed as descendants of Socrates as told by Plato; see note [2]), or did the ancients prefer a different text of his?

Notes

  1. After translating the works, it seems that Ficino commented on several dialogues like Parmenides, Sophist, Philebus, Timaeus, Phaedrus and (only) part of the Republic (the confusing numerology from 546a-e). Although he also uses some imagery from the Republic, like the cave, it seems to be mostly coming through engaging with Plotinus and not Plato's Republic directly.

  2. It would seem that the Republic was at-least mildly important for the ancients, given that people like Zeno (founder of Stoicism) wrote book-length responses. However, I don't know how much response other dialogues by Plato had garnered, so this is not convincing evidence for me.

  3. I am not as interested in if the work was actually influential or widely read, but if it was considered to be influential and widely read. However, knowledge of the first can inform the second.

  4. I've asked this question on /r/askphilosophy and /r/askhistory and although they were well received by votes, those threads have not generated any answers or insights.

  • Perhaps history stack exchange might be a better place? In general, I put my history of philosophy questions there, and get faster and better answers then when I put them in philosophy stack exchange. Thats why I put history of philosophy questions, especially those of this nature, on the history stack exchange. – Cicero Jun 8 '15 at 23:52
  • I wish there were more questions like this here, but even more so, more people here who can answer them. I never thought of ranking Plato's dialogues this way, but now I am curious. I looked in Critique of Pure Reason, and sure enough the longest discussion of Plato's philosophy, at the start of Transcendental Dialectic, is clearly based on Republic, which is mentioned and praised there explicitly. The only other reference with identifiable source is in passing in the resolution of the cosmological antinomy, to Plato calling Zeno a "sophist". – Conifold Jun 9 '15 at 4:18
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    If I remember my dark/middle ages history correctly, the Greek classics (including Plato) were saved by Muslim scholars during that time. The Greek classics reemerged in Europe during the early Renaissance. Have to do some research to confirm. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 9 '15 at 4:50
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    @SwamiVishwananda that is already written in my question and it is specifically not what I am asking. I am asking not when the Republic was reintroduced to the Latindom but when it became the most popular work. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jun 9 '15 at 5:48
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    One can also do a quick glance at ngrams, and it seems that "Plato" takes off a bit before "Plato's Republic" which only gains steam by the 1750s. However, this is very rough and sensitive to choice of search terms. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jun 9 '15 at 5:58
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Here's one answer from a relatively authoritative source. Antonis Coumoundouros, a specialist in ancient philosophy, says the Republic has been Plato’s most famous and widely read dialogue since the mid-nineteenth century (see http://www.iep.utm.edu/republic/). However, lamentably, he doesn't provide any evidence in that article.

EDIT: I emailed him for more information. He filled in a few details about why it re-emerged at that time:

"As far as I can tell, the dialogue became quite popular in England in the 19th century. My guess is that its subject matter (discussion of justice, virtue, and proper education) was concordant with the type of education provided to young elites at the time. This carried over into the 20th century and we had Cornford and others who produced commentaries on it. Other English-speaking countries, like the US, maintained the dialogue's popularity in universities as well.

It is worth noting that the dialogue was lost to the West until the Renaissance. Arab scholars had access to it and were influenced by it in the Middle Ages but western scholars did not have access to it. "

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