Socratis et Socraticorum Reliquiae, collegit, disposuit, apparatibus notisque instruxit Gabriele Giannantoni, 4 voll., Bibliopolis, Napoli 1990

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Practical aims and philosophical grounds

The main goal of our project is clear and simple: we have converted into digital form all the witnesses regarding Socrates and the so-called Minor Socratics. Our basis of reference for the production of such a virtual book is the sole, complete collection available nowadays, namely that edited by Gabriele Giannantoni (1990)2. It is perhaps useful to reflect on the actual and inspiring scope of our enterprise. We want to repropose - and 'disseminate' in a capillary way, so we hope - the rich tradition about Socrates (as well as information and witnesses about some important, although not always rightly evaluated, philosophers linked to him). A reasonable question is in the air: why?

Let us concentrate on Socrates. In the long history of Western philosophy he represents indeed a unique case, even contradictory as to the means and ways of interpreting him4. Everyone knows that Socrates did not write anything (or if he did, his works did not survive), so that we do not possess any source of information of 'grade A', according to Brickhouse and Smith's classification (2000: 11-12). We do not have in fact original works written by Socrates, not even small fragments (unlike the fortunate case of other Presocratic or Hellenistic philosophers).

Nevertheless, it is well known that every age or century, every school or philosophical movement felt it useful, in some cases even necessary, to compare its tenets with Socrates' attitude towards philosophy and more broadly towards life. How can we explain and understand such a proliferation of different images of Socrates? Are we able to find deep reasons for justifying such a complex and articulated Wirkungsgeschichte?

If we want to give reasonable answers to these questions, we cannot adopt a negative attitude nor can we follow those scholars -as for example Gigon (1947), and before him Dupréel (1922) - who prefer to refuse any definite, historical existence of Socrates, by transforming him into a pure legend or myth. It seems better - or at any rate more productive - to accept the challenge represented by the chaotic sum of second-, third-, even fourth-hand information, that certainly does not allow us to detect immediately the real traits of Socrates, who appears rather as a sort of lively enigma. One has to recognize that Socrates does emerge as a clear figure; rather he seems to be a polymorphic symbol, available for us through different, sometimes even opposite glasses. And also the mass of indirect information we have about him does not allow us to build up a coherent and uncontradictory philosophical portrait, but often only a rich collection of more or less meagre anecdotes and apophtegmata (Giannantoni, 1986: XVIII).

Although the efforts of the scholars might seem to take the road of a dangerous 'hermeneutical circle' (Raschini, 19708 8), I do not deem i useful to throw away the sponge and give audience to the sirens of an unproductive scepticism. Rather, the diversity of sources and the multiplicity of concurrent images of Socrates along the centuries are in no way a negative fact nor do they block the free game of interpretation; on the contrary, they can produce and stimulate a global Socratic portrait full of significant facets (Figal, 1995; Giannantoni, 2001).

It seems obvious that our task becomes more complicated, but it can take advantage of the methodological lesson offered by great scholars, first of all by Schleiermacher and his followers along the pathway of the glorious tradition of German classical philology. Once again il is necessary to analyze and reciprocally compare all the sources, to reflect on their mutual relationship as well as on their eventual opposite aims, in order to restore the genuine traits of the historical Socrates. And all that cannot be made without a new and technically more refined look at the incredible mass of witnesses regarding him and the minor Socratics. Such a methodological and scientific need might be the best explanation and justification for our digital project, which aims al reinforcing and at the same time increasing the value of Giannantoni's long and deep interest in the Socratic tradition. 

(E. Spinelli, CYBER-SOCRATICA: new approaches and research in ancient philosophy, "LINGUISTICA COMPUTAZIONALE", XX-XXI (2004) p. 474-7)