Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
David T. Runia, Michael Share (ed.), Proclus: Commentary on Plato's Timaeus. Vol. II. Book 2: Proclus on the Causes of the Cosmos and its Creation. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xii, 410. ISBN 9780521848718. $115.00.
Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College, Dublin

The present volume is actually the third instalment of a major project, initiated in Australia, to produce an English translation of Proclus' Commentary on the Timaeus. Vol. I, covering the Prooemium (recapitulation of Republic and Atlantis story, 17a1-27b6), translated by Harold Tarrant, and Vol. III 1, translated by Dirk Baltzly, covering 31b4-34b3 ('the World's Body'), appeared in 2007. The present section of the commentary covers 27c1-31b3, dealing with the causes and constitution of the cosmos. It was originally assigned to R. alone, but owing to pressures of work after his return to Australia, he invited S. to share the task, and S. consequently is responsible for the segment 29d7-31b3, covering the creation of the cosmos proper (pp. 355-458 Diehl).

The volume begins with a useful introduction, covering four topics: the structure of Book 2 of the commentary; Proclus' method of commentary (this complementary to, but not seriously overlapping with, a similar section in the introduction to Book 1); Proclus' sources-most notably Porphyry, Iamblichus and, above all, his revered teacher, Syrianus, but also quite a variety of Middle Platonists (probably taken from Porphyry); and a survey of the main themes of this part of the commentary-first principles, in what sense the cosmos is generated, the Demiurge, the Paradigm, the account of the creation, the final cause, evil, the living-thing-itself, the uniqueness of the cosmos. In fact, a good deal of Proclus' physics and metaphysics is given an airing in this book, which explains why it takes him 253 Teubner pages to discuss four Stephanus pages of Plato's text.

The text itself is very usefully divided up by the authors into numerous headings and sub-headings, which helps the reader to pick his/her way through Proclus' convoluted reasonings and numerous digressions. Again and again it is brought home to us how Proclus utilizes the text as a framework on which to weave his own philosophy. If we take, for instance, the question of the sense in which the physical cosmos can be taken as 'generated', we find Proclus, after analyzing all the component phrases of the passage 27d5-28a4, first conducting a survey of previous interpretations which misunderstand the sense of γέγονεν -- with Plutarch and Atticus the chief villains -- and then providing his own very sophisticated doctrine of 'temporal sempiternity' (291, 24ff.). Or take his treatment of the problem of evil (on which he later composed a special treatise), pp. 373-81, in connection with the statement at 30a2-3 that the Demiurge "wished all things to be good and nothing bad so far as was possible". Once again, we get a full conspectus of previous views on the existence of evil, followed by his an exposition of his own position that evil exists only as a by-product (παρηυπόστασις). As the authors remark, there is much in Proclus worth pondering, once one has stripped away the rather preposterous metaphysical framework of the intelligible world (devised chiefly by his master Syrianus).

At all points which I have checked, the translation holds up well and reads very comfortably. The authors have, of course, had the benefit of the generally sound French translation of A.-J. Festugière, as well as the exhaustive analysis of A. Lernould (Physique et théologie: lecture du Timée de Platon par Proclus, 2001), but they have done an excellent job in rendering a difficult text available to an Anglophone audience, and adorned it with very useful annotations. The book is completed by an English-Greek glossary, a Greek word index, and a General Index, all most helpful.

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