Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Giancarlo Movia (ed.), Alessandro di Afrodisia e Pseudo-Alessandro, Commentario alla "Metafisica" di Aristotele. Milan: Bompiani, 2007. Pp. 2516. ISBN 9788845259920. €41.00.
Reviewed by Adrian Mihai

Alexander of Aphrodisias -- the Aristotelian chair holder in Athens under Severus and Caracalla -- was known in Antiquity as "the second Aristotle" or the "commentator" (ho exegetes) par excellence, because of the accuracy and acuity of his commentaries on Aristotle's esoteric works (the school writings which we now possess).1 We have six extant commentaries by him and know of another nine through fragments and indirect reports. He was also the author of the oldest and still extant commentary of Aristotle's Metaphysics . This commentary is the major source of evidence for Aristotle's now lost treatise De Ideis (In Arist. Metaph. 79.3-98.24) and was extensively used by the Neoplatonists, and by Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). The received text of the commentary is in 14 books, of which only the first 5 are by Alexander.2 The identity of the author of the remaining 9 books -- Pseudo-Alexander -- is unknown, although most scholars ascribe the work to the late Byzantine commentator Michael of Ephesus (c. 1070-1140).3 Although the work was thus written by two authors, who lived during two very different epochs, it is characterized by a surprising degree of uniformity. This seems to be owed to the intermediary role played in its creation by Syrianus (the teacher of Proclus), who relied heavily on Alexander's exegesis (though he diverged from him wherever Aristotle attacked Platonism-Pythagoreanism)4, and who was followed in turn by Pseudo-Alexander.5

Movia's edition is the first complete translation of both Alexander of Aphrodisias' Commentary to Aristotle's Metaphysics (books I-V) and the remaining nine books. As is customary for series from Bompiani, the book provides the Greek text on one side with the Italian translation printed on the facing-page.

The editor's 120-page introduction is a patient analysis of both Alexander's and Pseudo-Alexander's arguments, supplemented with summaries of the individual books. Alexander's views are hard to extrapolate from the commentary because his method is to analyse Aristotle's text paragraph by paragraph and often sentence by sentence, and he often prefers to give various explanations of the same point rather than choosing one.6

But it is clear that Alexander of Aphrodisias adhered faithfully to Aristotle's view that first philosophy has two dimensions, one sensible (since it includes the principles of mathematics, logic and physics) and the other suprasensible. Moreover, the commentary on Bk. IV confirms Alexander's unitary thesis that the Aristotelian metaphysics, no matter the name Aristotle used to denote it -- wisdom, philosophy, first philosophy, theology, science of being as being, doctrine of first principles and causes --, refers to the same discipline (p. LIX). It is unfortunate that the introduction does not have a section on the digressions or excursus of the two commentators from the main theme of the chapter or sentence being analyzed, since these interruptions in the Metaphysics commentary give us a glimpse of the commentator's individual projects.

The actual translation (pp. 1-2374) was accomplished by ten translators. Bks. I and III: Paola Lai; Bk. II: Maria Caterina Pogliani; Bks. IV and IX: Marcella Casu; Bk. V: Alessandra Borgia; Bk. VI: Norma Cauli; Bks. VII and X: Silvia Loche; Bk. VIII: Enrico Carta; Bk. XI: Paolo Serra; Bk. XII: Rita Salis; Bks. XIII and XIV: Elisabetta Cattanei. Each book consists of a short introduction, followed by the Greek text -- which uses the edition of M. Hayduck (1891), with reference to the one of H. Bonitz (1847) -- and the Italian translation on opposing pages and end-notes, dealing with philological, explicative and interpretative issues. In addition, Aristotle's sentence or paragraph is included in the text (in Greek and Italian) and then followed, in brackets, by a comment of the translators, giving the context of the main text and outlining the author's argument.

Although certain individual peculiarities remain, the translations read very smoothly and possess terminological and stylistic uniformity. The printing seems to be accurate.

A word must be said about the layout of the book. Given its size (more than 2500 pages, as voluminous as Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu), this volume is a remarkable achievement. There is as usual a bibliography (pp. 2393-2414) and a very useful Greek-Italian index of concepts (pp. 2417-2489), as well as an index locorum (pp. 2490-2503), which includes references to major editions. It also has an index of names (pp. 2504-2513).

There are a few slips in the bibliography: the names of Richard Sorabji, Han Baltussen and Ilsetraut Hadot are missing; several articles are omitted: J.L. Ackrill, "Aristotle's definitions of psukhe" [1979], in J.L. Ackrill, Essays on Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 163-178 and G. d'Ancona, G. Serra (eds.), Aristotele e Alessandro di Afrodisia nella tradizione Araba (Padua: Il Poligrafo, 2002); and F. Romano, D.P. Taormina (eds.), Hyparxis e Hypostasis nel Neoplatonismo is repeated twice, on pp. 2410 and 2412.

All in all, this is a very important contribution for scholars interested in Alexander of Aphrodisias, in the ancient philosophical commentary and in the tradition of the ancient commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics.


1.   On the alleged rediscovery and publication of Aristotle's esoteric books by Andronicus of Rhodes, see P. Moraux, Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen von Andronikos bis Alexander von Aphrodisia, vol. 1 (Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyer, 1973), pp. 45-141. J. Barnes has aptly remarked though that Andronicus' edition offered nothing new to the scholarly public, and hence cannot be referred to as a 'canonical edition'. His work was part of a continuous and complex editorial process. See J. Barnes, "Roman Aristotle", in J. Barnes and M. Griffin (eds.), Philosophia Togata II: Plato and Aristotle at Rome (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), in particular, pp. 21-66; this essay was reprinted also in G. Nagy (ed.), Greek Literature. Greek Literature in the Roman Period and in Late Antiquity, vol. 8 (Routledge, 2001), pp. 119-188. But these are still matters of current debate.
2.   The first five books have been translated into English by W.E. Dooley and A. Madigan, Alexander of Aphrodisias on Aristotle's Metaphysics I-V (London: Duckworth, 1989-1993).
3.   On the identification of Michael of Ephesus as Pseudo-Alexander, see K. Praechter's review of M. Hayduck's edition of "Michaelis Ephesii in Libros De partibus animalium, De animalium motione, De animalium incessu. Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca XXIII 2", Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen CLXVIII (1906), pp. 861-907 and C. Luna, Trois études sur la tradition des commentaires anciens à la Métaphysique d'Aristote, pp. 59-65 and pp. 197-212. On the other hand, L. Taran has argued that Pseudo-Alexander is earlier than Syrianus ("Syrianus and Pseudo-Alexander's Commentary on Metaphysics E-N", in L. Wiesner [ed.], Aristoteles. Werk und Wirkung: Paul Moraux gewidmet II [Berlin, 1987], pp. 215-232). While most scholars now accept the identification of Pseudo-Alexander with Michael of Ephesus, whether Michael was a 'forger' or not is still controversial.
4.   Syrianus' commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics covers only books III, IV, XIII and XIV, because he thought that Alexander of Aphrodisias' commentary explained all the other books sufficiently. See D.J. O'Meara, Pythagoras Revived: Mathematics and Philosophy in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 119-123.
5.   Many scholars have emphasized Pseudo-Alexander's dependence on Syrianus. See e.g. C. Luna, Trois études sur la tradition des commentaires anciens à la Métaphysique d'Aristote (op. cit.).
6.   E.g. In Arist. Metaph. 141.21; 159.9; 162.6; 164.24; 165.4; 169.11; 220.24; 337.29. See R.W. Sharples, "The School of Alexander?", in R. Sorabji (ed.), Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence (Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 95-101. See also, P. Hoffmann, "What was Commentary in Late Antiquity? The Example of the Neoplatonic Commentators", in M.L. Gill, P. Pellegrin (eds.), A Companion to Ancient Philosophy (Malden: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 597-624.

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