Thursday, March 3, 2011


A. H. Coxon, Richard D. McKirahan (ed.), The Fragments of Parmenides: A Critical Text with Introduction and Translation. The Ancient Testimonia and a Commentary (revised and expanded edition). Las Vegas/Zurich/Athens: Parmenides Publishing, 2009. Pp. xiv, 461. ISBN 9781930972674. $87.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jenny Bryan, University College London (

Version at BMCR home site

Parmenides Publishing deserves full praise for producing this revised and expanded edition of A. H. Coxon's 1986 edition of the fragments of Parmenides. Many with an interest in Parmenides, perhaps the most difficult of all the Presocratics, will already be aware of the value and depth of Coxon's original treatment. This new edition is released on the hundredth anniversary of Coxon's birth. Edited by Richard McKirahan, it includes a typically acute foreword by Malcolm Schofield, who notes both the authority and indispensability of the first edition and the real need for a second. The 1986 edition has long been out of print and such is its success that I have, in the past, witnessed a desperate scramble for the 'phone provoked by rumours of a volume for sale. Much as I find it thrilling to see books on ancient philosophers move at such a lightning pace, it is undoubtedly preferable that Coxon's scholarship is once more available to all.

If you're interested in Parmenides and you haven't read Coxon, you should. It really is as simple as that. And, if you think you're not interested in Parmenides, I suspect Coxon's detailed and thoughtful scholarship could persuade you otherwise. He succeeds in an endeavour that some others don't even attempt, let alone succeed at, in offering an analysis of Parmenides' verse that is sympathetic to and interested in both his engagement with Greek poetry and his philosophical innovation. Further, Coxon offers perhaps one of the most successful accounts of the way these two aspects of Parmenides' verse interact. Happily, McKirahan's new edition includes all that was so successful in the first. Coxon offered a beautifully clear and wide-ranging introduction, which is particularly strong on tracing the influences on and of Parmenides. His edition of the verbatim fragments is an invaluable resource. This is not simply due to the detail with which Coxon surveys the manuscript tradition, but also to his decision to include references to those passages in earlier poetry to which Parmenides seems to be alluding and to those passages in later texts which seem to allude to Parmenides. One of the hardest tasks for anyone writing about Parmenides is that of translating the fragments. His poetry is, after all, notoriously obscure. Coxon chose a prose translation that is, in its transparency and sensitivity, superior to most. I confess that I don't think Parmenides intended his verse to be transparent, but nor, of course, did he intend it to be transmitted only in fragments, and I admire any translator who is as scrupulous in offering justifications for his choices as Coxon is in his extensive commentary. As with his introduction, the strength of Coxon's commentary lies in his commitment to and interest in both the philological and the philosophical aspects of the fragments. He has a particularly acute eye for allusions to epic and presents a thorough and invaluable survey of the manuscript tradition. Coxon's collection of testimonia is also typically thorough. It's no mean feat to achieve clarity in writing about Parmenides' verse and thought and I envy Coxon his lucidity. This remains the most extensive and authoritative commentary on Parmenides in English, nearly twenty-five years after its first appearance.

Those who already possess or have read the original may wonder if it is worth their while upgrading to this new edition. Well, Coxon himself seems to have thought so. In editing the second edition, McKirahan has incorporated Coxon's own revisions, written by hand on two copies of the original. In keeping with Coxon's own detailed textual criticism, McKirahan includes the text of the original edition in footnotes (and notes also where changes indicated in the two annotated editions differ). In fact, the majority of changes are relatively minor, although, as Schofield points out in his preface, in at least one case (in the commentary on B8.34-41), Coxon revised his thinking about the construal and purpose of the passage. The addenda and corrigenda presented with the first edition have also been incorporated. McKirahan's major innovations serve the admirable purpose of making Coxon's scholarship more accessible. The new edition includes English translations of Coxon's extensive collection of testimonia (and one new testimonium, Xenocrates T16a). The other substantial new inclusions are an English-Greek glossary and a Greek-English index of the testimonia, both of which will no doubt make it easier to work with these texts and perhaps encourage even those without Greek to engage with Parmenides. For those working with scholarship referring to the first edition, the decision to include the original page numbers in square brackets throughout is particularly welcome.

As Schofield notes in his preface, the Parmenides factory is exceptionally productive . For those whose scholarship actually aims to engage with Parmenides' verse, a reliable edition provides the necessary raw material. This is what Coxon offered in 1986, and, with this new and expanded edition, Richard McKirahan has ensured its continued and justified pre-eminence.

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