Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Susan Prince, Antisthenes of Athens: Texts, Translations, and Commentary. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. Pp. x, 784. ISBN 9780472119349. $130.00.

Reviewed by Billy Kennedy, University of Sydney (william.kennedy@sydney.edu.au)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Susan Prince's Antisthenes of Athens is the first edition of Antisthenes' fragments with translations and commentary published in any language. As such it represents a milestone in Classical literary studies, and indeed it is difficult to think of a more neglected Classical author than Antisthenes or a more needed book. Prince has been working on Antisthenes since the early 1990s judging by the fact that her '1997 dissertation' (v) was on Antisthenes. The implied suggestion, viz. that this volume is the product of over 20 years of consideration of Antisthenes' fragments and their importance, is borne out by the very full collection of relevant material in the book's 784 pages.

Prince's work comes out during a period of renewed interest in Antisthenes. The first translation of all his fragments into a modern language (Spanish) was only produced as recently as 2011,1 and the first collection of studies devoted exclusively to Antisthenes came out in 2014.2 In English only two previous books have been published on Antisthenes. In 1986 Rankin produced a slim volume Anthisthenes (sic) Sokratikos that briefly but thoughtfully investigated various aspects of Antisthenes' philosophy. Then in 2001 Navia published Antisthenes of Athens, which was little more than an extended musing over the contents of Diogenes Laertius' 'Life of Antisthenes' (6.1–19) that generally ignored past scholarship as well as Antisthenes' most important fragments — it offered, for example, not a word of discussion on his two largest fragments, the Ajax and Odysseus (SSR V A 53 and 54).3

Prince's book commences with a rather short introduction of 23 pages that includes a discussion of her approach to Antisthenes' texts (1–8) along with brief comments on the 'Modern Reception of Antisthenes' (8–11), 'The Life of Antisthenes and the Limits of Biographical Scholarship' (11–12), 'Antisthenes' Intellectual Position among His Contemporaries' (12–15), 'Antisthenes' Literary and Intellectual Production' (15–16), 'Antisthenes' Positions on Ethics' (16–18), 'Antisthenes' Positions on Language, Rhetoric, Logic, and Knowledge' (18–22), and 'Ancient Reception of Antisthenes' (22–3). Following that, the remainder of the book proper (to page 709) consists of texts, translations, and commentary. The volume is rounded out by a concordance to Decleva Caizzi's edition,4 an index of sources, selected bibliography, and indices. Few typographical errors were noted.

In terms of presentation, the book has not been laid out in the fashion most easily utilised for an edition of fragments — viz. with texts, facing page translations, and then commentary. Instead the text of each fragment is followed by its translation, and then by the commentary pertaining just to that fragment. This is regrettable, particularly to the extent that it makes locating particular fragments for comparison awkward — and given that multiple, related versions of many fragments are presented, this is doubly inconvenient. In the case of the longer fragments it sometimes requires searching back over one or two pages in order to compare the translation with the text. If one is attempting to follow a discussion in the commentary against the text and translation it usually requires trying to hold the book open at three places simultaneously.

As for arrangement of the fragments, Prince follows Giannantoni's numbering of Antisthenes' texts from his edition of the fragments of all the Socratics.5 She retains Giannantoni's ordering for the laudable reason of not adding yet another set of new numbers (1, 5), but an opportunity seems to have been missed to have made 'Prince' the standard edition. Unfortunately, as it stands, the current ordering is not necessarily the most intuitive or the most helpful, as Prince herself notes (4). Wherever possible Giannantoni assigned each fragment to the title in Diogenes Laertius' catalogue of Antisthenes' works (6.15–18) that seemed the closest match, either because the title was specifically mentioned or the content seemed to fit. In many cases the fragments that are assigned to a given title are too sparse to build up any real picture of the work itself. On the other hand, there are often multiple fragments across various works that treat common topics, and if grouped together they can be interpreted in order to develop a clear conception of Antisthenes' various ethical agendas. This sort of thematic approach is more naturally suited to the form of the surviving material and makes it easier to build a substantial argument. Instead, by adhering to Giannantoni's numbering, Prince is forced to carry on discussions on related topics in a dispersed manner throughout the commentary, recapitulating each time she revisits an already discussed theme.

Prince presents her own texts of the fragments and these are more helpful and inclusive than those of any previous editor. She has included a large number of emendations to correct the errors printed in past editions. The task of translating forces one to make the text readable, and thus in the process of editing Prince has done an excellent job of cleaning up texts that were often unreadable. In another major contribution, Prince has added around 20 new fragments (listed at 4), most of which do not specifically mention Antisthenes, but which are demonstrably derived from his work by comparison with other fragments. And in fact a case can be made for adding even more fragments to Antisthenes' corpus.6 Prince notes that she has relied on past editions to establish the texts and has not independently consulted any manuscripts. She has also kept her apparatus to a minimum and eliminated the underdot for conjectured papyrus readings – meaning interested scholars will need to consult a relevant scholarly edition to locate such information (5). Unfortunately, Prince has not provided line numbers for the texts, which for the longer passages can make locating a lemma from her commentary in the text quite time consuming. In general Prince's translations are reliable and helpful. She states her intention at the outset to present reasonably 'literal' translations (6) but has taken care to ensure that they are still in readable English. There are a few exceptions, where the translation seems a little laboured (e.g. t. 79, p. 276).

The commentary on each fragment is presented in three parts: 'Context of Preservation', discusses the nature of the work or passage the fragment was found in (if known); 'Importance of the Testimonium' contains comments on the relationship of the fragment with other fragments of Antisthenes and texts of other authors; 'Notes' draws attention to points of note in the fragment and explicates difficult passages of text. A large part of Prince's approach in her commentary is to present a survey of the past scholarship on each fragment. This is very useful as a guide to all the previous work on various topics, some of which are relatively unknown and difficult to locate without assistance. In quite a number of cases, Prince's review of the past literature constitutes the majority of the commentary on a given fragment, and sometimes her own views are not clear. She does state in her introduction that at times she will present multiple, competing theories but will decline to take a clear position herself in order to avoid offending or alienating readers (6–7; cf. 19). This desire to avoid controversy is perhaps a questionable virtue. She herself notes that her cautiousness in advancing her own opinions will be 'irritating' to some readers (6). In general, wherever Prince does venture her own views, her argument builds diligently on the work of previous scholars and forms a solid basis for further study.

A particular highlight of the early part of the commentary is Prince's discussion of the catalogue of Antisthenes' works found in Diogenes Laertius (6.15–18 = t.41). Building on the previous work of Decleva Caizzi (see note 4) and, in particular, Patzer,7 Prince provides almost 40 pages of stimulating analysis and discussion of the structure and the titles of the catalogue and the meaning that may be gleaned from it (125–163).

Naturally, in a work of this scale on a fragmentary author there are going to be points one could take issue with. One example is a controversy that Prince does not address head on – namely, Antisthenes' relationship to Cynicism. A common modern perception (also popular in late antiquity) is that Antisthenes was the first of the Cynics and so the ultimate founder of Cynicism. Prince declines to take a clear position on this issue in her introduction (10). One is left with the overall impression, however, that in her mind Antisthenes is closely associated with Cynicism and the thrust of much of her argument can be seen through that lens. She thinks it likely, for example, that Antisthenes 'gave some impetus…to the…flowering of Cynic literature' (16) and on occasion she refers collectively to 'Antisthenes and the Cynics' (133, 135). She also describes part of Odysseus' speech (t.54) as 'proto-Cynic' (226). An argument can be made, however, that Antisthenes' views were by and large incompatible with Cynic philosophy. Cynics, for example, were renowned for having no sense of shame whereas Antisthenes' sense of shame was so strong that he, almost compulsively, adjusted Euripides' line 'What is a shameful deed if its doers do not think so?'8 to read: 'A shameful deed is a shameful deed, whether one think so or no.'9 It seems most likely that he was installed as 'First of the Cynics' at a much later date by Cynics who wished to be able to trace their philosophical lineage back to Socrates, the 'father of philosophy' as it were. Cicero makes the clearest statement vis-à-vis the desire of all philosophers to be called 'Socratic' and to be able to claim their origins from him.10

One of Prince's assumptions is worth mentioning, due to the fact that she reiterates it so many times throughout her commentary, and yet it seems misguided. Prince feels that Odysseus represents 'in many senses, a hero for Antisthenes' (17). She states likewise 'it is hard to doubt that the Homeric Odysseus was a hero for Antisthenes' (201), and again refers to him as 'his hero Odysseus' (656). Prince feels that Antisthenes' discussion of Odysseus' quality polytropos11 is positive and concludes: 'In its positive evaluation of Odysseus as a philosophical hero, this text is consistent with the rest of Antisthenes' literary remains' (598). Prince also sees Antisthenes defending 'the virtue of Odysseus' (623) and she comments on 'the lengths to which Antisthenes went to defend the virtue of Odysseus' (655). In fact, however, a close reading of the rest of Antisthenes' literary remains seems to reveal that he routinely used Odysseus as a contra-exemplum. Antisthenes pretty clearly believed, in common with the traditional aristocracy, that a small number of well-born individuals possessed a very large share of inherent excellence or virtue. Such nobly born men perceived honesty, steadiness, and intransigence to be the sort of values that characterised aristocrats who were true to their class. Odysseus, on the other hand, was viewed by such elites during the Classical period as deceitful, shifty, and mutable. As such he was held up by Antisthenes as a proto-demagogue and as a model of the sort of politician who, by pandering to the demos, was a traitor to his class; and in a very real way represented the antithesis of what a good man should aspire to be. A failure to appreciate Antisthenes' deeply conservative ethical stance leads to knock-on effects in understanding much of his work. For example, Prince expresses her puzzlement as to why Antisthenes made so many negative statements about the Athenians (12). If she realised that Antisthenes' views were consistent with those of the old aristocracy, who despised Athenian democracy, the reason would be self-evident. Instead Prince, rather remarkably, concludes that this question probably does not matter much for understanding what Antisthenes wrote (12).

Despite quibbles about the layout of the book and arrangement of the fragments, as well as with certain conclusions in the argument, it must be reiterated what an important landmark this book represents for Antisthenic studies. It is an achievement for which Prince is to be heartily congratulated. Having newly edited texts and reliable English translations available for all of Antisthenes' fragments makes the corpus of his work available for study to a far broader, non-specialist, audience than has ever been the case previously. This in turn holds out the promise that this extraordinarily important, but very largely neglected, ancient author will begin to receive the attention he properly deserves.


1.   C. Mársico, Los Filósofos Socráticos, Testimonios y Fragmentos II: Antístenes, Fedón, Esquines y Simón, Buenos Aires, 2011.
2.   V. Suvák, ed. Antisthenica Cynica Socratica. Mathésis 9. Prague, 2014. BMCR review: BMCR 2016.07.16.
3.   See further S. Prince's BMCR review: 2001.06.23.
4.   F. Decleva Caizzi, Antisthenis Fragmenta. Milan, 1966.
5.   G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum Reliquae, 4 vols., Naples, 1990.
6.   A dissertation recently submitted by this reviewer titled Antisthenes' Literary Fragments: Edited with Introduction, Translations, and Commentary newly ascribes a further nine fragments to Antisthenes.
7.   A. Patzer, Antisthenes Der Sokratiker (Diss. Heidelberg). 1970.
8.   TrGF 5.1 F 19.
9.   Plut. Quomodo adul. 33c = SSR V A 195.
10.   De or. 3.61–2.
11.   Prince t. 187 = Porphyry Scholia on Od. 1.1.

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