Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Richard Goulet (ed.), Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques VII. D'Ulpien à Zoticus. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2018. Pp. 1472. ISBN 9782271090249. €95,00.

Reviewed by Cesare Sinatti, University of Durham (

Version at BMCR home site

Almost thirty years have passed since the first volume of the Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques was published, in 1989. Since then, the volumes have become a must-have for most scholars of ancient philosophy, and with slow but steady frequency started filling the shelves of personal as well as university libraries. The aim and scope of the project is ambitious, as its purpose is to include all figures from Graeco-Roman antiquity who could be considered philosophers. Well-established specialists have taken part in the project by writing entries for major and minor figures of ancient philosophy, presenting an exhaustive survey of their life and works, of the doxography and of the contemporary bibliography concerning them. With this seventh volume, the enterprise of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique coordinated and supervised by Richard Goulet has finally reached its conclusion, providing an indispensable tool for the study of ancient philosophy. Indeed, the last volume of the Dictionnaire not only adds to the previous volumes the last entries from Ulpian to Zoticus, but also comes with a series of supplementary entries, appendices and a useful set of statistics regarding ancient philosophers.

Some notable entries in this volume include Varro (94-133) by Goulet himself and Yves Lehmann; Virgil (136-147) by Régine Chambert; the Platonic scholarch Xenocrates (194-208) by Margherita Isnardi Parente; Xenophanes (211-219) by Dominique Arnould and Richard Goulet; Xenophon (227-290) by Louis-André Dorion and Jörn Lang; Zeno of Elea (346-63) by Richard Goulet and Daniel de Smet; Zeno of Citium (364-96) by Jean-Baptiste Gourinat and Jörn Lang. The largest entries introduce the philosopher, starting from an overview of the testimonies concerning them, including editions of their works, proceeding then with an examination of the sources of the material, a description of their life and iconography. Given the encyclopedic scope of the Dictionnaire, most entries seem to focus more on life and works rather than doctrines, supposedly aiming at providing facts rather than interpretations. When it comes to ancient philosophy, though, this does not always come easily, since presentation of the content of a philosophical work often results in an interpretation of it. For this reason, major philosophers are presented critically, alongside questions currently discussed by scholars, mostly leaving it to the reader to engage with them.

As we see from the presence of entries on Varro and Virgil, the criteria for inclusion in the Dictionnaire are rather wide and comprehend figures who are not conventionally considered philosophers. Goulet, before presenting the statistical studies of the Epimetrum, gives a definition of this criterion of selection himself: "L'essentiel nous paraissait qu'une personne ait été présentée comme philosophe ou philosophe d'une école particulière dans les sources anciennes, qu'elle ait écrit ou qu'on lui ait attribué des traités philosophiques, qu'elle ait exprimé des idées philosophiques incontestables ou qu'elle ait exprimé des idées à des élèves" (1177). The choice of authors, therefore, is justified by the fact that each of them showed interest in philosophy or wrote or was attributed some philosophical works. For instance, in the case of Virgil, Régine Chambert focuses on the philosophical aspects of his poetry, such as the Epicurean sensibility in the Bucolics and the Georgics, likely inherited from his teacher Siro.

The supplementary entries include fundamental additions to the previous volumes. Being completely exhaustive is difficult—if not impossible—when it comes to a work surveying the whole history of ancient philosophy, but one could nonetheless say that with these supplements the Dictionnaire aims at a higher degree of completeness. This is achieved by either supplementing previously written entries with new material, often resulting from new research, or by adding entirely new entries, as a result of an expanding conception of who the influential figures related to ancient philosophy are. A good example of the first case is the detailed account of the Divisiones Aristoteleae (pp. 461-7) by Tiziano Dorandi, providing an overview of the transmission of the text and a discussion of the questions surrounding its attribution to Aristotle. An example of the second category is the entry on Pythagoras spanning pp. 681-884 and including contributions by three scholars—only the first part of a massive work continued in Annexe II (pp. 1024-174). Costantinos Macris covers the figure of Pythagoras—his life, iconography, works and doctrines (pp. 681-850), while Katarzyna Proschenko describes the influence of his philosophy on gnomology (pp. 851-860) and, finally, Anna Izdebska discusses his diffusion in the Arab and Syrian tradition (pp. 861-84). Other examples of new entries are ones on Christian authors of recent interest in the field, such as Didymus of Alexandria (pp. 485-513) by Marco Zambon, and Gregory of Nyssa (pp. 534-70) by Matthieu Cassin, or on authors who are not strictly 'ancient', but who are nonetheless indispensable to understanding the transmission of ancient philosophy in following ages, such as Georgius Gemistos Pletho (pp. 667-77) by Brigitte Tambrun-Krasker. Some supplementary entries also discuss literary characters present in philosophical works such as Aigyptos of Alexandria (p. 456) from the dialogue Theophrastus by Aeneas of Gaza, or Timaeus of Locri (pp. 987-1009), the eponymous interlocutor of Plato's dialogue, whose historical existence is debated—as well as adding information on existing philosophers who have been used as literary characters, such as Simmias of Thebes (pp. 904- 33), appearing both in Plato's Phaedo and in Plutarch's De Genio Socratis.

In addition to these, the last volume of the Dictionnaire includes two appendices on ancient philosophical schools. The first (pp. 1019-24), by Marco di Branco, discusses rather briefly the Lyceum, the Stoa, the Epicurean Garden, and the school of Apamea; the second (pp. 1025-174), again by Costantinos Macris, covers extensively the whole history of ancient Pythagoreanism and its reception. The entry is conceived as a continuation of his supplementary entry on Pythagoras. The first part discusses everything from the customs of ancient Pythagorean communities to problems related to identifying a general Pythagorean identity, together with a discussion of the doctrines and works of ancient Pythagoreans. The second part focuses on the influence of Pythagoreanism on their contemporaries and on posterity, from philosophy to the arts, examining both Neopythagoreanism and the reception of Pythagoreanism in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This massive entry comes together with thoroughly updated bibliographical references on both Pythagorean philosophy and its diffusion, making it a useful tool for research into Pythagoras and his school.

After the annexes, an 'Epimetrum', offers the results of several statistical studies concerning ancient philosophy, accompanied by graphs. These studies include data on how many philosophers were present in each philosophical school in a given century, the distribution of female philosophers by school and century, and the division of philosophers by the region of their origin and region of activity. The Dictionnaire, in line with its being first and foremost a tool for research, does not seek to explain the data: we do not find any hypotheses to explain why, for instance, most female ancient philosophers were Pythagorean, or why most ancient philosophers came from Asia Minor. The interpretation of these data is left to the reader. The Epimetrum provides therefore both a solid base for future studies and an interesting set of questions to be solved.

Finally, the three indexes of names, headwords and texts are an essential tool for using the previous volumes, helping the reader to navigate the numerous entries and to quickly find specific information. The index of names, which is the largest of the three, indicates in bold the number of the entry, making it immediately clear where to trace it in the volumes—for instance, the entry of Zeno of Elea is signaled as "Z 19" in bold, which means it is the nineteenth entry at the letter Z, immediately traceable to the seventh volume—and also indicates in which entries the name is quoted and at what page. The headwords index features words present in works attributed to ancient philosophers, while the texts index lists the scholarly works, editions, commentaries, paraphrases, translations, etc., relating to each.

As the Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques is now complete, it can be said that the aim of producing an all- encompassing encyclopedia of ancient thought has been achieved: for the next decades, this seventh volume will help both scholars and non-scholars alike. If one feels like criticizing some lack in the bibliographies or their focus on scholars writing in Romance languages, or disagrees with the claims advanced on this or that philosopher, it must be remembered that such massive works are meant to strive for absolute completeness, but that reaching this completeness is always the task of future scholars. To these scholars, and to any attentive reader, the volumes of the Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques will doubtlessly provide new occasions for research and inquiry. If it is true, as Plato wrote in the Meno, that we would not be able to search for that of which we know nothing, thanks to resources such as the Dictionnaire, we may be rendered a little less ignorant—and a little more ready for our research.

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