Sunday, February 17, 2019


Katrien Levrie, Jean Pédiasimos: Essai sur les douze travaux d'Héracles. Édition critique, traduction et introduction. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 270. Bibliothèque de Byzantion, 16. Leuven: Peeters, 2018. Pp. 149. ISBN 9789042935570. €86,00.

Reviewed by Paula Caballero Sánchez, University of Málaga (

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Table of Contents

This book by Katrien Levrie presents a new critical edition, translation and complete introduction of the mythological libellus De Herculis laboribus, written by the Palaeologan scholar John Pediasimus (ca. 1250-1310/1314). The Libellus is a paraphrase of the second book of the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus (II, 72-126), probably penned during Pediasimus' period as Imperial Professor, i.e., as ὕπατος τῶν φιλοσόφων ('consul of the philosophers') in Constantinople. The opuscule, which was previously edited by Leo Allatius (1641),1 Anton Westermann (1843),2 and Richard Wagner (1894),3 is an important testimony that allows us to delve deeper into how Greek mythography was received in Byzantium, more specifically in the Palaeologan Period, and Pediasimus' exegetical contribution.

This new edition adds to the interest shown in recent years in Pediasimus' work, for example, Inmaculada Pérez Martín's identification of his hand 4 or this reviewer's critical edition and translation of Pediasimus' commentary on Cleomedes' Caelestia. 5 In this new edition of the Libellus, the reader will find a complete introduction to the life and work of Pediasimus and an exhaustive study of the Libellus from a philological and mythographic approach. The most important contribution, though, is the critical edition, which for the first time takes into account the more than thirty manuscripts preserving the work, and the first translation of the work into a modern language, French.

The book is composed of seven chapters. Chapter 1 ("Introduction à Jean Pediasimus") presents the biography of Pediasimus, his works, and intellectual value to the reader. It is divided into three sections: A. Biographie; B. Œuvres; C. Valeur de Jean Pédiasimos. Chapter 2 ("Introduction au Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus") is divided into four sections: A. La genre de la mythographie; B. Relation du Libellus avec la Bibliotheca de Pseudo-Apollodore; C. Comparaison du Libellus avec le poème iambique; D. La genre du Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus et son usage.

Section A. reflects on the mythographic genre and its role in Byzantium, where it seems to have disappeared due to the tendency of the Byzantines to imitate and conserve the ancient texts. However, texts such as the Libellus by Pediasimus could reveal a real interest in the genre. In Section B. the author conducts an interesting and exhaustive analysis of the Libellus; Pediasimus' reworking of the mythographic material by Pseudo-Apollodorus (employing literal quotations, paraphrases, the omission of words, phrases or passages, textual elaborations, etc.) illustrates well his method of working in the text.

Section C. is devoted to the study of an iambic poem about the twelve labours of Hercules, solely preserved in the Uppsaliensis graecus 15 (ff. 128v-132v, fourteenth century). In this section, the author offers a complete study of the different datings proposed for the poem, the debate over its authorship, its sources, and its function in relation to the Libellus. Levrie supports the theory of Aubrey Diller, 6 who attributed the poem to Pediasimus. In this way, according to the author, the poem would just be a narrative exercise or poetic composition in accordance with Pediasimus' role as Imperial Professor in Constantinople. Section D. introduces us to the context of the Libellus as a genre. The author here reflects on the nature of the Libellus as a grammatical exercise (schedography), as a mythographic treatise and as literary paraphrase meant to facilitate the comprehension of the text.

Chapter 3, "Traditio textus du Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus", is devoted to the textual transmission of the work. It is composed of two sections: A. La tradition directe: descriptio codicum; B. Éditions antérieures et traductions. Section A. opens with a list of the 39 manuscripts that transmit the work (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries). This is followed by a study dedicated to the testimonies, which is centred on their history and content more than on codicological or palaeographical aspects (as, indeed, Levrie notes: 32, n. 103). In this section we have detected an erratum: on p. 32, the date of the Laurentianus Plut. 60,19 is given as fourteenth century, perhaps due to the influence of the erroneous dating of Bandini's catalogue,7 while p. 43 presents the correct date, provided by the project Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina), i.e., the second half of the fifteenth century (n. 156 on p. 43 gives the erroneous dating of Bandini). Finally, section B. offers an interesting analysis of the three prior editions (v. supra), through a comparative table showing their divergent readings.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the "Recensio codicum". It is divided into: A. Témoins non classables; B. Témoins aves des caractéristiques saillantes; C. Familles; D. Stemma codicum. Section A. includes the seven non-classifiable testimonies, as they contain the fragmentary text, as well as two testimonies to which Levrie has not had access: Mosq (Mosquensis Synodalis graecus 311) and the now lost Wroc (Wroclaviensis Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Rehdiger 30). Section B. presents the testimonies with relevant characteristics: manuscripts in which the Libellus is accompanied by scholia (12 testimonies) or in which the text contains headings that were probably added by a scribe (7 testimonies). Section C. presents the manuscript filiation of the Libellus, which consists of three families that are derived from a lost common archetype: α, β, γ. Lastly, D. offers the stemma codicum, which does not include the fragmentary, non-classifiable testimonies.

Chapter 5 consists of the "Ratio edendi" prior to the critical edition: A. Principes d'édition du texte grec; B. Présentation du texte C. Orthographe, accentuation et ponctuation; D. Remarques concernant la traduction française. Chapter 6 provides the list of the exhaustive and updated biography employed in the volume. Finally, chapter 7, "Édition critique et traduction française", begins with the conspectus siglorum of the 33 manuscripts employed for the edition, which also takes into account the three preceding editions (v. supra) and the text of the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus.

As far as the Greek text of the edition is concerned, it is divided into 12 chapters just as in the manuscripts. The author has opted to respect this structure, as it facilitates its reading and comprehension. There is no doubt that the edited text is philologically correct, though from a typographic point of view it is noteworthy that the publisher has chosen to present the Greek text in bold. Below the text there are two critical apparatus. The first, which is shorter, presents the manuscripts that transmit the work in question. The second, a rich critical apparatus, mentions only those testimonies that do not present the lectio adopted in the text.. An apparatus of sources is not included, although section C. (pages 25-28) already deals with the sources of the poem in detail. The French translation is presented facing the Greek text. It is without literary pretensions (as, indeed, Levrie notes in chapter 5D., p. 108), but is faithful to the Greek text and in correct French idiom.

This edition is an important contribution for classical philology, presenting the first critical edition that collates all the testimonies that transmit the opuscule De Herculis laboribus by Pediasimus and offers the contemporary reader a translation into a modern language. Indeed, Levrie has conducted a philologically rigorous work, well structured and of great quality, which allows us to delve deeper into the reception of a mythographic text such as the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus in Byzantium. Furthermore, an exhaustive philological analysis of the text also allows us a better understanding of Pediasimus' interest in mythography and his exegetical method.


1.   Allatius L. (ed.), "Pediasimis de utroque genere foeminarum", BollClass, III.6 (1985): 96-9.
2.   Westermann A. (ed.), Μυθογράφοι. Scriptores poeticae historiae graeci, Brunsvigae 1843.
3.   Wagner R. (ed.), Apollodori Bibliotheca. Pediasimi Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus (Mythographi Graeci 1), Leipzig 1894.
4.   Pérez Martín I., "L'écriture de l'hypatos Jean Pothos Pédiasimos d'après ses scholies aux Elementa d'Euclide", Scriptorium 64 (2010): 109-19.
5.   Caballero Sánchez P., El Comentario de Juan Pediásimo a los Cuerpos celestes de Cleomedes: estudio, edición crítica y traducción (Nueva Roma 48), Madrid 2018.
6.   Diller A., "The Text History of the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus", in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 66 (1935), pp. 305-6.
7.   Bandini A. M., Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae varia continens opera graecorum Patrum, vol. II, Firenze 1768, col. 610.

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Claudia Deglau, Der Althistoriker Franz Hampl zwischen Nationalsozialismus und Demokratie. Kontinuität und Wandel im Fach Alte Geschichte. Philippika 115. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2017. Pp. xv, 696. ISBN 9783447109055. €115.00. ISBN 9783447196994. ebook.

Reviewed by Gary Beckman, University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

In this latest publication from the "Marburg school" established by the late Karl Christ to study the modern historiography of the Classical world, Claudia Deglau considers the life and career of Franz Hampl (1910–2000), professor of Alte Geschichte at several German and Austrian universities.1 Her approach is what she calls the "biographical triad," investigating her subject's social and professional environment, in addition to his life experiences and his scholarly works (p. 9).

Accordingly, much attention is paid here to the circumstances under which Hampl pursued his researches—first on the nature of the Macedonian monarchy, on the place of the perioikoi in Spartan society, and on fourth-century Greek diplomacy, and then in his mature years on the towering figures of Augustus and Alexander the Great.2 These attendant circumstances were, of course, the rise to power of the National Socialists in Germany, the annexation of Hampl's Austrian homeland, the Second World War, and post-war reconstruction in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and the Second Austrian Republic. Interesting times!

Deglau examines in great detail the academic politics—which in this instance were intimately tied up with national and later with international politics—surrounding her subject's career, from his student days under his Doktorvater, the enthusiastic Nazi Helmut Berve (p. 325), through the various competitions for university posts in ancient history under the Third Reich and in its successor states following defeat in 1945, to encounters with leftist scholars and students in Innsbruck during the 1960s (pp. 542–53). She draws upon—and quotes at great length from—several extraordinary sources: from a tape-recorded interview that Hampl gave to his former student Stefan Dietrich in 19863 and from the surprisingly extensive preserved records of the position searches for jobs in Greek and Roman history during the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. These latter materials include the candid letters that senior authorities in the field wrote assessing the available candidates, providing a view not only of their maneuvers on behalf of their own students and protégés, but a snapshot of informed opinion concerning the future of ancient studies in German-speaking Europe during the Nazizeit and in its immediate aftermath.

It is interesting to observe that in these evaluations, Germany's leading lights in the history of the Classical world, many of them enthusiastic supporters of the national revolution4, took little notice of the degree to which younger colleagues adhered to National Socialist research agendas, as set forth in the advisory opinions submitted by Party authorities (p. 225). Rather, in addition to engaging in the usual academic politics, these senior scholars applied the profession's traditional standards—carefulness, imagination, and productivity. Indeed, Hampl's patron Helmut Berve loyally supported all his own students, no matter how lukewarm their embrace of Nazi doctrine (p. 127).

That is not to suggest, however, that an academic could maintain his distance from the Party and its various subsidiary organizations and still pursue a successful career in 1930s Germany. Franz Hampl, who was not taken seriously as an NS Althistoriker by his contemporaries (p. 206), nevertheless became a member of several Nazi auxiliary organizations (p. 76) and in February 1939 applied to join the Nazi Party, most likely in order to secure his position as a Dozent (assistant professor) (p. 79). Fortunately for his post-war prospects, because of a technicality—he was never presented with his membership card before he was called up for military service and thereby remained an Anwärter (candidate) (p. 80)—Hampl was later able to claim somewhat truthfully that he had never been a Party member (pp. 233, 431).

But how great was the impact of Nazi ideology on Hampl's early scholarship? On the one hand, in his youthful writings he stresses the importance of the individual leader, for instance expressing admiration for Philip II of Macedon's Wille zur Macht (p. 110), but on the other he rejects his teacher's clearly fascistic interpretation of Spartan society (p. 151) and seems never to have exhibited the crude racism propagated by Berve and Fritz Schachermeyr. Deglau concludes that while Hampl's work was influenced by the Zeitgeist, it was not particularly National Socialist in character (p. 180). In any event, Hampl was able to devote little time to his research from 1939 through 1945, being heavily engaged in military duties (see p. 177).5

Soon after the German surrender, Hampl was appointed to a position at the Universität Gießen, but by 1947 had departed for the Universität Innsbruck, where he would serve until his retirement in 1981. Repaying his debt to Berve, he supported his teacher through his Entnazifizierung process, downplaying the latter's fervent support of the Nazi regime (pp. 406–16). Declau observes that such loyalty to one's superiors was an aspect of the "Ordinarius University," still operative in Germany and Austria in the postwar years (p. 416). The intensity of this system's patron-client relationships ensured that no genuine reckoning with the crimes of the Third Reich would take place in German academia until the late 1960s (p. 368).

As for Hampl's post-war research, one immediately notes a continuity with his previous work in the emphasis he places on the role of great men—now Augustus and Alexander—in history (p. 452). Indeed, this interest seems to have only been intensified by the scholar's personal experiences under the Nazi dictatorship, for who can miss the allusion to Hitler in the dämonische Kraft Hampl attributes to Alexander (p. 518; cf. p. 494)? An echo of the previous era is also to be found in Hampl's emphasis on the importance of Blut as a determinant in inter-group affairs (pp. 516, 534), by which, however, he seems to mean ethnicity rather than the mystical/biological factor so dear to the National Socialists (p. 531). Still, one cringes when reading in a late essay the claim that his identification of the mingling of cultures as the cause of civilizational decay is "natürlich im Prinzip etwas ganz anders" than blaming the decline on the mixing of races (p. 533).

Late in his career Hampl anticipated somewhat the current vogue for World History—calling his own personal variety Universalgeschichte, engaging particularly with the writings of Arnold Toynbee (pp. 520–41). In this endeavor he was seeking to establish a Western counter-narrative to the Marxist historiography of the Soviet bloc (p. 526), but his efforts in this project achieved scant lasting influence because of his continued embrace of the obsolete principles previously mentioned. In sum, Deglau judges Hampl to have been "ein eher konservativer Modernisierer" (p. 562) as well as a "Kulturhistoriker par excellence" (p. 3).

This volume closes with a bibliography, a useful index of personal names, and several plates of photographs of Franz Hampl at various ages. With its extensive quotation of documents and short but informative biographical sketches of almost anyone who was anyone in the field from 1920 to 1950, it will be a continuing resource for all students of German Classical historiography.


1.   She defended it as her doctoral dissertation at the Philipps-Universität Marburg in May 2016.
2.   His scholarly publications are listed on pp. 582–85, and the record of the courses he offered throughout his career on pp. 675–96.
3.   Transcribed in full on pp. 619–74.
4.   In addition to Berve, these included Wilhelm Weber, Hans Oppermann, Joseph Vogt, and Fritz Schachermeyr, who all introduced elements of Nazi ideology (racism, struggle, etc.) into their own work (p. 89).
5.   His time on the Ostfront may have included some questionable anti-partisan activity (pp. 162–67), but he felt that he had always just followed orders (p. 558).

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Thursday, February 14, 2019


Arnaud Dubois, Jean-Baptiste Eczet, Adeline Grand-Clément, Charlotte Ribeyrol (ed.), Arcs-en-ciel et couleurs: regards comparatifs. Bibliothèque de l'anthropologie. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2018. Pp. 301; 24 p. of plates. ISBN 9782271119421. €25,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Frédéric Le Blay, Université de Nantes, Centre François Viète EA 1161, F-44000 (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Cet ouvrage collectif s'intéresse à la perception du phénomène naturel qu'est l'arc-en-ciel ainsi qu'à sa représentation dans les arts. Conformément à l'approche anthropologique, l'enjeu de cette réunion d'études consiste à mettre en évidence la diversité des expériences et des perceptions humaines envisagées selon les époques ou les lieux.

Si l'on considère la tradition occidentale, deux théories fondent successivement la conception du phénomène, celle exposée tout d'abord par Aristote dans ses Météorologiques, supplantée ensuite par les travaux d'optique de Newton. Parce que nous sommes désormais fortement tributaires des théories du second, il nous apparaît comme une donnée d'évidence que le prisme lumineux à l'origine de l'arc-en-ciel peut se résumer comme un composé de sept couleurs (rouge, orange, jaune, vert, bleu, violet, indigo). Mais un simple retour en arrière nous enseigne que ce météore est considéré par le philosophe grec comme l'effet de la densité inégale des nuages que doivent traverser les rayons du soleil et que les variations lumineuses qu'il percevait lorsqu'il observait le même phénomène que Newton étaient conçues davantage comme une opposition entre clarté et obscurité, sur un mode binaire donc, et non comme une palette chromatique. Nous apprenons toutefois dans ce volume que Goethe, dans son Traité des couleurs de 1810 fut un adversaire des théories newtoniennes en défendant l'idée ancienne selon laquelle la couleur était une forme assombrie de la lumière.

Il n'empêche cependant que le motif de la diversité des teintes, la ποικιλία des grecs (traduite par uarietas dans la littérature latine), est souvent traité par la référence à l'arc-en-ciel, comme le rappelle notamment la contribution d'Adeline Grand-Clément (« L'arc-en-ciel pourpre d'Homère. Poikilia et enchantement des couleurs », p. 191-215). Mais ce que viennent confirmer les premières contributions de ce volume est que l'on ne peut traiter un sujet tel que celui de la perception d'un phénomène lumineux et chromatique sans faire l'économie d'un retour sur les définitions et perceptions de la lumière et des couleurs qui, loin d'être un universel humain, relèvent d'usages et de représentations culturelles. Ainsi, à propos du prisme lumineux, Jean-Baptiste Eczet (« L'arc-en-ciel mursi (Éthiopie). Réservoir des couleurs et des personnes », p. 75-88) prend opportunément soin de rappeler en guise de préambule que « la stabilisation d'une description de l'arc-en-ciel à sept couleurs fut largement déterminée par Newton qui, rompu à l'angélologie et à la musique, opta pour ce chiffre sacré » (p. 76).

L'introduction pose en termes clairs qu'il n'est plus possible de se fonder sur une perspective évolutionniste qui voudrait que les Anciens ou les Primitifs, voire l'ensemble des peuples non occidentaux, aient une perception imparfaite ou incomplète des couleurs, du fait de facultés sensorielles insuffisamment développées. « L'anthropologie physique aussi bien que la philologie ou les sciences expérimentales cherchaient en effet alors à traquer les défaillances en matière de perception des couleurs. Pour ces cas d'étude, l'arc-en-ciel – avec son ordonnancement et ses nuances – servit d'étalon permettant de détecter toute déviance par rapport à la norme perceptive. Le « test de l'arc-en-ciel » fut ainsi l'occasion de théoriser, à partir d'exemples empiriques, textuels et ethnographiques, un évolutionnisme déployé de façon linéaire, allant du plus élémentaire (les Anciens et les Primitifs) vers le plus complexe (les Occidentaux modernes). […] On ne croit plus que les hommes des sociétés anciennes souffraient de problèmes de vision ou de perception des couleurs. (p. 14) »1 Arnaud Dubois (« Couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel et anthropologie : du laboratoire au terrain (Rivers et le détroit de Torres, 1898-1901) » , p. 25-43) démontre par exemple que les observations menées en 1898 par l'anthropologue W.H.R. Rivers dans le cadre d'une mission auprès d'habitants de l'Ile Murray (située entre la Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée et l'Australie) aboutirent à confirmer la thèse de l'évolution entre un « régime primitif » de la couleur et un « régime moderne ».2 La bibliographie accompagnant ce texte liminaire (p. 17-18) liste les travaux de référence relatifs à l'histoire ou à l'anthropologie des couleurs ainsi que quelques études théorisant l'approche comparative ou comparatiste, qui est l'outil méthodologique nécessaire à toute anthropologie globale. On regrettera que les sources (ainsi les poèmes de Keats ou les écrits de Newton) ne soient pas distinguées de la littérature secondaire. Il s'agit d'une distinction de principe à laquelle philologues et historiens restent attachés, dont on constate qu'elle tend à s'estomper dans de nombreuses publications parmi les plus récentes. Il est en effet difficile de traiter sur le même plan les analyses historiques de Michel Pastoureau et les textes théoriques de Newton et Burke car le risque est de perdre de vue ce qui fait l'objet de l'enquête ou de l'analyse. Il est également de s'affranchir de toute distance historique ou critique vis-à-vis de la documentation en jeu. La présente démonstration ne tombe pas dans cet écueil, les sources et les documents sont rigoureusement contextualisés mais leur mélange dans une liste alphabétique uniforme peut prêter à confusion.

Ce recueil d'études vient confirmer l'intérêt d'une tendance désormais bien établie où études classiques et antiques, dans une perspective comparatiste, s'allient aux travaux anthropologiques et aux analyses historiques portant sur diverses aires culturelles afin de renouveler les perspectives ou de recontextualiser notre approche des civilisations anciennes. On pourra certes regretter que ce collectif n'ait pas réservé une place plus significative aux théories elles-mêmes, celles de la météorologie des Anciens comme celles de l'optique moderne, qui sont souvent invoquées sans être véritablement traitées, mais cette absence n'enlève rien à la pertinence de l'ouvrage. La troisième partie du recueil accorde une place aux représentations et aux pratiques artistiques, qui ne pouvaient naturellement pas être tenues à l'écart de la réflexion.

Un riche cahier d'illustrations en couleur est inséré au centre de l'ouvrage. Chaque contribution est suivie de sa propre bibliographie. Compte-tenu de l'unité thématique du volume, on peut se demander si un index général n'aurait pas été pertinent.

Table des matières

Introduction. – Retisser l'arc-en-ciel, p. 7-21.
Première partie : Quelles couleurs pour l'arc-en-ciel ? Le système newtonien confronté à d'autres regards.
Arnaud Dubois, « Couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel et anthropologie : du laboratoire au terrain (Rivers et le détroit de Torres, 1898-1901), p. 25-43.
Marie Parmentier, « L'arc-en-ciel japonais : au seuil d'un changement radical (XVIIe-XIXe siècle) », p. 45-73.
Jean-Baptiste Eczet, « L'arc-en-ciel mursi (Éthiopie). Réservoir des couleurs et des personnes », p. 75-88.
Charlotte Ribeyrol, « Les faiseurs d'arcs-en-ciel. Variations chromatiques et poétiques à l'époque victorienne », p. 89-108.

Deuxième partie : Les apparitions de l'arc-en-ciel. Entre achromie et polychromie.
Élodie Dupey García, « Serpent emplumé et serpent peint. Le vent et l'arc-en-ciel dans la culture nahuatl préhispanique », p. 111-148.
Sylvie Donnat, « Polychromies atmosphériques. De l'arc-en-ciel aux épiphanies chromatiques de l'aube égyptienne », p. 149-168.
Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel & Lorenzo Verderame, « Joindre le ciel et la terre. L'arc-en-ciel en Mésopotamie ancienne », p. 169-189.
Adeline Grand-Clément, « L'arc-en-ciel pourpre d'Homère. Poikilia et enchantement des couleurs », p. 191-215.

Troisième partie : L'arc-en-ciel en couleur(s). Les défis de la mise en image.
François Jacquesson, « Dieu, Jésus et l'Arc-en-ciel. Représentations chromatiques de la profondeur », p. 219-244.
Jean-Loup Korzilius, « Constable et le problème de l'arc-en-ciel en peinture », p. 245-261.
Ivonne Manfrini, « Le signe d'un désenchantement ? L'arc-en-ciel, Hitler, Dinos et Jake Chapman », p. 263-281.
Barbara Turquier, « Cinéma, musique et 'sensation de couleur'. Autour de Rainbow Dance de Len Lye », p. 283-297.


1.   Charlotte Ribeyrol (« Les faiseurs d'arcs-en-ciel. Variations chromatiques et poétiques à l'époque victorienne », p. 89-108) rappelle que cette lecture remonte sans doute à W. E. Gladstone (Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age, 1858).
2.   L'auteur rappelle que cette mission est souvent considérée comme fondatrice de l'anthropologie sociale britannique et notamment de la professionnalisation et de l'institutionnalisation de l'ethnographie comme méthodologie de la recherche anthropologique.

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Coleen P. Zoller, Plato and the Body: Reconsidering Socratic Asceticism. SUNY series in ancient Greek philosophy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018. Pp. ix, 257. ISBN 9781438470818. $90.00.

Reviewed by Vicky Roupa, Open University in London and the South East, UK (

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This book challenges a prevailing orthodoxy that Plato viewed embodiment as inimical to philosophical endeavor and preached an austere kind of asceticism as a prerequisite to true knowledge. Proposed by such philosophical heavy-weights as Plotinus and Nietzsche and espoused by a number of Plato scholars, this view ascribes to Plato a dualist way of thinking about the body according to which, if we are to have knowledge of things as they are, we need to disentangle ourselves from the trappings of the body both as to how we acquire knowledge and as to the moral choices we make. As Socrates forcefully puts it in the Phaedo: "in truth or in fact no thought of any kind ever comes to us from the body. Only the body and its desires cause war, civil discord and battles;" and a bit further down: "if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself" (66c3-5, 66d5-e2). It is no wonder, then, that such a scathing statement has been widely taken to suggest a deep-seated suspicion of the body as the enemy of philosophy.

Zoller does not contest that Plato prioritized the soul over the body in all matters of philosophy. What she does contest is that Plato defended an "austere dualism" that prescribed a systematic and relentless suppression of bodily needs and desires as the essential philosophical comportment. Instead, she proposes that the dialogues be read under the heuristic device of what she calls, after Alison Jaggar, 'normative dualism' which, while ranking the care of the soul over and above that of the body, does so without loathing or neglecting the body and the physical world. Zoller develops her argument on two fronts: first, through a nuanced reading of dialogues including those, like the Phaedo, that have traditionally been read through the interpretative lens of austere dualism; and second, through careful consideration of a number of other dialogues, such as the Phaedrus, which reveal a more playful aspect to Socrates' personality, attuned to, and tolerant of, the needs and pleasures of the body. Zoller argues that a careful reading of the arguments at work in the dialogues as well as a thorough consideration of their context and intended audience provide strong evidence in favor of her suggested approach, which integrates the body in the philosopher's quest for knowledge. In fact, according to Zoller, the body has an important pedagogical role to play in philosophical practice as it provides the basis for a set of experiences, physical and erotic, that facilitate, rather than impede, the understanding of true reality.

Chapter 1 sets out the key concepts and arguments of the project and explains the stakes involved. Zoller argues that austere dualism's disdain of the body and the physical world has had unwelcome consequences in a range of areas, from the systematic abuse of nature to the denigration of women and non-Western, non-white peoples, who have been oppressed on the grounds that they are "closer" to nature, and thus, more "primitive" than men / whites. This unfortunate attitude is not, according to Zoller, supported from the dialogues, but instead obfuscates the tenor of the Platonic conception of the body. Plato's dialogues, argues Zoller, offer resources for a more respectful, more positive approach to the natural environment, as well as to women, reproduction, and non-white peoples.

In Chapter 2, Zoller focuses on the Phaedo with the aim of showing that austere dualism fails to offer convincing answers to two key epistemological issues, namely how we can obtain true knowledge (a) when sense perception is so unreliable, and (b) when the would-be philosopher is constantly distracted by the needs of the body. Traditionally, the dialogue has been read as an extended argument for the separation of the soul from the body, which, according to the austere dualist, the philosopher longs for throughout life. Zoller's re-reading of the dialogue aims to undermine this linchpin of austere dualism by highlighting three key aspects of Plato's argument: (a) the necessary role sense perception plays in the theory of recollection; (b) the prohibition against suicide; and (c) the exemplary role of Socrates who, though embodied, has not become a "body-lover" or someone who prioritizes non-essential, non-philosophical pursuits at the expense of rational enquiry. Crucially, Zoller offers reasons why Plato has Socrates propose extreme-sounding somatophobic views in the dialogue; the Phaedo, according to Zoller, has a dual pedagogical purpose: to reform the attitudes of the many – who are prone to valuing the body and its needs over and above the soul – and to establish a shared starting-point with the Pythagorean associates of Socrates, who themselves held somatophobic views. Despite this shared premise, Zoller argues, the Pythagoreans are in need of further philosophical guidance from Socrates, and are therefore more likely to lend an ear to his arguments if they see him as "one of their own". Plato, then, makes specific authorial choices in the Phaedo to promote his strategic and pedagogical aims, and these need to be kept firmly in mind when considering the arguments in the dialogue.

In Chapter 3 Zoller turns her attention to a very different pair of dialogues, the Phaedrus and the Symposium, which, in making erôs their primary focus, have long been seen as an antidote to the Phaedo's fascination with death. Understood as desexualized love by proponents of austere dualism, erôs plays a central but ambiguous role in Plato's account of philosophical practice. On the one hand, philosophy itself is designated as a form of 'erotic pursuit' (59); on the other, Plato warns against succumbing to sexual desire, thus appearing to reinforce austere dualism. A careful reading of the dialogues however, argues Zoller, does not bear out the claims of austere dualists. Not only did the exemplary philosopher Socrates engage in sexual activity in the context of marriage – as evidenced by the fact that he had young children at the time of his death – moreover erôs as sexualized, not fully idealized, love, plays an important role in philosophical practice. Key to understanding the ambiguous nature of erôs is, according to Zoller, that we properly construe Socrates' erotic rejection of Phaedrus and Alcibiades. Although both men actively pursue Socrates' favors, and, importantly, even though Socrates himself is not immune to their charms, it would be unworthy of a philosopher to rush headlong into an association that does not fulfil the requirements of the rational enquirer. Should these requirements be met, however, the sexual consummation of the erotic bond is not ruled out. In fact, the erotic pursuit provides a privileged pathway towards knowledge of the Forms as it can cause the pursuer to experience a transformation of the erotic object from physical (the tangible beauty of a particular boy) to non-physical (psychic beauty), and, finally, to fully intelligible (the Form of Beauty). Zoller shows in this way that the intelligible world becomes more readily accessible to humans through the agency of erotic love, thus buttressing her restatement of the role of the body as essential to philosophy.

Chapter 4 focuses on Plato's attitude towards the body in the context of social and political life. Zoller's normative dualist interpretation is here applied to a variety of themes closely linked with the care of the self (a) as health, and (b) as harmony between various conflicting parts. She also examines austere dualism's emphasis on the contemplative life over and above civic engagement. The key takeaway point from the Gorgias and the Republic, she argues, is that although the care of the soul receives Plato's foremost attention, the body is not neglected either, instead providing a wealth of source-images, metaphors, and analogies through which psychic moderation and self-control are broached. The issue of bodily needs is also an important one in Plato's social and political thought; take for example, the question of poverty which some interpreters argue Plato neglected, perhaps due to his own privileged upbringing. For Zoller, by contrast, poverty marks an important point of reference in Plato's understanding of the causes of war and much unhappiness in human affairs. Not only was Plato sensitive to the ills brought on by poverty, he was also attuned to the need for a moderate celebration of such healthy desires as food, drink and sex in the framework of a well-functioning community of rational beings.

In Chapter 5, Zoller makes some suggestions as to how the later dialogues, Timaeus, Philebus and the Laws could be read under the rubric of normative dualism. The book is concluded with a brief Epilogue where Zoller summarizes her main findings.

Written in a clear and accessible manner, Plato and the Body makes a convincing case for normative dualism as a consistent interpretive schema for the relation that obtains between body and soul in Plato. Zoller's interpretation has the merit of reconciling seemingly incongruous dialogues: on the one hand, the Phaedo, with its overarching themes of death and the separate soul, and on the other, the Phaedrus and the Symposium that celebrate erôs and earthly (as well as psychic) beauty. A close textual analysis that takes into account the original Greek complements the discussion of the arguments. I do have a worry about the comprehensiveness of Zoller's interpretive model: Zoller seems to me too keen to iron out the ambiguities present in the Platonic text concerning the body and what is associated with it – nature, pleasure, sense perception, and the physical realm. Take, for example, the issue of bodily pleasures in the Republic. An acceptable and even welcome element in certain political contexts (such as, for instance, in the first city as long as moderation and self-control predominate), the pursuit of pleasure that derives from the desiring part of the soul is viewed by Plato as a potentially disruptive political element that needs to be reined in by an external agency, i.e. the rational part of the soul, practically effectuated by the Guardians. The destabilizing nature of desire means that its psychic and political function is double-edged – a forever suspect and troublesome part of a conflictual structure that is itself always at risk of tipping over into civil discord. In metaphysical terms, a similar ambiguity has been expressed in the issue of chôrismos or ontological separation between the Forms and the physical beings that instantiate them. Zoller appears to think that these problems derive from an infelicitous choice of interpretation (austere dualism); it is possible, however, that the basic tenets of Platonic metaphysics involve aporiai that are not strictly resolvable within the system. Plato himself appears to have thought that the theory of Forms invites such aporiai, at least if we go by a certain interpretation of the Parmenides which sees the dialogue as a turning-point in Plato's metaphysical and epistemological thinking. Notwithstanding this, this book is an ambitious and worthwhile project to reshape the landscape of Plato studies regarding the body, and, as such, deserves to be read widely.

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Pamela Mensch, James Miller, Diogenes Laertius. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xx, 676. ISBN 9780190862176. $45.00.

Reviewed by Sean McConnell, University of Otago (

Version at BMCR home site


For many of us, access to Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Eminent Philosophers has been predominantly through the 1925 translation by R. D. Hicks in the Loeb Classical Library. Even for specialists, the Greek text is difficult, with problems in the manuscripts and many sequences that make little sense. Hicks largely used the 1850 text in the Didot series, while making amendments as he saw fit. Owing to the sterling work of Tiziano Dorandi, we now possess a superior Greek text of Diogenes Laertius' Lives (Cambridge, 2013). In the present volume, Dorandi's text is translated into English for the first time.

The English translation by Pamela Mensch is lively, fresh, engaging, and eminently readable. Given the number of vagaries, jokes, technicalities, and such that proliferate in the Greek, this is a most impressive achievement. The copious notes, helpfully placed beneath the translation on each page, are superb at giving required information on names, dates, places, technical terms, and so forth in a crisp and accurate manner. The translation will serve as an excellent resource for scholars referring to Diogenes Laertius for the very important material he preserves concerning the history of Greek philosophy, and its high literary merits make it enjoyable for those who want simply to be entertained reading Diogenes' quirky and idiosyncratic account of the lives of the Greek philosophers.

It must be said that, as a physical object, the hardcover is a very impressive book indeed. It is beautifully produced – glossy paper, high quality printing, with a treasure trove of stuff far beyond a translation of an ancient author. There are 556 full-colour images, gathered from antiquity to the present day. These include paintings, sculptures, coins, illuminated manuscripts, photography, all linked to what we are reading in Diogenes. There are particularly fascinating examples of artistic representations of Greek philosophers in the Indian, Arabic, and Japanese traditions. This all adds a wonderful extra visual dimension to the already kaleidoscopic text of Diogenes Laertius. It is, however, as a result an especially hefty tome – this is a book to be read on a solid surface.

In addition to the splendid English translation, the book contains sixteen papers that act as a sort of Companion to Diogenes Laertius, orientating the reader with some of the most important scholarly issues pertaining to the Lives. They cover the influence of Diogenes Laertius on the arts and philology during the Renaissance, his style and literary art, political and ethical elements in the Lives, the manuscript tradition, his treatment of the history of philosophy, and his influence on Nietzsche and German classical scholarship in the nineteenth century.

In 'Diogenes Laertius: From Inspiration to Annoyance (and Back)', Anthony Grafton examines the history of the critical reception of Diogenes Laertius, and in particular the development of philological methodology in response to the challenges posed by his text. In 'Raphael's Eminent Philosophers: The School of Athens and the Classic Work Almost No One Read', Ingrid D. Rowland considers Diogenes' influence in high artistic circles.

In 'Diogenes' Epigrams', Kathryn Gutzwiller offers a literary evaluation of Diogenes' striking quotation of his own epigrams throughout the Lives, and succeeds in showing them to be much more sophisticated than they appear at first. In another literary essay, 'Corporeal Humor in Diogenes Laertius', James Romm explores Diogenes' use of irony and humour. In particular, he highlights how Diogenes often returns to the theme of the fragility of the human body to poke fun at the philosophers, especially when addressing their deaths and erotic lives (often somewhat at odds with their lofty thought).

In 'Philosophers and Politics in Diogenes Laertius', Malcolm Schofield explores what Diogenes has to say on political activities of philosophers, and, in 'Diogenes Laertius and Philosophical Lives in Antiquity', Giuseppe Cambiano discusses Diogenes' interest in the fit, or lack thereof, between philosophers' lives and the ethical doctrines they profess.

Tiziano Dorandi offers three papers: the first, '"A la Recherche du Texte Perdu": The Manuscript Tradition of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Eminent Philosophers', outlines the messy and complicated history of textual transmission, which has bequeathed us an unreliable and corrupt text; the second, 'Diogenes Laertius in Byzantium', examines the earliest references to Diogenes Laertius; the third, 'Diogenes Laertius in Latin', focuses on his growing popularity and his exposure to a wider audience in the fifteenth century when the first Latin translation appeared.

Six papers address Diogenes' treatment of specific figures and philosophical movements, and in particular his working methods, his ordering principles, and his handling of the doxographic tradition: André Laks, 'Diogenes Laertius and the Pre-Socratics'; John Dillon, 'Plato's Doctrines in Diogenes Laertius'; R. Bracht Branham, 'Cynicism: Ancient and Modern'; A. A. Long, 'Zeno of Citium: Cynic Founder of the Stoic Tradition'; and James Allen, 'Skeptics in Diogenes Laertius' and 'Epicurus in Diogenes Laertius'. These papers all give a good indication of the value of Diogenes Laertius for our modern understanding of the history of ancient Greek philosophy and the doctrines of the various movements, and they also provide helpful examples for readers as to how best to handle critically the problematic evidence contained in Diogenes' Lives.

In 'Diogenes Laertius and Nietzsche', Glenn W. Most recalls heated debates surrounding the Lives in the nineteenth century, a particularly febrile period in German classical scholarship. There emerges a compelling account of the importance of Diogenes in the development of the influential method of Quellenforschung. Finally, Jay R. Elliott has produced an extremely comprehensive guide to further reading, and there is a helpful glossary and index.

This book offers a wealth of material on Diogenes Laertius: a translation, notes, a companion, a bibliography, all in one volume. It is a truly first-class resource, and everyone involved, including Oxford University Press, should be heartily congratulated for a brilliant achievement. That a book of this kind can be made affordable should be a salutary lesson for other academic publishers. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Paula Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. Pp. viii, 261. ISBN 9780300190519. $27.50.

Reviewed by Andrew S. Jacobs, Scripps College (

Version at BMCR home site

Paula Fredriksen's new book spins a lucid and straightforward narrative of "the first generation" of an eschatological Jewish movement that would become, despite itself, Christianity. Fredriksen centers her narrative on the city of Jerusalem, the site of the Temple of the God of Israel, where Jesus's mission culminated, his life ended, and the movement in his name developed numerically and theologically after his death. Transformed in and by the city of David, Jesus's followers went forth to gather in all the people of Israel; encountering god-fearing pagans in the Jewish synagogues, they began to expand their target zone while waiting for the imminent return of Jesus and the end of the world. Paul, at first alarmed by the sociologically disruptive separation of pagans from their gods, attempted to discipline (or "persecute") these Jewish Jesus-followers; then, altered by his own experience of Jesus, he became the most influential theorist of this Jewish eschatological movement.

Readers familiar with Fredriksen's oeuvre will be surprised at neither the content of her argument nor at the vivacity with which she makes it. As Fredriksen notes, this volume follows on the heels of her close study of Paul and his reception (BMCR 2018.06.29) and the discussion of Paul that comprises the final chapter draws substantively from that work. More generally, When Christians Were Jews continues Fredriksen's decades-long attempt to recenter "Christian origins" squarely in their Jewish setting. Jesus and his immediate followers, along with Paul and the first generation of apostles, were (as the title proclaims) Jews tout court, having never left their ancestral, ethnic religion in any way, shape, or form. Only in the second century did gentile Jesus-followers begin to understand themselves as non-Jewish and then, through misreadings of the teachings of Jesus and letters of Paul, anti-Jewish.

The project of Jewish recentering in When Christians Were Jews zeroes in, as I noted, on the centrality of Jerusalem in the life and teachings of Jesus: "A positive orientation toward the temple and its cult seems to have been a virtually universal index of Jewish piety in the period before the first revolt against Rome," Fredriksen notes (43) and in the first two chapters she explains how this "positive orientation" characterizes Jesus and his first generation of followers, including Paul. Jerusalem, and the Temple on Zion, is the epicenter of the eschatological kingdom whose imminent arrival Jesus preached. Fredriksen distinguishes Jesus and his pacifist followers from the waves of "insurrectionists" (her preferred translation of lēstēs, more typically rendered "robber" in modern New Testaments), and argues that his arrest and execution were designed to pacify an overheated crowd rather than eliminate a political upstart and his dangerous pack of armed sidekicks. How else, Fredriksen asks, can we explain the fact that Jesus's disciples not only remain unbothered by the Roman troops, but are even free to settle in Jerusalem and continue their eschatological preaching there after Jesus's execution?

That Jesus's death did not usher in the kingdom led his followers to begin readjusting their apocalyptic expectations, primarily through recourse to the Jewish Scriptures. Here their Jerusalem milieu continued to bear fruit. They began to understand Jesus as a messianic descendant of David who would return soon with angelic armies to bring about the end of the world. As Jesus became increasingly "Davidized" in the decades after his death, so too his followers became energized to prepare the ground for the restoration of the full kingdom of Israel; they began mission trips into every place where "Israel" dwelled, not just in the borders of the biblical land but in major cities such as Caesarea, Antioch, and Damascus.

Preaching Jesus's eschatological kingdom in urban synagogues, Fredriksen further reasons, they would have encountered not only fellow Jews but also pagan semiadherents, "godfearers," whom they would view through the lens of Isaiah's prophecies about the ingathering of gentiles at the end of the world. The turn of these non-Jewish pagans to belief in the messiah Jesus would serve to affirm that, in fact, the end times were coming and the eschatological kingdom could not be far off: "Thus began, unintended, the mission to the gentiles" (140). As she has argued elsewhere, Fredriksen posits that while these pagan adherents were not brought into the covenant of Israel they were admonished to cease worshipping the gods of their ancestors. The creation of "ex-pagan pagans" could, in turn, have generated a theopolitical crisis among other urban pagans, who insisted on maintaining peace with their gods, as well as among conscientious Jews—like Paul before his vision of Jesus—who resisted turning synagogues into sites of social disruption.

Fredriksen does not imagine the Jerusalem community of Jesus-followers maintaining centralized control over the movement, as suggested by the much later Acts of the Apostles, but does see Jerusalem as the "nerve center" (157) of these earliest assemblies awaiting the return of Jesus's eschatological kingdom. Two particular traumas exacerbated the stark division between Jerusalem and Rome inaugurated by Jesus's execution: the emperor Caligula's threat in 39/40 C.E. to place an imperial cult statue in the Jewish temple, averted only by his untimely death; and the growing winds of war in the 60s, fanned by a series of messianic insurrectionists and culminating in military conflict and the temple's destruction. Both of these traumas Fredriksen finds preserved in the "scriptural improvisation" (185) of the canonical gospels as they seek continually to recalibrate their apocalyptic timeline. The destruction of the Jewish temple and de facto destruction of the city of David in 70 C.E. stands as a watershed for Fredriksen: "What did happen to this earliest original community of Christ-followers? Did they perish in the flames of Jerusalem? Perhaps some did" (190). With Jerusalem gone, the Jewish theological center could no longer hold; by the time the author of Acts rewrites this earliest generation, the kingdom has been de-eschatologized and Jerusalem has become a point of departure for the greener, more gentile pastures of Rome.

Fredriksen's style is enviably readable. Her penchant for framing her prose around series of questions draws the reader along, allowing us to see her build her narrative from the ground up. Thus, to take one example, Fredriksen walks us through her reconstruction of the execution of Jesus: "Why arrest Jesus, and Jesus alone?" "How did the high priest and the prefect know that Jesus was not really dangerous?" "So how did Jesus—and Jesus alone-—end up on a cross?" "What, then, made this Passover different?" and so on (65–67). Her distinctive voice ("bel canto Christological arias" [103]; "flames of Jerusalem in the year 70 backlight the passion narratives" [127]; "Herod—the king everybody loves to hate" [201 n.6]) remains crisp and inviting.

Much of When Christians Were Jews seeks to undo the historical revision of Acts, relying primarily on Paul's authentic letters, the historical context of Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and careful "sifting" (66) of the gospels as sources of Jesus's life and teaching. (Fredriksen also takes time to correct what she views as theologically tendentious mistranslations of New Testament texts: 46–47, 63, 118–19, 134, 144–47, 209 n.7). Fredriksen's general approach throughout—bolstered, of course, by the most up-to-date scholarship cited in the carefully curated endnotes—seems to be a kind of historiographic common sense: she posits that such-and-such a reading is the most "plausible" among several options (117, 126, 144, 214 n. 15) or asks which reading makes "most sense" (47, 64, 164). Mark's depiction of multiple meetings of the priestly Sanhedrin "quite simply beggars belief" (61); John's depiction of Jesus's itinerary, involving multiple trips to Jerusalem, "seems the more plausible" (16). Yet as Fredriksen admits throughout, history can be a bit of a wobbly target for the historian of the Jesus movement, no matter how persuasively she has reconstructed the social and religious worlds of the first-century Mediterranean (as, indeed, she has time and again). Although Fredriksen hopes to "construct a more historically sturdy impression" from surviving texts (125), she must also frankly admit on occasion: "I do not know" (161; see also 157: "We have no idea").

By the end of her compelling reconstruction of this Jewish movement in its Jewish milieux, it is clear that history-writing for Fredriksen is more than mere reconstruction. Historical narratives like hers are deeply ethical endeavors. "With historical work," she writes on the last page, "categories determine how you see, which in turn determines what you have to work with. How you see is what you get" (191, emphasis original). To understand earliest Jesus-followers as Christians is not only historically but ethically inappropriate: "If we use 'Christian' of this first generation, we pull them out of their own context, domesticating them for ours" (191). Fredriksen leaves unidentified the "we" of this sentence, so readers are free to fill in the blank: historians, students of the Bible, Jews, Christians, on and on.

By introducing the ethical stakes of her argument, Fredriksen is by no means attempting to inoculate it against disagreement. Some scholars, to take one example, will no doubt continue to insist that machaira in the gospels means "sword" and not "knife," and that we should therefore understand Jesus's followers as armed insurrectionists (63–64). Others might make more hay out of Paul's vituperations against the Law as indicative of a theological turn, rather than isolating them as imprecations toward gentiles (186). Even as I write, I have no doubt dozens of quite different historical reconstructions of the first generation of Jesus-followers are rolling off of the presses. What Fredriksen does do with her coda, however, is keep the modern stakes of our historical reconstructions squarely in our sights. To what ends are we imagining our histories? Where will the Jesus of our historiographies lead?

This lesson appeals across the spectrum, from general educated reader to hardened veteran of the mines of New Testament studies. Fredriksen—as is her wont—has produced a thoroughly researched, deeply learned engagement with ancient sources that can be read by a total novice or a colleague. She provides a timeline of biblical history from King David to Bar Kokhba, but also an up-to-date bibliography of secondary sources in three languages. Depending on your particular situation, this book could make a suitable gift for your father or your Doktorvater.

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Riccardo Chiaradonna, Filippo Forcignanò, Franco Trabattoni (ed.), Ancient Ontologies: Contemporary Debates. Discipline filosofiche, XXVIII:I. Macerata: Quodlibet, 2018. Pp. 256. ISBN 9788822902214. €20,00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Anzalone, University of Italian Switzerland, Lugano (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The volume is committed, as the title suggests, to relating the insights of ancient philosophy to contemporary debates in ontology and metaphysics. The focus is mainly on the Neo-Aristotelian tradition that nowadays has a prominent position in academia, but it also features two essays on the Platonic tradition. What immediately meets the eye of the reader is the editors' approach to the history of philosophy. The subject, Chiaradonna, Forcignano and Trabattoni say, is not for the "museum". Whatever exegetical or philological contribution the history of philosophy might make, it should create new paths for contemporary debate. A lot of the issues of this age have already been discussed in the past, in other contexts and in different ways: the philosopher who knows this can "think outside the box". However, this important goal should not compromise the historical task of providing an accurate understanding of our texts – something these essays show very clearly.

The volume contains ten essays, which can be divided into two broad sections: the first concerns the Platonic tradition, the second, the Aristotelian tradition.

The first essay, by Fronterotta, makes an interesting parallel between the eikos logos concerning the sensible world presented in Timaeus' cosmological account, and sequentialism and fuzzy logic. The description of ordinary objects that we find in the Timaeus has echoes of sequentialism in that it depicts these objects as having no stable identity through time, except as a matter of convention, based on our perception of regularities. To this corresponds a fuzzy logic characterized by truth values which are indeterminate due to the nature of empirical reality. Here the problem arises: Does God play dice? What "logic" is there for creation? What reason is there behind the ordering of the world? Fronterotta's radical conclusion is that the causal action of the forms depends essentially on their nature as objects of intellect, which enable us to ask these teleological questions. Overall a good contribution.

An essay by Chiaradonna and Maraffa outlines the conception on the self in contemporary, empirically informed philosophical considerations, tracing back a lot of insights to Plato and Plotinus. It is nowadays generally agreed that the self is not something unitary, given a priori, but more of a normative ideal which has to be (re)constructed. This is understood today in a naturalistic framework that builds a narrative self out of a bodily form of self-consciousness; Plato sought something similar in his description of the tripartition of the soul. The authors also provide an argument for realism about the self. They argue that the process of the creation of the self does not establish it as an epiphenomenon, but as "a layer of personality that serves as a causal center of gravity in the history of the system" (pp. 58-9). It seems that what they mean is that the integrative synthesis of data has a causal role with respect to the other layers of personality: it is the foundation of psychological well-being and mental health. However, this seems to conflict with their idea of the self as a normative ideal. There is a need, they say, for us to exist solidly as unitary subjects; yet the self serves only as the aim of an individual's striving to reconstruct his identity. The two accounts, I think, stand in an either-or relationship. In other words, and using Plato's insights, the harmony of the soul presupposes that the rational part of a soul is a pre-existent entity. Here the distinction between the effect and the cause is not very clear. It seems that the process of making a self, which is the striving to make the self, is itself the cause of harmony, the effect, which cannot be in itself an entity with a causal role. The authors ought, perhaps, to spell out what it means to be realist about the self. Overall, however, a very interesting contribution.

Moving to the Neo-Aristotelian section we start with Galluzzo's contribution. The paper deals with Koslicki's Neo-Aristotelian Mereology (NAM),1 and questions its two main assumptions from an Aristotelian perspective: (i) that Aristotle's form is a proper part of the composite substance; (ii) that there is a univocal notion of part, and a univocal notion of composition, which apply both to matter and form. There is a sense in which form and matter are parts but, Galluzzo argues, it is not the same sense that applies to both, as is implied in NAM. Galluzzo discusses Koslicki's evidence, which is drawn from Metaph. V.25 and VII.10-11, where Aristotle applies mereological tools to discuss hylomorphic wholes.

Metaph. V is not Aristotle's 'dictionary' – as it is usually understood to be –, according to Galluzzo, but is more like a survey of the different meanings a term can assume in philosophical discussions. With respect to Metaph. VII, he argues as follows. The whole of VII.10 does not confirm Koslicki's assumptions: the contrast between matter and form is primarily to be read as a contrast between two different and irreconcilable ways of looking at the substance. It can be looked at considering its material parts, or considering its essential aspects, its formal parts. Therefore, formal parts and material parts are incommensurable, in contrast to the claims of NAM. Galluzzo then offers two arguments against the mereological reading: the first concerns Aristotle's example in Metaph. VII.17: the unifying principle of the syllable "ba" is not another letter; similarly, the unifying principle of a substance is not another element, but rather a principle unifying the elements. The second is based on the ambiguity of "matter": when using the expressions "the matter of x" – where x is a material substance –, we must distinguish between the totality of a substance's material parts, and matter as a metaphysical principle, which is in contrast to the form. If one buys the distinction, it is plausible to expect that, when talking about matter and form in the metaphysical sense, part-whole language is appropriate; when one talks about the material parts, however, the part-whole language cannot be applied to the form.

This is an important contribution to debates in Neo-Aristotelian metaphysics. It provides fresh arguments against NAM, especially those from Metaph. V and VII.10-11, philosophically and exegetically speaking. However, one could ask if the distinction between the two senses of "the matter of x" is tenable. What is "matter" as a metaphysical principle if not the material parts structured by a form? In fact, Galluzzo considers matter as the root of potentiality. However, if we think of the potentiality of a substance, we think of the capacities the substance has in virtue of his structured matter. If we think of matter as a metaphysical principle, we are thinking of the substratum that underlies substantial change – but then we are leaving the individual substance and considering fundamental metaphysical principles. This text urges to work on these categories in more depth.

Sirkel's piece argues that essence has a non-explanatory role. Her argument is that taking essence as explanatory would violate an important standard of explanation: that according to which the explanans is different from the explanandum. Indeed, if essence "makes something what it is", there is a problem because the answer to the "What is it?" question is precisely the essence – this is circular. This problem, however, does not occur in Aristotle since in his work essence does not explain "what something is", but rather the propria of the thing explained.

Papandreou's essay offers a detailed outline of contemporary metaphysics of artifacts and shows the relevance of an Aristotelian account in light of current debates. The author sketches a fairly comprehensive picture of the issues concerning artefacts and provides an Aristotelian solution to each of them. Primarily, she focuses on ready-made objects and malfunctioning objects. The main target here is the "Amorphic Hylomorphist" account, which identifies the form of artifacts with the intention of the maker – an account which makes it too easy to create a new artifact, and cannot account for the difference between a functioning and a malfunctioning of an artefact since both are identical in the intention of the maker. A functional hylomorphic account provides interesting solutions to these problems.

De Anna's essay also challenges Amorphic Hylomorphism by considering its consequences for modality. With respect to non-organic natural objects, Evnine's Amorphic Hylomorphism (AH) results in an extensionally incorrect modal account in that it entails fictionalism, and therefore cannot account for intuitive modal truths about non-organic natural objects.2 Adopting realism about forms for these objects results in an extensional modal account which grounds modal statements in the forms. However, this does not entail a complete rejection of AH, since it is compatible with substance gradualism, the idea that thing have different degrees of unity, which the author defends.

Bonelli's essay on grounding and the Aristotelian tradition, has an interesting thesis about the link between the two research programs: the received view of an Aristotle congenial to grounding is indebted in particular to Alexander of Aphrodisias. According to Bonelli, it is Alexander who emphasized an existential reading of the expression "science of being qua being", taking it to mean the science of everything that exists and giving ontological priority to substance. Bonelli's contribution gives important historical background to one of the most important contemporary metaphysical debates.

Postiglione's essay works on Aristotle's contribution to the contemporary debate about the distribution of consciousness along the phylogenetic tree. The central focus is Aristotle's theory of the soul. Postiglione proposes a non-dualist interpretation of the 'boatman' analogy at De Anima 2.1, 413a 8-9: the soul is not a boatman, rather it is the ability to act as a boatman, which emerges from the body. This provides an argument for the distribution of consciousness in other species with complex neural systems: different bodies of various species can have the same functional organization, because consciousness is not located in a specific part of the body – such as the thalamo-cortical system – rather it emerges from the body, which is organized in a certain way.

Zucca's essay focuses especially on Aristotle's teleological doctrines. Some of them are close to those of the contemporary philosophers of biology who have revived teleology even within an evolutionary framework. Zucca argues that Aristotle's final cause can be framed in functional terms within emergentist approaches that take account of natural selection. "Teleo-functions are narrow causal roles of organism's physical constituents, subsets of their broad causal roles (mechano-functions), which nonetheless pass a test of counterfactual efficacy: had they not been there, their physical base would have not been shaped as it is" (p. 229).

Pietropaoli's essay is on the Heideggerian interpretation of Metaph. IX.10 in his 1930 course The essence of human freedom. An introduction to philosophy. The focus is the interpretation of ousia as constant presence and its link with "being true" as the authentic being that is revealed out of its hiddenness (aletheia, from a-lanthanō ). The issue of truth is, I believe, central for seeing continuity between the Heidegger of Sein und Zeit and subsequently. It would therefore be interesting to consider truth in parallel to ontological difference – another central theme in his work –, which when grasped, through the Ereignis, represents the happening of truth.

Authors and titles

Francesco Fronterotta, "Do the Gods Play Dice?". Sensible Sequentialism and Fuzzy Logic in Plato's Timaeus"
Riccardo Chiaradonna, Massimo Maraffa, "Ontology and the Self: Ancient and Contemporary Perspectives"
Gabriele Galluzzo, "Are Matter and Form Parts? Aristotle's and Neo-Aristotelian Hylomorphism"
Riin Sirkel, "Essence and Cause: Making Something Be What It Is"
Mariloù Papandreou, "Aristotle Hylomorphism and The Contemporary Metaphysics of Artefacts"
Gabriele De Anna, "Substance, Form, and Modality" Maddalena Bonelli, "Dipendenza e indipendenza ontological: la modernità della posizione peripatetica
Enrico Postiglione, "Aristotle on the Distribution of Consciousness"
Diego Zucca, "Neo-Aristotelian Biofunctionalism
Matteo Pietropaoli, "L'οὐσία come presenza costante e l'esser vero come autentico essere. Heidegger interprete di Aristotele, Metafisica Θ 10.


1.   See K. Koslicki, The Structure of Objects (Oxford University Press, 2008).
2.   See S. J. Evnine, Making Objects and Events. A Hylomorphic Theory of Artifacts, Actions, and Organisms (Oxford University Press, 2016).

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Eran Almagor, Plutarch and the 'Persica'. Edinburgh studies in ancient Persia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018. Pp. 352. ISBN 9780748645558. £85.00.

Reviewed by Takuji Abe, Kyoto Prefectural University (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

Plutarch's Life of Artaxerxes is exceptional among his Parallel Lives in at least two ways; it is one of the four unparalleled lives along with those of Aratus, Otho and Galba, and it represents the sole biography devoted to a barbarian protagonist. In spite of, or perhaps because of this uniqueness, the Artaxerxes did not capture much scholarly attention until recently, when Eran Almagor chose to dedicate all of his efforts to a close reading of this life story of Artaxerxes II. This resulted in the publication of Plutarch and the 'Persica', a work consisting of seven chapters including Introduction and Conclusion, and the subject of this book review. At the start of the Introduction, the author declares his intention to construct a bridge between the more historical Achaemenid/Persian studies and the literary studies of Plutarch, the biographer and essayist. It is to this end that he employs two simultaneous approaches, each used to shed light on the other: (1) to define the content and character of the three Persica now lost to us — those of Ctesias, Deinon and Heracleides —, which Plutarch used in the Artaxerxes, and (2) to clarify the literary methods applied by the biographer in composing his work. Within this framework, the subsequent five chapters are devoted to the three writers of Persica.

Two chapters are devoted to Ctesias: Chapter 2 'Ctesias (a)', and Chapter 3 'Ctesias (b)'. 'Ctesias (a)' examines those passages in which the name of Ctesias is explicitly stated as a source by Plutarch, while the subject of 'Ctesias (b)' is those passages quoted by Plutarch in an anonymous fashion, but which can be attributed to Ctesias with a high degree of probability. (This same systematic division is applied also in the chapters on Deinon.) At the end of the chapters on Ctesias Almagor reaches some important and novel conclusions. Notable among them is his observation that while Plutarch read the final six volumes of Ctesias' Persica with care, although he seems to have explored the preceding ones very little, he was nevertheless still able to refer back to earlier scenes with efficiency, thanks to Ctesias' style of internal reference.

In Chapter 3 (pp. 77-80, 84-85), Almagor also provides some new insights into the time of publication of Ctesias' work. For establishing its terminus ante quem, the two instances of Ctesias' name being mentioned in Xenophon's Anabasis (1.8.26 and 27) have thus far been regarded as the decisive key. However, by rehabilitating a long-neglected proposition of Félix Dürrbach, Almagor offers a persuasive argument that the two allusions to the physician and historian in the Anabasis are indeed inauthentic and were inserted by a later hand. (This does not cast any doubt on Xenophon's status as one of the earliest readers of Ctesias: he simply read his Persica and acquired from it details unfamiliar to him, but was reluctant to mention the name of his precursor.) The terminus post quem is represented by the latest event referred to in Ctesias' Persica itself, which was a description of a grove of palm trees casting their shadow on the grave of Clearchus some time after his death. A discrepancy is noted, however, between the accounts of the two authors who referred to this spectacle. While in Photius' narrative eight years had passed since Clearchus' death, Plutarch describes it as occurring only 'shortly afterwards'. Almagor resolves this controversy in a most ingenious way, by rejecting Plutarch's claim based on the fact that palm trees can only bear fruit (dates) at least four to eight years after their planting.1

The two chapters that follow are about Deinon: Chapter 4 'Deinon (a)', and Chapter 5 'Deinon (b)'. For the character of Deinon's Persica, Almagor offers a new perspective countering R. Stevenson's assumption that the work had a chronological structure,2 and suggesting instead that it was arranged thematically. His view is that Plutarch was not fully acquainted with Deinon's reports, but knew them only from summaries or notes, perhaps composed for him by his assistants. This led to Plutarch's misunderstanding the chronology of events as recorded by Deinon, and resulted in his needlessly placing the assassination of Stateira much too early in time. Almagor also suggests that at some point Deinon's Persica was circulated together with the book on Alexander written by his son, Cleitarchus. I still wonder, however, how it was possible for a thematically organised treatise to be connected seamlessly to a history of the generation that followed. This concern is not lessened by Almagor's own description of the relation between the two works as 'linking the end point of one with the start point of the next' (p. 150). Chapter 5 ('Deinon (b)'), on the other hand, struggles with the question of Plutarch's source for Artax. 23-30, for which he does not explicitly state a main informant. Almagor tentatively points to a 'common source' that may have been used by Plutarch as well as other classical writers, and reaches the conclusion that it would most probably have been Deinon's Persica.

The last chapter is dedicated to Heracleides, the most minor of the three Persica writers. In fact, he is only named once in the Artaxerxes (23.6). For Almagor, Heracleides' work was not a history in the strictest sense, but rather a compendium of accounts from Persia that he gathered from the works of other Greek authors, most notably Herodotus, Xenophon (the Cyropaedia) and perhaps Ctesias, and their derivatives. Furthermore, this writer was no more than a name for Plutarch, and therefore was not seriously scrutinised by him. Even this single reference to the author was likely the result of a mistake; the Persian king who married his daughter Amestris was not Artaxerxes at all, but Xerxes. This chapter is followed by a Conclusion, reviewing the discussions so far.

Two appendices following the Conclusion complete the book. Appendix I, 'Two Notes on the Cypriot War' discusses the question of Tiribazus' presence at the scene of the naval Battle of Citium, on which Almagor casts doubt. Appendix II, 'Plutarch, the Persica and the Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata' deals with the controversial authorship of the collection of sayings of kings and emperors (Moralia 172b-194e); for Almagor, this collection was at the very least not intended by Plutarch to be circulated as it exists today.

This latest work of Almagor will serve as an indispensable basis for future discussion of the Life of Artaxerxes, alongside the historical commentary offered by C. Binder.3 The author is essentially successful in completing the two tasks he set out for himself at the inception. He manages to reveal several unknown features of the three lost Persica, as well as Plutarch's methods of dealing with them (only some of which I could address here). On the other hand, it is not certain to what extent we can apply these conclusions to Plutarch's other biographies. In his study, Almagor does not often refer to other Lives, with the exception of those of Themistocles and Alexander, and furthermore, he does not attempt a comparison with any of the Roman Lives. This might seem unnecessary at first glance, given the fact that Artaxerxes was not a contemporary of Plutarch's Roman subjects, but in his Introduction Almagor does stress that Plutarch's interest in Persia derived from his status as 'a child of the Imperial period' (p. 16). For the author, the Life of Artaxerxes may have been inspired by the preparations for Trajan's Parthian campaign (p. 25) and furthermore, Rome had a chance of becoming the heir to Persia, 'a portrayal which ultimately made all references to the Achaemenid Persians operate in a subtle way as implicit allusions to Rome' (p. 18). If this is indeed the case (and I agree with these suppositions), what effect did Plutarch's position as a Greek intellectual of the Roman Imperial period have on his view of Achaemenid Persia? Were there any differences between, e.g., the perspective of classical Athenians living in and idealising democracy and the views of those who had experienced Roman Imperial rule (a type of monarchy)? I would very much like to see these questions answered, although that may well be sufficient scope for another monograph.


1.   I note a minor error of translation in Chapter 2 (p. 59). In Photius' epitome of Ctesias' work, the volume number ten is parenthesised, although it is "nine" that should have been placed in parentheses. (In the Greek text the reference is correct.)
2.   Rosemary B. Stevenson (1997), Persica: Greek Writing about Persia in the Fourth Century BC, Edinburgh, 14.
3.   Carsten Binder (2008), Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes: Ein historischer Kommentar, Berlin.

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Gary Forsythe, Primary Sources for Ancient History. Volume I: The Ancient Near East and Greece. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2018. Pp. x, 407. ISBN 9781480954250. $25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Eliza Gettel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (

Version at BMCR home site


This new sourcebook brings together English translations of texts pertaining to the Near Eastern and Greek worlds from circa 2500 BCE until the death of Alexander the Great. The book under review here is Volume 1 of 2. The second volume, which Forsythe also compiled, is a similarly structured sourcebook for Roman history (BMCR 2018.12.24). Volume 1 includes five groupings of texts arranged firstly by society and secondly by the chronological period discussed (see abbreviated table of contents below), plus a list of suggested secondary readings.

This review is based on my experience teaching an introductory ancient Greek history course with the sourcebook in fall 2018. I chose to assign this sourcebook for three predominant reasons: (1) it includes relatively lengthy excerpts of texts versus other available sourcebooks; (2) it includes short, one-paragraph introductions to the texts, which indicate the source and its basic context; and (3) the paperback book is very portable and affordable for students to buy (cost: $25 in November 2018). Moreover, as someone who specializes in the Greek and Roman worlds, I found the first three sections of the sourcebook to be particularly helpful for integrating learning about neighboring societies into the course without having to devote class periods to surveying contemporary civilizations. Parts 1 to 3 of the sourcebook, which include readings pertaining to Babylonian, Hittite, Egyptian, and Persian societies among others, helped to broaden the students' perspective and to question narratives of ancient Greek exceptionalism within a course otherwise predominantly focused on ancient Greek history.

Parts 4 and 5 include Greek texts frequently read in introductory ancient Greek history courses, such as excerpts of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch's biographies. Overall, the sourcebook focuses on these sorts of narrative prose texts, although it also includes translations of Homeric epics, lyric poetry, and important inscriptions (e.g., Foundation Decree of Cyrene; Athenian Coinage/Standards Decree). It excerpts relatively lengthy and representative portions of these texts: Reading 31 includes 22 pages of Herodotus and Reading 35 includes 45 pages of Thucydides. In focusing on larger selections of famous texts, the book approaches more closely the model of a course pack or reader, versus a sourcebook that brings together several shorter texts from different types of sources pertaining to a particular aspect or period of ancient society [e.g., Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander, BMCR 2012.10.07; Readings in Greek History, BMCR 2008.02.13 (now in 2nd ed.); Ancient Greece: Social and Historical Documents from Archaic Times to the Death of Alexander the Great, BMCR 2001.03.18 (under previous title, now in 3rd ed.)]. Although the range of sources included is not as varied, each work is presented as a continuous passage and not broken up under different subheadings. Therefore, students can cultivate an understanding of particular texts and authors, instead of losing track of which author they are reading because they are jumping between sources. In the end, we read 27 of the 39 readings, including all in Parts 4 and 5—a reflection of the helpful selection of texts.

This sourcebook is explicitly intended to accompany a narrative textbook rather than supplant one (p. ix). In our course, we read the sourcebook alongside OUP's A Brief History of Ancient Greece (3rd ed., 2014; review of 1st ed.: BMCR 2005.02.06). Students reported that the readings in the sourcebook complemented well this popular textbook series. They found the introductions to the texts, which tend to be about a paragraph long, helpful for situating the readings in relation to what they were reading in the textbook. Since we were using this sourcebook alongside a narrative textbook, as intended, I appreciated that these introductions were kept short and confined themselves to the basics of the texts' chronological and historical context. Instructors may or may not appreciate that the introductions are relatively conservative in their presentation of the texts. For instance, the introduction to selections of the Old Oligarch/pseudo-Xenophon's Constitution of the Athenians (Reading 34) avoids giving a date for the text, and it takes the text's anti-democratic arguments at face-value versus engaging with debates about the text's viewpoint. Yet, these basic introductions left the students more room for interpretation and debate in classroom discussions. Overall, students reported that the sourcebook readings enabled them to assess more knowledgeably the foundations of the textbook's perspective. In this regard, I found that the sourcebook successfully achieved its intended pedagogical objective within the context of our course.

We did end up supplementing the sourcebook with additional primary texts. On the whole, the selection of texts, at least Greek texts, is stronger with regard to political and military history than to social and cultural history. It does not include many readings pertaining to cultural phenomena and to groups formally excluded from state politics. Therefore, supplementation was necessary for discussions about Greek tragedy, philosophy, and science, as well as lectures pertaining to women in Greek societies. The more limited selection of the reader had its benefits, however. Students reported that they appreciated being able to carry one physical book with them, and I was able to require them to bring the book to class due to its portable size (1.2 pounds; cf. Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander, BMCR 2012.10.07 at 3.2 pounds). We could therefore engage in discussions and active-learning activities with the relevant primary sources in front of us. Overall, I preferred supplementing the book for these particular meetings to having a sourcebook that attempted to be comprehensive but then would be more cumbersome to bring to class.

The one area for which I would have appreciated one or two additional texts was for the period after 323 BCE. The last text included in Volume 1 relates to the death of Alexander the Great. Therefore, depending on how an instructor or institution chooses to bound its introductory ancient history courses, the division that Forsythe chose between Volumes 1 and 2 may or may not map onto course content. A small selection of Polybius or the like would have been especially helpful for those instructors who progress into the Hellenistic period and who touch on the arrival of Rome in the eastern Mediterranean within a one-semester course. Otherwise, one needs to obtain the second volume to cover such topics as Pyrrhus' campaigns and the aftermath of Pydna.

Regarding the translations, I can offer reflections on the Greek ones, although not the Near Eastern ones. The English translations of ancient Greek texts are largely widely available, out-of-copyright translations that Forsythe has collated and periodically emended. Therefore, most translations are not the most contemporary in style, although they are usually well-known and relatively digestible translations of the late 19th century. In a few cases, Forsythe obtained permission from the publisher to reprint more recent translations (e.g., for the decree concerning Erythrae in Reading 33A), or he has included fairly literal personal translations (e.g., Reading 38A and D, Diodorus Siculus on Philip II). Regarding choice of translations, I personally would have preferred poetic translations of selections of Homeric epics (versus Butler's prose translations) and of lyric poetry in order to help students distinguish between the different types of sources included in the volume. However, I understand that copyright issues may have played a part in this choice. Significantly, the use of out-of-copyright translations has helped to keep the cost of the sourcebook down (p. x) and made it available at approximately a half to a third of the price of other available sourcebooks.

Given the publisher, it seems that Forsythe has essentially self-published this series, which is available in both print and e-book format. For the most part, one does not notice a marked difference in quality from books published with more established academic presses. The e-book is straightforward to use, at least on Google Books, although it could benefit from the Table of Contents being hyperlinked. In both the print and e-book versions, sometimes the formatting is inconsistent or does not reflect the type of source included. Occasionally, the division between the introductory paragraph and primary text is unclear. Particularly, the transition is less clear when inscriptions are presented (e.g., Reading 33). Moreover, depending on the source, the numbering of sections is not always readily understandable to students picking up ancient texts for the first time nor sufficient for citing the exact section of a source properly. In general, titles of works are not italicized, which led to confusion in student essays. However, providing a citation guide helped to clarify how students should properly cite these primary texts in their essays, and such easy fixes did not detract from the book's overall utility. On the whole, the students found the format clear and easy to use, likely due to the attention of Forsythe throughout the publishing process.

Instructors thinking about assigning this volume as a coursebook may also be curious about the publisher and where the sale proceeds that students generate will go for these volumes. Dorrance describes itself as a "publishing services company" (now apparently the oldest in the US), which usually entails a fee to publish.1 It is unclear what percentage of the royalties goes to Forsythe versus Dorrance: perhaps 20 to 80% go to Forsythe depending on the method of purchase. The following review of Dorrance was the best (although outdated) information that I could find on its royalties' policy, which the company otherwise does not post on its website.2 Notably, Forsythe has retained the copyright, which may allow for flexibility and increased retention of royalties in the future. The biggest logistical issue is that the physical books seem to be printed on demand, so students who ordered on Amazon experienced delays in receiving their books at the beginning of the semester. Instructors may need to take this delay into account when assigning the book.

Overall, on the basis of experience using this sourcebook—perhaps more appropriately, this reader—my students and I found that it offers an approachable, affordable, and pedagogically effective option for learning about ancient Greek history. Instructors will be very grateful to Forsythe for making available his painstakingly collected teaching materials and for sharing his experience teaching ancient history with a wider audience.


1.   See Dorrance's website, particularly its FAQs.
2.   Rooney, Mick. "Dorrance Publishing—Reviewed." The Independent Publishing Magazine, 11 November 2014. Accessed 10 December 2018.

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Monday, February 11, 2019


Dirk Baltzly, John F. Finamore, Graeme Miles, Proclus: Commentary on Plato's 'Republic'. Volume I: Essays 1-6. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 431. ISBN 9781107154698. £79.99.

Reviewed by Robert Lamberton, Washington University in St. Louis (

Version at BMCR home site


This modestly aniconic, sturdy volume—produced by Cambridge University Press in a style that recalls the era when books were conceived as κτήματα εἰς ἀεί—represents a surprising moment in the history of the study of Greece and Rome, and specifically of Greek philosophy, in the English-speaking world. It is the first of the three projected volumes of the first complete translation into English of the only surviving ancient commentary on the most widely read work (the Republic) of the most influential philosopher of Antiquity (Plato), a commentary written by the most influential (non-Christian) philosopher of his own century (Proclus, ca. 410-485 CE). The work runs to over 650 (Teubner) pages in the only modern edition of the Greek text,1 itself preserved in a single, damaged ninth- or tenth-century manuscript with a fascinating history in its own right.2

Why would such a work remain so long unavailable in English? The translators discuss this issue in the "General Introduction" (1-33), but the reasons come down to three: first, until Wilhelm Kroll's 1899-1901 edition of the exceptionally difficult manuscript, much of the work was not widely known or studied; second, A.-J. Festugière's expert and richly annotated scholarly translation into French (1970) represented both a tremendous advance and a very difficult one on which to improve; and third, Proclus' (and his tradition's) reading of the Republic has seemed tendentious and unhelpful to most readers not already fascinated by the baroque prolixity of the thought of the late-antique Platonists.

Time, in various ways, has gone far toward removing these obstacles. Kroll's edition (itself now a rare book that cries out for a reprint) is quite serviceable, though so conservative that the reader must explore its apparatus and appendices for many manifestly correct conjectures and readings that the editor shied away from inserting into his text; after a half century, Festugière's translation and notes can be improved upon, though surprisingly rarely;3 and finally, and most important, the later Platonists have, in recent decades, gained a degree of respectability and importance for the history of philosophy—and arguably, even for philosophy itself—that they had not enjoyed for centuries.

These stand out among the factors that make an English translation of the Commentary on the Republic both desirable and overdue, and Baltzly, Finamore, and Miles, are in the process of admirably filling the gap.

One of the great strengths of their enterprise lies in its relationship to the six-volume translation of Proclus' Commentary on the Timaeus likewise published by Cambridge, over a decade in progress and brought to completion in 2017. Three of its volumes were completed by Baltzly. 4 The two projects are uniform in presentation and abundantly supplied with indices and aids to facilitate access to these important and difficult texts. These include a Greek word index for each volume indicating the translations adopted by the various translators in various contexts for the "significant vocabulary" (378) in Proclus' text. In the volume under review this index runs to 45 pages. Such indexing might seem an unjustifiable luxury in the absence of a Greek text—and indeed, it is difficult to understand its usefulness to the targeted readership here, specifically said to extend "beyond...those experts who could read the text in Greek if they wanted to" (x)—but for anyone interested in Proclus' language and in particular his technical vocabulary, it is a valuable bonus.

There is a fourth factor that may have led to the relative neglect of Proclus' commentary over the years, and that is the problem of the very nature of the work itself. It is not a commentary in the sense that Proclus' Timaeus commentary is: a detailed, phrase-by-phrase discussion of the text, intimately linked to the mechanics of teaching the dialogue in a classroom situation. (Marinus tells us [Vit. Proc. ch.13] that the massive Timaeus commentary was completed when Proclus was only eighteen, but evidently he returned to it and repeatedly supplemented it throughout his long career of teaching the dialogue.) Rather, the manuscript of the Republic commentary represents a collection of 17 "essays" (one of them now missing and two incomplete) that differ in length and format. For instance, we have on the one hand a concise, focused analysis of the theological τύποι of Republic 2 (Essay 4: I, 27-41 Kroll) and on the other a lengthy phrase-by-phrase analysis of Republic 10, 613e-621d2, the Myth of Er, in the manner of the Timaeus commentary (Essay 16: II, 96-359 Kroll). The unity (or lack thereof) of the commentary as a whole—or "commentaries" as Kroll and the Italian translator Michele Abbate seem to prefer—is discussed here (9-15 and passim), if somewhat inconclusively. A clear case is made for unity in the sense of comprehensive sequential coverage of the dialogue (14-15) and while considerable differences of style and projected audience in the various essays are acknowledged, the translators maintain that it would be a mistake to view the composite work as "made up of parts that are radically different in character" (20, their emphasis). They nevertheless supply all of the separate essays with their own separate introductions, which collectively represent over one fifth of the text (exclusive of general introductory material and indices, etc.) and in so doing they have effectively provided an essential foundation for future work on the commentary while fulfilling their stated goal of making it accessible to a Greekless readership.5

With regard to the translation itself, I confess that I raised my eyebrows at the translators' initial claim to have moved beyond Festugière, who (along with certain more recent translators) "frequently preserves much of Proclus' complex sentence structure" (ix-x), and to have done so in favor of "an English translation that makes the reading of Proclus a somewhat more inviting proposition" (x). A translator's first job is to maintain the fiction of his own credibility as a transparent medium, effecting as exact as possible a passage for the writing (that is, the style and the content) of the source text to the target language. This constitutes the tenuous and somewhat deceptive ideal, yet this fiction is essential to effective translation. In practice, of course, myriad compromises intervene, including the breaking down of sentences so long and tortuous that they exceed the tolerance of English style, but Baltzly and his collaborators seem here to have been willing to abandon the necessary fiction from the start. Lest, then, anyone think that the result is what we might call "Proclus light," I am happy to report that a small (and statistically meaningless) sample of sentences in which I compared Kroll's Greek with Festugière, Lamberton, and Baltzly et al. failed to support the translators' claim. Proclus' sentences (frequently in excess of one hundred words in the original) seemed as likely to survive in the form of long, difficult sentences (sometimes—inevitably—a good deal longer than the Greek) in one translation as in another.6 Clearly we have all done what we could to develop a credible equivalent in English for Proclus' voice, and I think that that voice comes through in each translation, whatever notions we may have (explicit or not) about the uniqueness of our own efforts.

Furthermore, given the fact that the translation of a such a difficult text is a cumulative effort, and each new translation gets some things right that its predecessors failed to grasp or to communicate clearly, this extraordinarily careful and scholarly rendering is clearly destined to remain the principal access in English to Proclus' thoughts on the Republic for the foreseeable future.7


1.   Wilhelm Kroll, ed, Procli Diadochi in Platonis Rem Publicam Commentarii, 2 vols., Leipzig: Teubner, 1899-1901. Other works mentioned below include: Michele Abbate, trans. Proclo: Commento alla Repubblica di Platone: Dissertazione I, III-V, VII-XII, XIV-XV, XVII, Pavia: Bompiani, 2004. André-Jean Festugière, trans. Proclus. Commentaire sur la République, Paris: Vrin, 1970. Robert Lamberton, Proclus the Successor on Poetics and the Homeric Poems: Essays 5 and 6 of His Commentary on the Republic of Plato, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012.
2.   See ix; cf. Kroll's addendum 2 to vol. 1 of his edition, trans. in Lamberton 2012, xxxiii-xxxv.
3.   Perhaps more to the point here is the fact that the same half century has greatly increased the distance between Anglophone readers and scholarly translations into the major European languages, in a way that does not bode well: for students, in particular, if it is not in English it is very unlikely to be read with a high level of comprehension.
4.   Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus. Edited and translated by Harold Tarrant et al. 6 vol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007-2017. There were two reviews in BMCR: 2008.08.01 and 2010.01.27
5.   The Cambridge series clearly identifies its purpose and projected readership and, without wishing to redesign what is in fact an excellent format, I do regret the absence of a Greek text in these volumes. For readers with any Greek at all, bilingual editions provide access of a far more intimate sort than freestanding translations, along with the opportunity for the kind of scrutiny that can lead to genuine advances in the understanding of a difficult text. Also, as mentioned above, there is a pressing need for a new edition of the Greek, or at the least a reprint of Kroll's Greek text.
6.   There are some instances where the translators have deliberately and explicitly broken up Proclus' sentences (see 188 with note 64). Still, since I am one of those correctly identified as having followed in Festugière's footsteps and like him imitated Proclus' long and sometimes ponderous sentences ("though perhaps to a lesser extent" [x]), I checked out a small sample. Here is an example: I, 73, lines 17-31 Kroll, a reasonably representative 111-word Proclan sentence, rather stingily punctuated by Kroll with just 7 commas to guide the reader through it. Festugière rendered it as a single sentence of 161 words, with 13 commas and tags for two footnotes. I managed to squeeze it into 151 words with 15 commas, a dash, and one footnote. Baltzly et al. likewise rendered it as a single sentence, of 176 words (4 of them in supplements, indicated by square brackets) with 14 commas, 2 dashes, 1 footnote, and (notably) 5 transliterated Greek words inserted as glosses. (On these insertions, see x; for all their usefulness, they undeniably do interrupt the rhythm of the prose, especially in these formidable sentences, and concerning the choice of forms for insertion——singular vs. plural, etc.—the editors discreetly note that their "policy is sure to leave everyone a little unhappy" [xi].)
7.   I would like to thank the translators for their discussion of many specific points in my own translation of Essays 5 and 6, both for the errors and omissions they have corrected and for those instances where they have expressed support for a choice of mine over those of others. More importantly, they have earned the thanks of all of us for bringing us a good deal closer to an understanding of what Proclus meant.

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