Bryn Mawr Classical Review 01.02.17


Hermann S. Schibli, Pherekydes of Syros. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990 . Pp. ix + 225. $55.00. ISBN 0-19-814383-4.


Reviewed by David Sider, Fordham University.

Pherekydes often makes a brief appearance in surveys of the Presocratics as an intermediary figure between the tellers of mythic accounts of the kosmos and the more scientific presocratics. As such, he and Hesiod find themselves treated along with others who may themselves be mythic: Orpheus, Linos, Epimenides, and Mousaios. Having fulfilled this role of missing link between myth and science, Pherekydes usually drops from sight, never to be referred to again, unlike Thales, whom tradition honors as the first Presocratic. A very honorable exception to this general neglect is M. L. West, who devoted the first two chapters of his Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient to Pherekydes and his teachings. But there has been no edition of his ancient testimonia since Diels prepared one for the first edition of VS in 1903 (essentially unchanged in later editions).

Now comes Schibli's most welcome survey and collection of the ancient testimony on the most generous scale ever: five chapters and a Retrospect on Pherekydes' life and thought, followed by two appendices, the latter of which is "Testimonia and Fragments" in 35 pages (vs. 8 1/2 pp. in VS ). Despite the name of this appendix, however, Schibli wisely eschews the division into A (or T) and B (or F) texts, which could not always be easily decided. Presented instead are 90 "F"-texts, each accompanied by full app. crit. and translation. Eighteen other testimonia, without text or translation, are listed and briefly described as addenda. Although completeness has been the aim (p. vii), of the seven references to Pherekydes in Philodemos De Piet., Schibli includes only one. All matters of interest in the testimony receive comment in the first five chapters, but cross references keyed to individual words are not provided, although this would have been much appreciated by readers. One has to go to the Index of Passages Cited, s.v. Pherekydes, to find where individual F-texts are treated earlier in the book.

The introductory chapters are sehr gründlich, and will be consulted with profit by all students of early Greek philosophy and religion; certainly anyone beginning a study of the Orphic cosmology contained within the Derveni Papyrus will want to have this book close by. There are of course points with which one could take issue. At present, e.g., I am unconvinced by Schibli's account of Pherekydes' muchoi as something other than "actual caves or recesses" (p.21), and hence also by his attempt to give them separate identities (Ouranos, Tartaros, Chaos, etc.). I also feel that there remains more to be said about Zas' words during his marriage to Chthonie -- but if I can ever figure out what this is, it will be because I had Schibli's book to guide me.

A final, sour note: Although Oxford University Press deserves creditfor their editorial care (they include a plate of the Grenfell-Hunt papyrus containing the most important fragment, misprints are few, and apart from a slightly too-small type size for footnotes the layout is good), they get a Bronx cheer for the physical product: the paper is an unattractive off-white, which strains the reader's eyes. Even worse, the book has been "perfect"-bound, an Orwellian term for the slicing and gluing of the inside edge. My copy began to crack on the first reading; a library copywill not bear up under the frequent use this book deserves.