Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.02.06


Jaap Mansfeld, Heresiography in Context: Hippolytus' Elenchos as a Source for Greek Philosophy. Philosophia Antiqua 56. Leiden: Brill, 1992. Pp. xvii + 391. Gld. 170. (ca. $97.00). ISBN 90-04-09616-7.


Reviewed by Paul T. Keyser, University of Alberta.

A mighty book and worth the price. M. studies H.'s use of Greek philosophy in order to improve both our grasp of the pre-socratics, and of Middle Platonism as presented by Hippolytos in the mid-third century A.D. Reception of earlier philosophies formed an important part of the complex stew of ideas cooked up between Poseidonios and Alexander of Aphrodisias, and M. has taken a great step toward clarifying part of that recipe.

By analysis of the text and its sources with neurosurgical dexterity, M. shows that H.'s presentation of philosophy in Book I and in Books IV-IX is a unity and that Diels was wrong to separate them (pp. 1-56). M. then analyses H.'s reception of Aristotle (pp. 57-152) showing that it depends primarily upon the handbook tradition (M. ranges widely over the relevant ancient sources), thus refuting the only recent study (by Osborne). H. was primarily interested in Aristotle's categories and is not above doctoring the evidence, but his account is on the whole accurate and interesting because his sources (such as Andronikos, Eudoros, etc.) were.

The main focus of the book however concerns H.'s use of the "Pythagorean" succession (pp. 153-316), which H. makes out to be Pythagoras/Plato, Empedocles, and Heraclitus (plus Aristotle). H. is interested in this school almost exclusively, because he believes that the heretics most to be confuted are Marcion, allegedly an Empedoclean, and Noetus and Callistus, allegedly Heracliteans. Thus H. adopted an inverted form of the Aristotelian dialectical approach to the history of Philosophy -- collect all prior views (H. Book I), then select those useful to your purpose (here not constructive but destructive). M. shows that H.'s book is essentially a "cento of centos". That is, it is a prose cento of quotations abstracted from their context and used for a new purpose, one mostly irrelevant to their original context (cp. biblical "proof-texts"); but H.'s sources were themselves handbooks in the form of centos. The composer of a KE/NTRWN weaves the quotations into the warp of his or her 'plot', and this U(PO/QESIS and the choice of texts are the personal contribution of the "author". This is just the procedure condemned as typically Gnostic by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 1.9.3-5) and Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 3.38.1), ready practitioners of the cento, and two of H.'s prime source-centos. H. (Ref. 5.6.1-2) "accuses his opponents of manufacturing rhapsodic centos on a large scale .... [b]ut H.'s own method is very much the same" (p. 163). This KAKOTEXNI/A ("idiosyncratic and eclectic combination of quotations ... accompanied by a perverse exegesis in support of the compiler's view") is the main objective for H.

Such an examination has its rich fruits both minor, as the join of Empedocles Frr. B131 + 110 as a continuous whole (p. 225), and major, the deeper understanding of H., his sources and limits. It is also of great methodological importance -- for all fragments, whether of philosophy, drama, or lyric, the purpose and practice of the quoting author(s) must be understood rightly to appreciate the status and value of the fragments. Not often enough is this done. M. has provided a monumental and challenging work doing just that.

At 25¢ a page the price is steep, but the distilled wisdom within is a rare wine and worth it to anyone concerned with ancient philosophy, early Christianity, or fragments. To such scholars I recommend that if you buy only five books this year, make this one.