Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.24

Michael Share, Arethas of Caesarea's Scholia on Porphyry's Isagoge and Aristotle's Categories Categories (Codex Vaticanus Urbinas Graecus 35): a critical edition. Bruxelles: Editions Ousia, 1994. Pp. xvi + 293. ISBN 2-87060-046-1.

Reviewed by Robert B. Todd, University of British Columbia (

Aristotle Transformed was an apt title for a recently published collection of essays on the Greek Aristotelian commentators. It highlighted the main reason why the Aristotelian tradition is studied: scholars want to reconstruct and understand the transformations produced by the interaction of the Aristotelian corpus with varying linguistic, philosophical, and cultural constructions imposed on it by exegetes in a long history that binds the Graeco-Roman world, the Near-East, and Western Europe. In this vast mosaic the least studied element is clearly the Byzantine, particularly for the period between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. The neglect has been extensive and long-lasting: many of the relevant texts remain unedited, with some accessible only in Latin translations of the Rennaissance. Whether such neglect represents the valid judgment of the centuries on the quality of Byzantine Aristotelianism, and its transformations of the Aristotelian fundament, is one question raised by the appearance of the first volume of the Commentaria in Aristotelem Byzantina, a series designed as a complement to Philosophi Byzantini (inaugurated in 1984).

There have long been plans to continue the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, a series that included several Byzantine commentaries (if we mark the beginning of the Byzantine era as the foundation of Constantinople), but only selections from the ninth to fifteenth centuries (Michael of Ephesus, Sophonias, and Eustratius), and notably excluded Michael Psellus' commentaries. There are around twenty works (depending on how one counts) that lack modern editions, and it might have been useful had the Series Editor (Linos Benakis) indicated plans and priorities for the future in his preface (pp. vii-ix). The present enterprise parallels a project for cataloguing the manuscripts of the Greek and Byzantine Aristotelian commentators; see G. de Gregorio and P. Eleuteri, "Per un catalogo dei manoscritti greci dei Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina," 117-167 in Symbolae Berolinenses für Dieter Harlfinger, ed. F. Berger et al. (Amsterdam, 1993). Ultimately both these projects could contribute significantly to a better understanding of the manuscript traditions of Aristotle and his commentators, and well as to the history of Aristotelianism.

Byzantine Aristotelianism is considerably more derivative that its ancient counterpart, and frequently involves scholarly scribes excerpting and adapting material from earlier commentaries, particularly in the case of the logical treatises that were widely used in higher education. This typical practice is represented in the present edition of the scholia by Arethas (c. 850-925) on Porphyry's Isagoge (pp. 1-130), and the text to which it is a propaideutic, Aristotle's Categories chs. 1-5 (pp. 131-229). Michael Share, a former student of the late L.G. Westerink (1913-1990; BDNAC 682-684), offers a transcription of 322 scholia (not 320; nos. 227 and 272 are numbered twice) from the autograph, Vaticanus Urbinas Graecus 35, of which, given the paper used for this edition, some facsimiles might have been provided. An apparatus fontium demonstrates dependence on earlier commentaries, and shows Arethas not transforming Aristotle, but preserving earlier transformations. For most of the text identifiable sources are not extant, and Share (p. xiii) can only speculate about which lost commentaries (probably of the sixth century) were used. The editor argues that "it seems unlikely that [Arethas] excerpted [the scholia] from the original commentaries"; he may even be reproducing them from a single manuscript in which they had already been assembled, or at best may have assembled them himself from several manuscripts (p. xv). The abrupt conclusion to the Categories scholia at the start of ch. 6 certainly suggests use of an already truncated source.

We have, then, Arethas' scholia in the sense that he is their scribe. The whole collection reveals his intellectual activity rather than creativity, and is less valuable than the set of scholia that he transcribed in the famous Bodleian manuscript of Plato, Clarkianus 39. Nigel Wilson has concluded that "Arethas enjoys a more flattering reputation than he deserves" (Scholars of Byzantium [London, 1983], 135). Share's edition will not encourage flattery, and may contribute to the image of Byzantine Aristotelianism as a conduit between late antiquity and the Renaissance without much independent philosophical value. For the Categories the commentaries by Ammonius, Dexippus, and Porphyry are now translated in the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series, and scholars will look there rather than to Arethas. As for Porphyry's Isagoge, Arethas' scholia represent only a minor episode in the long history of that handbook.

Share's scholarly work is thorough. There are appendices of diagrams (231-251), and of marginalia (253-256), and indices locorum, nominum et verborum (257-293). Spot-checks indicate accurate proof-reading. The text is sensibly corrected in several places, although the object is to represent Arethas' transcription faithfully; thus the Doric enti is not restored for estin in the quotation from pseudo-Archytas at 223.28. (But why is this text cited in the index locorum at p. 257 from Hartenstein's 1833 edition, and not from Slezak's edition with commentary, Pseudo-Archytas Über die Kategorien [Berlin, 1972], p. 45? Was Share influenced by Westerink's frosty review of the latter at Classical World 68 [1975] 478-479?) Share's edition is perhaps not quite in the class of its closest modern precedent, Vittorio de Falco's edition of John Pediasimus' scholia on the Analytics (Naples, 1926; continued at Byzantinische Zeitschrift 28 [1928] 251-269), either in its engagement with the text of the sources, or in its introduction. In the latter (xi-xv) the manuscript is not fully described, and the casual reader will be unaware of its importance for the text of Aristotle's logical works. (See the entry at P. Canart and V. Peri, Sussidi Bibliografici [Studi e Testi 261], 332-333.) Mention should have been made of the discussion of Vat. Urb. gr. 35 by E. Follieri, Archaeological Classica 25-26 (1973-74) 262-279, noted by Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium 124, whose whole discussion of Arethas at 120-135 is also not cited. At p. xv of the Introduction there is an unconnected n. 16 following n. 21, and in notes 9-15 the references to the text do not correspond with the present edition but with an earlier recension (presumably the editor's typescript). That is unfortunate, since n. 15 includes references to texts not paralleled in extant commentaries, an obviously important element in this edition, and one that should have been addressed by an exhaustive listing. (I can correct one of Share's references: in n. 14 the successive citations, 306.10-307.7 and 307.8-308.6 = 228.4-229.15.) In general, a less succinct introduction would have been both more professionally appropriate, and might have advanced the cause of Aristoteles Byzantinus. Westerink's informative introductions to many of his editions surely provided a precedent. That scholar also frequently included translations, and these might be offered in future volumes of this series where material of wider interest is involved. A related series, the Corpus des Astronomes Byzantins, does include translations into modern languages.

One important product of this edition is a fragment of Themistius' lost commentary on the Categories. This can now join a handful of other references to this work, which also survives in a residual form in the Latin tradition as the pseudo-augustinian Categoriae Decem (Aristoteles Latinus I.5). Share no. 227 (= 227a), on Cat. 1a24-25, deals with inherence, or what it is to be "in a subject" (en hupokeimenoi). At p. 152.34-153.4 in a section (152.26-153.15) for which no fontes are cited, Themistius is reported as claiming that yesterday (khthes) is a special sense of inherence to be added to the eleven listed in the exegetical tradition (see also, for example, Simplicius In Categorias 46.5-14). (hendekakes at 151.9 Share was too important to have been omitted from the Index Verborum.) Text and context here both deserve further attention.

Linos Benakis describes (pp. viii-ix) the institutional and administrative arrangements on which the Commentaria in Aristotelem Byzantina are founded. Let us hope that these ensure further editions, and the exposure that will allow the status and significance of Byzantine Aristotelianism to be better assessed.