Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.1

Robert B. Todd (trans.), Themistius: On Aristotle's On the soul. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. 247. $45.00. ISBN 0-8014-3281-2.

Reviewed by Inna Kupreeva, University of Toronto,

The new translation of Themistius' Paraphrase by Prof. Todd (preceded in vernacular only by De Falco's Italian version1) is an important and much needed contribution to the study of the early commentators of Aristotle. The readers of commentators certainly know the publication of parts of the Paraphrase (of Book III.4-8) in the volume of "Medieval sources in translation".2 The full translation is carried out with the same degree of exegetical accuracy and critical rigor, and in the same admirable spirit of disciplined erudition.

The importance of this edition needs little comment. Themistius' Paraphrase is the earliest commentary on De anima extant in full. It is an invaluable source for the history of philosophical movements in the Hellenistic and the late classical periods. Themistius (ca. 317-388) was an educated aristocrat who ran his own school in Constantinople between 345 and 355. Most likely the paraphrases were composed in this period. Later his career became exclusively political and diplomatic, leaving no room for academic occupations. He seems to have been quite successful at the court and as a public figure. He was a proconsul in 358-359, and was granted the title (which he soon turned down) and the powers (which he kept) of praefectus urbis -- something which could not happen to any other Latinless pagan in the already early Christian yet still emphatically Roman empire.3

The fact that he was not a "professional" philosopher should not mislead one into underestimating the significance of his work for philosophy. Themistius' texts were composed for teaching, and should be regarded as reflecting -- and shaping -- the intellectual demand of his audience, which likely differed from the audience of the more "professional" schools of philosophy. The originality of his stand may well be the originality of an "outsider", as Prof. Todd suggests in the 1990 publication (p. 34), but this makes his work particularly interesting as a historical source and as a document of thinking independent of school biases. The very choice of Aristotle's works as teaching materials indicates the high educational standards of his school. Themistius is also quite well read outside Plato and Aristotle; the Paraphrase shows the first-hand knowledge of some late classical sources (the works of Xenocrates, Theophrastus, the early works of Aristotle) and of contemporary literature. He is not staying away from the philosophical debate; on the contrary, the Paraphrase is full of overt and hidden retorts, challenges and puns -- against Porphyry and Platonic scholasticism, against the Stoics, occasionally against Alexander of Aphrodisias, and sometimes against hypothetical opponents.4

Themistius' relation to the works of Alexander is an interesting historical issue. The Paraphrase certainly depends on Alexander's writings as is well documented by Prof. Todd's Notes and Index of Places. The problem of the extent of Themistius' familiarity with these works -- particularly, with the lost commentary on the De anima is still open, and can only be solved by more detailed and extensive studies of the texts. The presence of Alexander's De anima in the background of his work is quite perceptible, despite Themistius' characteristic method of substituting his own terminology for that of his sources. Such is the case when Alexander's U(POBA/QRA becomes E)PIBA/QRA (ladder),5 DIDASKALI/A turns into GUMNASI/A, which might be a Platonism, as Prof. Todd aptly remarks.6 The same method of stylistic modification is on several significant occasions applied to Aristotle's terminology.

Themistius' Paraphrase is certainly one of the chief sources (both direct and indirect) of the medieval discussions of intellect. The sources of his own metaphysical construction in the section on the intellect are yet to be identified.

The work of Prof. Todd is a good aid for dealing with the recently renewed discussion of the question of "Platonism" vs. "Aristotelianism" in Themistius's philosophical orientation.7 The Notes will show Themistius's multiple stylistic and lexical affinities with the middle dialogues. This kind of Platonism has more to do with Plato the challenger of Isocrates than with the professor of the unwritten doctrines taken up by the constructive metaphysics of the Neoplatonic schools (even though Themistius is not indifferent to the doctrines). It is hard to say whether he was "more Platonic than Aristotelian" or the other way round. I am afraid that the exigencies of the genre -- the textual "merger" with Aristotle and the didactic common sense and moderation of style -- can too easily be taken for "Aristotelianism". Certainly the issue needs more caution. His noetic is quite post-Aristotelian, and there are several misdemeanors against the "orthodox" Aristotelianism in the text.

Themistius shares the programme of "harmonizing" Plato and Aristotle, which seems to be a fairly common take in the schools of the time. Even in his debate with Porphyry he makes sure that every polemical round be finished with a reconciliation of positions. 'Harmonizing' happens, so to speak, sometimes at the expense of Plato, sometimes at the expense of Aristotle: in the 16,19-18,37 episode, the "bonus" can be taken to be Aristotle's (since it is the Aristotelian theory of E)NE/RGEIA that bridges the gap between the theories of self-moved and unmoved soul); however at 25,33-26,25 Aristotle is the "loser", because the "harmonic" ending makes him a subscriber to the theory of the external soul.8 Themistius seems to be abreast of what counts as advanced and/or established in his contemporary schools, and so has to be, to a significant extent, a "metaphysical" Platonist, if not a Neoplatonist (see esp. 26, 15-18), without ceasing to be an "Aristotelian", who is at the same time able to deal with the Stoic terminology and teachings. This phenomenon of philosophical syncretism, however historically general at this age, leaves almost no chance for any "general" solutions: there is no common manner of amalgamation and its dynamics has to be studied separately in each individual case. Prof. Todd contributes to this research perspective; his numerous sharp historical and philological observations on the text are extremely helpful for further studies.

The translation is well done: its English is readable -- something not to be taken for granted, given the specifics of translating the ancient classroom rhetoric into the modern idiom. The organization of the text is well thought through and reader-friendly: the text is divided into books and chapters following the standard division of Aristotle's De anima (rather than Heinze's Byzantine tradition division into treatises), and then broken down into short "thematic" passages, each marked in the beginning by the corresponding page and line numbers of Heinze's CAG volume; the Bekker page numbers are supplied in brackets where appropriate. That way it is easy to go back to Heinze and to Aristotle's text, as well as to spot Themistius' departures from direct paraphrasing. The introduction gives a brief note on Themistius with an update on recent publications, a useful account of the genre of paraphrase in general and Themistius' method in particular, an explanation of some of the logistics of translation and a note on the Greek text. The translation has been done from Heinze's edition; however, Prof. Todd's underlying text substantially differs from Heinze's. Prof. Todd uses his own judgment for quite a few particular readings,9 and, notably, employs the results of selective reconstruction of the Greek Vorlage of the Arabic translation by Ishaq ibn-Hunain(?) (based on Lyons 1973 edition) published by Gerald Browne.10 Thus, in many cases the new publication can be usefully consulted for the textual problems. There are paginal notes in the end of the volume; the book has an (excellent) bibliography, a handy Greek-English Glossary allowing the reader to follow the methods of translating the terminology, an extensive Greek-English index, an index of Places from the earlier authors detected in the text of the Paraphrase, and, finally, a Subject Index. All the apparatus is most carefully done, and all these features make this edition an indispensable tool for all those involved in the research in the history of post-classical Greek philosophy. But of course it has more than just "instrumental" value: it significantly raises the standards of scholarship in the field by setting an inspiring and demanding example of careful philological study.

I append some remarks on minor technical details.

On the Text:

1. N. 13, p. 163 (24,37 Heinze) - reading E(KA/STOU for E(/KASTON: I wonder if it is necessary. Themistius at this point paraphrases DA 408a5, whence the phrase TA\ PA/QH YUXH=S KAI\ TA\ E)/RGA; there is no indication of any likely possessive construction; what is likely in the paraphrasing, however, is the "expanding" apposition. E(/KASTON refers then to every singular PA/QOS and E)/RGON of the soul.

2. N.15, p.166 (33,30 Heinze) - omitting A)NQRW/POU may be unnecessary, because A)/NQRWPOS can stand here as a most common example of the substance.

3. N.25, p.188; p.126 (101,36-102,1 Heinze) - Balleriaux11 suggests making the full stop after W)|H/QHSAN at 101,37 into a comma, so that A)POREI=N KAI\ DIALU/EIN would refer to the following clause, and the whole following passage would be treated as posing and solving the problem. The discussion of this change perhaps would be too lengthy, but I think the suggestion would have been worth mentioning, if only for the sake of the record.

4. This is just a remark on Heinze's text at 42,30 Heinze: W(S LE/GETAI DUNATO\N EI)=NAI BADI/ZEIN O(/ TI BADi/ZEI, KAI\ O(/LWS DUNATO\N EI)NAI, O(/ TI H)/DH KAI\ E)STI... It seems that O(/ + TI -> O(/TI would yield a more usual idiomatic construction.

Some remarks on the translation:

1. 5,9 Heinze (p.19, Todd): TO\ DE\ KALW=S EI)=PON OU)X O(/TI META\ A)PODEI/CEWS: "I said 'well' (or 'the correct way') not because it is accompanied by the demonstration" (= "not in any rigorous sense of being accompanied by the demonstration") rather than "I said 'the correct way' because it is not accompanied by the demonstration".

2. 17, 12-15 Heinze (p.32 Todd): A)LLA\ TA\S TH=S YUXH=S KINH/SEIS KAI\ W(S YUXH=S TAU/TAS E)ROU=SIN AU)TH\N U(F' AU(TH=S KINEI=SQAI, KAI\ TAU/TAS EI)=NAI E)K TH=S OU)SI/AS TH=S YUXIKH=S, A(\S OU)X OI(=O/N TE AU)TH\N U(P' A)/LLOU KINEI=SQAI, W(S TH=S E)NDOQEN FU/SEWS E)CHRTHME/NAS. Perhaps the construction is: "but they will say that the movements of the soul qua soul (taking KAI\ as epexegetic), (that is) with which it is moved by itself, and which come from its own essence, are those with which it is impossible for it to be moved by another, since they are dependent on its inner nature." (... TAU/TAS ... KAI\ ... TAU/TAS = "diejenige" ..., A(\S ...) The function of the accusative is different for two TAU/TAS, though their hypotactic function is parallel. The claim that Themistius attacks seems to be "theoretical" and antecedent to any identification. His opponent says that there are non-incidental movements of the soul. Themistius asks him to produce an example of such movements.

3. 17,19 Heinze (p.33 Todd): EI) DE\ KAQ' AU(TA\S refers only to the DIANOH/SEIS (rather than to "those movements").

4. 17,22 Heinze (p.33 Todd): TW=N U(PARXO/NTWN TINI = "of the [properties] belonging to something" (rather than "to it").

5. 26,2-7 Heinze (p.42 Todd): a long period DIO\ KAI\ O(\ H(/LIOS ME\N EI(=S ... A)LL' E)MYUXI/AIS. Its syntax is somewhat perplexing. The function of DIO\ in the construction is not quite clear. Perhaps one could regard DIO\ as binding the whole period, so that the translation would go roughly as follows: "For which reason, (just as) the sun is one, but not everything gets its share of light in equal manner -- rather air so, and water differently, and silver still differently, and stone still differently, and wood still differently, and this colour so, and that colour so, -- if someone says that the soul is one, then, in the same way, all the animals must be enjoying it after a different manner, and differ not by their souls but by their ensoulments". Bascially the suggestion is to lessen the adversative sense of DE\ of the TH\N YUXH\N DE\ EI) MI/AN TIS LE/GOI, which is translated by Todd as "but". (The sun/soul parallel is exploited by Themistius further in this passage: he uses it to show that Aristotle is not talking about the external soul, as he is not talking about the sun.)

6. 54,36-55,1 Heinze. (p.74 Todd): ...(TH\N A)PORI/HN W(S KAQAPTOME/NHN) MA/LISTA TW=N KAI\ XWRISQEI=SAN TH\N YUXH\N TOU= SW/MATOS AI)SQHTIKH\N EI=)NAI LEGO/NTWN. Todd translates: "those who say that the soul capable of sense-perception is also separated from the body". I wonder if the sense of the reported doctrine could be stronger: "those who say that the soul is perceiving even when separated from the body."

7. 111,13 Heinze (p.137 Todd): O(/TAN DE\ LE/GW TH\N STIGMH\N A)DIAI/RETON KAI\ TO\ NU=N, E(/TERON TRO/PON XRH\ TAU=TA A)KOU/EIN A)DIAI/RETA KAI\ A)SU/NQETA KAI\ W(/SPER E)STI\ FU/SEI KAI\ KAQ' E(AUTO\ ADIAI/RETON: TAU=TA GA\R TH=| STERH/SEI TOU= SUNEXOU=S A)DIAI/RETA. "When I say about the point and the "now" that they are indivisible (or undivided --I.K.), it should be understood that they are indivisible in the way different from that in which [something] is indivisible naturally and per se; for these ones (the point and the "now") are indivisible due to the privation of the continuous." Reading KAI\ that follows A)SU/NQETA as divisive -- either as "KAI\ comparationis" related to the adverbial expression of comparison E(/TERON TRO/PON (understood as OU)K O(MOI/WS), or, perhaps more likely, assuming an ellipsis of E(/TERON after it (rather than rendering it with Todd as a literal conjunction: "they must be understood as undivided and uncompounded in a different sense, and as if their being undivided is natural and [occurs] in respect of themselves." Certainly the last part of this sentence does not apply to the point and the now.). In this sentence the main distinction is drawn which is discussed further in the passage.

8. 111, 16-17 Heinze (p. 138 Todd): OU(/TW GOU=N AU)TA\ O( NOU=S KAI\ NOEI= KAI\ O(RI/ZETAI: OU) GA\R AU)TOI=S E)PIBA/LLWN: OU)DE\ GA\R E)/XEI MORFH\N OI)KEI/AN. It could be that the subject of E)/XEI is not the intellect, but the intelligible objects. In that case we would get: "The intellect certainly both thinks and defines them in this way, since because they lack any structure of their own, it does not intuit them directly" (rather than: "The intellect certainly both thinks and defines them in this way, since through lacking any structure of its own it does not encounter them directly"). It seems that at this point what is at issue is not the "unmixed" state of the intellect, but two different types of the intelligibles -- the abstract objects -- that lack the nature of their own and are known by the intellect in virtue of some indirect procedure of acknowledging the privation (what Themistius calls NO/QW| LOGISMW=|, using the Platonic term). Themistius seems to be talking about two modes of cognition accessible to the human intellect - the abstractive mode is so accessible due to the intellect's participation in the "potential" intellect; the direct ("intuitive") mode is given us in virtue of our intellect's being a SMIKRO\N I)/NDALMA of the transcendent actual intellect. There is no explicit thematising of the potential intellect at the beginning of this passage, it is only introduced after the distinction between the two types of objects has been drawn. Cf. also below: OU)K A)\N E)NO/HSE TA\ KAKA\, OU)DE\ TO\ A)MORFO\N KAI\ A)NEI/DEON. (111,30-31). (It is only at this stage that we learn that they are known this way by the potential intellect.)

9. 111,19 Heinze (p. 138 Todd): TA\ ME\N KAT' E)PIBOLH\N NOHTA\ KAI\ TH=S FU/SEWS AU)TW=N DRATTO/MENA. Prof. Todd follows Heinze who suggested a reading DRATTOME/NW| in his apparatus, referring it apparently to the TW=| NW=| of the preceding line. The emendation (which makes the sentence syntactically clumsy) may be unnecessary if DRATTO/MENA is understood as a synonym for A)DIAI/RETA KATA\ FU/SIN. The term DRATTO/MENA is unusual for philosophical texts, but it would not be unexpected in Themistius as a rhetorical device emphasizing the difference between the class of "absolute indivisibles", intelligible per se, which hold fast on to their own nature, not permitting any subtraction from it, so to speak, on the one hand; and the indivisibles which are indivisible in a limited sense, like the abstract objects of geometry (Themistius occasionally uses this term metaphorically in his speeches). Alternatively, the mind "grabbing" the intelligibles, is not Aristotelian, and would beg some questions.

On the Notes:

1. In connection with n.26 at p.159: sometimes Themistius indeed does not oppose Plato and Timaeus (as in the cases mentioned in this note). But sometimes he does, as e.g. at 19, 24-25, and I've got a sense that this distinction is important for him as a way to account for the theoretical differences between Plato and Aristotle.

2. N.23 p.169 (ad 42,27 Heinze): That "here Themistius seems to be addressing Aristotle" is in fact not so clear. It seems that here QEW/REI just renders Aristotle's QEWREI=N DEI= at 412b16, so is addressed to the audience in the regular fashion.

3. Alexander on touch (p.97 Todd). I find it difficult to refer these statements of Themistius to the text of Alexander's De anima (pp.57-58, Heinze). Alexander is there fairly explicit concerning there being another organ of touch besides flesh, and even though it is possible to find the separate locutions which, taken out of the context, most "nominally" fit Themistius' claims, this procedure of extracting them seems too artificial to match with the regular tenor of the Paraphrase. It is hard to imagine that he would misunderstand Alexander's text so badly. I would put a question mark on the whole passage and suggest that Themistius might be referring to something else that we don't know (maybe some minor work of the circle of Alexander). The De anima text does not seem to provoke this kind of rebuke.

5. N.44, p.189: the interpretation of the passage at 103,38 Heinze: PO/QEN GA\R AI( KOINAI\ E)/NNOIAI; (1) PO/QEN DE\ H( A)DI/DAKTOS KAI\ O(MOI/A TW=N PRW/TWN O(/RWN SU/NESIS KAI\ TW=N PRW/TWN A)CIWMA/TWN; (2) ... KAI\ TO\ PLA/TONOS A)LHQE/S, W(S EI) MH\ TI H)=N TOI=S A)NQRW/POIS KTL. (3) Prof. Todd seems to read this as a consistent pronouncement of Themistius himself. Balleriaux in his dissertation regards this passage as alluding to the legacy of three different schools, so that the doctrine of shared intellect appears to form a common source of the Platonic, the Aristotelian and the Stoic epistemologies.12 Thereby the first rhetorical question is addressed to the Stoics, the second one to the Aristotelians, and the third one deals with Plato of the middle dialogue (Gorgias). (Of course, the Platonic background should be assumed in both former cases.)


1. De Falco, V. (trans.), Parafrasi dei libri di Aristotele sull'anima. Padua, 1965.

2. Two Greek Aristotelian Commentators on the Intellect. The De Intellectu Attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius' Paraphrase of Aristotle's De anima 3.4-8. Introduction, Translation, Commentary and Notes by Frederic M. Schroeder, Robert B. Todd. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. Toronto, 1990.

3. Stegemann, Themistius. Pauly-Wissowa RE, Bd.V A2 , col. 1646.

4. In many cases the opponents are unnamed, but only very few of these (if any) seem to be fictional.

5. Note 4 p.193 Todd, 117,12 Heinze - 71,27 Bruns: perhaps it would be not totally unfair to keep the standard translation in this case, even at the price of losing the immediate association with Alexander's text.

6. 81,25 (also 82,2; 82,36-83,1) Bruns - 95,11 Heinze; s. note 10 p.186 Todd.

7. E.g. H. J. Blumenthal, 'Themistius: the last Peripatetic commentator on Aristotle?', in G. Bowerstock et al. (Eds.) Arktouros: Hellenic Studies presented to Bernard M. Knox, Berlin and New York 1979, 391-400. Repr. with revisions in R.Sorabji (ed.) Aristotle Transformed, London 1990, 113-23. E.P. Mahoney, 'Neoplatonism, the Greek commentators and Renaiisance Aristotelianism', in D.J. O'Meara (ed.) Neoplatonism and Christian Thought, Albany, 1992, 169-77. Balleriaux, O. 'Themistius et le Neoplatonisme: le NOU=S PAQHTIKO\S et l'immortalite de l'ame', Revue de philosophie ancienne 12, 1994, 171-200.

8. His relation to the middle Platonism is a complex and interesting problem.

9. I do not enumerate them, since all are recorded and explained in the "Notes".

10. Browne, G.M. 'Ad Themistium Arabum', Illinois Classical Studies, 11, 1986, 23-245.

11. Balleriaux 1994 (see note 7), p.178, n.23.

12. O. Balleriaux, Themistius. Son interpretation de la noetique aristotelicienne. Liege, 1941, p.73 sq.