Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.08.02
I.G. Kidd (trans.), Posidonius: Volume III. The Translation of the Fragments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. 414. ISBN 0-521-62258-1. $74.95.
Reviewed by Brad Inwood, University of Toronto
Word count: 1105 words
I.G. Kidd, Emeritus Professor of Greek in the University of St. Andrews, has done more for the study of Posidonius than anyone else in this century. He took over the task, begun by Ludwig Edelstein in the 1930's, of preparing a collection of the fragments of Posidonius, a work which remained unfinished at the death of Edelstein in 1965. The first edition of this invaluable work was published under both of their names in 1972 and a revised edition was brought out in 1989 (Posidonius: Volume I. The Fragments). In 1988 Kidd produced a massive commentary on the fragments in two big tomes (Posidonius: Volume II (i and ii). The Commentary). The present volume provides readers with a splendid translation of the material in Volume I, with additional notes and contextual summaries designed to make this very difficult body of material as readily available to a wider audience as it can be.
Today, little needs to be said about the value of the Edelstein-Kidd project. Edelstein wisely decided to base his collection on only those materials explicitly attested by the ancient tradition to be of Posidonian origin. In so doing he was reacting against the tendency in earlier scholarship to count as Posidonian a great deal of material whose claim to being Posidonian lay in the mere inferences of modern scholars. The methodological zeal in Edelstein's approach was softened somewhat by Kidd, but the basic principles of his edition remained at the heart of the project and have proven to be the foundation of its success. The rigour manifested in Edelstein-Kidd is based on a conception of philological method which should be dear to the heart of any historical investigator: the first and central duty of the investigator is to distinguish with firmness between the evidence and the inferences we draw from that evidence. Edelstein-Kidd knew that even scholars whose interest lay in a broader and more speculative reconstruction of Posidonius' impact on later ancient thought had to base their work on a strictly defined set of unimpeachable primary evidence, on pain of circularity or arbitrariness.
The success of this project cannot be overstated. It has transformed the study of Posidonius and later ancient thought in a decisive manner, especially in the English-speaking world. And I think it is fair to say that the Posidonius who emerges from this exercise in philological self-restraint is a philosopher of great importance, a vital point since earlier scholars justified the most aggressively speculative extensions of our evidence set on the grounds that without such measures no adequate conception of his work could be discovered. But in the twenty-seven years since the first collection was published, the value of focussing primarily on the fundamental evidence has become incontestable.
It is no doubt the success of this project which helps to justify the publication of a translation of the fragments. The present volume represents in part a recognition that the value of the Edelstein-Kidd project is permanent. In addition, it serves a valuable purpose for the growing audience of those with a serious interest in later ancient philosophy but little or no knowledge of the ancient languages. In fact, however, this volume of translations will also be of considerable use even to those who do read Greek and Latin with comfort. For the fragments and testimonia of Posidonius are derived from "a range of some sixty different reporters varying wildly in discipline, style, period and the intelligibility of their manuscript tradition" (p. 1).
So much, then, for the importance of the work. In addition to careful and readable translations of the fragments and testimonia (accompanied by capsule summaries of their context, brief notes, and diagrams where needed), this volume also includes a twenty-eight page introductory essay touching on the basic issues in Posidonian studies. There are sections on his Life and Works, on the Relationship Between Philosophy, Science and the Arts, and on the main branches of intellectual activity for which Posidonius is important: natural philosophy, logic and mathematics, ethics, psychology and moral education, historiography, ethnography and history. This is perhaps the best introduction to Posidonius and his significance to be had, certainly the best of its length. The book is rounded out by a series of concordances and indices: an index of sources, an index of proper names (personal names and place names in separate sequences), a subject index (subdivided into philosophical topics, topics in history and the special sciences, and topics dealing style and other miscellaneous topics); the concordances facilitate comparison with Jacoby fragments and with Theiler's collection of fragments. This is a volume which can readily be used as a free-standing resource for those approaching Posidonius for the first time.
The translations are clear, sensitive to the style of the original, and engaging (see especially F253, the story of Athenion). It is always possible to quibble, and I may perhaps be forgiven if I indulge briefly in this characteristic vice of reviewers. Without, I hope, casting any doubt on the value and quality of this volume, I would like to conclude this review with a few brief criticisms.
T51. Here the novice reader will be baffled by the heading, which refers to the "Animist medical school", especially since the Context note and the translation refer to the Pneumatist school.
F44. Here the Greek terms supplied parenthetically should have been transliterated as poiema, poiesis. The latter is misaccentuated as ποιήσις.
F49, near the end. The translation "sheers off from" for ἐκκλίνουσιν is needlessly colourful. Perhaps "avoids" would be enough.
F95. The choice of "accidental" for συμβεβηκός will probably mislead novice readers.
F96. "Dismemberment" is far too graphic for διαίρεσις, even allowing for the context (a list of ways of destruction).
F165 (at lines 142 and 152 of the Greek text in vol. 1, pp. 225 and 226 of the translation) "conation" (De Lacy's preference in the CMG translation of Galen) has slipped in for Kidd's more usual "impulse" as a translation for the Greek ὁρμή. This is potentially a very misleading slip in a very difficult and important passage.
F160. It would have been worthwhile to note that "affinity" is the translation for οἰκείωσις, and a very good one at that; but the Greek term is so current in the literature on Stoicism that it would be helpful to have it mentioned here.
F196. Much as I appreciate the pungency of "some smartass of a logician", I think the Greek ... τις λογικὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ κομψός has a different connotation.
F233. The place name Rhagae is explained as meaning "Rent", a word ambiguous enough in English that the Greekless reader would not necessarily be helped by the explanation.