Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.09
H. Görgemanns (ed.), Plutarch. Drei religionsphilosophische Schriften. Sammlung Tusculum. Düsseldorff/Zürich: Artemis & Winkler, 2003. Pp. 418. ISBN 3-7608-1728-9. EUR 42.00.
Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht University (PvdHorst@theo.uu.nl)
Word count: 660 words
Following the somewhat unusual format of the Tusculum series, this book first presents the Greek text and German translation at facing pages of Plutarch's De superstitione, De sera numinis vindicta, and De Iside et Osiride (the text is by and large identical with the Teubner ed.). Then follows an 'Anhang' of some 140 pages, consisting of a textual apparatus (registering only places where the transmitted text has been emended by modern scholars); then three introductions to the individual treatises; then explanatory notes to the translation; and finally a select bibliography. There are no indices. This format makes for an unwieldy book: the reader has to consult various pages at different places in the book at the same time if one wants to have all the relevant information. Even so this is a good book.
Görgemanns, who had already done important work on Plutarch (esp. De facie) in the late sixties and edited Origen's De Principiis in the seventies, here does a good job again as an editor, translator and annotator. For more specific problems of interpretation he wisely enlisted the help of two other scholars: Reinhardt Feldmeier, a professor of New Testament studies in Göttingen, who recently intiated the useful series SAPERE (Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque Pertinentia) at the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft and edited Plutarch's De latenter vivendo as the first volume in that series, is responsible for the introduction and notes to De sera, which I found very insightful (esp. on theodicy); and the famous Heidelberg Egyptologist Jan Assmann wrote part of the introduction to De Is. and revised and augmented the annotations to that treatise. He too did a fine job, although inevitably the 30 pages of notes do not bear comparison to the more than 400 massively learned pages of detailed commentary by the classicist-and-Egyptologist J. Gwyn Griffiths in his Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride of 1970, a work that will not easily be superseded.1
Görgemanns' translation is somewhat free, mostly elegant (as far as I can judge), sometimes really felicitous, e.g., in De sera 1, 548C, where allo d'allachothen hanthrôpos hôsper orgêi tini kai loidoriai sparattôn hama katephorei tês pronoias is translated as, "er hat seine Argumente von überall fetzenweise hergeholt und dann in einer Art Wutausbruch, einer Schimpfkanonade, allesamt über die Vorsehung ausgeschüttet"; or De Is. 11, 355B on Hermes as ho logiôtatos tôn theôn, "der wort- und gedankenreichste unter den Göttern." The notes are concise but usually to the point. Sometimes the reader may want to have more information, e.g., about the critical image of Euripides (and the background of this image) in De sera (but see 364 n. 2); or about the cosmic dualism in De Is. (see 352-3); or about the mystification of the Egyptian scripts by which Plutarch, among others, added so much to the problems which the early decipherers of the hieroglyphs had (see my "The Secret Hieroglyphs in Ancient Literature" in my Hellenism - Judaism - Christianity: Essays on Their Interaction [Louvain 1998] 317ff.); or about cledonomancy on the basis of children's chance utterances (De Is. 14, 356E; here even Gwyn Griffiths is inadequate). In the commentary on De Is. 10 (with its discussion of hieroglyphs) references to A. Gardiner's 'Sign-List' (in his Egyptian Grammar [Oxford 1957] 438-548) or to H. Brunner's 'Zeichenliste' (in his Abriss der Mittelägyptischen Grammatik [Graz 1967] 51-78]) would have been helpful. In the interpretation of De Is. 32, 363F it could have been mentioned that the hieroglyphic inscription referred to by Plutarch might have been a case of typically Ptolemaic cryptography. And so one could go on, but that would not be fair since the nature of the series does not admit of extensive annotation.
Apart from these minor points, this is a useful book for those who want to have a first introduction to Plutarch's religio-philosophical writings, especially the ones in which he wrestles, often in an original way and with a rather novel outcome, with the problems of evil and theodicy.
1. I object to Görgemmans' calling Chaeremon a contemporary of Plutarch (348, cf. 345 n. 3) since the latter lived at least a generation after the former (see the Introd. to my edition of the fragments [Leiden 1984]).