Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.07.67

R.W. Sharples, Alexander of Aphrodisias. Supplement to On the Soul.   Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2004.  Pp. 313.  ISBN 0-8014-4213-3.  $62.50.  

Reviewed by Richard Dufour (
Word count: 1237 words

S. offers in this book the first complete translation in a modern language of the "Mantissa" by Alexander of Aphrodisias. Hitherto only half the chapters of the Mantissa had been translated and were available to the public. Now this work receives full treatment with a short introduction, an English translation, individual introductions to each of the 26 chapters, numerous footnotes, detailed annotations to the Greek text (which is not included in full), a bibliography and various indices. This is a major work in the field of Alexandrian studies. The translation is based on a new edition of the Greek text, which takes into account all known Greek manuscripts of the Mantissa and uses the evidence provided by the medieval Arabic and Latin translations. The main purpose of this work is to provide a reliable English translation with all the useful references to modern scholarship and ancient literature. The reader should not expect any complete discussion of the numerous difficulties raised by the Mantissa, but S. gives all the relevant references to secondary literature on each particular topic.

The first Greek edition of this work of Alexander was completed by I. Bruns in 1887.1 Although the manuscripts describe it as the second book of the treatise On the Soul, Bruns decided to name it "Mantissa", i.e. "makeweight", following the example set by J. Freudenthal.2 His decision was motivated by the fact that this work is more a collection of essays on psychology, ethics and fate, than a continuous exposition on the soul. When I. Bruns edited the Mantissa, he used six manuscripts, including the Marcianus gr. 258, the oldest manuscript and probably the archetype. S. consulted nine additional manuscripts. Only two of them contain the whole Mantissa. The seven remaining manuscripts contain excerpts or chapters selected from this work. Many manuscripts concentrate on chapters 22-25, on luck, fate and what depends on us. It seems that Bruns' edition remains a very good one, as S. adopts only fourteen corrections based on the evidence provided by the new manuscripts; a minor adaptation, in light of the fact that the Mantissa amounts to 86 pages in total. Important as they may be, those corrections do not provide, as a whole, a revolutionary revision of Bruns' edition. In order to fully assess the general value of this new edition, we will have to wait to see the details in a forthcoming publication by Les Belles Lettres, in the Budé series, which will contain S.'s edition of the Greek text and a more complete discussion of the manuscript evidence.3

In his Lilliputian introduction S. provides some basic information about the Mantissa. This introduction is in fact an abridgement of material discussed more fully in a forthcoming publication.4 S. divides the work into 26 chapters and assigns a number to each. This numbering is not self-evident, since the sections are erroneously numbered in the manuscript tradition. Indeed, the second section, On the Intellect, is divided into three parts in the manuscripts though it forms a single text. S. follows Bruns in rejecting such a division and considers this section as one chapter. By doing so he reduces the total number of chapters to 26 from the 28 given by the manuscripts. He then remarks with Bruns that the 26 chapters of the Mantissa are of two kinds: some consist of a list of arguments against specific theses, many of which can be traced to specific schools (mainly the Stoic), whereas the remaining chapters are more or less heterogeneous presentations of Alexandrian doctrines, sometimes condensed from other works. For example, chapter 1 gives a general account of the soul, which echoes in some ways Alexander's De Anima, and chapter 25 seems to be a reworking of the De Fato. A few chapters are also closely related to other works attributed to Alexander, such as the Quaestiones and the Ethical Problems. Of all the parts of the Mantissa, the one which historically had the most influence and received the most consideration is the second chapter, On the Intellect. It has been translated several times in different languages. S. concurs with P. Accattino in saying that this chapter is an early work of Alexander.5 The middle part of the Mantissa, chapters 9 to 16, forms a sequence relating to the theory of vision. S. rightly notes that the logical arrangement of these chapters is clearly broken by chapter 14, which abruptly and without apparent reason discusses the Stoic doctrine of complete fusion. This fact is only one more proof that the Mantissa is the result of an editorial reworking. The translation and notes to chapters 22-25 are a revision of what S. already published in 1975 and 1983.6

S. tries to establish a link between all the chapters of the Mantissa, which sometimes seem disconnected. The collection, he says, appears to constitute a series of texts which have been roughly arranged to fit the sequence of topics in Aristotle's De Anima. This claim, however, is difficult to maintain, especially concerning the concluding discussions of the Mantissa about luck, fate and what depends on us, since those subjects do not figure in this treatise of Aristotle. S. suggests that they may be inferred from the account of the appetitive faculty in De Anima 3.9-11. It is also hard, as S. notices, to explain why the chapter on the intellect figures in second position in the Mantissa, since this topic is discussed far later in Aristotle's De Anima. S. is aware that all this demonstration proves nothing but a loose fit (p. 3). But it cannot be denied, he adds, that the arrangement of sections seems to have an internal logic and that it can be traced back to Aristotle's De Anima.

S. notices that the manifest editing procedure that the Mantissa underwent is somewhat similar to the more or less successful edition of the Quaestiones. Both are in a form which is less than perfect. That raises another issue, the question of the authenticity of the pieces included in the Mantissa. Although some chapters expound a doctrine that can hardly be said to be Alexandrian, S. maintains that this cannot rule out Alexander's authorship. The Mantissa may indeed record views that Alexander rejected later or topics about which he changed his mind. Some parts of the Mantissa are certainly weak and many arguments are shallow, but we must admit that Alexander can show different degrees of acuteness in his argumentation and some variations in depth of analysis. As he did with the Quaestiones, S. considers the Mantissa as containing authentic Alexandrian works.

The brevity of the introduction is in part counterbalanced by a short introduction inserted before each chapter of the Mantissa. S. provides general doctrinal information, references to secondary literature and lists other available translations.

The book ends with an English-Greek Glossary and a set of three indices: Greek-English Index; Index of Passages Cited; Subject Index.

This unique translation of the Mantissa is a very valuable work that cannot but be praised. S. executes an admirable scholarly feat in providing a new edition of the Greek text with a careful translation and full annotations. This is the manifest result of many years of intensive and serious research. S.'s reputation in the field of Alexandrian scholarship is already well established and this book fully confirms his merit. We just hope that the forthcoming publication of the Mantissa in the Budé series will not be long in coming.


1.   Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, Supplementum aristotelicum, vol. II, pars I, Berlin, Reimer, 1887, p. 101-186.
2.   Bruns 1887, v.
3.   S. makes the announcement in his Introduction, p. 7.
4.   "Alexander of Aphrodisias: what is a mantissa?", in P. Adamson et al., eds., Philosophy, Science and Exegesis, London.
5.   P. Accattino, Alessandro di Afrodisia: De Intellectu, Turin, 2001.
6.   Chapter 22: "Responsibility, chance and not-being (Alexander of Aphrodisias Mantissa pp.179-186 Bruns)", Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 27 (1980), 76-94; chapters 22-25: On Fate, London, Duckworth, 1983, p. 94-115.

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