Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.11.13

David Sider, The Fragments of Anaxagoras. Introduction, Text, and Commentary. Second Edition.   Sankt Augustin:  Academia Verlag, 2005.  Pp. ix, 204.  ISBN 3-89665-293-1.  €34.50.  

Reviewed by John E. Sisko, The College of New Jersey (
Word count: 989 words

The first edition of this work (published in 1981) quickly came to be recognized as an indispensable research tool for scholars working on Anaxagoras.1 Sider engaged in a close study of seventeen manuscripts containing Book I of Simplicius' in Physica and established a text, with critical apparatus, that is markedly superior to what is found in Diels-Kranz.2 As a reference, dealing with issues of grammar, orthography and diction, the first edition was simply without parallel. However, as a philosophical investigation, it proved to be somewhat less successful. The first edition lacked sustained focus on core issues of interpretation and, in respect to philosophical exegesis, the edition could not be favorably compared to Malcolm Schofield's An Essay on Anaxagoras (published in 1980).3

This second edition is especially welcome. The first had been out of print for several years, and, given the robust state of current interest in Anaxagoras' thought, the book had become quite difficult to find on the second-hand market. This new edition is certainly more than a reprint. Changes have been made on just about every page and the book is both more readable and more useable than the first edition. It has been updated to include references to a good deal of recent research on Anaxagoras, and the few manifest errors in the first edition have been corrected. This second edition, no doubt, will serve for many years to come as a crucial research tool for scholars interested in Anaxagoras. The reader will profit greatly from consideration of Sider's erudite insights on a host of philological issues. Yet, as a work of philosophical exegesis, this second edition marks no real improvement over the already toothless first edition.

The camera-ready copy for the first edition had been produced on a typewriter. So, the book had the look of a dissertation from the early 1980's. The type in the second edition has a much more pleasing appearance. For the second edition, the bibliography has been expanded by about 50% (roughly 85 new entries), with only a few obvious omissions.4 There is now a general index and an index verborum, plus numbers have been added for more recently edited fragments. Four sections (totaling 16 pages) that were omitted from the first edition are now included. In the first pair of these sections there are useful discussions of the likely length of Anaxagoras' book and the issue of whether the book contained any diagrams. In the second pair there is a general assessment of Anaxagoras' writing style and an evaluation of the evidence favoring the view that Anaxagoras had an interest in the allegorical interpretation of Homer.

Obvious errors from the first edition have been corrected. One and a half lines of text in B4a had gone untranslated. This has been corrected. The words 'καὶ σμικρότητα' at B1.1-2 also went untranslated and this too has been corrected. The translation of B16 had 'earth' for 'ὕδωρ' and now, in the second edition, we have 'water'. Further, 'βίην δ ταχυτὴς ποιεῖ' at B9.3 had been translated as 'for force produces speed' and now we have the more appropriate 'for speed produces force'. (Unfortunately, Sider's commentary on this passage still contains a discussion of 'force produces speed', p.119) There are a limited number of typographical problems in this new edition. On p.116, what should be δη' is printed as δ η' and the peculiar use of line spacing on p.57 is likely to engender some initial confusion in the reader. Generally, however, this second edition is eminently more presentable than the first.

Sider offers brief but useful assessments of some of the recent scholarship on Anaxagoras. He tends to focus on research that deals with issues of translation and the establishment of the text. Sider has very little to say concerning recent scholarship on Anaxagoras' general physics, cosmology or philosophy of mind. This is unfortunate, for a great deal of important work has been done in these areas since the publication of the first edition. A pair of significant papers on Anaxagoras' understanding of νοῦς are listed in the bibliography, without being discussed in the commentary.5 In addition, Daniel Graham's paper on the principles of Anaxagoras' physics (arguably, the most important paper on Anaxagoras' philosophy published in the past twenty-five years) is listed, but not discussed.6 Further, Sider does not update his account of Anaxagoras' understanding of σπέρμα to reflect important new work by Eric Lewis.7 Lewis' paper on σπέρμα receives only cursory attention in connection with the textual issue of whether Simplicius' words following B3 constitute another fragment of Anaxagoras (p.83). Finally, Sider does not update his critical assessment of Jaap Mansfeld's thesis that, according to Anaxagoras, there exist a plurality of microscopic worlds within our own cosmos. While Malcolm Schofield's spirited defense of Mansfeld's thesis is listed in the bibliography, Schofield's paper receives only passing attention in connection with an issue of translation (p.99).8

Some of the philosophical infelicities that were present in the first edition remain in the second. On p.135, Sider equates infinitesimals with points and on p.174 (n.7) he claims that the primordial chaos is '...the ultimate stable state of like-to-like [attraction]'. Infinitesimals are, of course, not points and, arguably, like-to-like attraction would not support the thorough intermixture of disparate substances in a static and homogenous plenum. On the contrary, like-to-like attraction would cause the separation of disparate substances.

This second edition builds on the strengths of the first. Sider has crafted a work that is essential reading for those interested in the philological issues surrounding Anaxagoras' fragments. The weaknesses of this second edition are, perhaps, even more glaring than those of the first. Readers interested in understanding the basic principles or deeper nuances of Anaxagoras' philosophy are advised to consult the bibliography and turn directly to the more recent journal articles cited. The publication of this new edition underscores (but surely does not satisfy) the need for a fresh and expansive philosophical study of Anaxagoras' fragments.


1.   David Sider, The Fragments of Anaxagoras. Edited with an Introduction and Commentary. Meisenheim am Glan: Verlag Anton Hain, 1981.
2.   H. Diels and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Sixth edition. Zurich: Weidmann, 1952.
3.   Malcom Schofield, An Essay on Anaxagoras. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
4.   Three noteworthy omissions are Richard Sorabji, Matter, Space, and Motion. Theories in Antiquity and Their Sequel. London: Duckworth, 1988; Patricia Curd, The Legacy of Parmenides. Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997; and Gareth Matthews, 'On the Idea of there being Something of Everything in Everything,' Analysis 62.1 (2002), pp. 1-4.
5.   Andre Laks, 'Mind's Crisis: on Anaxagoras' νοῦς,' Southern Journal of Philosophy, Suppl. to 31 (1993), pp.19-38 and James Lesher, 'Mind's Knowledge and the Powers of Control in Anaxagoras DK B12,' Phronesis 40 (1995), pp.125-142.
6.   Daniel Graham, 'The Postulates of Anaxagoras', Apeiron 27 (1994), pp.77-121.
7.   Eric Lewis, 'Anaxagoras and the Seeds of a Physical Theory', Apeiron 33 (2000), pp.1-23.
8.   Malcolm Schofield, 'Anaxagoras' Other World Revisited', in K. Algra, P. W. van der Horst, and D. T. Runia (edd.), Polyhistor: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ancient Philosophy Presented to J. Mansfeld on his Sixtieth Birthday. Leiden: Brill, 1996, pp.3-20.

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