Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.05.26

Concetta Luna, Alain-Philippe Segonds (ed.), Proclus. Commentaire sur le Parménide de Platon, Tome III (2 vols.). Collection des universités de France. Série grecque.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2011.  Pp. cdvii; x, 360.  ISBN 9782251005638.  €111.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

This is the third installment of the projected Budé edition of Proclus' Commentary on the Parmenides, edited by Concetta Luna and Alain Ségonds (the latter of whom, regrettably, passed away in May 2011, just before this segment appeared). Like the first installment of the series, covering Book I of the commentary, this is a truly monstrous production, in two stout volumes, the first entirely devoted to background material – material, indeed, which would have more appropriately belonged in the introduction to the first volume, had that not been filled with other material.

In this case, however, we are presented with what amounts to a full-scale hatchet-job on the rival Oxford edition of the text, edited by a team headed by Carlos Steel – who should, of course, have been the co-editor of the Budé edition with Ségonds, but for a fatal falling-out over the manuscript tradition, or more specifically, the relation of the ms. A (Parisinus graecus 1810) to the other family of manuscripts descending from the hyparchetype Σ. This feud seems set to take its place among the great battles in the history of Western classical scholarship, but its manifestations here are disedifying. Of the 406 pages of the introductory volume, fully 274 (pp. 82-356 – including 3 appendices!) are taken up with a detailed attack on the editorial methods, palaeographical judgement, and general scholarly competence of Carlos Steel and his team. The great majority of the complaints concern dire trivialities, though occasionally Luna, as must be expected from so comprehensive a trawl, scores a palpable hit.

The present reviewer, it must be said, comes in for some brickbats, incidentally to the assault on Steel, as a result of what I must admit to have been my rather casual attitude to the host of excellent conjectures provided to me by the generosity of Leendert Westerink in the course of my translation of the work (Luna has managed to get hold of copies of Westerink’s letters to me, preserved in his papers, and is brandishing them triumphantly!). I must confess that I acknowledged explicitly only the more important of Westerink’s many suggestions, because of the problem of excessive clutter in the text of the Princeton edition. I also sent off his suggestions to Steel, for checking against Moerbeke’s Latin, to which Westerink did not have access, and in most cases Steel was able to confirm their agreement with the Latin – though in many conspicuous cases Westerink was on his own, brilliantly discerning what Proclus must have said. It was a great privilege and pleasure for me to work with both of these great scholars — in an atmosphere of generosity of spirit, I may say, profoundly antithetical to the present dismal manifestations. Luna can blame me for misleading Steel in crediting conjectures in his Oxford edition, but she really should not be using me as a stick with which to beat him. The fault is mine. If I had known this was going to happen, I would have exercised a much greater degree of exactitude, even at the cost of the readability of the volume.

This introductory volume is, then, I regret to say, a monument of malicious, nitpicking pedantry. I cannot conceive how Les Belles Lettres permitted it to be produced, to delight the other half-dozen demented pedants in the universe to whom the data herein contained could be of any interest whatever. The balance of the volume, admittedly, is usefully taken up with (a) a discussion of the various editions of Victor Cousin (pp. 9-82) and (b) and analysis of the argument of book III (pp. 357-90), but it is a mere fraction of the whole.

Having got that off my chest, though, I can go on to report that in Volume 2 of this installment we have a generally excellent text and translation of Book III of the Parmenides Commentary, with a host of useful notes. However, an (admittedly spotty) comparison of the text with the OCT text does not reveal improvements that are such as to justify the tirade in the introductory volume. It is difficult to illustrate such a claim in any short compass, but let us take an example or two.

For our first example, we may turn to 785, 3ff., where Proclus is raising the basic question as to whether the cosmos is self-constituted or not. Here Morrow and I translate as follows: “Let us begin with the following point. Is this visible cosmos – by cosmos I mean the corporeal cosmos as such – self-constituted (authupostaton), < or must we suppose that it depends upon a cause outside itself? >”. The passage in brackets is based upon what seems to me a reasonable conjecture by Cousin, based on the terminology used when taking up this second alternative below, at 786, 15: “Let it, then, be taken as demonstrated that the cosmos depends upon some higher cause.” However, Luna objects, not unreasonably, that this conjecture takes no account of palaeographical reasons for such an error, such as homoeoteleuton, let us say, between -on and -on. In recognition of that, I would now propose adding, say, êrtêmenon at the end, and cutting out einai. But in general I think that such a supplement is needed. She herself simply marks a lacuna, which is her privilege, but she takes a cut at Steel in the OCT for simply adding ê ou, ‘or not?’, on the ground that that is unsyntactical – some verb is needed to govern the accusative kosmon, such as the theteon included by Cousin. She lands a glancing blow here, but she could have done the same herself, after all.

Then, a little further on, at 787,1-5 Cousin, Proclus is making the following point, which we translated as follows: “In fact, everything that acts by deliberate choice (kata prohairesin) necessarily has some creative activity that it exercises by its very being (autôi tôi einai). Our soul, for example, does many things by deliberate choice, but nevertheless gives life to the body by its very being; while its substratum is serviceable, it necessarily lives its own life, even without the soul exercising a choice.” This last, italicized, phrase is based on a very reasonable emendation by Westerink, proheloumenêstês psykhes understood — for the virtually meaningless prokheomenês of the Greek manuscripts. This has the virtue of being reasonably close to the mss. reading (remember that Westerink did not have access to the Latin tradition), but in fact Moerbeke’s Latin reads electionaliter, which would more naturally render prohairetikôs. Steel reads the former (though he informed me of the latter), Luna the latter, and one might have been inclined to accept the probability of the latter, except that it leaves the reading of the Greek mss. quite unexplained. There is also an interesting parallel at Elements of Theology 189, 25-6: kan ê to metekhon epitêdeion, euthus ginetai kai zôn, ou logisamenês tês psukhês kai prohelomenês, the subject here too being the living body. For our understanding of the text, however, the difference is trivial; nonetheless Luna cannot resist a dig at Steel, and indeed Westerink, by revealing that the conjecture was actually first made by Bessarion – while asserting that the reading prohairetikôs is ‘manifestement supérieur’, which it surely is not.

But let us end on a more positive note, selecting a passage where she is surely correct. At 817, 3, Proclus is winding up a discussion begun at 815, 15 (arising from the lemma 130cd), as to whether there is a demiurgic paradigm (paradeigma dêmiourgikon) of intellective essence. In the end, Proclus concludes that “for intellective essence, in its entirety, we must not postulate a demiurgic paradigm”. The text, however, reads paradeigmatikon, to which Steel simply prefixes to. Luna is right, I think, to discern that we need to read paradeigma <dêmiourg>ikon, but she is unjustified in describing Steel’s suggestion as ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘absurde’. It is simply somewhat elliptical: ‘a paradigmatic element’.

In all these cases, despite their palaeographical interest, there is really very little at stake for the philosophic content. Nonetheless, when all is said and done, we have in the Budé a very fine edition of this difficult and important text, adorned with many useful notes. It is just a great pity that it had to be infused by this miasma of overheated polemic.

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