Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.03.27 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.27

Brigitte Pérez-Jean, Frédéric Fauquier, Maxime de Tyr: Choix de conférences religion et philosophie. La roue à livres, 70.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2014.  Pp. 162.  ISBN 9782251339740.  €25.50 (pb).  

Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht (


About Maximus of Tyre we know next to nothing, except that he was a Greek rhetor and semi-philosopher who was active in Rome in the second half of the second century CE. Of his orations 41 have been preserved. After H. Hobein published the Teubner edition of these texts in 1910, things remained silent around Maximus for the most part of the 20th century. It was only in the final decade that one could witness a sudden flurry of scholarly activity about this author. Both M. B. Trapp and G. L. Koniaris published, almost simultaneously, new critical editions of the text (1994 and 1995 respectively). In 1997 Trapp also published his English translation, with brief explanatory notes, of all the orations. And there followed a host of other, minor publications, duly listed in the bibliography of the book reviewed here (153-9).

The two French scholars who have published this book chose nine of Maximus’ orations, those mainly focusing on religio-philosophical issues, and have presented them in a fresh French translation with brief explanatory notes. The book opens with a concise introduction (some fifteen pages) dealing with what little we know of the man, the transmission of the text of the orations, Maximus’ position within the movement of the Second Sophistic, and his serious attempts to reconcile his two heroes, Plato and Homer, by means of allegorical exegesis of the epic poems. The bulk of the book (some 100 pages) consists of the translation of the nine orations (based on Trapp’s new Teubner). Then follow 22 pages of notes, and the book concludes with a bibliography. Maximus’ nine treatises translated here deal with topics such as ‘Whether or not one should erect statues for the gods’, ‘Poetry and philosophy on the gods’, ‘Does it make sense to pray?’, ‘Plato on god’, ‘The nature of Socrates’ daimonion’, ‘The origin of evil’ etc. As a philosopher Maximus has a bad press in modern scholarly literature and indeed he is not a genius and certainly not an original thinker. Even though he regards himself as a Platonic philosopher, he is rather an adept of the Second Sophistic with an eclectic knowledge of the history of philosophy (although it should be added that he knows Plato’s works rather well). From his treatises one can gather an impression of what more or less educated circles in his days thought about quite a number of religious and/or philosophical topics. For that reason French readers should be grateful to Pérez-Jean and Fauquier for having made part of this interesting material more accessible.

The French translation is accurate (as far as I, a non-native speaker, can judge), although there are some minor slips; for example, isôs in 2.2 is rather ‘perhaps’ than ‘sans doute’; and in 2.3, Trapp’s ‘made it their practice’ is more felicitous than ‘a-t-on pensé’ for enomisan in this context. In 5.2 they translate the sentence beginning with ouk euxato as a statement whereas Trapp rightly takes it to be a question. Sometimes, however, it is the other way round: in 2.5 the French ‘(chez les Égyptiens) on montre le temple d’un dieu qui est son tombeau’ captures the kai explicativum better than Trapp’s ‘they can show you both a god’s temple and his grave’. The explanatory notes, however, are less satisfactory. Most of them are extremely brief and their number is very limited as well. Trapp’s English translation also contains brief explanatory notes, but these are more numerous and also more helpful (although the French are stronger in realia). Maybe it was the nature of the series La roue à livres that put such constraints upon the French translators. Anyway, there are quite a few passages in these orations that cry out for more explanation than the reader is given here. There is, for instance, no note on the method of diaeresis in 11.8 (where Trapp does have one). A good instance is also Or. 5 on prayer (Ei dei euchesthai). Here Maximus presents us with a nuanced discussion of the problems people encounter when they feel a need to pray to the gods but at the same time believe in the immutability of the divinity, in Providence, Fate or Fortune. The contradictions inherent in such a situation, whether apparent or real, are laid out by Maximus by means of examples from history, and he discusses various options only to come to the conclusion that prayer should always be a philosophically informed dialogue with the gods about the things one already has, but never a petitionary prayer for what one wants to have. This whole complex of problems has a long history in Greek philosophy and in my opinion this should have been laid out in more detail in order to enable the reader to follow Maximus’ train of thought (there is only one-and-a-half page with notes).This could have been done all the more easily since this text is one of the very few treatises of Maximus that have received an extensive commentary in which most of the relevant material can be found, in this case a study published in 1996 by the present reviewer,1 but the French scholars have overlooked it. For beginning Francophone students, however, this booklet will serve as a welcome and useful introduction to Maximus’ thought. They will find much of value in it.


1.   P. W. van der Horst, “Maximus of Tyre on Prayer. An Annotated Translation of Ei dei euchesthai (Dissertatio 5)” in H. Cancik, H. Lichtenberger and P. Schäfer (edd.), Geschichte - Tradition - Reflexion: Festschrift für Martin Hengel zum 70. Geburtstag (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996), vol. 2: 323-39.

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