Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.08.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.08.43

Oliver Hellmann, David C. Mirhady (ed.), Phaenias of Eresus: Text, Translation, and Discussion. Rutgers University Studies in Classical Humanties vol. 19.   New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Publishers, 2015.  Pp. x, 449.  ISBN 9781412862479.  $89.95.  

Reviewed by Robert Mayhew, Seton Hall University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Over the past seventeen years, William Fortenbaugh and the other scholars involved with Project Theophrastus have produced excellent collections—with texts, translations, and essays—devoted to the following Peripatetics: Demetrius of Phalerum, Dicaearchus of Messana, Lyco of Troas, Hieronymus of Rhodes, Aristo of Ceos, Strato of Lampsacus, Praxiphanes of Mytilene, and Chamaeleon of Heraclea. The volume under review is the latest in this series.

Phaenias1 of Eresus was a student of Aristotle and a contemporary, compatriot, colleague, and friend of Theophrastus. No works of his survive, nor has a list of his works been preserved. There is evidence, however, that he may have written works with the following titles: Categories, On Interpretation, Analytics, Against the Sophists, Against Diodorus, On the Socratics, On Poets, The Killing of Tyrants Out of Revenge, On the Tyrants of Sicily, The Prytaneis at Eresus, and On Plants. These titles do not exhaust the subjects on which he wrote.

Phaenias of Eresus consists of text with facing English translation of the ‘fragments’ or source-texts of Phaenias (edited by Johannes Engels)2—the first such collection in nearly fifty years3—followed by thirteen essays (originally presented at the 17th biennial Project Theophrastus conference). I hope readers will forgive me for devoting a disproportionate amount of space to chapter 1, the source-texts themselves. For notwithstanding the generally high quality of the essays, this excellent new edition of texts for Phaenias is the major attraction in the volume.

Texts 1-10 (life and works): There survives no ancient biography of Phaenias. The following can be gleaned from the meager (and not entirely reliable) evidence: He was a student of Aristotle who was alive (flourished?) at the time of the 111th Olympiad (336-332 BC) and during the reign of Alexander of Macedon (died 322). He and Theophrastus were both from Eresus, Theophrastus wrote letters to him, and the two of them worked to liberate Eresus from tyranny. Text 5, according to which Theophrastus wrote to Phaenias about the ἴουλος (woodlouse or millipede?) counts as evidence, however slight, of an interest in animals as well as plants.

Texts 11-13 (logical writings): This section is disappointing, for all we learn from 11-12 is that Phaenias may have written works with the titles Categories, On Interpretation, and Analytics. I think Text 13 belongs under ‘Life and Work’, as all it says is that Theophrastus, in a logical work, used the name ‘Phaenias’ in an example. That might hint at their friendship or collegiality, but it says nothing about Phaenias’ writings on or views about logic.

Text 14: This text, from Alexander of Aphrodisias, is of great interest. It claims that Phaenias, in a work entitled Against Diodorus (presumably Diodorus Cronus), “states that the sophist Polyxenus introduced the third man argument.” A version of this famous argument against Platonic forms follows. There is unfortunately no essay devoted to this text in the volume, comparing this version to those found in Plato and Aristotle; but see the references provided by Engels (p. 27 n. 2).4

Texts 15A-B: These brief texts claim that Phaenias, in a work entitled Against the Sophists, discussed poets who produced depraved songs. Titles in antiquity were a slippery business, however, and one may legitimately wonder whether this is in fact a reference to On Poets, which contained at least two books (see Text 38).

Texts 16-21 (on tyrants): Again, despite there being two titles attributed to Phaenias on this subject (The Killing of Tyrants Out of Revenge and On the Tyrants of Sicily), these texts may come from or refer to the same work. Text 20, one of the love stories of Parthenius, is placed under the heading ‘Tyrants Killed in Revenge?’ I think the attribution is nearly certain, and so the question mark unnecessary. (See Schütrumpf, pp. 323-24.5)

Texts 22A-25: Text 22A refers to a title (The Prytaneis at Eresus), and 22B is clearly from the same source. But they say nothing about this subject; rather, they seem to provide evidence of Phaenias’ interest in mirabilia, as they record his report that in Chersonesos it rained fish for three days. The remaining texts (or merely Text 23?) come under the heading ‘The Prytaneis at Eresus?’, though in no case is that evident or even probable.6 Text 23 (discussing who invented the board-game pessoi) has been placed here because it notes Phaenias’ mention of the Mitylenaean Leon. Texts 24-25 are both evidence of Phaenias’ interest in chronology. Text 24, on the debate over the number of years from Kekrops to Alexander of Macedon (Phaenias says 715), would fit well in with the historical and biographical works. Text 25, on the relative dates of various poets, including the Lesbian Lesches, might reasonably be placed with On Poets, though Schorn (pp. 207-208) offers an argument against that.

Text 26-35 (historical and biographical works): These texts concern Solon (26-28B), Keryx and the Kerykes (35), and especially Themistocles (29-34). No titles from Phaenias are mentioned. Most of these come from Plutarch, and it seems clear that Phaenias was an important source for Plutarch’s Themistocles.

Texts 36-37: These are both from Diogenes Laertius. The first, on Antisthenes, comes from Phaenias’ On the Socratics; the second, on Aristippus, likely comes from the same work—though no title is mentioned, and it arguably could have come from Against the Sophists (as Engels indicates, p. 61 n. 1). See Dorandi (p. 155) and Schorn (pp. 218-19) for different views on the likely source of this text.

Text 38: This text, from Athenaeus, is said to come from the second book of On Poets. It concerns Stratonicus’ innovation in kithara playing, and other matters. Schorn (pp. 205-206) argues (successfully, I think) that what follows Text 38 in Athenaeus, on the death of Statonicus, should have been included here as well.

Texts 39A-40: These three texts (under the heading ‘Mirabilia (?)’) come from [Antigonus of Carystus], Rerum mirabilium. It is difficult to determine which work of Phaenias is the ultimate source of these texts (it was not a work on mirabilia). Incidentally, I think the first two should have been given separate numbers, rather than being labeled 39A and 39B, as they concern two different ‘marvels’ about two different lakes (see White, pp. 185-86).

Texts 41A-55 (on plants): 41A-F are simply the six references, in the first book of Pliny’s Historia naturalis, to Phaenias the natural scientist (Phania physico). We learn nothing from them of the content of Phaenias’ writings on nature. Texts 42-55 are on plants. With three exceptions, they come from Athenaeus. Seven of these (all from Athenaeus) refer to a title (Περὶ φυτῶν, or in one case Φυτικά), and three refer to the fifth book of On Plants. The emphasis seems to be on agriculture and plants as food (though that may be a distortion based on Athenaeus’ motivations in selecting the texts he does).

Texts 56A-57 are classified as references to unknown works, and 58 is labeled ‘AN ADDITIONAL TESTIMONY OF PHAENIAS’ LOGICAL WRITINGS?’ Texts 56A-B, from Plutarch’s On the Decline of Oracles 422B-E (which arguably should have been presented as one text) are of considerable interest. They concern Petron of Himera on the number of worlds. One might consider including them under On the Socratics, but see Dorandi (pp. 155-56). Text 58 belongs under LOGICAL WRITINGS? (it has more of a claim to be there than Text 13).

There follows a list of rejected texts (most from Plutarch’s Themistocles), a brief discussion of other ancients called Phaenias or Phanias, and concordances and indexes.

The next three chapters (the first three essays) serve as an introduction of sorts to Phaenias’ life and work, and the surviving evidence for our knowledge of them. W. Fortenbaugh’s “Two Eresians: Phainias and Theophrastus” discusses all of the texts (nearly forty) that treat Phaenias and Theophrastus together. M. Sollenberger’s “The Life and Times of Phaenias of Eresus” lays out nicely the little one can say about Phaenias’ life. T. Dorandi’s “The Fragments of Phanias of Eresus: Before and After Wehrli” is a useful survey of the earlier editions of the fragments of Phaenias, from Voisin’s Diatribe de Phania Eresio, philosopho Peripatetico (Ghent 1824) to Engels’s 1998 edition of the biographical and historical texts (see note 2 below). This chapter includes Addenda et Corrigenda to the works he discusses (pp. 156-62).

S. White’s “Phaenias in the Mirabilia Tradition: From ‘Antigonus’ to Callimachus” purports to be about Texts 39A-40, which all come from a Mirabilia collection attributed to Antigonus of Carystus. Actually, the tail is wagging the dog here, as this lengthy essay is in fact a superb discussion of the one codex (Palatinus graecus 398) that contains (inter alia) this collection, and the Phaenias texts in the context of that collection, and in particular the sections of that collection (ascribed to Callimachus of Cyrene) that are the source of the Phaenias texts. White argues that Texts 39A-40 likely come from On Plants (pp. 184-88).

Five essays are devoted to the source-texts of Phaenias’ biographical and historical works. Two deal with these texts generally: S. Schorn’s “Biography and History in Phaenias of Eresus” (a lengthy and excellent treatment of all of them)7 and C. Cooper’s “Phainias’ Historiographical and Biographical Method: Chronology and Dramatization”. The other three focus on particular sets of texts: L. Zhmud’s “Phaenias’ Work On the Socratics and His Fragment on Petron of Himera (56A–B = fr. 12 Wehrli),” more than half of which is a discussion of the Petron texts (though note that Zhmud does not argue for its inclusion under On the Socratics); J. Engels’s “Phainias’ Historical and Biographical Fragments on Solon and Themistokles (26–34)”; and, E. Schütrumpf’s “Phainias’ The Tyrants in Sicily, On Killing of Tyrants out of Revenge, and Aristotle’s Explanation of the Violent End of Tyrants.” Schütrumpf argues against the idea that Phaenias’ writings on tyranny were influenced by Aristotle’s discussion of that subject in Politics 5, and raises the possibility that Phaenias’ writings on tyranny are the actual source for the claims that he worked with Theophrastus to remove tyranny from Eresos (pp. 324-27). Three essays are devoted to the source-texts for Phaenias’ On Plants. M. Siede’s “The Plants of Phaenias” is a brief survey of all but one of the texts, and B. Anceschi’s “The Metaphor as a Scientific Device in the Botanical Description of the Mallow in Fragment 49 of Phainias of Eresus” is a lengthy discussion of the one text not discussed by Siede. A. Zucker’s “Phainias and the Naturalistic Legacy of the Peripatos” discusses Phaenias in the context of Peripatetic studies of nature, and especially Theophrastus’ work on plants. Of the possible hypotheses concerning the relationship between Phaenias’ work and Theophrastus’, Zucker speculates that Theophrastus and Phaenias shared data, but that Phaenias’ botanical work had a different, less theoretical and more practical, orientation (see pp. 380 and 388). Zucker’s essay includes an extremely useful discussion of the (un)reliability of Athenaeus as a source for Phaenias’ On Plants, using his treatment of Theophrastus’ extant Historia plantarum as a test case (pp. 389-96).

The final essay is M. Asper’s “Peripatetic Forms of Writing: A Systems-Theory Approach,” which discusses the different literary forms used in the early Peripatos. Though interesting, it is rather out of place in this volume, as it mentions Phaenias only once (briefly, on p. 420).

The volume ends with a useful “Index of Ancient Sources for Chapters 2-14.”

Table of Contents

1. Phaenias of Eresus: The Sources, Text and Translation, Johannes Engels
2. Two Eresians: Phainias and Theophrastus, William W. Fortenbaugh
3. The Life and Times of Phaenias of Eresus, Michael G. Sollenberger
4. The Fragments of Phanias of Eresus: Before and After Wehrli, Tiziano Dorandi
5. Phaenias in the Mirabilia Tradition: From “Antigonus” to Callimachus, Stephen White
6. Biography and History in Phaenias of Eresus, Stefan Schorn
7. Phainias’ Historiographical and Biographical Method: Chronology and Dramatization, Craig Cooper
8. Phaenias’ Work On the Socratics and His Fragment on Petron of Himera (56A–B = fr. 12 Wehrli), Leonid Zhmud
9. Phainias’ Historical and Biographical Fragments on Solon and Themistokles (26–34), Johannes Engels
10. Phainias’ The Tyrants in Sicily, On Killing of Tyrants out of Revenge, and Aristotle’s Explanation of the Violent End of Tyrants, Eckart Schütrumpf
11. The Plants of Phaenias, Mechthild Siede
12. The Metaphor as a Scientific Device in the Botanical Description of the Mallow in Fragment 49 of Phainias of Eresus, Barbara Anceschi
13. Phainias and the Naturalistic Legacy of the Peripatos, Arnaud Zucker
14. Peripatetic Forms of Writing: A Systems-Theory Approach, Markus Asper
Index of Ancient Sources for Chapters 2–14


1.   Variously spelled Φαινίας and Φανίας in antiquity, and ‘Phaenias’, ‘Phainias’, and ‘Phanias’ by modern scholars. I use the variant in the title of the book under review.
2.   Engels sometimes uses the translations of others (e.g. Olson’s Loeb translation of Athenaeus), in some cases modified. Based on the random check I made, I would say his own translations are generally quite good. Note that Engels had earlier collected, edited, translated, and commented on Phaenias’ biographical and historical fragments: “Phainias of Eresos” in Felix Jacoby. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker Continued IV: Biography and Antiquarian Literature. IVA: Biography. Fasc. 1: The Pre-Hellenistic Period, ed. G. Schepens (Leiden: Brill, 1998): 266-351.
3.   That is, since Fritz Wehrli’s Die Schule des Aristoteles. Text und Kommentar, Heft 9: Phainias von Eresos, Chamaileon, Praxiphanes, 2nd ed. (Basel: Schwabe, 1969).
4.   See also Stephen Menn, “Aporiai 13-14,” in Michel Crubellier and André Laks eds., Aristotle’s Metaphysics Beta (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009): 230-31 n. 44.
5.   All such references are to the essays in the present volume.
6.   This is perhaps the appropriate place to mention, for what it’s worth, that I found confusing the alternating use of all caps and regular headings in the organization and layout of the source-texts.
7.   In reading this volume I occasionally encountered typographical errors. The only noteworthy one, however, as it may cause confusion if not corrected, occurs on p. 216 of Schorn’s essay: ‘11’ (in bold)—a remnant of the numbering system in Engels’s earlier edition of these texts—should read ‘36’.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010