Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.01.03 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.01.03

Ivan Adriano Licciardi, Parmenide tràdito, Parmenide tradìto: nel Commentario di Simplico alla Fisica di Aristotele. Saggio introduttivo, Raccolta dei testi in greco, Traduzione e Commentario. Symbolon, 42.   Sankt Augustin:  Academia Verlag, 2016.  Pp. 571.  ISBN 9783896656919.  €54.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Luca Gili, Université du Québec à Montréal (

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Licciardi’s book is a welcome addition to the growing scholarly literature on Simplicius and to the already abundant literature on Parmenides. The book is the first comprehensive study of Simplicius’ usage of Parmenides’ fragments in the commentary on Aristotle’s Physics written by the Neoplatonist philosopher. The book includes a substantial introductory essay, in which Licciardi describes the reception of Parmenides’ philosophy in Plato and in the Platonic tradition up to Simplicius (pp. 21-88), a collection of passages in which Simplicius discusses Parmenides’ philosophy and quotes lines from the Eleatic philosopher’s lost poem (pp. 89-162), a translation into Italian of these fragments (pp. 165-285) and an extensive commentary on them (pp. 289-503). The book includes a rich bibliography (pp. 508-32) and indexes (pp. 535-71). This publication is a major contribution because it undoubtedly fills an (arguably inexplicable) gap in the existing literature on the subject. The bibliography on Parmenides includes many titles, and the number of studies devoted to Simplicius is steadily increasing, consistently with the renewed attention to the late antique philosophy that scholars of different backgrounds are promoting. Yet few studies have been devoted to date to the reception of Parmenides in Simplicius, even though Simplicius is the richest source for the reconstruction of Parmenides’ poem.1

Licciardi’s book will be useful to many scholars, because it offers a highly reliable translation of Simplicius’ text and a careful commentary on Simplicius’ sometimes difficult analyses. The Greek text, on the other hand, reproduces Diels’ edition with minor modifications (for example, when Simplicius quotes from authors whose works have been critically edited again after Diels, Licciardi prints a text from the more recent edition; there is also some conjectural activity in Licciardi’s text, and all his conjectures are reasonable and well argued for).

In his introductory essay, Licciardi states that Plutarch’s interpretation of Parmenides’ philosophy had a lasting influence on later Platonic thinkers. In his Adversus Colotem, Plutarch replies to a pamphlet by the Epicurean philosopher Colotes of Lamspacus. According to Plutarch, Colotes states that Parmenides’ poem is full of sophisms, and that the idea that the world is one is incompatible with common sense. Plutarch states that Parmenides’ theory anticipated Plato’s philosophy in that Parmenides distinguished between the intelligible and the sensible world. In Parmenides’ poem, the section on “being” (B8 in Diels-Kranz) is about the intelligible world, whereas the section on the opinions of the mortals is devoted to the description of the sensible world. Accordingly, intelligible realities are not changeable, whereas sensible ones undergo change (see pp. 30-1). Proclus was to follow Plutarch in maintaining that there is a continuity between the philosophies of Parmenides and of Plato (pp. 36 ff.); Simplicius would interpret Parmenides’ philosophy in a similar way. Licciardi points out that Simplicius reconstructs a history of Greek philosophy as a coherent inquiry into the principles of the intelligible and of the sensible worlds. In Aristotle’s Physics the opinions of his predecessors undergo a dialectical scrutiny: Aristotle criticizes his predecessors for errors in their research. But in his commentary on the first chapters of Physics 1, Simplicius denies that this is what is happening: Aristotle is not criticizing what Parmenides and the others meant to say, but is rather rejecting an interpretation that could arise from a misunderstanding of their views. Simplicius starts from the assumption that all philosophers shared the same doctrine. Plato is the clearest in expounding the truth (see p. 48, where Licciardi refers to Simp. in De Cael. 131.1) , but Parmenides did not maintain a different view, he simply expounded it in an enigmatic poem (see p. 46). In Simplicius’ view, Parmenides states that ideal being is the model upon which changeable sensible realities depend. Because of the harmony among all philosophers, Simplicius maintains that Parmenides subscribed not only to Plato’s claim that the sensible world imitates the intelligible one, but also to Plotinus’ claim that the One transcends being. In his commentary on (his) fr. 23, Licciardi stresses that Simplicius is cautious in stating that the one is beyond “real being”: “Simplicio suppone, con una certa riserva, che Parmenide possa aver volute mostrare che è uno non soltanto l’essere che realmente è, e che secondo lui altro non è che l’essere-uno parmenideo . . ., ma anche un uno di livello superiore che si colloca al di là dell’essere” (p. 380).

Licciardi’s translations are clear and accurate (although sometimes he resorts to neologism: e.g. “elementiforme”, p. 183, translating στοιχειώδης), as is his running (meta-)commentary on Simplicius.

The book will be of interest to both Parmenides and Simplicius scholars. One of the qualities of a good piece of scholarship is that it can generate new questions and new research hypotheses. Licciardi’s book might impact Parmenides’ scholarship by questioning some of the assumptions of recent interpreters. In one of the latest issues of Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Thomas Kjeller Johansen has observed that Proclus’ reading of Parmenides provides us with insight into the Eleatic philosopher’s doctrine.2 Many contemporary scholars have tried to explain how the section on being and the section on the opinions of mortals might be connected. According to the path of Truth, being is unique and changeless and is the only thing that can be thought or talked about. According to the path of doxa, plurality and change can be found in the cosmos. In Johansen’s view, the two paths are not in contradiction, because together they make the cosmos intelligible.3 In Johansen’s view, Parmenides’ being is related to the cosmos as a model is related to its likeness. Being is intelligible because it is structured according to the laws of the thought. Even though the cosmos is not perfectly intelligible, because it is not changeless, it is nevertheless similar to its model, being, and thanks to this likeness/model relation, the cosmos becomes intelligible too. Johansen’s interpretation is similar to that of Simplicius. Licciardi’s book might bring us to question such an interpretation, because it stresses that we can reconstruct Parmenides’ philosophy only on the basis of the fragments that have been transmitted for the most part by Simplicius himself. It is not unlikely that Simplicius selected the fragments he quotes in order to demonstrate his own interpretation of Parmenides’ philosophy. Licciardi does not stress this aspect, but I believe that one might easily infer this conclusion from the book. As a consequence, there are reasons to be cautious about an interpretation like Johansen’s.

As for the impact on Simplicius scholarship, it is worth stressing that Licciardi is able to flesh out the coherence of the commentator’s project. Far from being unoriginal, as Simplicius is often charged to be, the Neoplatonist commentator harmonizes Plato’s and Aristotle’s doctrines by developing a progressive history of philosophy, in which earlier thinkers expounded the same doctrine in a more enigmatic way. Even though the originality of Simplicius is increasingly appreciated thanks to a growing number of scholarly studies, Licciardi’s book is a fine contribution that adds a significant bit to the endeavor of rediscovering Late Antique philosophy. It is reasonable to imagine that this book will be read for many years to come.


1.   These studies include B. M. Perry, Simplicius as a Source for and an Interpreter of Parmenides (PhD dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle, 1983), and A. Stevens, Postérité de l’être. Simplicius interprète de Parménide (Brussels: Ousia, 1990). Despite its title, however, Stevens’ book focuses on Parmenides’ poem and not on Simplicius’ interpretation thereof.
2.   See T. K. Johansen, Parmenides’ Likely Story, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 50 (2016), 1-29.
3.   Many scholars have tried to explain the relation between the path of truth and that of the doxa. A survey of recent interpretations can be found in L. Rossetti, F. Marcacci (eds.), Parmenide scienziato?, Academia Verlag, St. Augustin, 2011 (see especially the introduction by Rossetti and Marcacci, pp. 7-24).

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