Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.08.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.08.43

Han Baltussen, The Peripatetics: Aristotle's Heirs, 322 BCE-200 CE. Ancient philosophies.   London; New York:  Routledge, 2016.  Pp. xii, 177.  ISBN 9781844655762.  $44.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Eugene Afonasin, Novosibirsk State University (

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Aristotle’s followers, especially his immediate intellectual heirs, such as Theophrastus, Eudemus, Dicaearchus, and Aristoxenus, have recently received a great deal of scholarly attention, sometimes at an unprecedented level,1 and the work by Han Baltussen clearly intends both to contribute to the ongoing discussion and to offer a generally accessible and handy summary of scholarly achievements in the field. It deals with the various aspects of Peripatetic philosophy or, rather, of Aristotle’s heritage as it was received, adopted and developed by his immediate successors, and traces its fate up to the time of Alexander of Aphrodisias and the formation of the long tradition of commentaries on the works of Aristotle, which is indeed another story (equally well served, one must note, in recent scholarship).

The book consists of seven chapters, for some reason formatted as independent studies.2

The first chapter introduces Aristotle’s heirs in turn, starting with Theophrastus of Eresus and finishing with Alexander of Aphrodisias. Only more significant figures are discussed at length, but the chapter is supplemented with a list of Known Peripatetics 322 BCE – 250 CE, found as Appendix A to the book (pp. 165-70). The Peripatetics in this list are subdivided into three stages, early (322 – ca. 100 BCE), middle (starting with Andronicus, ca. 100 BCE – ca. 100 CE), and late (ca.100 – 220 CE, ending with Alexander of Aphrodisias). Heraclides of Pontus, who figures in the first chapter (p. 12), is denied a place in the list of Known Peripatetics and classified as an independent Platonist.3

The second chapter deals with the complex of problems associated with natural philosophy, from physics to psychology. Elaborating on the works of Aristotle and the oral tradition of the school, Theophrastus and his successors developed the scientific project outlined by Aristotle, treating his work as common ground for building upon, rather than as a canon for assessing (as happened later). Baltussen singles out outstanding reinterpretations of the ideas of place and time by, respectively, Theophrastus and Strato, and a Peripatetic rethinking of the idea of soul, viewed, inside the realm of physics, as a self-mover. Mostly filling gaps in Aristotle’s schema, resolving such problems as whether intellect is inherent or received outside (Theophrastus) or whether sensory and soul motions are identical or different one from another (Strato), early Peripatetics are frequently observed to deviate from a supposedly standard school psychology in important and even radical ways (Dicaearchus).

From the third chapter we learn about the development of Aristotelian logic, metaphysics, the theory of reasoning and the theory of knowledge. Theophrastus, Strato and other earlier Peripatetics developed and refined the ideas of Aristotle, frequently for didactic purposes. Theophrastus’ Metaphysics is famous for its critical analysis of the theory of causality and of other fundamental aspects of so-called first philosophy. Although our information is very limited, it appears that Theophrastus and Eudemus were interested in the hypothetical syllogism, underdeveloped by Aristotle, while Strato made other lasting contributions to dialectic.

Aristotelian practical philosophy is the subject of the fourth chapter. It predominantly deals with Aristotelian ethics after Aristotle. The chapter starts with the famous Theophrastan Characters and his detailed analysis of emotions, where Theophrastus not only supplied Aristotelian abstract theories with vivid examples, but also elaborated on ethical (and political) subjects not sufficiently clarified by his teacher. The next sections on Peripatetic ethics after Theophrastus and beyond the Hellenistic period do no more than just summarize scanty reports of the moral and political views of such figures as Lyco, Hieronymus of Rhodes, Dicaearchus, Demetrius, Adrastus, Aspasius (the author of the earliest extant commentary on the Ethics) and, finally, Alexander.

The last two chapters deal with the problem of the continuity of the Aristotelian tradition and its intellectual context. Unlike later commentators, from Alexander of Aphrodisias on, the first generations of Peripatetics developed, refined and elaborated the theories of Aristotle as they knew and remembered them, mostly following the basic fundamentals, but occasionally deviating from them in substantial ways. They never treated Aristotelian teaching as a sort of canon. Aristotelianism is doubtless a creation of the commentators. Thus, Theophrastus questioned the theory of causality and, as Strato after him, the Aristotelian concept of place. Dicaearchus is noted for his radical rethinking of psychology, Xenarchus denied the existence of aether, etc. Baltussen says that, armed with a Pythagorean numerical model, Aristoxenus in his harmonics tried to join this model with Aristotelian doctrines (p. 119). But it seems that it is exactly because the student of Aristotle has developed the phenomenological theory of music "as we hear it", fundamentally different from the mathematical harmonics already proposed by the Pythagoreans and Platonists, that he is rightly labelled as a Peripatetic. Finding the points of continuity and discontinuity between the Aristoxenian and the Pythagorean views became the task of the Hellenistic musical theorists, such as Ptolemais of Cyrene and Didymus. The external readers and critics of Aristotle discussed in the book include the Stoics, Cicero,4 Plutarch, and Galen.

In the epilogue, Baltussen briefly looks at the Peripatetic tradition as a whole.

In general, the book is well produced; however, there are occasional mistakes (see, for instance, ‘Didorus’ instead of ‘Diodorus’, at p. 166; both ‘Heraclides’ and ‘Heracleides’ in the same list, pp. 165-6, Areus Didymus at p. 167 vs Arius or Areius Didymus elsewhere). Also, my impression is that the font used (especially this of bibliography) is intolerably small. This makes reading difficult and is unkind for a book in an introductory series intended for students.

Overall, it is clear that the new book by Han Baltussen well serves its purpose, namely, to become an introductory reading for students and scholars interested in the development of an important but relatively neglected tradition.


1.   In addition to a truly monumental series of the Brill commentaries on Theophrastus and numerous volumes on the Peripatetic tradition published in Rutgers University Studies in the Classical Humanities (these titles are conveniently listed by Baltussen in Appendix B, found at the end of the book), there are a lot of recent studies, dedicated both to individual figures such as, say, Xenarchus of Seleucia, and to general subjects such as, for instance, the development of Aristotle’s theory of categories in Roman period; there are also new studies concerned with relatively neglected treaties of the Corpus Aristotelicum, such as the Problemata.
2.   The text of each chapter is supplemented not only with the endnotes but also with a list of references, separate for each chapter, while the book as a whole lacks the traditional general bibliography. Maybe this is a matter of personal preference, but I found this inconvenient. A general and, possibly, systematic bibliography (examples are readily found in various Companions) would be quite appropriate in a book intended to be an introductory reading. This practice leads, for instance, to the following mistakes. A frequently used book by R. Sharples, Peripatetic philosophy, abbreviated in the List of Sources and Abbreviations found in the beginning of the book as "Sharples," is again abbreviated as "Sharples 2010" on p. 79, which is inconsistent, leaving aside the fact that this sort of abbreviation is simply redundant because all the books are referred in this way. Or, from a list of references to Chapter 3 on p. 78 we learn that a work of Daiber on Theophrastus’ Meteorology is published in Fortenbaugh and Gutas, but this last collection of studies is not listed in the bibliographic references to this chapter, only in Appendix B. So, a general list of references would work better.
3.   Admittedly, Heraclides of Pontus is a controversial figure, but he still (even if for the sake of the tradition) deserves a mention in a list which otherwise includes such barely known and equally controversial figures as Aristophanes, Agatarchides, Chamaeleon, Satyrus, Athenion and even Arius Didymus.
4.   Baltussen (p. 111) says that Cicero had access to a newly discovered library of Aristotle’s works, but this is not altogether clear. Since, generally speaking, Aristotle’s esoteric works were to some extent used in the Hellenistic period, there is no way of knowing whether Cicero referred to the works of Aristotle as we know them, or to something else. Besides, it is quite probable that the bibliophile Tyrannio, who in the middle 50s BCE rearranged Cicero’s library, did not have access to Sulla’s library at that time and, indeed, "until after the death of Cicero" (J. Barnes, "Roman Aristotle," in J. Barnes and M. Griffith, eds., Philosophia Togata II (Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 17 and 44).

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