Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.09.38 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.09.38

Matyáš Havrda, The So-Called Eighth ‘Stromateus’ by Clement of Alexandria: Early Christian Reception of Greek Scientific Methodology. Philosophia antiqua, 144.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2016.  Pp. x, 373.  ISBN 9789004310087.  $162.00.  


Reviewed by Dawn LaValle Norman, Magdalen College, University of Oxford (dawn.lavalle@magd.ox.ac.uk)

Preview

This excellent books bears what might at first be a mystifying title, which will hopefully not hide its contents from the many scholars who would benefit from reading it. Not only should scholars of Clement of Alexandria pick up this book, but also those interested in late ancient philosophy, medical theory, and especially the thought of Galen of Pergamum. This is because Havrda’s bold and persuasive claim is that the “so-called 8th book” of Clement’s Stromateis is actually a summary of Galen’s lost logical treatise On Demonstration, and is therefore a vital witness both to ancient logic and to how ancient science was used by early Christian authors for their own theological purposes.

The reason for the confusing moniker “the so-called Eight Stromateus” is twofold. Clement’s choice of title for his most philosophical work, Stromateis, expresses its nature as a miscellany: “stromateis” is a Greek word for a quilt, and is one of the titles for miscellanies listed in Aulus Gellius’ preface to Attic Nights. As Clement says in Book 7, “Our Stromateis therefore make no pretense of order…seeking to exercise the diligence and ingenuity of the readers…” (quoted at Havrda 10). While most of the Stromateis certainly does that, the very end of the text as it survives descends into fragmentation beyond the level of intentional disorder normal to miscellanies. The post-Book 7 “meta-Stomatic” material contains the section that is of interest to Havrda, which he proposes to call the “liber logicus,” followed by two other collections, one of excerpts from a Valentinian source (Excerpta ex Theodoto) and the other a series of short commentaries on Old Testament passages (Eclogae Propheticae). As a result, most scholars think that the “so-called Book 8,” along with the other meta-Stromatic material, is not a continuation of Book 7 at all, but either summaries of Clement’s lost works, or preliminary notes for future works that were never written. Havrda’s thesis builds from the position that they are notes for future use.

In some sense, this monograph is part of a recent movement in Clementine studies to look at “the other Clement,” as Bogdan Bucur has been reminding us, to turn our sights beyond the traditionally defined “trilogy” of the Protrepticus, Paedagogus, and Stromateis. However, the material collected at the end of the Stromateis (sometimes, as here, called its Eighth Book) does not sit easily with scholarship on “the other Clement” either. Instead of the cosmic hierarchy and secret tradition expressed in the Eclogae Propheticae, Excerpta ex Theodoto, and other fragmentary works, the “liber logicus” attached to the end of the Stromateis raises a different set of problems and questions.

Most strikingly, apart from the opening section, there is little about the “liber” that is specifically Christian. In fact, the voice of Clement’s source-text is so strong that in some places it directly contradicts Clement’s views stated elsewhere. For instance, at 82,27-83,1, the text relates how one can deduce that a woman is no longer a virgin if she has given birth. What might seem a logical deduction for a non-Christian medical practitioner is not a natural statement for a theologian who elsewhere discusses the virgin birth of Jesus. Clement’s notes have clearly not yet been fully metabolized into usable Christian content.

Instead of biblical exegesis or theological reflection, the “eighth book” is almost exclusively about the mechanisms of logic, with long concomitant warnings of the dangers of extreme skepticism. As such, it participates in the philosophical discussions of the second century. A key point of Havrda’s edition is to place it firmly in that context, and more particularly within the context of Galen’s philosophical works. Although long recognized as the most influential medical writer of the ancient world, Galen’s important contributions as a philosopher have only recently begun to take center stage in scholarship. Havrda is currently advancing this movement in other projects, such as an upcoming conference on Galen’s epistemology, and is joined in this philosophical turn in Galenic studies by scholars such as Teun Tieleman.1

Despite the author’s unnecessary apologies as a non-native speaker of English, this is a beautifully-written book, easy to follow, and interesting to read. The ideas are laid out clearly, and all the questions that are raised are answered in due course. There are three major sections to the monograph: a substantial introduction (1-77), the text itself, faced by a new English translation (81-126), and a lengthy lemmatic commentary (128-311).

The introduction admirably lays out the interpretive issues and scholarly history surrounding this text. Does the “eighth book” contain one or many texts? What are the purposes of the various miscellanies it contains? Are they excerpts from Clement’s works or are they preparatory studies? Having laid out the various paths that have been followed since the sixteenth century on these questions, Havrda argues his own thesis that the eighth book of the Stromateis is Clement’s excerpts (with some commentary) from Galen’s lost logical text On Demonstration, collected for future use.2 He collates a large number of parallels, some of them word-for-word, between Clement’s book and the fragments of Galen’s lost treatise. Not only are there exact textual parallels, but Galen also mentions in De Usu Partium that his On Demonstration included a treatment of the question of whether the embryo was an animal, a question that takes up a large section of Clement’s eighth book.

Despite the many merits of the introduction, I would have welcomed a more thorough discussion of the genre of the Stromateis, in order to put into context the fragmentary nature of the last “book.” Is it a miscellany, a notebook, a collection of philosophical problemata, or something else entirely? Missing also from the introduction was a description of how the “liber logicus” fits with the other two “meta-Stromatic” texts, the Eclogae Propheticae and the Excerpta ex Theodoto. How do all three of these texts contribute (or not) to our understanding of imperial miscellanies? What does Havrda’s close analysis of this text add to our knowledge of ancient note-taking? Or what does it add to the popular question about the ways that Clement used his sources? Due to the philosophical focus of the edition (as befits a text in the Philosophia Antiqua series), these literary questions were somewhat underdeveloped in the introduction.

After the introduction, the meat of Havrda’s text is his edition and new translation of the “liber logicus.” Until now, the only English translation of this section of the Stromateis was that of William Wilson in the 1869 Ante-Nicene Fathers series.3 In general, Havrda is not a very obtrusive editor, and he preserves the numeration and basic text of Otto Stählin’s 1970 edition. As he explains, this is not a new collation of manuscripts (mainly because the tradition rests upon only one), but neither is it a slavish copying of Stählin. Havrda rejects some of the changes proposed by Stählin and also adds thirteen of his own emendations, some of which make it into the main body of the text. The only decision that he made over which I hesitated was a proposed emendation at 93,12, where he substitutes θνητὸν λογικόν (mortal and rational) for the manuscript’s γελαστικόν (capable of laughter) in a definition of man. His commentary contains the reason why he thinks that this is necessary according to the logic of the text, and even suggests a possible textual reason the change would have been made. But before making such a substantial change, I would have been interested to see whether in the later philosophical tradition there were not hints that “man is a laughing animal” might have become an actual definition rather than simply a quality of man.

The commentary focuses primarily on philosophical questions, issues of sense and source, the most common note being to clarify the argument being made. Havrda is especially keen to bring up philosophical parallels and possible source texts. As he himself admits, his commentary forms part of his argument for the Galenic source and, therefore, frequently provides parallels with the works of Galen. The other most commonly cited philosophers are Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus (since much of the text is anti-skeptic), and Alexander of Aphrodisias.

However, there are passages in the “eighth book” that touch on issues that are more than philosophical, and it was these passages where I wished Havrda had provided more information. For instance, there is an interesting moment when the Medea story is used as an example of multiple causation: not only was Medea responsible for the killing of her children, but the chain of causation could be traced further and further back, until we come to the tree from which the Argo was made (97,13-22). The move back to the tree that was felled to make the Argo is a popular one already in Euripides’ opening to his play, but it seems that it came to be especially popular in the Latin tradition (not only does Ennius’ Medea begin with it, but also the first line of Catullus 64 emphasizes the arboreal origin of the Argo). I would be interested to know if Clement’s example was interacting not only with Euripides, but with the later development of the Medea tradition. What would that say about the interaction of Latin and Greek literature during this period? Also, as Havrda notes, the Medea was a tragedy that was used as source material by Chrysippus in the discussion of the relative power of reason and emotion. Why was Medea seen as a particularly good story to think through philosophical problems? Are there other examples?

As always, different questions will be interesting to different scholars, and the very fact that I was led to these questions is a tribute to Havrda’s excellent work in making this text more readily available. Havrda has brought out a crisp and readable new translation to replace the one buried at the end of a mid-nineteenth-century Ante-Nicene Fathers volume, and, by decoupling it from the rest of the Stromateis, he has brought it to the attention of those who would otherwise have had no idea that they should look in a Christian text with an obscure title for an ancient treatise on logical demonstration. Havrda’s philosophical focus means that literary issues are not foregrounded, but this is a truly excellent monograph, which should bring an obscure text to the greater readership it deserves. Havrda’s important work shows how vital it is for those interested in ancient medicine to examine Christian texts as well, which often contain testimony of philosophical and scientific theory otherwise lost.4


Notes:


1.   Especially in his project: “Human Nature: Medical and Philosophical Perspectives in the Work of Galen of Pergamum.”
2.   This argument was made by him in an earlier excellent article, “Galenus Christanus? The doctrine of demonstration in Stromata VIII and the question of its source,” Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011), 343-75.
3.   The datedness of this translation is evident in the fact that its editors printed Book III only in a Latin translation, because it contained so many dangerous heretical teachings on human sexuality.
4.   Christian use of ancient medicine is a growing field of interest, as seen by the activities of “ReMeDHe: A Working Group for Religion, Medicine, Disability, and Health in Late Antiquity”.

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