The two texts published in this volume of “Aristotelian Commentators on Aristotle”, Priscian’s paraphrase of Theophrastus’ treatise on sense-perception and the corresponding sections of the de anima commentary traditionally attributed to Simplicius, come from the Neoplatonic school, written around the same time, most likely in the second quarter the sixth century.1
The source of Priscian’s Metaphrasis is Theophrastus’ Physics, a work in eight books, of which the fourth and the fifth were on psychology. It is hard to say how much of the content of Theophrastus’ treatise has been replaced rather than supplanted by the Neoplatonic interpretation, but from what is extant it is possible to see that the internal structure of Theophrastus’ treatise is defined by scholastic articulation of Aristotelian positions and assembling quaestiones disputatae around the main topics. This pattern allows Priscian to use Theophrastus’ text as a “matrix” in which to expound Iamblichus’ doctrine of the soul.
The Greek text of Theophrastean fragments can be consulted in the second volume of a new critical edition.2 The current publication contains (in the notes) a concordance of places with this edition, with Aristotle’s de anima, updated bibliographical references and critical notes. This makes this translation a useful research tool for the Theophrastean studies, as well as giving an opportunity for a reader to see the way in which the fragments appear in the source.
Part of the reason why the two texts are published in one volume is that according to the view defended by Prof. Steel in the introduction to his translation Priscian is the author of the de anima commentary. This view was put forward thirty years ago by him and Prof. Bossier in a joint article;3 but as they discovered, this point has already been made in print, as early as in 1608, by Francesco Piccolomini, who suggested Priscian’s authorship on stylistic grounds.4 Steel and Bossier argued that apart from style there are doctrinal differences between the de anima and other commentaries attributed to Simplicius. Steel in his dissertation, published as a book in 1978,5 suggested that there was a revival of the Iamblichus’ influence in the latest period of the Platonic school in Athens. He discussed in detail the tension between the two interpretations of the doctrine of the soul’s descent: according to the theory of Iamblichus, the soul in its descent undergoes a substantial change, while according to the theory of Proclus, which is somewhat closer to the view found in Plotinus, the soul undergoes change as regards its activities but not in its substance.6 Steel argues that Damascius in his Parmenides commentary, in the interpretation of the third hypothesis, chooses to follow Iamblichus rather than Proclus,7 and that the same tendency is found in the de anima commentary, to whose author Steel 1978 refers, without reservations, as to Priscian.8
In his introduction to the present volume Steel reproduces the argument of Steel-Bossier 1972, adding some new observations. In the first part of his introduction Steel argues against the traditional attribution of the commentary, on the grounds of method, vocabulary, style, cross-references and doctrine; and in the second part he argues for the attribution to Priscianus.
With regard to method, Steel notes that the de anima commentary is more tendentious and less erudite than the other commentaries by Simplicius. The author of the de anima, like Simplicius, defends Plato and Pre-Socratics from Aristotle’s criticism but does not quote the primary sources in support of his defence and thus “… lacks the sense of historical documentation which so characterises Simplicius”.9 This feature of in de anima is noticed also by Piccolomini. But, as I. Hadot warns in her 1978 discussion, one should distinguish between the differences of method which are grounded in the author’s personality and those that due to the subject matter. She suggests that Physics, De Caelo and Categories provide a “more neutral ground”10 for a Platonic commentator, while psychology is the subject where disagreement is greatest and most difficult to conceal, which might explain the more tendentious character of the commentary. She also notes that the Enchiridion commentary, whose authorship is not questioned, displayed the same comparative lack of erudition as in de anima. 11 Both points seem to be valid and both need to be addressed in the fuller version of the argument.
Steel marks several features of vocabulary in which the de anima commentary differs from the other commentaries of Simplicius: the term
Steel notes, without extensive elaboration, difference in syntax between Simplicius’ commentaries and de anima. He also points out the difference in the organisation of lemmata in two cases: while the lemmata of the attested commentaries are full fragments of the Aristotelian text with boundaries clearly marked, usually by means of an
With regard to the doctrines, Steel acknowledges that it is difficult to compare de anima with the other works by Simplicius, because psychology is not discussed in other commentaries, but he thinks it is still possible to indicate the main differences, which are multiply attested. Steel considers three groups of differences: in the psychological doctrine, in logical terminology, and miscellaneous.
Differences of the first group include the following:
(a) In the de anima commentary the distinction between the moving and formal aspects of soul as entelechy is described with prepositional constructions, respectively,
(b) Peculiar interpretation of
(c) Iamblichean thesis of substantial change of the soul is found in the in de anima, but not otherwise in Simplicius.15
(d) The doctrine of “projection outwards of the soul” (
The following differences are listed in the second group:
(a) The term
(b) The expression
(c) There is different treatment of constitutive and divisive differences by the author of the de anima and by the author of in categ. (the differentiae “perishable” and “imperishable” are treated by Simplicius in in categ. as divisive of the genus “animal”, while the author of the de anima commentary treats them as divisive with respect to being, but constitutive with respect to “animal”.)
The third group consists of the following cases:
(a) Simplicius in the commentary on Physics VIII says that all the movers of the heavenly spheres are totally unmoved, while the author of the de anima says, referring to the commentary on Physics VIII, that only the first mover is unmoved while the movers of the spheres are moved accidentally.
(b) The transcendent cause cannot be called “efficient” according to in de anima, but the divine intellect is described as an “efficient” cause in in phys.
(c) The term
Finally, the self-references in the de anima commentary provide important evidence for the problem of authorship. Our author refers six times to his previous works:
(1) once (136, 29) to the Epitome of the Theophrastus’ Physics; there is no such work by Simplicius, but Steel says the reference is most certainly to the Metaphrasis of Priscian;
(2) twice (28, 20 and 217, 27) to the Metaphysics commentary. No such work by Simplicius is extant, although there is some indirect and problematic evidence that Simplicius must have written such work.17
(3) three times to the Physics commentary (35, 10-15; 120, 24; 198, 5). But the comparison of the references with the relevant sections of Simplicius’ Physics commentary “shows … a divergence in content and expression” (p.120, Steel).18
Steel addresses the hypothesis which would explain the stylistic and doctrinal differences of the de anima commentary by the evolution of the author (Piccolomini, Torstrik). His arguments against this explanation are two: (1) there are no traces of evolution between the other commentaries, and the de anima commentary would in this respect stand rather separately;19 (2) the doctrinal evolution does not explain the differences in style.
In the second part of his article Steel develops the arguments for the thesis that Priscian is the author of the de anima commentary.
The main argument for this attribution is based on the cross-reference (at 136, 29) to the Epitome of Theophrastus’ Physics. The context is the discussion of the function of the transparent medium in de anima II 7: 419a13-19. The text in the Metaphrasis 8, 1-15, 5 displays a very exact parallel to the text of the commentary, (which was noticed by Piccolomini). Steel (pp. 128-131) gives a comparison between the two texts, Priscian 1, 11-2, 6 and ‘Simplicius’ 125, 25-34, arguing that both the formulation of the problem and the style suggest that the passage of Metaphrasis is the object of reference to the Epitome in the de anima commentary.20 Steel suggests that the extant Metaphrasis is a fragment of the Epitome of Theophrastus, Physics, of which Priscian is the author (Steel 1997, pp.134-5).
With regard to the third part of the Metaphrasis, devoted to the intellect, Steel observes that there are many affinities in vocabulary between it and the de anima commentary, but also a difference in that Priscian identifies
In conclusion Steel lists four possible hypotheses which could explain the similarities in content and diction between the two texts: (1) the de anima commentary plagiarises the Metaphrasis; this is rejected, because in this case, Steel says, the “seams” between the two works would have been visible; for the same reason he rejects hypothesis (2), that Metaphrasis plagiarises the commentary; (3) the authors of both works have a common source, conceivably, Iamblichus de anima. Against this hypothesis he notes that (a) the comparison of two texts shows that the author of the commentary was working with the text of the Metaphrasis (and not the common source); (b) the parallel sections cannot be isolated from the main body of both texts; (c) neither of the texts quotes Iamblichus ad litteram. So, the most plausible hypothesis is (4) that the two works must be attributed to the same author, namely, Priscian.22
Steel’s claim and arguments have been much discussed since the 1972 article. I. Hadot in 1978, working from a different perspective (criticism of Praechter’s hypothesis of “two schools”, Athenian and Alexandrian, in the sixth century Platonism) reviewed the article and provided several objections some of which are mentioned above. She agreed that there may be stylistic grounds to suspect the traditional attribution but opposed the idea of different authorship on doctrinal grounds.23 In 1982 H.J. Blumenthal suggested, though without addressing the argument of Steel 1978 in detail, that the notion of ‘substantial change’ in de anima commentary should not be taken in a strong sense and suggested two alternative hypotheses which could make possible the attribution of the commentary to Simplicius: first, that the relative poverty of historical documentation in the de anima could be explained by the author’s not having a library at his disposal; second, that the commentary, unlike the other commentaries of Simplicius, is a redaction of his work by one of his students, while his other commentaries are not.24 In his last book, returning to the argument of Steel and Bossier,25 Blumenthal seems inclined to give more weight to the stylistic considerations and suggests that the person who composed it was not Simplicius. But this does not imply for him that the commentary was written by Priscian or any other of the already known commentators. Apart from the already mentioned possibility of it being an
My goal in reviewing this argument and objections was to familiarise myself and hopefully some of the readers with the status quaestionis; I am certainly not prepared to “referee” the debate in any sense. In fact I should prefer not to even describe this discussion as “debate”, for this term is associated with the stage at which all the research has been done, all the main evidence laid out clearly, and the sides clearly taken on all the main points. But in our case there is a cluster of hard problems, historical, philosophical, textual, energetically tackled from different standpoints ( Iamblichus redivivus; doctrinal history and the centres of learning — Athens and Alexandria, lately ‘Harran hypothesis’;28 interpretation of the Aristotelian doctrines); and the facts and hypotheses keep coming.29
The main claim of Steel 1978, which is related to his approach to the authorship question, was that there is a tension between Proclean and Iamblichean theories of the soul’s descent and that this tension is perceived by the leading figures of the Platonic school in the sixth century. This claim as such is not disputed by anyone. The fact of Iamblichean influence at this time is also not likely to be contested by those familiar with the Simplicius commentaries, and it is difficult to deny that the de anima commentary is somehow very distinct in the way in which it presents the doctrines. The question is, of course, what all these facts can tell us about the history of the school, and the Priscian-hypothesis seems to be one possible construal of the events.
The authorship hypotheses are a good thing, particularly because they are necessarily followed by testing which can bring new findings and insights. This discussion has already uncovered a considerable mass of new material, as well as new problems for the scholars to look at so it seems to be quite profitable for the state of affairs in the field. It is all the more important for that reason not to turn it into “debate” prematurely and not to regard any of the questions “closed” before the necessary evidence has been collected and all the due evaluations made.
It may be added that Prof. Steel’s analysis of style consists mostly of the analysis of technical terminology which is clearly dependent on more factors than the author’s personality (cf. Hadot above). A more standard type of analysis, covering more neutral features of grammar, usage and composition, could probably usefully complement the research already done. Another thing that probably should be done if the attribution to Priscian is taken seriously, is an adequate study of the solutiones ad chosroem.
Prof. Steel’s introduction certainly adds to the attractiveness of this volume: the Bossier-Steel argument was much discussed in the past three decades, but never, to my knowledge, stated in English by its authors. Here we finally have all the evidence and all the reasoning “authorised”. But even apart from the “hot” topic of authorship, the edition has many features that recommend it to scholars, students and all those interested in ancient philosophy of mind. Both texts are good illustrations of the late Neoplatonic theory of sense-perception; having them in a recent English translation, put “side by side”, analysed and supplied with critical notes and references to the recent work in the field, should be helpful to those involved in research and those who are just beginning their studies.
Both translations are accurate and reliable. The methods employed by the translators are different: Prof. Huby tends to preserve the structure of Greek periods in English, whereas Prof. Steel’s is more conforming to the English idiomatic syntax, thus “breaking up” the long sentences and shifting connectives.
The text of the Metaphrasis in this edition is divided into sections by topics. I wonder if it would have been possible to put at least some of the apparatus fontium (references to Aristotle’s de anima and perhaps, though not necessarily, to Theophrastus, fragments) into the footnotes rather than endnotes. In case of “layered” texts, like the commentaries, which continuously refer to several older sources, it might be convenient for a reader to have a reference to the source on the same page with the commentary. The de anima commentary is divided as in Hayduck’s edition, but the lemmata are supplanted, in brackets, by more material from the Aristotelian de anima. This I find somewhat disruptive for the process of reading: the reader is forced to first “add” and then “subtract” the portions of the text which do not belong to the commentary. This does not seem warranted, especially given what we already know about the specifics of ‘Simplicius” lemmata. Again, a “suggestion for the second edition” would be to give the supplanted material in the footnotes on the same page (and probably better in one of the standard translations of de anima); this would make the edition more reader-friendly.
Each of the texts is provided with an English-Greek Glossary and Greek-English Index. The Metaphrasis has a useful index of places, and the de anima commentary a brief index of names and subjects.
On the whole, it is a lot of work, and we should certainly be grateful to all the scholars who took part in it for making these difficult and important texts available in English.
I append some notes on the details of text and translation. Page references are to the volumes of CAG, unless noted otherwise.
2, 18 (text):
3, 5 (syntax):
3, 6 TEXT (and NOTE 38): reverting Ficino’s emendation of
4, 18 (syntax):
5, 14 (syntax):
6, 13: NOTE 72: the reference should be to Metaphysics 12, not 7.
9, 25: (p.18 of the English translation): no angled brackets around “of the transparent” (it is in the Greek text). (Typographical error.)
11, 11 (syntax):
26, 8: <
28, 8 (syntax):
29, 29: I wonder if the distinction between
31, 8-9 (syntax):
‘Simplicius’ On Aristotle’s On the Soul 2.5-12
In the list of emendations 127, 10 is listed as 128, 10.
Note 10 (ad 118, 4): “There is no such view to be found in his (Alexander’s) extant works” (p.213). The reference in the text is probably not to a view, but to Alexander’s exegesis of this occurrence of
126, 13-14: Hayduck’s conjectured emendation (rather than text) is translated, which is not acknowledged in the apparatus.
144, 27: (Syntax):
153, 20: note the meaning of
162, 9: “unclarity” is not English, as I am told.
166, 32: reference in the note 218 should be to note 46 rather than 44.
165, 4-15: Note 219 says that this is a criticism of the ” Stoics who were talking about the impression of form into the matter”. This would need some argument (as the wording is too common and does not suggest anything specifically Stoic).
167, 31-32 and note 239: the emendation is unnecessary.
168, 19 and note 246: the emendation of
170, 22: p.211, line 13 from bottom: no “the” before the “arguments” (typographical error).
1. For the history of the school, problems of chronology and attribution, see the following works of I. Hadot, which contain analytical reviews of literature and bibliography: I. Hadot, Le problème du néoplatonisme alexandrin: Hiérocles et Simplicius. Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1978; eiusd., ‘La vie et l’oeuvre de Simplicius d’après des sources grecques et arabes’ in Simplicius – Sa vie, son uvre, sa survie, ed. I. Hadot, De Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 1987, pp.3-39 (English version in Aristotle Transformed. The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, ed. R. Sorabji, Duckworth, London, 1990, pp.275-303), eiusd.,‘Introduction générale’ in Simplicius. Commentaire sur le Manuel d’Épictète. Introduction et édition critique du texte grec par I. Hadot (Brill, 1996), pp.1-182.
2. Theophrastus of Eresus. Sources for his life, writings, thought and influence. Part two. Psychology, Human Physiology, Living Creatures, Botany, Ethics, Religion, Politics, Rhetoric and Poetics, Music, Miscellanea. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992. Ed. and trans. by W.W. Fortenbaugh, P.M. Huby, R.W. Sharples, D. Gutas.
3. F. Bossier, C. Steel, ‘Priscianus Lydus en de ‘In de anima’ van Pseudo(?)-Simplicius’, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 34 (4), 1972, 761-822.
4. Cit. by Hadot 1978, p.29, n.56.
5. C.G. Steel. The Changing Self. A Study on the Soul in Later Neoplatonism: Iamblichus, Damascius and Priscianus. Brussel: Paleis der Academien, 1978.
6. Steel 1978, pp.52-73.
7. Steel 1978, pp.79-119.
8. Steel 1978, pp.38-45,
9. Steel 1997, p.111.
10. Hadot 1978, p.196.
12. Steel, ‘Introduction’, p.114.
13. But cf. Hadot 1978, p.196, citing in phys. 283, 6, where the second of the five different senses of ‘nature’, ‘nature as formal principle’ is described by
14. Cf. Hadot 1978, p.199.
15. Cf. Hadot 1978, pp.201-202, arguing, on the basis of the Enchiridion commentary, that Simplicius accepts this thesis.
16. Cf. Hadot 1978, p.201 and n. 45.
17. See Hadot, ‘Recherches sur les fragments du commentaire de Simplicius sur la Métaphysique d’Aristote’ in Simplicius – Sa vie, son oeuvre, sa survie, see n. 1.
18. The first reference, made in the context of the objection to Aristotle’s argument that the soul never undergoes change, is to the discussion of alteration in Physics VII 3: 246a10. The author of the commentary cites the two processes as constitutive of the process of the soul’s transformation: the temporal process of “discursive transformation” (
19. Cf. Blumenthal 1982, p.74; Blumenthal 1996, p.66.
20. Other texts that can be compared are Priscian 2, 6-14 with ‘Simpl.’ 125, 34-126, 4; and Priscian 3, 1-20 with ‘Simpl’. 126, 11- 15. There is similarity of arguments concerning the common sensibles at 4,9-5,4 Prisc. and 126, 24-127, 14 ‘Simpl.’ Steel notices that there is correspondence in the discussion of the nature of darkness by Priscian at 8, 15-16 and ‘Simpl.’ at 133, 8-17, as well as the absence of this discussion from all the other Simplicius commentaries.
21. This is discussed at length in Steel 1978, p. 142-160.
22. For more hypotheses, see Blumenthal 1982, pp.93-94; Blumenthal 1996, pp.69-70.
23. Hadot 1978, pp. 1-42 and 193-202.
24. H.J. Blumenthal, ‘The psychology of (?)Simplicius’ Commentary on the De anima,’ Soul and the Structure of Being in Late Neoplatonism: Syrianus, Proclus and Simplicius. Papers and discussions of a colloquium held at Liverpool, 15-16 April 1982. H.J. Blumenthal, A.C. Lloyd, edd. Liverpool University Press, 1982, pp. 73-94.
25. H.J. Blumenthal, Aristotle and Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity. Interpretations of De Anima. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996, pp.65-70.
26. Blumenthal, op.cit., pp.68-69.
27. Hadot 1978, p. 202, Blumenthal 1982, p.73.
28. Hadot 1987, n.1 above.
29. See e.g. M. Tardieu, Les paysages reliques. Routes et haltes syriennes d’Isidore à Simplicius, Louvain-Paris, 1990. S. Van Riet, ‘À propos de la biographie de Simplicius’, Revue philosophique de Louvain, Août 1991, 506-514.