BMCR 2005.10.38

Alessandro di Afrodisia: Commentario al De Caelo di Aristotele, Frammenti del Primo Libro. Suppementi di Lexis, 26

, , Commentario al De caelo di Aristotele : frammenti del primo libro. Supplementi di Lexis ; 26. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert editore, 2004. 749 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9025611923 €160.00 (pb).

It is a sure sign that a field in classical studies is maturing when the fragments of its authors come in for close scrutiny. Where the Greek Aristotelian commentators are concerned, the way was pointed, in this as in so many other areas, by the late Paul Moraux, who in his early and epochal study of Alexander of Aphrodisias’s psychological works included an appendix of selected fragments of this commentator’s lost exegesis of Aristotle’s De anima.1 Later he reconstructed the fragments of the same philosopher’s treatment of the Posterior Analytics.2 More recently, Arabists in particular have worked on fragments of Alexander’s commentaries on the Physics and De generatione et corruptione, while Moraux in the posthumously published third volume of his Aristotelismus surveyed the fragments of several of the lost commentaries.3 One of these was the commentary on the De caelo, the first part of which Andrea Rescigno, in the first of two projected volumes, has now treated exhaustively in his edition of the fragments of the commentary on Book 1.

“Exhaustively” is almost understating the case. The 750 closely-printed pages of this weighty volume consist, after some prefatory material, of the following: a massive bibliography (13-49), a lengthy introduction (51-138), the edition itself (139-718), and two indices, of loci (721-744) and of the sources for the fragments (745-749). The edition of each of the 126 fragments consists of a text with an apparatus criticus and, where necessary, a second apparatus of citations and parallels; then there is a translation and a detailed “commento.” The principal source for these fragments is Simplicius’ commentary on the De caelo (CAG, vol. 7), and to a lesser extent that of Themistius (quoted in the Latin translation from the Hebrew in CAG, vol. 5:4). Philoponus makes a guest appearance with a passage from his Contra Proclum,, and there are a handful of associated passages from the Aristotelian scholia. Fifty-one of the fragments not surprisingly involve multiple citations; Rescigno has not followed the parsimonious, though entirely pardonable, practice of, for example, the editors of the fragments of Theophrastus in omitting repetitive passages.

This volume, needless to say, will be used principally for reference rather than extended study. Even so, its introduction deserves to be read in extenso as a rare example of a scholarly discussion that ranges over the exegetical tradition, as it traces the fortuna of Alexander’s commentary beyond antiquity into the Arabic world. It resembles in some respects material found in the series, Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, which focuses on reception in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

This is a notice rather than a review. Suffice it, then, to say that Rescigno has done a remarkable job, and one must hope that the second and concluding volume will appear soon. The one area in which readers might, however, need some alerting is the commentary on fragments. The industry that these exegeses of exegeses represent is admirable. However, the presentation is in a rather relentlessly cumulative form, often with a quite eccentric avoidance of paragraphs.

Since I have a long standing interest in one of these fragments, no. 91 (see Eranos 82 [1984] 185-193), and heartily agree with the editor (470) that it is “uno dei tratti piu notevoli” in the commentary on De Caelo Book 1, let me briefly comment on its appearance here. This fragment (= Simplic. In de caelo 284.28-286.27) is a invaluable inventory of Alexander’s arguments against the infinite universe, and notably against the famous thought-experiment of someone stretching out from the edge of universe (Lucretius’ spear-thrower; De rerum natura 1.968-970). Lamentably nowhere in the relevant source books is this passage translated in toto. Surprisingly only a few lines of it appear in Richard Sorbaji’s recent compendium on the commentators.4 Its relevance to Cleomedes’ debate with the Peripatetics on the status of a finite cosmos in an infinite universe has also been noted in a recent publication.5 The only complete English translation is in R.J. Hankinson’s recent translation of Simplicius’ commentary on De caelo Book 1.6 Rescigno offers an Italian translation and thirty-three pages of notes. Here he certainly covers the ground and takes account of all the secondary literature, but manages to do so with only five breaks for paragraphs. An annotated translation might have been a more useful tool for scholars trying to consult this work; as it is, they will have to penetrate densely packed pages to get at the author’s assessment of this important text.

But, as I have said, this is a valuable work of reference, and the second volume will complete the production of a most useful tool for further studies on Alexander of Aphrodisias.


1. Alexandre d’Aphrodise: exégète de la noétique d’Aristote (Liège, 1942), 205-221.

2. Le commentaire d’Alexandre d’Aphrodise aux Secondes Analytiques d’Aristote (Berlin, 1979).

3. See Moraux, Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen: Dritter Band, Alexander von Aphrodisias, ed. J. Wiesner (Berlin, 2001), and for publications by Arabists see the bibliography in this volume under Fazzo, Gannagé and Rashed.

4. The Philosophy of the Commentators 200-600 AD: A Sourcebook, Volume 2. Physics (London, 2004), 245, where Simplic. In de caelo 285.21-27 is translated somewhat more loosely than in Hankinson, note 6 below.

5. See A.C. Bowen and R.B. Todd, Cleomedes’ Lectures on Astronomy: A Translation of ‘On the Heavens’ (Berkeley, 2004), where this passage is cited six times (see the index at 237).

6. Simplicius on Aristotle On the Heavens 1.5-9 (London, 2004), 108-110.