BMCR 2006.11.03

Aristote. De la géneration et la corruption. Nouvelle édition

, , De la génération et la corruption. Collection des universités de France. Série grecque ; 444. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2005. 1 v. (CCLV-195 p., pagination double p. [1]-84) ; 20 cm.. ISBN 2251005277. €57.00.

In this new edition of Aristotle’s GC (replacing that from 1966 by Charles Mugler), Marwan Rashed (R.) proves his mastery of codicology as well as a firm grasp of Greek philosophy and its Latin and Arabic reception. The extensive introduction on Aristotle’s work is clear and full of insights: it places the work in its intellectual context, traces the origin of the four elements (with a role for Greek medicine) and the importance of hypothesis, then details the contents, sources, structure of the work, and discusses Aristotle’s account of the causes of the sensible world. The 38-page history of the textual transmission (“Histoire du Texte”) is a meticulous (but abbreviated) account of all known manuscripts (67 listed), relevant Greek commentaries, Arabic and Latin translations and their interrelations (new stemma on p. cclii). Those who want the full story on the manuscripts have to get hold of R.’s study from 2001,1 which, according to one reviewer, is a “learned and engrossing volume” which “boils with learning and bubbles with enthusiasm.”2 Greek text and facing French translation (numbered 1-84, effectively 168 pages) are followed by a lavish 96 pages of “Notes Complémentaires”, two short Indices (Names, Subject) and Table of Contents. This is an important contribution to Aristotelian studies, an edition that improves the constitution of the text and our understanding of it significantly.

Any new text edition in classical studies is a major event, given the complexities, the hard work of collecting and collating the evidence, and the possible implications that may arise from the new text constitution. R. presents the results of his Herculean labours here (including fresh collations), improving our knowledge of the text and transmission considerably (R. claims he has improved the philosophical meaning in at least 45 places, p.vii), not only by taking many more mss on board than Joachim in his 1922 edition (6 mss and two later witnesses (Barnes [note 2], 65), but also by adding many later Greek commentaries, Arabic and Latin translations among the sources (see e.g. the Sigla p. ccliii-v). The complexity of the full stemma is caused by the wealth of sources and the contaminations between these, but R. sets out the details with admirable clarity. This includes a listing of mss, 384 passages in which the two main families of mss differ, and the reconstruction of the relationships in a full stemma.

The introduction falls into three major parts. In Part I (xvi-liv) R. takes up some fundamental issues regarding the structure and agenda of GC, presenting a persuasive account of the notion of hypothesis (section I.1), the critique of Plato’s view on hypothesis in the Timaeus in the context of an investigation into physics (section I.2), the link with medical literature on the origin of elements and hypothesis (section I.3). Here R. may be right that this link has not been brought up often in connection with this discussion of the four elements (xxv, n.1), but there is an increasing number of works which look at this link more generally,3 and Aristotle himself of course made the link between philosophy and medicine explicit at the beginning and end of what we now refer to as the Parva Naturalia.4 Section I.4 deals with Aristotle’s own “historical” reconstruction of the debate on the elements and generation and corruption, in which Plato and Democritus are given the roles of (convenient?) opposites, as those who take the “logical” ( λογικῶς) and “physical” approach respectively. But Empedocles also ‘haunts’ (xxxiv) the discussion as he already featured in the medical work On Ancient medicine, having opted for the position that there are four distinct substances that make up the world as we know it. Aristotle can of course not accept that Empedocles refuses to have these four change into one another: they were regarded as the “baseline”, the immutable constituents of the physical world. Aristotle’s position is that we need a triadic set of explanatory concepts: generation, alteration, and plurality (xxxiv, n.2). In the critique of Empedocles, R. remarks (with his usual sharp eye for detail) that Aristotle is talking about “Empedocleans” (plural, see e.g. GC I.1, 314b9 αὐτῶν), who seem to be distinct from Empedocles. Thus we gain an interesting insight into Aristotle’s predecessors and the popularity of Empedocles’ view.

Part II (liv-cxl) delves into the Aristotelian analysis of the process of ‘coming-to-be’. Aristotle is aware that part of his task is to supplant the atomistic theory. By making use of key notions such as generation, alteration, growth and mixture, R. explains, Aristotle succeeds in surpassing Democritus by offering an ontology of the physical world which is biologically more plausible, in part because it focuses on primary beings, animals and plants (lv). In the account of γένεσις R. also highlights Plato’s role and how his Phaedo looms large in the terminological and conceptual aspect of the discussion (GC I.3). Aristotle is seen to do his usual linguistic analysis of previous and current views to further clarify the concepts required for the subject, showing how existing terms and notions are insufficient to do the necessary work. This well-known approach is set out by R. with verve, showing how Aristotle handles the Presocratic and Platonic views. The use of comments taken from Philoponus, the brilliant Alexandrian Christian Neoplatonist (ca. 530 CE) clarifies further some of the problems Aristotle discusses, and the occasional silence on the part of the later ancient exegetes can be significant by itself (lxxii) just as elaborate treatment by them can point to a problem in the text (xcvii ff.). R. discusses many other aspects of the GC, such as qualities, prime matter, growth, mixture and cohesion, the homoiomeries, the relation to De Anima, all important aspects one would expect in an introduction, but R. manages to give a new twist in his discussion of many of these injecting a freshness that illustrates his personal voice in the debate.

Part III looks at how Aristotle offers a biological characterisation of the physical world. R. rightly asserts that we should move beyond the standard approach of appealing to the programmatic outline of the overall project in natural philosophy (found in the prologue of the Meteorology)5 without further argument. This highlights the fundamental issue of how biology relates to physics. R. sensibly argues that Aristotle is after an empirical appreciation of the evidence ( φαινόμενα) and their parts in order to reach an insight into their causes (PA I.1). Interestingly the role of analogy is also discussed and how Aristotle here borrows from Eudoxus as he seems to do regarding his model for classification (clviii-xiii). After dealing with the causes (material, efficient, final—not all receiving equal attention from Aristotle) R. ends up showing convincingly how GC is the central treatise from which we can understand how the project of physics and biology works for Aristotle, because GC provides the fundamental parts and concepts (“nuts and bolts”) of biology, and thus in a way the rationale for the sequence of other works in physics as is suggested in the prologue of Meteor. (clxxxvi).

The “Notes Complémentaires” deal with a range of topics such as argument structure (e.g. critique of Empedocles, pp. 92, 94, 96-7), interpretation, connections with other works (Aristotle’s or Plato’s), later reception among commentators (e.g. long notes on Philoponus pp. 101-2; 103; Porphyry 104-5), and many textual problems. They amount to a selective commentary on issues of some importance for the interpretation of the text.

In a total of 533 pages R. has packed great learning, insight and useful information, moving with ease from the available modern secondary literature in German, French, Italian and English to the primary sources in ancient Greek, Latin and Arabic. Aristotle can rest assured that all that is humanly possible has been done to offer a responsible text on the basis of all the known evidence. The translation is, so far as I have been able to assess from selective reading, faithful and readable.

R.’s respectful reference to Joachim’s 1922 edition and commentary (p. viii) is an honourable one, but there should be no mistake about the significant contribution he himself makes in this new edition.6 R. has put his rare combination of special skills to very good use and we owe him our gratitude for this scholarly volume, which delivers the most authoritative text of Aristotle’s GC to date.


1. M. Rashed, Die Überlieferungsgeschichte der aristotelischen Schrift De generatione et corruptione. (Serta Graeca: Beiträge zur Erforschung griechischer Texte 12.) Wiesbaden Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2001.

2. J. Barnes, “The Text of Aristotle’s De Gen. et Corr.” The Classical Review 55-1 (2005) 65 and 66 resp.

3. To give just one example, studies by Ph. Van Der Eijk have explored the links between Aristotle and the medical writings extensively, many of which were most recently collected in his Medicine and Philosophy in Classical Antiquity. Doctors and Philosophers on Nature, Soul, Health and Disease (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), cf. his edition of the Greek medical writer Diocles of Carystus (2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2000-2001).

4. Arist. On sense perception I.1; On old Age 27.

5. As A. Mansion adduced in his introduction to his Introduction à la Physique Aristotélicienne (Paris 1945) (noted by R. p.cxl, n.1).

6. R.’s investigations into GC go back at least as far as the early 1990s, given his “Democrite-Platon-Aristote, une histoire de mots. A propos de ‘De Generatione et Corruptione’ 315a26-b15” Les Études Classiques 62.2/3 (1994) 177-186. I note that R. announces the publication of yet another edition (p. 157, n.3: “dont je compte publier prochainement l’ editio princeps)” of a paraphrase (of the GC?) written by the Byzantine scholar George Pachymeres (c. AD 1300).