BMCR 2007.12.09

Testimonien zum Corpus Hippocraticum

, , Testimonien zum Corpus Hippocraticum. Teil III, Nachleben der hippokratischen Schriften in der Zeit vom 4. bis zum 10. Jahrhundert n. Chr.. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012. lxxxvi, 538 pages. ISBN 9783525258095 €139.00.

Although numerically the first, this is the third volume to appear in a series documenting the indirect transmission of the sixty-five medical treatises collected under the name ‘Corpus Hippocraticum’. In other words, the project is concerned with quotations, paraphrases, exegetic comments, lexicographical explanations, references, allusions and other textual material testifying to the transmission and reception of the Hippocratic writings, especially to their engagement with the text. This material is of great significance: it provides some important indirect evidence for the constitution of the Hippocratic texts (it has been used in this way by editors of Hippocratic treatises), and it testifies to the dissemination, use and interpretation of the Hippocratic writings in later times. This is an invaluable resource for the study of the Hippocratic tradition. While the earlier two volumes, II 1 (1997) and II 2 (2001), were concerned with testimonia preserved in the relatively confined area of Galenic and Pseudo-Galenic treatises, by far the best preserved and richest source, the present volume (Part I) covers all other ancient textual sources from the late fifth century BCE until the third century CE; and as the sub-title indicates, the authors have gone even further by including the most relevant late antique and early Byzantine medical sources such as Caelius Aurelianus (probably 4th-5th century CE, Alexander of Tralleis (6th century), Aëtius of Amida (6th century) and Paul of Aegina (7th century). In many respects, therefore, this is the most wide-ranging of the three volumes, stretching over more than a thousand years and incorporating a very large number of sources.

As in the previous volumes, the authors state their principles in the Introduction. They start with an account of the sources, divided into the pre-Hellenistic, Hellenistic and early Imperial period, discussing the evidence for individual authors’ familiarity with and use of specific Hippocratic writings. (This is supplemented in Appendix II by an account of ancient reports about Hippocrates and about the formation of the collection of writings attributed to him). Then they explain their arrangement and presentation of the sources and their textual basis, listing extensively the main manuscripts for all the sources included in the volume and drawing, in some cases, on manuscript evidence not yet published.

After the extensive bibliography and list of abbreviations, we get the actual testimonia (covering 466 pp.), arranged by the Hippocratic treatises to which they refer (listed in alphabetical order). (This, incidentally, gives a good picture of the differences in reception of the individual treatises: while some were heavily used, others — listed on p. XXXVII — seem to have been almost completely ignored, at least as far as the evidence goes). For each Hippocratic treatise, we get a brief introduction (section A: ‘Schrift und Autor’) outlining what the testimonia have to say on the title and the authorship of the work (thus providing evidence for the ancient history of what has come to be known as ‘the Hippocratic question’) and listing the evidence for ancient exegetical activity devoted to the work in question. Section B (‘Text’) offers all the testimonia, each one printed integrally in Greek or in Latin, with the reference to the Hippocratic passage to which it refers printed in the margin, using, as is customary in Hippocratic scholarship, the volume, page and line number of the Littré-edition. In most cases, there is a selective critical apparatus to each testimonium, and brief but useful explanatory footnotes with references to more detailed discussion in the secondary literature. As is to be expected, not all references can be traced to a specific passage, hence for some treatises there is a Section C of ‘Nicht identifizierbare Testimonien’; and after the section of Testimonia, there is an Appendix I presenting all passages quoting or referring to Hippocrates that could not even be traced to one specific treatise, arranged by the source-authors (twenty-four, listed in alphabetical order) in which they are preserved. The volume concludes with extensive indices (covering more than sixty pages), listing (i) the names of all ancient editors, commentators and lexicographers on the Hippocratic writings mentioned in the volume, (ii) all ancient authors whose (sometimes putative) engagement with the Hippocratic writings is not directly preserved but excerpted in the compilations of Oribasius and Aëtius, (iii) names of ancient authors and (iv) passages cited. (An index of all Hippocratic terms commented upon — like ambe — would have been useful as well, but this is probably asking too much).

This is a massively impressive work both for its enormous scope and complexity and for the extremely careful, meticulous way in which the sources have been documented1 and made as accessible as possible by the lavish indices. Moreover, the authors have been commendably transparent in their decisions about inclusion and exclusion of material and about its presentation. On the whole, they have rightly been cautious when it comes to deciding whether a particular text can actually be interpreted as a testimonium rather than just a parallel, especially in cases of suspected implicit allusion. Sometimes doubtful cases have been included — especially when scholars in the past have claimed the dependence of one particular text on the other, but the reader is warned in a footnote that there is reason for caution. Thus Aristotle’s statement that the brain consists of two parts is included on p. 334 as a testimonium to a similar assertion in On the Sacred Disease, whereas it is quite possible that Aristotle arrived at this observation independently, and a similar case is found on p. 337 on the diaphragm, but in both cases a footnote refers to the Introduction where the more general difficulties of establishing Aristotle’s familiarity with the Hippocratic writings are pointed out. Similarly difficult are cases where a lexicographer’s commenting on a word that is a hapax legomenon in the Hippocratic Corpus as we have it is used as evidence of familarity with the treatise in which the word occurs — a reasoning that is deemed valid in some cases (p. 330 on alastores in On the Sacred Disease) but not in others (e.g. p. 462 on herpei in On Regimen). Lurking behind this is the tacit but controversial assumption that the Hippocratic Corpus is a ‘closed’ or at least in principle finite collection of writings, an assumption implied also on p. L, n. 1, by the remark about ‘die Aufnahme einer weiteren Schrift in das CH’, but one no longer universally endorsed. In this respect the work, although bibliographically very much up to date, reflects a more traditional view within Hippocratic scholarship, but for a reference work this is only to be welcomed.

In sum, this volume, and the other two that have appeared, constitutes a monumental and immensely useful contribution to the study of the reception of Hippocrates and his literary legacy, whose value will prove greater the longer one uses it. The authors are to be congratulated for the outstanding result of their labours, which comes in addition to, and builds on, their work — and that of others — on the equally impressive Index Hippocraticus. As they inform us in their Preface, a third part covering the ‘Nachleben’ of the Hippocratic writings in all other late antique and medieval, medical and non-medical, Christian and non-Christian texts up to the 1526 Aldine edition of the works of Hippocrates, was planned, and this would be very desirable; but as they are now both retired, this formidable challenge will have to be taken up by a new generation of younger scholars.


1. The volume also contains addenda et corrigenda to the previous volumes. In addition, some misprints spotted in passing in the present volume: on p. XXII, para. 3, line 7, it should be ‘Flat. 6,110,3-4’; and on p. XXXIX, line 7, there is one ‘p’ too many in ‘Hipppocrates’.