BMCR 2008.06.04

Alkinoos, Didaskalikos. Lehrbuch der Grudsätze Platons. Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Anmerkungen, Sammlung wissentschaftlicher Kommentäre

, , , Alkinoos, Didaskalikos : Lehrbuch der Grundsätze Platons : Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Anmerkungen. Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007. xx, 91 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9783110194517 €72.00.

When composing his 1994 BMCR review of John Dillon’s translation cum commentary of the Didaskalikos, Lloyd Gerson could easily remark on the obscurity of Middle Platonic thought. Fourteen years later, owing to the research of Dillon, Whittaker, Baltes, and many others, our position may appear improved; still, the obscurity persists as many issues of Middle Platonic thought remain problematic, scholarly efforts notwithstanding. In the realm of metaphysics alone the status of entia mathematica, the unity/complexity of the active principle, the status of the ideas, the nature and origin of evil — all those (and many more), though seemingly clear (at least to those only touching upon the subject), attract attention of one investigating the Platonic heritage. Nevertheless, some points seem to have been securely established. Thus, with regard to the authorship of the Didaskalikos alone, Freudenthal’s hypothesis, identifying the otherwise unknown Alcinous with the much better known Albinus, appears by now almost universally rejected together with its later offspring known as the school of Gaius (a mention of Göransson’s ‘destructive work’ seems particularly apt at this point1). True, some late partisans of the two still survive (witness Pawlowski’s introduction to the Polish translation of Apuleius’ philosophical works 2), but the name of Alcinous, first defended by Giusta and Whittaker, seems by now safely entrenched in the history of ancient philosophy.3

Now, to the subject at hand: published by Walter de Gruyter, the translation of Summerell and Zimmer relies, as noted in the brief introductory (indeed, very introductory) essay, on the Whittaker text from the 1990 Budé edition, though they make notable concessions to John Dillon’s reconstruction underlying the English 1994 translation and introduce some modifications in the inherited interpunction. The critical apparatus is entirely absent, as is the ongoing list of source (Platonic and Aristotelian) loci. Notes are scarce, for the larger part either indicating major textual controversies/emendations, or referring the reader to relevant passages in Plato. Interestingly, the organization of the text, with the interior division of chapters and numbered paragraphs improves on Whittaker in making the text easier to quote/extrapolate. The table of contents is carefully constructed, facilitating an easy orientation in the work.

The translation itself is readable, relatively easy German, and, to provide at least some sample of its nature, I highlight the ‘spontaneous’ in IX. 3 (Greek, ek automatou, German auf eigenem Antriebe, cfr du fait du hazard in Louis’ rendition, mirrored in Dillon’s ‘by accident’). The resulting picture would thus be of a spontaneous generation of the world, which (should the assumption be true) came to be of itself and by itself; hence the translation would clearly focus reader’s attention on the source of motion. At the same moment, I harbor some doubts whether nach Plan is the best possible rendition of kat’ epinoian, as the latter seems e.g. to imply certain a posteriori element where the former denotes forethought. One may also note that the translators propose several differing translations for the noun nous, a fact undoubtedly caused by the complexity of its semantic field, yet possibly confusing for the reader, particularly if Greek is not his forte. The list of laudable or doubtful choices can be continued, yet such a detailed discussion seems far beyond the scope of this review. Finally, an editorial note: it appears that the interference of modern technology converted some of the apostrophes into perispomenon marks which detracts (albeit slightly) from the formal excellence of the work.

To summarize: this first translation of the Didaskalikos into the German language forms a welcome addition to the existing literature, confirming the current interest in the work and contributing to its accessibility. It does not add a lot to the discussion of philosophical issues inherent in the work (for the existing scholarship one may consult the bibliography on pp. χ but it should be emphasized, this was hardly its primary aim. Finally, just to supplement the list of existing translations of the work (as thoughtfully compiled by Summerrell and Zimmer themselves), it may be added that a Polish one recently appeared in Studia Antyczne i Mediewistyczne 4 (2007).


1. T. Göransson Albinus, Alcinous, and Arius Didymus, Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia, Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis 1995. The phrase is his own. For the Albinus hypothesis see J. Freudenthal “Der Platoniker Albinos und der falsche Alkinoos” in idem Hellenistische Studien 3 (1879), for the ‘school of Gaius’ T. Sinko De Apulei et Albini doctrinae Platonicae adumbratione, Kraków 1905.

2. K. Pawlowski Apulejusz z Madaury O bogu Sokratesa i inne pisma, Warszawa: PWN 2002, one may also menton his Filozofia sredniego platonizmu w formule Albinusa ze Smyrny, Wroc322;aw 1998.22;aw 1998.

3. For the brief outline of the controversy see J. Whittaker “Platonic Philosophy in the Early Empire”, ANRW II 36. 1 (1987).