BMCR 2011.01.13

Aëtiana: The Method and Intellectual Context of a Doxographer. Vol. 3, Studies in the Doxographical Traditions of Ancient Philosophy. Philosophia antiqua 118

, , Aëtiana: The Method and Intellectual Context of a Doxographer. Vol. 3, Studies in the Doxographical Traditions of Ancient Philosophy. Philosophia antiqua 118. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. xiii, 648. ISBN 9789004180413 €173.00 / US $256.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

For more than twenty years, Jaap Mansfeld and David Runia have been working on the problems presented by the transmission of philosophical opinion in antiquity. The Aëtiana project, of which this is the third volume, lives up to its name: it reappraises the evidence for Aëtius presented in Diels’ magisterial 1879 Doxographi Graeci. Volume one (1997) provides a close analysis of Aëtius’s sources and the Diels hypothesis, and the two parts of volume two (2009) offer an analysis of the compendium and a reconstruction of book two. For a full review of volume two see Andrea Falcon’s BMCR review (BMCR 2010.04.48). Further volumes on the remaining four books are forthcoming.

Volume three, on which this review focuses, seems a bit out of place in this larger project. All nineteen articles in this volume are previously published, ranging in date from 1989 to 2009. More than half of the contributions are Mansfeld’s (12), but this volume nevertheless represents a large portion of both authors’ work in the field.

The authors provide two examples of how easily doxographical material can be misconstrued. In the preface they state that they “continue to be convinced that information about the basics of doxography remains much needed in some quarters”. This is most certainly true, but the present volume is not designed to clarify those basics. There is no general introduction to the methods employed or the difficulties that must be faced when dealing with this material from either an author- or a content-driven perspective. The closing section consists of ‘additional remarks’, placed at the end of the volume (rather than at the end of each article), instead of a overall conclusion, which could have made these synoptic comments about the whole volume and, in the case of some of the older pieces, could have explained how they relate to more recent currents in doxographical research. Thus it seems that the primary motivation for the current volume, although not explicitly stated, is to bring together the research of Mansfeld and Runia on topics related to the Aëtius project that might not be easily accessible to some readers.

That being said, the volume does, in many ways, represent some of the best scholarship available on the ancient doxographical tradition. Constraints of time and space make it impossible for me to address all of the important work that is presented in this dense volume, but in what follows I have tried to highlight points of special interest.

In particular, I would advise any newcomer to the field to begin with ‘Xenophanes on the Moon: A Doxographicum in Aetius’ (Chapter 3). Not only is the argument accessible and lucid, it presents doxographical studies at their very best, both for what they can tell us about early Greek philosophy and for the information they provide about the transmission of philosophy. This, more than any other article in the first section of the volume entitled ‘Foundational Studies’, showcases the kind of attention to detail and nuance that should mark all doxographical studies.

Section 2: ‘Assessing the Legacy of Hermann Diels’, includes two responses to critiques raised by Michael Frede ( Phronesis), Jan Bremmer ( Mnemosyne) and Leonid Zhmud ( Philologus). For a volume that purports to ‘document stages on [the] path to understanding, interpreting and reconstructing’ ancient philosophical doxography (xi), it would have been more convenient if the studies targeted have themselves been included in this volume. Their inclusion would have made the volume more instructive to readers who are coming fresh to the study of ancient doxography.

The articles in section 3 cover ‘other authors’, ranging from Plato, the Peripatetics and Epicureans to Philo, Arius Didymus and the interpreters of Empedocles, providing a wealth of information and argument concerning the methods of listing, comparing and opposing philosophical tenets. The importance of a systematic rather than chronological approach to ancient doxography is a common theme throughout the volume and in the work of Mansfeld, Runia and others more generally.1 Mansfeld’s ‘Aristote et la structure du de sensibus de Théophraste’ argues that the de sensibus constitutes an important link between the diaeresis/dialectic of Aristotle on the one hand and the diaeresis/diaphonia that characterises the majority of the Aetian chapters. Runia, in ‘Additional Fragments of Arius Didymus on Physics’, identifies eight criteria for judging what material derives from Arius Didymus in Stobaeus’s Eclogae. He then applies these criteria to the text, suggesting ten further Arian passages and ruling out two others that Diels included.

Section 4 presents six articles that directly address Aëtius’s contributions to the study of ancient philosophy and science. In general, Mansfeld’s articles trace Aëtian lemmata back to Aristotle. For example, after exploring the textual tradition of Aëtius On Causes (I.11 Diels) in ‘Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle, the Peripatetics, the Stoics and Thales and his Followers “On Causes”’(Ch. 15), Mansfeld examines the prepositional formulae used to distinguish the four (or five) types of causes that arise out of the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition. He traces most of the remarks we find in the Aëtian lemma to the Peripatetics. Moreover, this piece demonstrates the way in which Stobaeus amplified the material he found in Aëtius with that of Arius Didymus on Aristotle and the Stoics. Runia’s ‘Atheists in Aëtius: Text, Translation and Comments on De Placitis I.7.1-10’ will be essential reading for anyone working on the history of atheistic arguments in antiquity. Likewise, the final chapter, ‘The Placita Ascribed to Doctors in Aëtius’s Doxography on Physics’, provides a valuable study of the medical lemmata preserved in Aëtius. The doctors’ placita are quickly identifiable, making it easier to trace the interventions and innovations that occur over time. However, as with the philosophical lemmata, to be fully understood these must be read within the context of the chapter in which they occur.

These excellent contributions to the study of ancient doxography are certainly worth reading, but the volume, while calling for a greater understanding of the basics of doxography, paradoxically presupposes familiarity with the modern discourse on the subject. One can certainly learn a lot about these basics by reading the articles, but they must be teased out with effort and patience, much as the methods of the doxographers are meticulously teased out by Mansfeld and Runia.

Table of Contents Section 1: Foundational Studies
1. Doxographical Studies, Quellenforschung, Tabular Presentation and Other Varieties of Comparativism (M[ansfeld])
2. Physikai doxai and problêmata physika in Philosophy and Rhetoric: From Aristotle to Aëtius (and Beyond) (M)
3. Xenophanes on the Moon: a Doxographicum in Aetius (R[unia])
4. Chrysippus and the Placita (M)
Section 2: Assessing the Legacy of Hermann Diels
5. Deconstructing Doxography (M)
6. Aëtius or What’s in a name? (R)
Section 3: Other Authors
7. Physical doxai in the Phaedo (M)
8. Aristote et la structure du de sensibus de Théophraste (M)
9. Epicurus Peripateticus (M)
10. Lucretius and Doxography (R)
11. Philo and Hellenistic Doxography (R)
12. Additional Fragments of Arius Didymus on Physics (R)
13. Critical Note: Empedocles and his Interpreters (M)
Section 4: Themes in Aëtius
14. Atheists in Aëtius: Text, Translation and Comments on De placitis 1.7.1-10 (R)
15. Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle, the Peripatetics, the Stoics and Thales and his Followers “On Causes” (M)
16. Aëtius, Aristotle and Others on Coming-To-Be and Passing-Away (M)
17. Cosmic Distances: Aëtius 2.31 Diels and Some Related Texts (M)
18. From Milky Way to Halo: Aristotle’s Meteorologica, Aëtius, and Passages in Seneca and the Scholia on Aratus (M)
19. The Placita Ascribed to Doctors in Aëtius’s Doxography on Physics (R)
Additional Remarks
Index nominum et rerum
Index locorum potiorum


1. The most thorough treatment of this sort is H. Baltussen. 2000. Theophrastus Against the Presocratics and Plato. Peripatetic Dialectic in the De sensibus. Brill.