Scholars from countries whose language is other than English, French, Italian, Spanish, or German may have their time and energy consumed by the dilemma between writing in an idiom read worldwide – thus making their contribution to a given field of research reach the international community – and writing in their vernacular – thus enriching its literature and giving their fellow countrymen the comfort of reading their own language.
I cannot tell whether Paulos Kalligas is tormented by such dilemma, but I can affirm that he, who has published extensively both in English and in Greek, is one of finest examples of someone who is capable of standing on the summit of ancient philosophy scholarship without neglecting his own idiom.
Kalligas published a translation, with commentary, of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus in 1991; the first Ennead appeared in 1994 (reprinted in 2006), the second in 1997, the third in 2004, the fourth in 2009, and the fifth in 2013. His ongoing series of translations of and commentaries on Plotinus’ Enneads is a major achievement in Plotinian studies, an achievement that unfortunately will remain unknown to a good number of researchers. A sign of this is that none of the previous volumes was reviewed for BMCR.
This volume, like the others, includes a short prologue, ancient Greek text and modern Greek translation on opposite pages, and commentaries that fill more than half of it. In the prologue, Kalligas makes very general statements about Plotinus’ second level of reality, the intellect, which is the more or less coherent common thread of the treatises Porphyry arranges in the fifth Ennead. Also in the prologue, he enumerates (10, n. 1) the most important differences between the ancient Greek text he prints and that of Henry and Schwyzer’s maior and minor editions, and all the corrigenda as well. This makes the reviewer’s work much easier.
On this level of scholarship, and with the aid of so many existing translations, commentaries, and studies of Plotinus’ writings, there is no sense in assessing the “correctness” of the translation. Even less in Kalligas’ case, for he does not have to decide whether he will translate, for instance, νοῦς as “intellect”, “mind”, or “spirit”; λόγος as “(formative) principle”, “reason”, “argument”, or “discourse”; οὐσία as “essence”, “substance”, or “reality”, as modern Greek has preserved these words.
Yet, he is not immune to difficulties of translation: at V.1  1.22, e.g., he has to translate θυμός as “νοῦς” because the prominent meaning of that word in modern Greek is “anger”. The problem with this choice is that (i) it introduces a strong intellectual nuance where there should be none (in my opinion),1 and (ii) it does not keep the strangeness of Plotinus’ formulation: the θυμός of soul. Plotinus says in context that the soul, when it values the sensible things more than itself, is not able to receive the nature and power of god in its θυμός, which seems to be its innermost part. If we are acquainted with Plotinus’ philosophy, we know that, to be united with the one, the soul must deprive itself of all form and intellectual activity, so that receiving god “in its mind” sounds weird.2
Kalligas’ translation is very clear and more concerned with philosophical precision than with style, leaving no room for Plotinus’ (sometimes intended) obscurities and (not uncommon) inspired prose (especially in V.1 , V.5 , and V.8 ). As an example of undesirable clarity of translation, one could think of Plotinus’ intense apophatic pronominal ambiguity in V.2  1.1-15,3 which Kalligas seems to neglect. An example of desirable stylistic elaboration which immediately comes to my mind concerns Plotinus’ mirroring of oppositions at V.5  8.23-4: πῶς οὐκ ἐλθὼν πάρεστι, καὶ πῶς οὐκ ὢν οὐδαμοῦ οὐδαμοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν ὅπου μὴ ἔστιν, thus translated by Kalligas: πῶς εἶναι παρὼν χωρὶς νὰ ἔχει ἔρθει, καὶ πῶς, χωρὶς νὰ βρίσκεται πουθενά, δὲν ὑπάρχει πουθενὰ μέρος ὅπου νὰ μὴν εἶναι.
Kalligas adopts the procedure of capitalizing the initials of Plotinus’ first principles (“One/Good” and “He/Him/His” etc.; “Intellect”, “Being”, “Life” etc.; “Soul”, “Nature”) and some other terms. Several translators do the same, wishing to improve the text’s clarity. But, again, it sometimes makes plainly clear that which is not clear and which, being ambiguous, is more powerful. A good example is, once again, Plotinus’ use of indefinite pronouns in the passage of V.2  mentioned before. I wonder how Kalligas will translate, e.g., the first sentence of VI.9  1, where Plotinus says that “all beings are beings τῷ ἑνί”, employing τῷ ἑνί consciously and ambiguously to denote at the same time that the intrinsic unity of all beings and the absolute unity that is the cause of all beings. Besides, there seems to be occasional inconsistency in the capitalization of some initials: I cannot understand, for instance, why Kalligas writes Ψυχή in V.1  2, but ψυχή in V.2  1, if in both chapters Plotinus refers to the hypostatic soul (in opposition to individual souls, which are not capitalized). Kalligas does this even inside the same treatise: in V.9  3 he uses the majuscule initial for Ψυχή, but in the first lines of V.9  4, where Plotinus is speaking of the same soul, Kalligas uses the minuscule initial. If such a strategy to make the text clearer is not employed with extreme attention it makes the text even more confusing, for the reader is automatically led to believe that the distinction between majuscule and minuscule initials has a purpose and is always in operation.
A synopsis of, short general introduction to, and specific bibliography about each treatise act as a prelude to the commentaries. Both experts and novices will benefit from the lucidity, erudition, and mastery of secondary bibliography with which Kalligas conducts his detailed comments. The commentary to V.3 , for instance, amounts to 45 pages, in which nothing is superfluous. Of course, one could note an example or two of disagreement, or complain that Kalligas does not make the comments one expects him to do. Nevertheless, this reflects one’s own concerns, not Kalligas’ limitations, of course.
The ancient Greek text of this volume shows around 40 deviations from Henry and Schwyzer’s editions.4 Kalligas adopts suggestions proposed by several scholars (Sleeman, Harder, Creuzer, D’Anconna, Igal, Theiler, Jahn, Gollwitzer, Ficino), keeps the reading of the manuscripts on a few occasions, and seems to have a predilection for Kirchhoff’s emendations, which he follows in ten passages. By his own hand, he proposes at least ten textual emendations of significance, most of them justified in the commentaries. I will remark only a few of them.
Since I have not seen the manuscripts and I do not have paleographic expertise, I am not able to make definitive judgments; nevertheless, I think Kalligas has improved the text of the following passages, as his emendations seem to be possible and to make perfect sense:
V.1.9.12-13: he prints ἀπιστήσειε instead of ἐπιστήσειε, present in the manuscripts, printed by H-S, and accepted by everyone.
V.3.11.13-14: he proposes ἐφιέμενος for ἐνδιάμενος or ἐνδιαθέμενος, a passage which H-S consider corrupt.
V.3.15.23: πάντη instead of πάντα.
On the other hand, I am afraid these choices are not as good as those mentioned above:
V.1.6.20: τὸ in place of τῷ (manuscripts and H-S). I cannot see any philosophical or philological reason for this, since it disposes of the correct and understandable τῷ λόγῳ in favor of the dubious construction τὸ λόγῳ τὴν γένεσιν προσάπτοντας αὐτοις αἰτίας καὶ τάξεως.
V.2.1.2: transposition of the εν in ἐνέδραμε, and alteration of ἐκείνως to ἐκείνῳ: ἐκείνῳ πάντα . . . ἔδραμε. Again, this is philologically unnecessary and impoverishes the text. The apophatic power of the passage comes from the ambiguity and contradiction extirpated by Kalligas: “the one is all things and not a single one of them: for it is the principle of all, not all, but it is all in this way: it so to speak runs inside” – where, given the fact that the neuter plural takes the verb in the singular, we can understand at the same time that the one runs inside all things and that all things run inside the one. It is not all things, but it is all things! With Kalligas’ text, we have “it is not all things, but all things are in it”. The adversative ἀλλά loses its purpose too.
V.5.12.31: τῴ instead of τὸ, which is suppressed in H-S: γενόμενον τῴ τε καλόν. . . Another emendation that seems hard to justify philologically and that produces a grammatically weak text. It also should be said the Kalligas’ translation seems to ignore the coordination imposed by his text: ἐνῶ τὸ Ὡραῖο δὲν τὸ γνωρίζουν ὅλοι καί, ὅταν παρουσιαστεῖ, νομίζουν . . . I think we should have γενόμενόν τε τῷ for such a translation.
V.3.12.23-5: emendation of ποιήσασαι ποιήσασθαι δεῖ . . . μένει (for ποιήσασαι ποιήσασαι δὲ ἐκεῖνο . . . μένειν. The text is corrupt, according to H-S. δεῖ and μένει seem very clever (although, it must be clear, I cannot judge its paleographical possibility), but I still haven’t found any reason for the middle ποιήσασθαι.5
All these, as I said, are nugae in the face of the superhuman labor involved in one person editing, translating, and commenting on all Plotinus’ treatises. As I said at the beginning of this review, Kalligas’ translation is a major achievement in Plotinian studies. I do hope that scholars in Neoplatonism pay attention to it.
1. It must be said, however, that θυμός in this passage is translated as “mind” or something similar by most translators: cf. A. H. Armstrong’s Loeb translation: “have an idea”; and this is the meaning proposed by Sleeman and Pollet’s Lexicon Plotinianum.
2. Kalligas considers this passage – ἐν θυμῷ βάλοιτο – a reference to Iliad 15.566 – ἐν θυμῷ ἐβάλοντο (the Argives receive Aias’ words “into their heart”). I am not sure about it but, if he thinks Plotinus has Homer in mind here, this seems to me another good reason to avoid νοῦς.
3. See Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (University of Chicago Press, 1994), 28 ff.
4. I say “around 40” because I had at first counted 46, as informed by Kalligas himself; however, some of them are (1) given as different deviations at different lines, although in fact one deviation that begins at one line and ends at the following (e.g. V.3  11.13-14; V.8  3.29-30), or (2) to be found in one of the editions of Henry and Schwyzer (e.g. V.1  7.6; V.7  2.12).
5. See also V.9.10.5: preservation of ἤδη of the manuscripts instead of ἡ δὴ (Harder, H-S); V.3.2.6: the insertion of οὐκ before ὑφ’ ἑαυτοῦ; and V.4.2.16: ἀδιάκριτον instead of διακριτόν or διακριτικόν. Kalligas provides strong arguments for the defense of the last two, but I am not sure yet if I agree with him. Unfortunately, it will be impossible to discuss them in this review.