BMCR 2021.08.28

Aëtiana V

, , Aëtiana V: An Edition of the reconstructed text of the Placita with a commentary and a collection of related texts. (4 vols.). Philosophia antiqua, volume 153. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2020. vol. 1: Pp. xxii, 717; vol. 2: Pp. xviii, 628; vol. 3: Pp. xviii, 711; vol. 4: Pp. vi, 259 . ISBN 9789004428386 $756.00.

The present work represents the culmination of a great project, Aëtiana: the Method and Intellectual Context of a Doxographer, of which the previous four parts, which have already been published, form the systematic and complex context in which the edition is set.[1] It is, therefore, the crowning achievement of an opus magnum, one which has become the indispensable instrument for consulting and using the texts of doxography, texts often reviled but clearly indispensable, insofar as they form the true backbone of the study of the pre-Socratic philosophers and are a very important complement for the knowledge of other schools of philosophy. The new edition is heir to the great work Doxographi Graeci by Hermann Diels (Berlin 1879), but marks an advance over its predecessor that could be described as sidereal in distance, both in terms of the progress made in the editing of the sources and in our knowledge of the history of the text, and also in terms of the magnitude and completeness of the compilation, and the arrangement and presentation of the data—not to mention the excellent translation.

It is impossible to go into detail here on the richness, complexity and accuracy of this work, which is backed by the experience, knowledge and intellectual preeminence of its authors, Jaap Mansfeld and David T. Runia, both internationally well-known specialists in the fields of ancient philology and philosophy, who have also collaborated with a large group of projects from different countries and a long list of scholars.

Aëtiana V comes in four physical volumes (‘Parts’). I briefly outline the contents:

 Part 1 includes the General Introduction and Text and Commentary of Placita book 1.

After the introductory section containing the sigla and abbreviations (pp. xii- xxi), including Works Frequently Cited an Secondary Witnesses (pp. v – xxi), there follows an introduction (pp. 1-100) in which the characteristics of the edition are presented and all relevant aspects are analysed: there is a History of the Text, a Retrospective Glance at Aëtiana I-II, the Reconstruction of the Text and the reasons for preferring the way in which they have structured the data, as well as a Taxonomy of Authors and Texts. At the end, the authors point out the reasons for having left the translation of the text for the last volume, and the criteria followed for the translation, which is extremely faithful to the original.

A series of stemmata (pp. 97-98) and a statistical overview (pp. 99-100) allow us to visualise the relationships between the main sources for Aetius’ doxography. In this introduction, the methodology of the work and the innovations are presented: the two main ones are (p. 1): “it reconstructs the no longer extant original of the work in a single column. It also includes the complete evidence available for that reconstruction, including important material not accessible to Diels, together with an English translation of the finalised text”, and “it aims to place the contents of the compendium in the broader perspective of the long history of ancient philosophy … [I]t … includes the period from the Peripatos in the fourth century to the first century of the Common Era when the method of doxography … was developed and the word itself received its final form.”

A shortened version of part of the Introduction (6: The Edition’s Contents, Methods and Layout) is repeated in abridged form in the other volumes for ease of reference. All this preparatory work (as with the rest of the work) is governed by the utmost rigour and offers concise and informative passages to situate the text in its historical context. The rest of Part 1 is taken up by the edition and commentary on Book 1 of the Placita (pp. 101-717).

Part 2 contains the edition of Books 2 and 3 of the Placita (pp. 729-1346). Part 3 contains the edition and commentary of Books 4 and 5 (pp. 1357-2057), while the much shorter Part 4 contains the English translation (pp. 2063-2152), the List of Chapter Headings in the Translation of Qusṭā ibn Lūqā (pp. 2153-2157), a monumental Bibliography (pp. 2158-2282) and various Indexes (pp. 2283-2317). With the addition of the initial pages in roman numbering, this brings the total to almost 2,400 pages.

Each book of the Placita has an introduction that discusses the same items (except for slight differences in the wording of some titles):
1. Transmission, 2. Subject Matter and Macro-structure, 3. Name Labels, 4. Successions and Historical Presentation (for Book 2: Methods and Micro-Structure) 5. Sources: Proximate Tradition. 6. Other Source Material. 7. Other Parallels and Sources (missing for Book 2 and called Further Parallels and Sources for Book 3).

The edition of each book itself contains some initial sigla, indexed chapter-titles, complementary testimonies, and an edition with commentary that proceeds chapter by chapter; in each chapter, the pertinent sigla are indicated and the information of where each detail appears in the original authors or in editions of fragments; there are loci similes and an extensive commentary. It gives, therefore, immense, very rich, exhaustive information.

The edition is very careful, with critical apparatus of great clarity, with a precise presentation of each complementary source, with brief indications, such as (p. 366): “Cicero ND 1.118 (the Academic Cotta speaks),” which allows the reader to contextualise them in a very precise way.

The complementary texts are exhaustive, well articulated and clearly presented, placing each passage of Aëtius in the very broad context of the history of philosophy, which makes it possible to contrast each section of the Placita with complementary information and to see the coincidences and differences in the information on each of the points, in a precise and complete way.

The commentaries are very clear, informative and relevant; they put each testimony in context and point out conclusions that can be drawn from the comparison of the testimonies.

The commentaries are organised into distinct sections, articulating each aspect in an orderly fashion (Witnesses, Proximate Tradition and Sources, Chapter Heading, Analysis, Further Evidence, etc.) and in clearly-marked sub-sections, which allow the information sought to be found quickly despite the enormous size of the work. This is possible because the typography and presentation are very clear, and very appropriate use is made of the fonts (Roman, italic bold), of the headings of each section, and even of the indications at the head of each page. In short, this is a real gift for the researcher, which will mark a turning point in the study of Greek doxography.


[1] Vol. I: The sources (2009); Vol. 2 (2010) The Compendium with two parts: I Macrostructure and Microcontext, and II Specimen reconstructionis; Vol. 3 (2018), Studies in the Doxographical Traditions of Greek Philosophy, and Vol. 4 (2018), Towards an Edition of the Aëtian Placita: Papers of the Melbourne Conference 1-3 December 2015, which includes contributions from leading specialists in the field.