BMCR 2022.09.16

Commentary on Aristotle, ‘Prior Analytics’ (book II): critical edition with introduction and translation

, Leon Magentenos. Commentary on Aristotle, Prior Analytics (Book II): critical edition with introduction and translation. Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina, 5. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2021. Pp. xciv, 205. ISBN 9783110703160 $137.99.

Open Access

The Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca series was a landmark editorial project in classical and Byzantine philology that made texts of the most important late ancient and Byzantine commentaries on Aristotle available to the wider public. Published between 1882 and 1909 under the auspices of the Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the volumes included in the series were prepared by the brightest classical philologists of the period, scholars like Hermann Diels, Girolamo Vitelli, and Adolf Busse. A few years ago the project Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina (= CAGB) set as its task continuing the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca project by editing those Byzantine commentaries on Aristotle that were not already included in the Commentaria or by re-editing according to modern standards some of the commentaries already edited in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The project is sponsored by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften under the supervision of scholars including Dieter Harlfinger, Marwan Rashed, Christoph Rapp, and Dieter Roderich Reinsch, and it surely is destined to have a tremendous impact on our knowledge of the Byzantine commentaries on Aristotle.

The volume under review, the fifth volume to appear in the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina, presents the first modern critical edition of Leon Magentenos’ little-known commentary on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics 2. From the preface we learn that the book is a substantially revised version of the editor’s doctoral dissertation defended at the University of Ioannina (Greece) in 2014. As customary in critical editions, the volume is divided into two main parts, the first presenting the author, the text, and its tradition, the second presenting the edition of the text.

From the first part we learn all available information concerning the author and the text. The high number of manuscripts (thirty-two) preserving Magentenos’ commentary on Prior Analytics 2 suggests that the text was very influential on the later generations of Byzantine commentators. Yet we know virtually nothing of the life and chronology of the author. He surely wrote a commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge and on Aristotle’s Organon, but his career remains a mystery. Agiotis reviews the available proposals and suggests on textual and paleographical grounds that the traditional dating for Magentenos’ floruit (13th c.) should perhaps be revised to the second half of the twelfth century (or even to the first half of the same century). This piece of evidence comes from Magentenos’ commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge, where the commentator produces an appraisal of the Komnenian dynasty (1081-1185). I am inclined to believe that Agiotis is right.

Reconstructing the tradition of Magentenos’ commentary is like retracing the steps of the late Byzantine logical tradition. The commentary has been preserved in some of the most important late Byzantine manuscripts of the corpus aristotelicum, some of which ended up in the hands of important Byzantine scholars of the Paleologan period like John Chortasmenos (died ca. 1439). Agiotis has collated all manuscripts preserving directly or indirectly the commentary and has produced a reliable and comprehensive stemma codicum of the tradition of the text. The final result is a bipartite stemma according to which all manuscripts depend directly or indirectly upon two hyparchetypes, V (= ms. Vat. gr. 244) and D (= ms. Ambr. D 54 sup. [olim N 46]), with the addition of an indirect tradition for some of the scholia represented by U (= ms. Vat. Urb. gr. 35). Accordingly, Agiotis has established the text on the basis of V and D, with V displaying on the average better readings than D.

Agiotis’ edition of the Greek text of the commentary is very precise and well-produced.

Furthermore, among the praiseworthy achievements of the volume under review, readers find an English translation of the text. This is a novelty of the CAGB project, one that ensures wider accessibility to the text among non-specialists and colleagues from different fields of study. Finally, I would like to spend a few words on the last section of the book, devoted to diagrams. There is a vast agreement on the importance of ancient and medieval diagrams as  visual memory aids. Yet the diagrams attached to texts preserved in many manuscripts are challenging insofar as they may have a different tradition from the main text. In this regard, Agiotis has carefully edited and classified the diagrams preserved in the manuscript tradition according to the most recent and accepted criteria. This is surely one of the most important novelties of the CAGB series, for usually editions of Greek and medieval texts avoid dealing with this material or do so only cursorily.

All in all this volume represents a great achievement. One can only be grateful to Agiotis and to the editors of the CAGB series for allowing modern readers to access hitherto unknown material like Magentenos’ commentary. Now scholars will be able to more fully reconstruct the history of the Byzantine commentary tradition, a history that is still relatively unknown to much of the scholarly public.