BMCR 2024.05.37

Theodoros Metochites: paraphrase of Aristotle, De anima

, Theodoros Metochites: paraphrase of Aristotle, De anima. Critical edition with introduction and translation. Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina. Series academica, 8. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2022. Pp. cxc, 379. ISBN 9783110786026.



The present book constitutes the eighth volume in the series Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina (CAGB), the most prestigious platform globally for publishing Aristotelian commentaries dating from antiquity to the late Byzantine period. It includes the first critical edition of Theodore Metochites’ paraphrase of Aristotle’s De anima, a work that is part of that author’s voluminous project comprising paraphrases of Aristotle’s works on natural philosophy in forty books (Εἰς πάντα τὰ Φυσικὰ Ἀριστοτέλους). The edition is accompanied by a comprehensive philological introduction to the text and an English translation. A general index and a ‘critical index’ immediately preceding the edited text enable easy navigation through the dense material for any interested reader. The ‘critical index’ helps locate the editor’s critical discussions of more than 300 passages containing suspected authorial and archetypal errors (also termed ‘original’ and ‘secondary’/‘scribal’, respectively).

The first part of the introduction deals with the description of the thirteen Greek manuscripts preserving Metochites’ paraphrastic corpus (part of which is his paraphrase of Aristotle’s De anima), including their dating, contents, and different scribes, substantiated by the most representative and latest bibliography. Metochites’ paraphrase of De anima is also preserved in an epitome by George Scholarios (fifteenth century) and a Latin translation by Gentien Hervet (sixteenth century), and so a separate section discusses the nature and importance of the indirect tradition with particular attention to its dependence on specific witnesses of the direct tradition. The analysis of the genealogy of the manuscripts that ensues draws on and critically responds to Martin Borchert’s main thesis, i.e., that Vat. gr. 303 (V) is the common ancestor of all other manuscripts.[1] Unlike Borchert, Börje Bydén argues in favour of the independence of Marc. gr. Z 239 (M) and Alex. 87 (A), the two extant descendants of a lost exemplar β. The thorny question of which of the two scholarly propositions is right cannot be easily settled (see especially Bydén’s remarks in section 1.4.11), though the latter’s arguments in favour of the independence of the β-branch are to a large extent sound, and hence his decision to assign special significance to the readings of M and A in establishing the critical text seems safe, to say the least. This section devoted to the relationship between the witnesses of the text is of paramount importance for the constitution of Metochites’ paraphrastic corpus more broadly, given that Bydén’s meticulous conclusions regarding the paraphrase of the De anima (pp. XIII-CXXXVII) can be securely applied to other Aristotelian paraphrases by Metochites, especially those that are still unedited. Another focal point of the section on genealogy are Bydén’s critical observations on editorial practice, especially his reminder to all editors that it is ‘unsafe to assume that the author behaves predictably in accordance with any familiar principles, be it linguistic conventions or established patterns of philosophical thought’ (p. XXIII). Bydén warns that such editorial assumptions jeopardise the preservation of authorial idiosyncrasies. Hypercorrections and forced critical interventions are often more damaging to the reconstruction of the text than a conservative edition (see Bydén’s apposite comment on p. CLXIV in favour of a ‘restrictive approach to emendation’). It is to Bydén’s credit that, despite treating highly technical material, he presents it in a lucid manner that makes it readable and intelligible, particularly through his frequent use of concluding sections (see also section 6 on suspected authorial errors, pp. CXXI-CXXXVII).

The second part of the introduction places Metochites’ paraphrase of De anima in the context of other Palaiologan philosophical commentaries broadly construed (from exegeses and paraphrases to compendia, epitomes and scholia). Here Bydén carefully discusses Metochites’ target audience, the paraphrase’s key traits as a commentary, and its main sources after Aristotle’s De anima, namely Philoponus, Themistius, Priscian of Lydia (Ps.-Simplicius), Ps.‐Philoponus, and Sophonias. The linguistic analysis of Metochites’ prose that follows is thought-provoking, as it reflects developments in the vernacular of Metochites’ time, and as such will be particularly useful for future studies on the topic. What one misses in this second part of the introduction is a clear nod to the structure of the paraphrase as well as some preliminary evaluation of its philosophical importance: is there anything original or idiosyncratic here? That said, it is understandable, given the length of the philological introduction and the edited text, that an interpretative analysis could not easily be accommodated in the same volume. A full philosophical study on the work is eagerly anticipated.

The third part of the introduction sets out in detail the editorial and translating principles adopted, including issues such as the division of the text, orthography, punctuation, accentuation, and the content and role of the four apparatuses, i.e., the apparatus criticus, apparatus aristotelicus, apparatus fontium, and apparatus locorum parallelorum. Both the edition and the translation meet the highest standards of academic quality, and where objections may be raised, these would mostly be preferential rather than mandatory (e.g., suggested translation for 4.15-16: ‘Note that the study of the soul also furnishes us with truth and knowledge of many other things relating/in respect to far too many areas of study’ [compare Bydén: ‘Note that the study of the soul also contributes to very many [branches of study] with truth and knowledge about a number of other things’], a rendering that perhaps better captures the syntactical function of the accusatives ἀλήθειαν καὶ γνῶσιν in the sentence; ‘emotive or affective’ (rather than ‘affectable’) part of the soul for τὸ παθητικόν or τὰ παθητικά throughout; 6.13-14: καὶ διαφόρων ὄντων: perhaps ‘especially because they are different’ [compare Bydén: ‘even though they are different’], particularly in light of ἐν πολλοῖς ἐστι καὶ διαφόροις above, 6.11-12). One should never lose sight of the fact that editing and translating Metochites is not an easy task. It can be challenging, sometimes even nerve-racking, and simply not abandoning, let alone bringing to fruition, such a daunting task is in itself praiseworthy. Readers of this book are equipped with everything they need for making sense of Metochites’ complex work: on the left-hand page an authoritative text with information on preserved readings and editorial conjectures, as well as the base passages from Aristotle’s De anima informing the different Metochitean sections, and on the right-hand page a readable English translation with brief explanatory notes as well as references to previous commentators on the text.

Overall, this book is a highly learned, professional, and meticulous study of philological and philosophical value, on the completion of which its author should be warmly congratulated. As indicated in the book’s preface, this is the product of many years’ work (almost two decades), but no doubt its author will feel that the scholarly energy he put into it is compensated for by the final outcome: his book is a magnificent achievement that will remain the standard edition of Metochites’ paraphrase of De anima for many years to come.



[1] M. Borchert, 2011. ‘Der paraphrastische Kommentar des Theodoros Metochites zu Aristoteles’ De generatione et corruptione. Handschriftliche Überlieferung, textkritische Edition und Übersetzung’. PhD Thesis: Friedrich‐Schiller‐Universität Jena.