ElAnt v3n3 - Arethas of Caesarea's Scholia on Porphyry's Isagoge and Aristotle's Categories

Volume 3, Number 3
December 1995

Arethas of Caesarea's Scholia on Porphyry's Isagoge and Aristotle's Categories (Codex Vaticanus Urbinas Graecus 35)

Michael Share (ed.)
Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi: Commentaria in Aristotelem 
Byzantina 1. Athens, 1994. Pp. xvi + 293, hard cover. 

Reviewed by:
Harold Tarrant,
Department of Classics,
University of Newcastle,
NSW 2308,
e-mail: clhast@cc.newcastle.edu.au

To the non-specialist this must rank among the least exciting titles ever. The new editio princeps must however be welcomed by all who are interested in the activities of Byzantine scholars in the ninth and tenth centuries, and all who are interested in understanding the activities of the Alexandrian Platonists who succeeded Ammonius and those in turn who followed them. This is an area which has for some decades been dominated by L.G. Westerink, under whom Share studied, to whose memory the work is dedicated. He has been of considerable service both in providing us with improved texts and in assisting us to understand their interrelation. If I claim that there is still much work to be done, I mean no disrespect; it is rather a reflection of the difficulty of passing from the texts to an appreciation of the skills and activities of those to whom we owe them.

Share's five page introduction to the present collection of scholia hardly changes the situation. Long introductions to the texts and translations of late Aristotelian commentaries and scholia seem not to be in fashion, no doubt out of the desire to restrict publishing costs to a minimum. Share describes the manuscripts to which this collection of scholia has been added, and the scope of the scholia. He follows this with a discussion of the sources of the scholia, and observations about (i) the extent to which they merely rework earlier material, much of it identifiable, and (ii) the limited part that Arethas himself (whose hand can be recognized, and whose scholia are the only ones presented here) can have played in their preparation. He then discusses his procedure in presenting the collection.

Those who are expecting a text which will illuminate the thought of the well-known Arethas, or even of his age, will apparently be disappointed: though there is of course value in knowing what earlier scholarship he deemed worthy of reproduction. But the assembled scholia have almost the same status as a rather text-tied commentary. They are another example of commentaries on the Categories and on Porphyry's introduction to them, and thus become a supplement to the extant late-neoplatonic commentaries on these works: Ammonius, Simplicius, Olympiodorus, Philoponus, and Elias on the Aristotelian text, and Ammonius, Elias, Ps.-Elias, and David on the Isagoge. The extent to which the same material tends to reappear from one commentary to another is perhaps remarkable to us in the light of our notions of plagiarism and originality. The scholia carry on in the same scholarly tradition, and it is inevitable that Share asks who is being followed when the source is not identifiable. Lost commentaries by Olympiodorus, Philoponus, and Eutocius on the Porphyry and by David on the Aristotle are mentioned. I think what is missed here is that these Neoplatonists need not have written just one commentary on these works. Individuals like Ammonius and Olympiodorus updated their own work in the same way as successors update their masters'. Accounts would expand or contract to suit different situations. An author might give his work his own characteristic style, or allow the style of a source or sources to continue to dominate. The texts which survive may be just the tip of a remarkably homogeneous iceberg.

These problems are particularly obvious to those who concern themselves with the Categories and Isagoge. Here we have the beginning of the philosophic curriculum (one has to commiserate with the student!), and hence the area most widely and most publicly taught. Any student of later Neoplatonism who ignores their work on these introductory texts does so at his peril. The area's importance is reflected in the number of surviving texts. And it is this very number which enables us to get some inkling of the way material is endlessly reworked, like ancient stones reused for a succession of new buildings. And the 'building-blocks' of a commentary can also be used to create a series of particularly full scholia, as has also happened in the case of the extensive scholia on Plato's Gorgias, which show many features of Olympiodorus' extant commentary on the work. Of course they may have had even more in common with some other commentary, but in this case none survive.

The scholia on the Isagoge occupy pages 1-130, those on the Categories pp. 131-229. At the foot of the text is (i) a list of the relevant parallel passages, a list which reflects an enormous amount of painstaking work on the relevant commentaries, but which includes a little material from outside that tradition too; and (ii) a textual apparatus which is necessarily brief and indicates mainly the editor's own corrections, suggested by supposed infelicities in the texts or by better sense given by closely parallel passages. There follow a series of diagrams from the two sets of scholia, an index locorum, an index of proper names, and a substantial index verborum extending from p. 261 to p. 293. Presentation is on the whole a credit. My only regret is that the book does not afford to Share the opportunity to share more thoughts with his readers, both general and detailed, about the nature of late Alexandrian Neoplatonism and its reception in the ninth and tenth centuries.

I apologize that I have had to opt for a notice rather than a full review, but I believe that the proper test for a collection of scholia, short of painstakingly working through the manuscript oneself, is in its use over a period of time.

Harold Tarrant, e-mail: clhast@cc.newcastle.edu.au

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 3 Issue 3 - December 1995
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606
by Kaavya Giridhar