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Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence.

Richard Sorabji, ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990. x + 545 pp. $65.

For several years Richard Sorabji has been organizing scholarly projects relating to the Greek commentators on Aristotle. The present volume, Aristotle Transformed, is a collected volume of twenty studies, six of which are new, four are translations, and five are revised versions of previously published studies that include some classics in the field. Sorabji has thus selected and commissioned a fine group of studies. He has also authored the first study, which is a highly informative overview on Aristotle's ancient commentators. He does allude to the influence of Themistius during the Renaissance (17) and does note that Philoponus played a role in "the Renaissance break from Aristotelian science," pointing out that Galileo mentions Philoponus in his early works more often than Plato (25). However, it must be said that Sorabji otherwise seems indifferent to providing much information about the role of the commentators during the Renaissance. Indeed Franz Brentano gets as much if not more attention than do the commentators (26).

Despite the subtitle of the volume, only a few of the twenty studies are in fact dedicated to the historical influence of the commentators. Three are devoted to Christian medievals (one by J. Shiel and two by S. Ebbesen) and two concern Byzantine figures (by R. Browning and H. P. F. Mercken). In his study on the Greek commentators on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Mercken devotes a paragraph (410) to the sixteenth-century translation of excerpts by Giovanni Bernardo Feliciano. In like fashion, H. J. Blumenthal refers to Francesco Piccolomini in an addendum (324) to his important study. But other than these two references and the passing remarks in Sorabji's own study, the Renaissance is pretty well ignored in this volume.

The one contribution related to the Renaissance is a four-page note by Donald R. Morrison, an accomplished historian of ancient philosophy, entitled: "Note on the Frontispiece |Aristotle and Alexander of Aphrodisias' by Ulcrino." It concerns a small bronze plaquette that presents Alexander standing before a seated Aristotle. Morrison carefully compares the plaquette and the magnificent illuminated frontispiece of the copy of the 1483 edition of the works of Aristotle and Averroes in Latin found in the Pierpont Morgan library. Morrison's comments seem plausible and clearly argued. But he must be faulted for not pointing out that the editor of the 1483 edition of the Latin Aristotle and Averroes was Nicoletto Vernia (d. 1499), who in his mature years developed a strong interest in the Greek commentators and even proposed the remarkable thesis that Alexander held to the immortality of the soul. Whether there was a distinct tradition of "Paduan Alexandrism" as Morrison appears to assume seems debatable. Moreover, it is misleading to refer to Pietro Pomponazzi, a native of Mantua, as a "Paduan philosopher" at the time that he published his De immortalitate animi [sic] in 1516 at Bologna. He had been a professor there for several years.

It is regrettable that Sorabji did not consider the impact of the Greek commentators during the Renaissance to merit at least one study in this volume. No doubt an editor has a right to pick and choose and to emphasize what he wants. Nonetheless, the Renaissance is so poorly represented in this volume that the claim of the subtitle, namely, to set forth the "influence" of Aristotle's ancient commentators, is misleading. Fortunately Sorabji's volume also contains an extremely useful forty-page selective bibliography of the scholarly literature on the Greek commentators prepared by others. The number of entries for the Renaissance is appreciable, but there are of course omissions. This bibliography draws upon a bibliographical file being compiled at Kings College, London. There appear to be few typographical errors (for "Grunaz" read "Gunsz" on 513; for "Marcilio Ficino," "Nicoleto Vernia" and "Augustino Nifo," read "Marsilio Ficino," "Nicoletto Vernia" and "Agostino Nifo" on 523).

Renaissance scholars, both those who know Greek and those who do not, should find the Schroeder-Todd volume a great boon. There is no question but that Alexander and Themistius, along with Simplicius, had great influence on late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century philosophical discussions in Italy. Schroeder and Todd present here in translation key passages relating to the soul and intellect. Their informative footnotes present both helpful explanations and knowledgeable surveys of the secondary literature. They have a remarkable command of recent scholarly accounts and disputes concerning the commentators and also a respect for Renaissance contributions. This book should be added to the personal libraries of those Renaissance scholars who have serious interests in intellectual history and the history of philosophy and also be brought to the attention of their students.
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Author:Mahoney, Edward P.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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