Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 39.
Jacques Brunschwig, Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd, Pierre Pellegrin, and Catherine Porter, A Guide to Greek Thought: Major Figures and Trends. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003. Pp. xiii + 486. ISBN 0-674-02156-8. UK£12.95. Further Details.
Sarah Klitenic Wear
Classics, Trinity College, Dublin
This book is a series of essays, written by a team of renowned scholars, primarily French and English. The essays were extracted from the considerably larger work, Greek Thought: A Guide to Classical Knowledge, published by Harvard University Press in 2000, a translation of Le Savoir Grec: Dictionnaire Critique published in France in 1996. Greek Thought is a reference book, with appeal to both philosophers, for its treatment of philosophical subjects, thinkers, and schools of thought, and to literary critics, for the abstract way in which it goes about this treatment -- its purported aim is to investigate the self-reflective aspect of Greek thought, without primary attention to philosophical content or historical context. In the introduction, the editors call this collection of articles 'the gaze of the moderns looking upon the Greeks looking upon themselves' (p. xii).
The original text, Greek Thought, is divided into five sections, the first three of which are reproduced, in somewhat pared-down form, in the 2003 publication, The Greek Pursuit of Knowledge. The last two sections of Greek Thought, on 'major figures' and 'trends', are reproduced without alteration in the book reviewed here (hereafter A Guide to Greek Thought). A Guide to Greek Thought treats twenty-three 'major figures', including fifteen philosophers, five scientists, and three historians, plus eleven 'trends', under the category of 'currents of thought' in the book, consisting of nine schools of thought and two articles which discuss Hellenism and its relationship to Christianity and Judaism respectively. While the introduction to A Guide to Greek Thought gives a fine explanation as to the plan and purpose of Greek Thought (or better, Le Savoir Grec), it gives the reader no indication of its own purpose other than the answers which immediately spring to mind, that the book is shorter and cheaper, more portable, and addresses more specific topics than its parent. The introduction to the present work, moreover, is in fact extracted from the reference volume, with the sections particular to the essays included in The Greek Pursuit of Knowledge omitted. With this criticism addressed, the book will be a boon to those interested in questions regarding not what the Greeks thought, but how they thought. A Guide to Greek Thought is recommended to those interested in the methodologically-based mission of Greek Thought, but would like to read something less overwhelming than the large (and heavy) reference text. It is especially recommended to those interested more in particular figures and schools of thought than the general philosophical topics or questions addressed in The Greek Pursuit of Knowledge. In addition, although the editors have chosen to 'step back from the products to the processes that gave rise to them' (p. xi), the articles do, in fact, sufficiently present the doctrines of individual philosophers and schools, as well as places them in their historical context and makes some statement on reception. The book also provides a time line placing figures and movements addressed in the book alongside historical events.
The book is accessible for scholars and non-scholars, although the translations of the articles (if not the articles themselves) are often not easy to manoeuvre and the writing style makes the material more difficult than need be. This problem is a combination of thought lost in translation and abstract writing: one sentence in the article on Stoicism reads, 'To pull the rabbit of a singularly powerful moral rigor out of the hat of nature, the Stoics found, both in experience and in theory, a remarkably ingenious instrument' (p. 468). Unfortunately, worthwhile content is at times obscured by such language. In addition, some of the writing errs on the side of the romantic, particularly the first paragraph of the introduction which discusses the Greek alphabet as 'halfway between the strange and familiar' yet 'welcomes us with signals clear enough to avoid complete illegibility' (p. ix). The paragraph goes on to discuss the loftiness of Roman inscriptions, the fascination of Chinese ideograms, and so forth. Again, the pertinence of the paragraph seems to have been lost in translation and instead it distracts from the mission of the text. Still, this is really the only major criticism of the book, one which will probably be tolerable to most interested in the project.
In the first section of the book, 'Major Figures' (pp. 3-273), the editors have collected philosophers, historians, and scientists, although it might have been interesting to see literary figures included. The works of Euripides, Aristophanes, or Sappho certainly lend themselves to the issue of self-reflexivity. The editors do not explain how or why they made their selections of philosophers and currents of thought, except to say that the selection process was a difficult one, which one may suppose is fair enough. All the same, the book offers a fine collection of philosophers: Anaxagoras, Antisthenes, Archimedes, Aristotle, Democritus, Epicurus, Euclid, Galen, Heraclitus, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus, Plutarch, Polybius, Protagoras, Ptolemy, Pyrrhon, Socrates, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Zeno. The essays are treated by scholars who are experts on their topic, in a non-research oriented article, without footnotes or references to technical terms, although each essay ends with a bibliography of texts and translations and secondary works for further study. While authors bring their own mode of scholarship and thinking to their essays, the essays follow the same general format: brief biography of figure, list of works written, mention of historical importance and influence, followed by a large main section which treats the content of thought, and methodology within the author's works.
Of particular note in section one is François Hartog's treatment of Herodotus (pp. 120-26) which discusses the Greek concept of the barbarian, a topic which Hartog's excellent Mirror of Herodotus discussed in 1988;[] the article condenses in a clear explanation some of Hartog's key theses in that noteworthy book. In one section of the article, Hartog analyses what he sees as the political rationale for distinguishing between barbarian and Greek, presenting Herdotous as a 'Levi-Strauss of his time' (p. 122). (He first establishes the Otherness of people and places through opposition and analogy, when these customs are enumerated, he judges them through Greek 'politicised' nomoi.) Martin Ostwald's 'Thucycdides' (pp. 241-56) is another treatment of self-examination with respect to a historian -- in this case, Ostwald focuses on Thucydides' speeches as reflecting the attitude of the speaker. Ostwald connects Thucydides' mode of selecting speeches with his penchant for the rational over the emotional. Christian Jacob investigates Polybius as he is reflected in his own works, in this case, self-reflection as seen through Polybius' method of describing events, particularly his discontinuity of the narrative in the Histories (pp. 190-98). Henry Blumenthal's 'Plotinus' (pp. 171-81) gives a helpful overview of Plotinian metaphysics, particularly Intellect and Soul. Françoise Frazier's article on Plutarch (pp. 182-89) looks for trends in Plutarch's history and philosophical works, which can be found when one considers that Plutarch takes characters out of history when writing lives and approaches historical topics as a moralist.
The second section of the book, 'Currents of Thought' (pp. 277-474), is a nice complement to the first half, in so far as it approaches groups of thinkers and trends in thinking, rather than focusing on the trajectory of the thought of an individual. This section, because it selects major tenets of thought and watches how that thought is manipulated through stages of philosophical change, responds to the question of self-reflection very well. The currents of thought include: The Academy, Aristotelianism, Cynicism, Hellenism and Christianity, Hellenism and Judaism, the Milesians, Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Skepticism, Sophists, and Stoicism. R. W. Sharples' 'Aristotelianism' (pp. 300-20) on the reception of Aristotle, tackles a large task by staying close to the theme of self-reflection. He divides his treatment into five sections: logic; physics and metaphysics; fate and providence; soul; intellect; ethics, politics, and rhetoric, each of which traces the development of Aristotle's thought on the topic among his followers, especially Theophrastus and Strato. Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé's 'Cynicism' (pp. 321-25) treats the non-systematic thought of Cynicism, which lacked a school, but whose followers were fervent adherents to the movement. Cazé focuses on the social, political, religious, and other challenges Cynicism proposes for those around it. Alain Le Boulluec's 'Hellenism and Christianity' (pp. 336-47) looks at the Apostolic Fathers and the relationship between the early church and Hellenism and is less concerned with the content of comparative thought than the mode of transmission of thought, particularly hermeneutics. Serge Bardet's companion piece, 'Hellenism and Judaism' (pp. 348-59), focuses on the historical events which forced contact between Jews and Hellenes, as well as the problems of integrating the two cultures. Only the last few pages of the article cover Greek influence in Jewish thought, particularly in the realms of historiography (Josephus) and philosophy (Wisdom literature and Philo). Of the remaining articles in this section, Luc Brisson's 'Platonism' (pp. 371-95) is a highlight -- he does a superb job of discussing this philosophy from the Old Academy to Proclus, tracing major developments in philosophy, particularly metaphysics, from school to school.
[] François Hartog (tr. Janet Lloyd), The Mirror of Herodotus: The Representation of the Other in the Writing of History (Berkeley 1988).