In This Article Ancient Doxography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Background, the Contribution of Hermann Diels
  • Medical Doxography
  • Ethical Doxography
  • Other Related Genres
  • Before Aristotle
  • Aristotle
  • Theophrastus
  • The Hellenistic Period
  • The 1st Century bce
  • The Imperial Period
  • The Patristic Tradition
  • The Islamic Tradition

Classics Ancient Doxography
by
David T. Runia
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0227

Introduction

The term “doxography” is derived from two Greek words, doxa (tenet, view, opinion) and graphein (to write). Literally, therefore, it means “the writing of tenets, views or opinions.” Such opinions are also called in Greek areskonta and in Latin placita (literally “what is pleases one (to think).” The term “doxography” itself has its origin in the study of ancient philosophy, but it was not used in the ancient world. It is a product of modern scholarship. It is now often used very broadly to denote any description of philosophical views or doctrines ascribed to a particular philosopher or school of philosophers. In this bibliography, however, the term will refer to its use in the context of the study of ancient philosophy. Here too it has broader and narrower usages. The narrower usage refers especially to what might be called the tradition of the Placita, works or sections of works in which opinions of philosophers are briefly formulated and organized in order to show how philosophical questions or topics have been dealt with. The emphasis generally falls more on the topic than on the philosopher, but there are also doxographies in which the views of a particular author are gathered together, for example in Diogenes Laertius. The broader usage refers to the many passages by ancient authors in which the views of predecessors are set out and evaluated (a method that is most strongly associated with the treatises of Aristotle). In this bibliography, the emphasis will lie on the former (i.e., narrower) usage. The importance of doxography lies above all in the fact that the documents covered by the term contain a vast amount of information based on earlier sources that have been irrevocably lost, particularly in the period from 600 to 100 BCE. This information is packaged in particular and often idiosyncratic ways that need to be understood if it is to be properly appreciated and utilized. The study of doxography in the sense indicated above was initiated by the 19th-century scholar Hermann Diels, who coined the term (see Historical Background, the Contribution of Hermann Diels). For a hundred years, his authority carried the day. In more recent decades, interest in the ancient doxographical traditions has revived, particularly through the research carried out by the “Utrecht school.” The cumulative effect of this new phase has been a much richer understanding of doxography’s contribution to ancient philosophy and its dissemination in the ancient world. This bibliography commences with general views of the subject, followed by the achievement and legacy of Hermann Diels. It then focuses on the “Placita” attributed to Aëtius, the chief collection of views in the domain of physics or natural philosophy edited by Diels. Sections on doxography on other kinds of philosophy (and also medicine) and other kinds of doxographical texts follow. A large section of the bibliography is then devoted to a historical overview of authors who contributed to the doxographical tradition or, in later times, utilized it and assisted in its preservation. The bibliography’s final sections are devoted to the importance of doxographical texts for collections of the fragments of the Presocratics.

General Overviews

Ancient doxography is a complex topic, which cannot be understood without a proper introduction. The best general introduction is Mansfeld 2012. Mejer 2000 and Mejer 2006 introduce the subject in the broader contexts of the transmission of knowledge about philosophy in the ancient world. Other introductions are more contextual. Runia 2008 and Zhmud 2013 introduce doxography in the context of Presocratic philosophy. Mansfeld 1999 introduces the subject in the context of Hellenistic philosophy. Betegh 2010 discusses the role of doxography in late ancient philosophical texts. Wyss 1959 introduces doxography with an emphasis on the contribution of the Church Fathers.

  • Betegh, Gabor. 2010. The transmission of ancient wisdom: Texts, doxographies, libraries. In The Cambridge history of philosophy in Late Antiquity. Edited by Lloyd Gerson, 25–38. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521764407.005E-mail Citation »

    Places doxography in the context of how late ancient philosophers obtained information about earlier philosophers. Betegh emphasizes the thematic approach of doxographical texts.

  • Mansfeld, Jaap. 1999. Sources. In The Cambridge history of Hellenistic philosophy. Edited by Keimpe A. Algra, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, and Malcolm Schofield, 3–30. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Introduces doxography as one of the important ways in which we can be informed about the doctrines of Hellenistic philosophers and the development of Hellenistic philosophy, given the almost total loss of the original texts.

  • Mansfeld, Jaap. 2012. Doxography of ancient philosophy. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

    E-mail Citation »

    First published 2004. Updated compact online contribution provides a chronological overview of the origins of doxographical texts, followed by some general remarks on the genre. It is argued that Diels failed to appreciate the key role that Aristotle played in establishing the method on which doxographical texts are ultimately based. Mansfeld also emphasizes the key distinction between broad and narrow doxography and concludes that doxographical texts are tools or instruments that often have a fluid character.

  • Mejer, Jørgen. 2000. Überlieferung der Philosophie im Altertum: Eine Einführung. Historisk-Filosofiske Meddelser. Copenhagen: Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.

    E-mail Citation »

    Presents ancient doxography on pp. 28–33 in a broad context of how knowledge about philosophy and philosophers has been transmitted down to us. Over half the volume (pp. 90–194) consists of an excellent and very extensive bibliography focusing mainly on individual authors, but also with lists of references to discussions on genres and types of writings devoted to the history of ancient philosophy.

  • Mejer, Jørgen. 2006. Ancient philosophy and the doxographical tradition. In A companion to ancient philosophy. Edited by Mary Louise Gill and Pierre Pellegrin, 20–33. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210610.2006.00007.xE-mail Citation »

    Very useful general introduction to the place that doxography has in providing us with knowledge about philosophers and their views that would otherwise be unknown to us. The article contains some interesting examples of doxographical texts and the difficulties of interpretation that they present.

  • Runia, David T. 2008. The sources for Presocratic philosophy. In The Oxford handbook of the Presocratics. Edited by Patricia Curd and Daniel W. Graham, 27–54. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Much attention is paid to the work of Hermann Diels and the importance of the doxographical tradition for his collection of the remains of the Presocratic philosophers. The chapter concludes with suggestions on the way forward beyond Diels’s achievement.

  • Wyss, Bernhard. 1959. Art: Doxographie. In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. Vol. 4. Edited by Theodor Klauser, 197–210. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann.

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    An older contribution that first outlines Diels’s theory on the origin and development of doxography and then usefully discusses the role of the Church Fathers in supplying evidence on the doxographical tradition and also the use that they themselves made of such writings.

  • Zhmud, Leonid. 2013. Die Doxographische Tradition. In Die Philosophie der Antike Band 1: Frühgriechische Philosophie. Edited by Hellmut Flashar, Dieter Bremer, and Georg Rechenauer, 150–174. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe.

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    A quite-detailed overview of the various kinds of sources available to the student of Presocratic philosophy. In his discussion of the doxographical tradition, the author still follows Diels in emphasizing the crucial role of Theophrastus and his work, “Views of the Natural Philosophers (Physikôn doxai),” contrary to the view of Mansfeld and others that the title was more likely “Views on Natural Philosophy” (Physikai doxai).

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