In This Article Alexander of Aphrodisias

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Collections of Papers
  • Life
  • Epigraphic Evidence
  • Fragment Collections
  • Spuria and Questioned Attributions
  • Alexander as a Textual Source

Classics Alexander of Aphrodisias
by
Silvia Fazzo, Luca Gili
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0294

Introduction

The Greek Aristotelian commentator par excellence, Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl. c 200 CE) shaped the reception and fortuna of Aristotle’s corpus for centuries to come, summing up centuries of Aristotelian tradition before him. Alexander is the first who is known to have composed running commentaries on whole works, dealing with most of Aristotle’s corpus as it stands now. He is also the last distinctively Aristotelian commentator, bridging the legacy of Aristotle’s ancient school to other schools in late Antiquity and to Middle Age Scholastics, whether in Greek, Syriac, Arabic, or Latin. His running commentaries on Aristotle’s works in logic, physics, and metaphysics have been a source, a model, and a starting point for subsequent Aristotelian scholarship as a whole. Studies on Alexander traditionally developed firstly on a narrower set of topics, including themes in noetics and in logic (see Latin Reception). They then developed on Alexander’s independent treatises. Among his alleged works, On Fate, On Providence, On the Soul, On the Principles of the Universe, and On Mixture, are certainly his; all of them were meant to rebuild the missing parts of Aristotelianism as an all-comprehensive system, and to contrast concurrent Stoic theories (see also Studies of Alexander’s Independent Works). Yet Alexander’s normalizing impact on Aristotle’s system largely escaped attention until the second half of the 20th century, embedded as it is in the whole reception of Aristotle’s works (see Bibliographies). Only recently has scholarship focused on how Alexander’s commentaries, even if lost, still provide the standard understanding for Aristotle’s Organon and theoretical philosophy. They indirectly survive through later Aristotelian literature, mostly without being directly acknowledged; Alexander is quoted in a minority of the cases (see Lost Commentary On On Generation and Corruption). This makes reconstruction of his lost work an open field for research. Furthermore, scholarly attention focused on Greek preserved opuscula, namely Alexander’s Aporiai kai lyseis. Mixed up with other short school texts, aporiai stricto sensu are made of exegetical puzzles and solutions (edited as Quaestiones, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca [CAG] Supplement 2.2), thus offering standard samples of Alexander’s Aporetic Method; further minor texts are collected in the so-called Mantissa, and some of these as well have received recent scholarly interest. Other works, by contrast, are lost but preserved in Arabic translation, often via Syriac (see Arabic Reception). Still others were translated but then lost in Arabic as well; fragments only survive. Arabic and Greek texts may raise authenticity problems, which are not easily solved (see Spuria and Questioned Attributions). Recent scholarship has detected Common Features of Alexander’s Writings, leading to a possible criterion in the cases of doubt: Alexander strengthens the demonstrative character of Aristotle’s arguments, reshaping them into more recognizable forms, for example, syllogisms; he rephrases conceptual oppositions as form (eidos/εἶδος) versus matter (hylê/ὕλη), thus paving the way to Hylomorphism as a major stream in scholasticism; he selects and fixes a much narrower, albeit Aristotelian lexicon; he harmonizes different texts in the corpus, and Aristotelian scholars in previous decades paved the way. As a result, Alexander’s legacy is a well built and coherent Aristotelian system.

General Overviews

In the last three decades, many scholars devoted important studies to Alexander’s philosophy. However, there is no general monograph covering all of the main features of his writing and all of his works. As a main reference, Paul Moraux’s long-awaited volume of Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen came out posthumously as Moraux and Sharples 2001 (cited under Bibliographies). It far from covers the whole of Alexander’s corpus, but Sharples added a substantial section on ethics and a major bibliography. Recommended readings on Alexander’s style and works include Sharples 1987 (cited under Bibliographies) and several large introductions to some of his edited or translated works, for example, Thillet 1984 and Thillet 2003 (cited under On Providence). Goulet and Aouad 1989 is a fundamental introduction to the relevant sources; it has been integrated into Fazzo 2003. Frede 2013 includes entries on Alexander’s philosophy and Falcon 2013 on the ancient commentators. Different overviews include Tuominen 2012 (cited under Bibliographies), Adamson 2012, and Rashed 2007 (cited under Hylomorphism). More focused reviews are Botter 2009, Cerami 2016, Fazzo 2017.

  • Adamson, Peter. 2012. History of Philosophy Podcast, Episode 83: Not written in stone: Alexander of Aphrodisias.

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    Part of Adamson’s podcast series “History of Philosophy without Any Gaps.” This is a clear introduction to Alexander of Aphrodisias as the greatest ancient commentator on Aristotle and as the main opponent to the Stoic teaching on fate.

  • Botter, Barbara. 2009. El aristotelismo de Alejandro de Afrodisia en la cultura del comentario. Estudios de Filosofía, n. 40:109–133.

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    An inquiry into the “culture of commentary”: Alexander aims at clarifying Aristotle through Aristotle, by means of an exhausting philological work. Alexander parallels each single phrase with the entire Corpus Aristotelicum and with its previous interpretations, in “a never-ending research of the original meaning of the text.”

  • Cerami, Cristina. 2016. Alexander of Aphrodisias. In Brill’s companion to the reception of Aristotle in Antiquity. Edited by Andrea Falcon, 160–182. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill.

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    Taking into account the wide context of Alexander’s writing, Cerami narrows his distinctive “Neo-Aristotelianism”—as she calls it: an all-embracing philosophical system, seeking for internal coherence, responding both to concurrent theories and to previous Aristotelian interpretations. This form of “Neo-Aristotelianism” was later transmitted to and adopted by Arabic philosophers as well.

  • Falcon, Andrea. 2013. Commentators on Aristotle. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

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    Includes a detailed section on Alexander.

  • Fazzo, Silvia. 2003. Alexandros d’Aphrodise. In Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques, Supplément. Edited by Richard Goulet, 61–70. Paris: CNRS.

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    The supplement updates Goulet and Aouad 1989 especially in bibliography, which largely evolved during the 1989–2003 period, and revises into detail the complicated state of the art about the translations into Arabic of Alexander’s texts.

  • Fazzo, Silvia. 2017. Alessandro di Afrodisia e il sistema aristotelico in età imperiale: stato dell’arte e prospettive di ricerca. In Studi su ellenismo e filosofia romana. Acts of the 2016 Conference of the Società Italiana di Storia della Filosofia Antica. Edited by F. Alesse, A. Fermani, and S. Maso, 123–151. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

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    While focusing on Italian studies for the sake of the 2016 SISFA conference, the papers offer a complement to the present bibliography. It surveys contributions and general achievements on Alexander’s exegetical technique, on his way of turning Aristotle into a system, on the Metaphysics as a case study.

  • Frede, Dorothea. 2013. Alexander of Aphrodisias. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

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    A clear overview of standard opinions on Alexander’s thought, with a bibliography. The analytical approach does not allow emphasis on Alexander’s role in turning Aristotelianism as a whole into a system. Good section on Alexander’s theory of fate and free will, and its Aristotelian background.

  • Goulet, Richard, and Maroun Aouad. 1989. Alexandros d’Aphrodise. In Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques. Edited by Richard Goulet, 125–139. Paris: CNRS.

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    A concrete and fundamental introduction to Alexander’s extant works in Greek, in Arabic translation, and in the indirect tradition. Revised and updated in Fazzo 2003 (see Bibliographies).

  • Thillet, Pierre. 1984. Alexandre d’Aphrodise. Traité du destin. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

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    An edition of Alexander’s De fato (based on Greek manuscripts and on William of Moerbeke’s Latin translation). The preface includes an overview of Alexander’s writings with detailed references to Arabic lists of works attributed to Alexander, which is a good starting point but needs to be checked against Goulet and Aouad 1989 and Fazzo 2003.

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