A. P. Bos, Cosmic and Meta-Cosmic Theology in Aristotle's Lost Dialogues. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 16. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989. Pp. xx + 242, incl. indices of ancient texts and of modern authors. ISBN 90-04-09155-6. Gld 120/US$68.57.
Johan C. Thom
University of Stellenbosch
The problem of Aristotle's `Lost Dialogues' and their relationship to the extant Aristotelian writings is one of the most fascinating philological questions relating to ancient philosophy. These lost dialogues were, ironically, the only works Aristotle prepared for publication, while the presently extant corpus of Aristotelian works mainly comprises `notes' or `lectures' aimed at Aristotle's students within the Lyceum and not meant for general consumption. The question thus arises, why have the published and stylistically polished works been lost, while only the rough and ready `lecture notes' remain? What intrinsic factors distinguish these two sets of writings, leading to the disappearance of the former group and the preservation of the latter? In the book under review the author re-examines critically existing hypotheses concerning the relationship between Aristotle's extant, unpublished works (the Corpus Aristotelicum) and his lost dialogues, and he proposes a new theory to account for the latter's disappearance.
Werner Jaeger argued that the lost dialogues belonged to the early, `metaphysical' stages of Aristotle's development during which he was still very much influenced by Plato, and that only his extant lectures, the Corpus Aristotelicum, represent his own, mature philosophy. The early, lost dialogues were thus superseded by Aristotle's later works.(1) Jean Pe/pin, on the other hand, considers Aristotle's lost work to have been more independent of Plato and an expression of Aristotle's own thought, but he also argues that Aristotle's extant works represent a later and significantly different development of Aristotle's philosophy.(2)
B. offers an alternative solution to the problem. According to him, the lost writings already reflected an ongoing debate with Plato, and they contained all the important Aristotelian doctrines we know from the Corpus Aristotelicum: 'These doctrines are the double theology of a transcendent Prime Unmoved Mover and divine cosmic beings; the theory of the fifth element as the substance of the celestial beings and the pure rational souls; the sharp distinction of the mind from the functions of the psyche; and the emphasis on the distinction between contemplation and action or production' (p. xiv). The difference between the extant works and the lost writings lies in the way these doctrines were presented. As is the case in Plato's dialogues, the lost dialogues contained both discussions based on common human experience, and argumentation based on mythical narratives in which human experience is discussed from a transcendent perspective. In the Corpus Aristotelicum, on the other hand, Aristotle consistently argues from a `common human', `natural' perspective only. B. suggests that the double perspective of the lost writings is presupposed in the Corpus and that in his extant writings Aristotle frequently referred to his published works for additional discussion of certain matters. He concludes that far from being replaced by the Corpus Aristotelicum, the lost works were presupposed in the Corpus. The reason why the lost works disappeared was that, from the time of Epicurus on, the use of philophical myths were no longer considered acceptable because they could not be verified on the basis of common human experience.
In the first eleven chapters of the book, the author attempts to demonstrate his position by extensively analysing three ancient texts in which reference is made to a `dreaming Kronos': Tertullian's De anima 45-46, Plutarch's De facie in orbe lunae and the Corpus Hermeticum 10.5. In Tertullian the mytheme of a `dreaming Kronos' is explicitly ascribed to Aristotle, and Waszink has already attempted to apply this statement in reconstructing doctrines of the lost dialogues. Bos proposes that it comes from Aristotle's lost dialogue Eudemus or On the Soul. Most of these first chapters are devoted to Plutarch's De facie in orbe lunae which in B.'s view is heavily dependent on Aristotle's lost work. His conclusions are set out in chapter 9: the notion of a dreaming and captive Kronos must have formed part of a `double theology' comprising 'a purely contemplative, transcendent supreme deity represented by Zeus, and a subordinate, cosmic and world-organizing god Kronos'. This `Kronology' is related to Aristotle's doctrine of the fifth element and his doctrine of the soul, both of which are developed as part of his ongoing debate with Plato.
In chapter 11 B. discusses the references to
B.'s hypothesis is attractive, because it accounts for many logical discrepancies in earlier proposals - why there had to be such dramatic differences between the two types of Aristotelian writings, for example, and why Aristotle himself would have changed to such an extent in his own philosophical thinking. On the other hand, the hypothesis is based on very tenuous evidence, namely, the interpretation and reconstruction of fragments and allusions where it is often impossible to distinguish the formulation of the later author from that of Aristotle. In some cases B. has to allow for significant reworking of the original Aristotelian material (e.g., Plutarch), or even for complete misunderstanding by the later author (as is the case according to B. in Simplicius In phys. 83.26-27). B.'s proposal will therefore not meet with unqualified acceptance. His well-written and carefully structured book nevertheless remains innovative and thought-provoking and one that cannot be ignored by Aristotelian scholars. However, this is definitely a book for the specialist and not for the uninitiated.
(1) Werner Jaeger, Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung (Berlin, 1923; 2d ed. 1955); English translation: R. Robinson (tr.), Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development, (Oxford, 1934; 2d ed. 1948) passim.
(2) Jean Pe/pin, The/ologie cosmique et the/ologie chre/tienne (Ambroise, _Exam._ I 1,1-4) (Paris, 1964) passim.