- The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics ed. by Daniel W. Graham
It has been nearly 30 years since Malcolm Schofield revised and updated the first edition of the venerable translation of fragments of the Presocratic philosophers by J. E. Raven and G. S. Kirk, originally compiled in 1957 in the wake of the sixth and final edition of Diels-Kranz’s (DK) Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Berlin 1951–52). And in the time since Kirk-Raven-Schofield’s second edition of The Presocratic Philosophers (KRS), in 1983, several translations of selected portions of the collected fragments of early Greek philosophy into English have appeared: Jonathan Barnes’ Early Greek Philosophy (London 1987), drawn from his revised edition of The Presocratic Philosophers (London 1982), Robin Waterfield’s The First Philosophers (Oxford 2000), and Richard McKirahan’s Philosophy Before Socrates (Indianapolis, Ind. 2011). Students of Presocratic philosophy and the early intellectual history of Greece have profited immensely from the contributions made by KRS, Barnes, Waterfield, and McKirahan. Yet none of these volumes, despite their intellectual courage, philosophical acumen, and deep learning, could provide what Diels and Kranz had given German audiences in the middle of the twentieth century: a bilingual translation of the complete fragments of and selected testimonia concerning those important intellectual antecedents of Plato (including the Sophists).
On the eve of Professor Schofield’s retirement, then, Daniel W. Graham has produced a two-volume translation and commentary on the complete fragments and selected testimonies of the “major Presocratics.” It should be mentioned that this is not an easy or even enviable project. Presocratic studies has undergone a renaissance of sorts since the last edition of KRS in 1983, and new critical editions and translations into English of individual figures (J. Lesher’s Xenophanes of Colophon [Toronto 1992]; C. A. Huffman’s editions of Philolaus of Croton [Cambridge 1993] and Archytas of Tarentum [Cambridge 2005]; the editions of Anaxagoras by P. Curd [Toronto 2007] and D. Sider [Sankt Augustin 2005]; C. C. W. Taylor’s The Atomists: Leucippus and Democritus [Toronto 1999]; G. J. Pendrick’s Antiphon the Sophist [Cambridge 2002]); new editions of papyrus discoveries (A. Martin and O. Primavesi’s L’Empédocle de Strasbourg [Berlin 1999], incorporated into B. Inwood’s The Poem of Empedocles [Toronto 2001] and the long-awaited “official” text of The Derveni Papyrus by T. Kouremenos, G. Parássoglou, and K. Tsantsanoglou [Firenze 2006]); and major critical studies [End Page 149] of Presocratic philosophers and/or philosophy (too numerous to name here) have significantly modified the landscape of the study of early Greek philosophy. In the midst of this renaissance, one has seen the critical approaches used to evaluate Presocratic thought develop into a perfect storm, with a barrage of new approaches concerning historiography, interpretation, reception, and contextualization, now considered legitimate in the assessment and evaluation of those thorny and often obscure fragments of the early Greek speculators. Presocratic studies has become contested ground, and the idea of producing a two-volume set that might update, stabilize, and make DK accessible for an English-reading audience, despite the protestations of the few (xiii), must be considered nothing less than wholly welcome. Given his demonstrated comprehension of the field of Presocratic studies at large—he has produced two broad-ranging monographs, edited several general volumes, and offered many article-length contributions on early Greek philosophy—Graham would seem to be the perfect choice for the job.
What remains to be seen, then, is whether the volumes as we have them rise to the challenge of the project. The results, I think, are mixed. I will first discuss those aspects of The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy that seem more successful and testify to the value that such a collection offers to educators and students alike. Then I will examine some areas where the volumes do not quite reach the heights promised by the...