- Olimpiodoro d'Alessandria: Tutti i Commentari a Platone trans. and ed. by Francesca Filippi
For those of us who do not idealize Proclus's contribution to Platonic scholarship, which is influenced excessively by the conviction that Orphic and Chaldaean texts are working within the same system, the commentaries of Olympiodorus can represent a substantial [End Page 555] step forward. The range of issues tackled in his commentaries is often much closer to that expected of a modern commentary than those of his illustrious Athenian predecessor. This is not entirely new, since much the same could be said of Hermias, working within Syrianus's school as Proclus did, and of Damascius when commenting on the Phaedo or Philebus rather than on the Parmenides. Yet our picture of so-called neoplatonism remains dominated by the more striking examples of Plotinus and Proclus, both of them atypical.
Working within sixth century Alexandria, Olympiodorus was constrained by the practical requirements for anybody trying to present Plato to a predominantly Christian community in which education was subject to official oversight. His predecessor Ammonius had to make concessions, and specialized rather in Aristotle, but it is less clear that Olympiodorus saw himself as making compromises. His surviving work includes commentaries on two complete Platonic texts (the only case of this from antiquity), a partial commentary on the Phaedo, and commentaries on Aristotle's Categories and Meteorologica (a surprising work to find him tackling). Commentaries are typically records of his actual lectures, and have occasionally suffered from the ineptitude of the recorder. The surviving, but anonymous, Prolegomena to Plato's Philosophy is usually connected with the school of Olympiodorus and, while interesting differences can be discerned between this text and the commentaries, the same might be said of the seemingly early Gorgias commentary and the other two. Since Olympiodorus perhaps taught from the 520s through to at least the 560s, his career lasted long enough to explain various changes of stance and emphasis.
The present two-volume text and translation must be welcomed, first, as a relatively inexpensive way of acquiring the four texts relating to the teaching of Plato, all with a fluent modern translation, and, second, as an exercise in reading the earlier part of the Alexandrian Platonic corpus in the exact order that students encountered it. First came prolegomena to the study of Plato, the Alcibiades, then the Gorgias, and then the Phaedo. While it is salutary to have these works all together and arranged in curricular order, two in each volume, one should be aware that the sequence does not always seem perfect. The Alcibiades commentary contains a life of Plato and a little other general prefatory material, indicating that separate prolegomena had not preceded this course of lectures. The Gorgias commentary is much less rich than the Alcibiades commentary, and seems to date from a time when Ammonius was viewed as an authority rather than Proclus and Damascius, both of whom have a high profile in the Alcibiades commentary. Finally, the lectures on the Phaedo treated only 61c to 79e, so that all the important preliminary material that would have treated Olympiodorus's approach to the work as a whole is missing. Treated with caution, however, curricular order is highly desirable.
The introductory material covers an appropriate range of topics relevant to these texts, with little overlap between volumes and regular attention to the literature. The Italian translation reads well and should not be too demanding for those with only modest Italian. Since Michael Griffin's Alcibiades commentary (2015, 2017), all four works are already translated into English in five separate volumes; for the Prolegomena, the Budé (L. G. Westerink, Jean Trouillard, and A. P. Seconds, 1990) remains useful; and there is already an Italian translation by Anna Motta (2014). In this volume, we remain dependent, as usual, on the text of Westerink, and no apparatus criticus is provided. Textual matters do not feature prominently in...