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Ptolemy (Early 1st – Mid 2nd c. AD), On Aristotle’s Life, Testament and Writings. Translation and Study


Rovati, Emanuele. Ptolemy (Early 1st – Mid 2nd c. AD), On Aristotle’s Life, Testament and Writings. Translation and Study. 2020, University of Zurich, Faculty of Arts.

Abstract

A number of recent articles1 have revived scholarly interest in the ancient biographies of Aristotle and catalogues of his writings, a subject that has otherwise been almost entirely stagnating since the mid 1980’s. A key source for investigating this field is On Aristotle’s Life, Testament and Writings by a certain Ptolemy, a work lost in its original Greek version (Vita Ptolemaei Graeca, henceforth VPG) but extant in an Arabic translation (Vita Ptolemaei Arabice versa, VPA). A manuscript of VPA has been long known to scholarship but no complete critical edition of the work is available at present. A comprehensive philological treatment of VPA and a reconstruction of its Greek source text has been recently described as “arguably the most urgent desideratum of research into the early transmission of Aristotle[’]s philosophy” (Falcon 2017). The present thesis aims to fill this gap by introducing a new MS of VPA and presenting a translation and study of the work based on my forthcoming critical edition.
Despite focussing on an Arabic source, this thesis can be described as a piece of Classical scholarship in that it addresses two pressing issues pertaining to this field of studies: (i) the extent to which VPG can be reconstructed from its surviving translation, and (ii) the identity and philosophical orientation of the author of the Greek version. The former problem is tackled by means of a detailed philological investigation of VPA and the surviving Greek and Latin testimonies; it appears that VPA mostly reflect the content of its lost source text in an accurate way, although several passages were abridged or left out and others interpolated. The discussion of the latter problem involves a comparison of the reconstructed VPG with other Greek philosophical texts, which indicates that the work must be placed in the early 1st-mid 2nd c. AD. The most probable identification of VPG’s author emerging from our analysis is that with the astronomer and eclectic philosopher Claudius Ptolemy. Noteworthy by-products of the present thesis are the discovery of what is possibly a new fragment of Hermippus of Smyrna’s (fl. second half of the 3rd c. BC) Life of Aristotle and the recovery of a hitherto unnoticed Neoplatonic biography of Aristotle surviving in Arabic only. Also, it was possible to identify an Überlieferungsgemeinschaft in Greek manuscripts of Aristotle where the order of the biological works may be influenced by VPG’s pinax of his writings.
A number of issues pertaining to VPG and VPA could not be addressed within the context of this thesis. The question of VPG’s sources is only summarily dealt with, and the text shows some more potential for retrieving information on lost Hellenistic works. Also, no investigation of VPG’s place in the Greek tradition of literary biographies has been undertaken. This is due to the fact that the relevant sections of VPA have emerged as the least faithful ones to its Greek original; too many variants would have to be carefully assessed before proceeding to plausible conclusions. Furthermore, it should be stressed now that, when dealing with information on Aristotle’s life preserved in VPG-VPA, we are never concerned with the historicity of the reports, as we rather focus on how they can be used to gain insight into Ptolemy and his work.
The method adopted in this thesis is a purely philological one, inspired by the works of German Graeco-Arabists of the late 19th c. Graeco-Arabic sources are notorious for their complicated textual history, and VPG-VPA is no exception to this rule; therefore, philological rigour represents the only way to deal with a variety of issues inherent in the primary sources investigated. Most 20th c. scholarly contributions on VPG-VPA refrained from engaging with the pioneering reconstructions of Quellenforscher and in some cases even dismissed them a priori, thus producing a season of unoriginal studies on VPG-VPA. But hindsight makes it possible to spot the pitfalls the Germans could not see, and their partially valid results should be carefully examined, corrected whenever necessary and built upon with philological diligence.
This thesis follows a linear development and chapters tend to build on each other. The natural first step is introducing the primary Arabic (ch. 2) and Greek sources (ch. 3), which makes it possible to understand the apparatus to the translation of VPA based on our forthcoming critical edition (ch. 4). Subsequently, the most important scholarly contributions on VPG and VPA shall be scrutinised (ch. 5). The first part of our study of the text consists in an analysis of the relation between the transmitted Arabic text and the lost Greek source, which allows to determine to what degree VPA can replace VPG in an investigation of the latter’s origin and features (ch. 6). Building on this, the question of VPG’s sources is addressed, albeit summarily (ch. 7). The last section contextualises VPG against the background of the bibliographical tradition of the Imperial Era and attempts an identification of the work’s author based its philosophical content (ch. 8).

Abstract

A number of recent articles1 have revived scholarly interest in the ancient biographies of Aristotle and catalogues of his writings, a subject that has otherwise been almost entirely stagnating since the mid 1980’s. A key source for investigating this field is On Aristotle’s Life, Testament and Writings by a certain Ptolemy, a work lost in its original Greek version (Vita Ptolemaei Graeca, henceforth VPG) but extant in an Arabic translation (Vita Ptolemaei Arabice versa, VPA). A manuscript of VPA has been long known to scholarship but no complete critical edition of the work is available at present. A comprehensive philological treatment of VPA and a reconstruction of its Greek source text has been recently described as “arguably the most urgent desideratum of research into the early transmission of Aristotle[’]s philosophy” (Falcon 2017). The present thesis aims to fill this gap by introducing a new MS of VPA and presenting a translation and study of the work based on my forthcoming critical edition.
Despite focussing on an Arabic source, this thesis can be described as a piece of Classical scholarship in that it addresses two pressing issues pertaining to this field of studies: (i) the extent to which VPG can be reconstructed from its surviving translation, and (ii) the identity and philosophical orientation of the author of the Greek version. The former problem is tackled by means of a detailed philological investigation of VPA and the surviving Greek and Latin testimonies; it appears that VPA mostly reflect the content of its lost source text in an accurate way, although several passages were abridged or left out and others interpolated. The discussion of the latter problem involves a comparison of the reconstructed VPG with other Greek philosophical texts, which indicates that the work must be placed in the early 1st-mid 2nd c. AD. The most probable identification of VPG’s author emerging from our analysis is that with the astronomer and eclectic philosopher Claudius Ptolemy. Noteworthy by-products of the present thesis are the discovery of what is possibly a new fragment of Hermippus of Smyrna’s (fl. second half of the 3rd c. BC) Life of Aristotle and the recovery of a hitherto unnoticed Neoplatonic biography of Aristotle surviving in Arabic only. Also, it was possible to identify an Überlieferungsgemeinschaft in Greek manuscripts of Aristotle where the order of the biological works may be influenced by VPG’s pinax of his writings.
A number of issues pertaining to VPG and VPA could not be addressed within the context of this thesis. The question of VPG’s sources is only summarily dealt with, and the text shows some more potential for retrieving information on lost Hellenistic works. Also, no investigation of VPG’s place in the Greek tradition of literary biographies has been undertaken. This is due to the fact that the relevant sections of VPA have emerged as the least faithful ones to its Greek original; too many variants would have to be carefully assessed before proceeding to plausible conclusions. Furthermore, it should be stressed now that, when dealing with information on Aristotle’s life preserved in VPG-VPA, we are never concerned with the historicity of the reports, as we rather focus on how they can be used to gain insight into Ptolemy and his work.
The method adopted in this thesis is a purely philological one, inspired by the works of German Graeco-Arabists of the late 19th c. Graeco-Arabic sources are notorious for their complicated textual history, and VPG-VPA is no exception to this rule; therefore, philological rigour represents the only way to deal with a variety of issues inherent in the primary sources investigated. Most 20th c. scholarly contributions on VPG-VPA refrained from engaging with the pioneering reconstructions of Quellenforscher and in some cases even dismissed them a priori, thus producing a season of unoriginal studies on VPG-VPA. But hindsight makes it possible to spot the pitfalls the Germans could not see, and their partially valid results should be carefully examined, corrected whenever necessary and built upon with philological diligence.
This thesis follows a linear development and chapters tend to build on each other. The natural first step is introducing the primary Arabic (ch. 2) and Greek sources (ch. 3), which makes it possible to understand the apparatus to the translation of VPA based on our forthcoming critical edition (ch. 4). Subsequently, the most important scholarly contributions on VPG and VPA shall be scrutinised (ch. 5). The first part of our study of the text consists in an analysis of the relation between the transmitted Arabic text and the lost Greek source, which allows to determine to what degree VPA can replace VPG in an investigation of the latter’s origin and features (ch. 6). Building on this, the question of VPG’s sources is addressed, albeit summarily (ch. 7). The last section contextualises VPG against the background of the bibliographical tradition of the Imperial Era and attempts an identification of the work’s author based its philosophical content (ch. 8).

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Item Type:Master's Thesis
Referees:Riedweg Christoph
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Greek and Latin Philology
Dewey Decimal Classification:180 Ancient, medieval & eastern philosophy
470 Latin & Italic languages
480 Classical & modern Greek languages
490 Other languages
900 History
Language:English
Date:1 December 2020
Deposited On:16 Feb 2021 14:07
Last Modified:16 Feb 2021 14:07
Number of Pages:90
OA Status:Green

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