Aristotelian commentary tradition

Authored by: Han Baltussen

The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism

Print publication date:  April  2014
Online publication date:  July  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844656264
eBook ISBN: 9781315744186
Adobe ISBN: 9781317591368


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It is fundamental to our understanding of commentary as a genre that they respond to another text, often called the ‘base text’. Ancient commentaries have sometimes been characterized as “secondary texts”, but the label is likely to cause some misconceptions about how we should understand the nature of commentary (Sluiter 2000). It is preferable to read “secondary” as “using another text as its starting point” rather than as “unimportant”, “subservient” or “unoriginal”. 1 In what follows I hope to show that the commentary in late antiquity defies such facile descriptions. Philosophical commentary required certain conditions for it to develop and thrive. And instead of being a philological activity, like most modern commentaries tend to be (producing a set of disparate notes to a text), philosophers would comment within a specific ideological setting and almost always to serve a higher purpose (understanding and truth); in other words, they were created in response to the school founder’s writings (a “canon”) and were didactic in purpose. Given the peculiar nature of the works it will be helpful to spend some time clarifying the background of philosophical exegesis, especially among the Peripatetics. After that I turn to the main part of the analysis, in which I clarify the methodology and evolution of the commentaries on Aristotle.

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