Guy Lachenaud (ed.), Plutarque, Opinions des Philosophes. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1993. Pp. 352. ISBN 2-251-00433-5.
Stephen T. Newmyer
Duquesne University, Pennsylvania
Students of Plutarch’s philosophical writings owe a special debt of gratitude at the present time to the scholars of France and Italy. Under the leadership of Italo Gallo, the Italians have produced a series of editions of individual treatises contained in the Moralia, while the French have now issued well over a dozen volumes in the Budé series to which the present volume, containing the De placitis philosophorum, constitutes the most recent addition. Regarded since the seventeenth century as pseudepigraphic because of its verbal similarities to other doxographical treatises, De placitis philosophorum sets forth, in Books I-III, the opinions of Greek natural philosophers on the questions of the makeup of the cosmos and on the operation of various celestial phenomena, while Books IV-V treat of questions relating to the function of the human soul and to the nature of human reproduction and physiology. While obviously selective in its content and generally superficial in its treatment, the treatise nevertheless preserves much interesting material on topics widely debated in ancient philosophical circles. What the reader of De placitis philosophorum most desires is guidance with the thorny problem of identification of the sources of the doctrines presented in the work, and here Lachenaud proves himself an excellent guide.
In the Notice (pp. 5-51) that precedes his translation, Lachenaud declines to reopen the taxing question of the authorship of the treatise, professing himself content with the opinion of scholars since Voss in 1624 that the work is not by Plutarch (pp. 15-16). Instead he concentrates on the more important questions of the structure of the work and of the sources of the physical doctrines touched upon in it. Especially useful in this part of the book is Lachenaud’s close analysis of the technical philosophical vocabulary of De placitis philosophorum for information that might be provided on the doctrinal leanings of the treatise (pp. 28-46), which he complements by a synoptic table of parallel passages in other doxographical treatises (pp. 47-51).
Lachenaud’s broad familiarity with Greek philosophical literature is most in evidence in his ‘Résumé des Opinions des Philosophes’ (pp. 191-315), a running commentary on the Greek text wherein he offers much helpful insight into the difficult vocabulary of Greek natural and metaphysical philosophy and Greek medical thought, generously augmented by exhaustive references to the secondary literature.
The treatises included in the Moralia of Plutarch in general make difficult reading. Lachenaud’s edition admirably meets the challenges posed by De placitis philosophorum. Indeed, English scholars may especially rejoice at the appearance of this exemplary volume, since De placitis philosophorum, because of its doubtful authorship, is omitted from the Loeb Moralia which constitutes for most English readers the first and easiest approach to the still somewhat neglected treasury of works that make up that collection.