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Leonardo Tarán / Dimitri Gutas (eds.): Aristotle Poetics. Editio Maior of the Greek Text with Historical Introductions and Philological Commentaries (= Mnemosyne. Supplements - History and Archeology of Classical Antiquity; Vol. 338), Leiden / Boston: Brill 2012, XIV + 538 S., ISBN 978-90-04-21740-9, EUR 162,00
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Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN
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Mischa Meier
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Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum: Rezension von: Leonardo Tarán / Dimitri Gutas (eds.): Aristotle Poetics. Editio Maior of the Greek Text with Historical Introductions and Philological Commentaries, Leiden / Boston: Brill 2012, in: sehepunkte 13 (2013), Nr. 5 [15.05.2013], URL:

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Leonardo Tarán / Dimitri Gutas (eds.): Aristotle Poetics

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In the Aristotelian corpus the Poetics occupies a place that has at some times been almost ignored and at other times attracted intense philological and literary interest. It was not copied as often as other Aristotelian works, and in the earliest surviving manuscripts that contain several Aristotelian philosophical works, the Poetics is absent; that is, the Poetics is a work apart. The commentators of Late Antiquity wrote no works on the Poetics, and more marginal interest only touched on chs. 20-22 on linguistics, diction, and style. This changed in the Renaissance, when literary interests, as well as the accessibility of Greek manuscripts and then editions, encouraged readers to study it. A more accurate Greek text and a better understanding of its transmission gradually began to emerge especially in the late nineteenth century. Not too long ago, Aristotle and the Poetics even achieved some notoriety on a more popular level: the lost second book of the work, which considered comedy as the first book considered tragedy, had a notable role in Umberto Eco's Il nome della rosa. (As Tarán points out [33], the broader transition from roll to codex may have effected the loss of that sought-after second book.)

There are four primary witnesses - surviving manuscripts in Greek or in translation that are distinct from each other yet which all point back on the whole to a single archetype - to the text of the Poetics: 1. Parisinus Graecus 1741 (middle or second half of the 10th century), 2. Riccardianus 46 (probably the middle of the 12th century; incomplete and damaged), 3. William of Moerbeke's Latin translation (completed in 1278), and 4. the Arabic translation of Abū Bišr Mattá (d. 940), which survives in only one manuscript, Parisinus Arabus 2346 (not a particularly good copy), but that translation itself being based not directly on any Greek text, but on a Syriac translation no longer extant, save for a short (and adapted) excerpt of the description of tragedy in 1449b24-1450a10 that survives in Severos bar Šakko's (d. 1241) Book of Dialogues. The aforementioned Latin translation was not published until 1953, and it was hardly well known before that, and for some time it was mainly from Hermannus Alemannus' Latin version (1256) of Averroes' Middle Commentary that there was any knowledge, such as it was, about the Poetics in the west. Giorgio Valla made a Latin translation of the Poetics from a Greek manuscript he owned, and that translation, published in 1498, even with its faults, brought the Poetics further to the fore for readers without the ability to read Greek or without access to some copy of the Greek text.

The Syro-Arabic translation was published in 1887 by D.S. Margoliouth and again by J. Tkatsch in 1928, 1932 (posthumous). This Syro-Arabic witness to the Poetics, however, is hardly so simple as there being a lost Syriac translation that served as the basis for a surviving Arabic translation of the tenth century, and the situation needs some elucidation. The identity of the Syriac translator is not known, but it was probably not made before the middle of the ninth century, and it was seemingly - based on a comparison with Bar Šakko's excerpt - a revised version of that translation that Abū Bišr Mattá used. His Arabic translation was revised two times, and Avicenna (d. 1037) employed the second revision for his own paraphrase in the Kitāb al-šifāʾ (The Cure). Finally in Arabic, there is also Averroes' (d. 1198) commentary, the Latin translation of which was mentioned above, for which Averroes used either the original or the first revision of Abū Bišr Mattá's translation, and finally in Syriac, there is a presentation of the work in Barhebraeus' (d. 1286) Ḥēwat ḥekmtā (The Cream of Wisdom), for which he especially relied, as elsewhere, on Avicenna. (The Syro-Arabic witness to the Poetics is generally accessible in Margoliouth's work [now available online at], but there are better editions of some of the texts in other places.)

The present edition of the Greek text of the Poetics is a landmark volume. The general work and the study and presentation of the Greek text are the result of the labors of Leonardo Tarán, while the Syro-Arabic data and presentation were handled by the well-recognized expert in Graeco-Arabic studies, Dimitri Gutas. As can be seen immediately from the subtitle, this is no mere reading edition or editio minor, such as one might find in the Bibliotheca Teubneriana, Oxford Classical Texts, or the like. The book begins with introductory essays that span more than 150 pages. In chapter one, Tarán traces the history of the text, and his detailed survey that treats manuscripts, printed editions, translations, and secondary literature will be required reading for anyone henceforth interested in the Poetics. The second chapter is Gutas' presentation of the literary evidence (testimonia) and documentary evidence (translations themselves), with discussion, followed by his demonstration of the significance of the Syro-Arabic transmission of the Poetics. Both editors, in discussing their predecessors, are balanced in their criticisms and liberal in their praise, where suitable. In the next chapter, Tarán introduces readers to the Greek edition itself in prolegomena on the primary witnesses and how they are used in the present edition. The Greek text with critical apparatus occupies pp. 165-219. Tarán's commentary follows (221-305), in which he discusses the textual data and explains his choices, and then comes Gutas' critical apparatus together with commentary for the Syro-Arabic witness (307-473, with an appendix on the opening lines of the work). The end contains the bibliography and indices of Greek words (unfortunately nothing for Arabic), names, subjects, and manuscripts.

As mentioned above, there is less Greek manuscript evidence for the Poetics than for other Aristotelian texts, and therefore an editor must more frequently have recourse to emendations. Gutas, himself not the first to note these weaknesses, criticizes Margoliouth and Tkatsch for not providing classicists with documentation proving the value of the Syro-Arabic tradition and likewise for not detailing how those translations work (see 114, for example), the result being that classicists have generally ignored the Syro-Arabic tradition as being too far removed from the Greek to be useful, especially given the onus of learning Syriac and Arabic, and/or relying on Latin translations of the Arabic by Margoliouth or Tkatsch as if they were perfect mirrors of the Greek Vorlage. But Gutas having clearly demonstrated the significance of the Syro-Arabic witness, Tarán employs it alongside the other three primary witnesses (see above). The goal of these two scholars for this edition is "to provide full reports of the primary sources" (156), and the edition, taken in its entirety, does just that. Of course, another critic, whether focusing on the Greek (and Latin) or on the Syro-Arabic data, might disagree with this or that particular interpretation of the textual data, the editors giving relatively thorough discussion in their respective commentaries following the Greek text, but in any case, the data on those points is there to be discussed.

The intended audience of the book is especially the scholar wanting a presentation of the Greek text with the data used to establish that Greek text. While attention to the Syro-Arabic tradition takes up much of the book, it is always in the service of establishing the Greek text. It bears stating that the Arabic translation might also be studied in and of itself and also within the context of subsequent study of the Poetics by scholars writing in Arabic, and those who are interested in such study will find much of value in Gutas' discussions, but the Arabic translation of Abū Bišr Mattá, is not found here, nor the text of any other Arabic witness, only discussion of those witnesses. As mentioned above, the relevant texts, Syriac and Arabic, were published by Margoliouth, so interested readers will also need that volume to hand for more complete reference. Similarly, ch. 2, Gutas' discussion of the Syro-Arabic transmission of the Poetics, lacks the brief testimonia texts he discusses. There are English translations and a few words in the original are indicated, but readers especially interested in the Syriac and Arabic inheritance of Greek literature might appreciate more handy and accessible texts in the original to have been supplied alongside those translations.

It should be clear that this volume represents the crown of current study of the text of Aristotle's Poetics. Whether prospective researchers are interested more in the wording of the text or in the interpretation of it, they will be cheating themselves, if they fail to consult this work, in all its parts, by Tarán and Gutas. Classicists, literary scholars who are at home with Greek, and those interested in the transmission of Greek literature into Latin, and even more so, into Syriac and Arabic, will all do well to study the volume closely. The editors are to be congratulated for their fine combined work, and the publisher for an almost error-free, beautifully typeset book.

Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum