“The Commentator on Aristotle’s De Anima III” – On Carlos Steel’s ‘Simplicius’ (The Classical Review 2014)

“Pseudo-Simplicius”, The Classical Review 64.2 (2014), 436–437. A review of ‘Simplicius’, On Aristotle On the Soul 3.6–13, trans. C. Steel with A. Ritups (London 2012). An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:

phyllis-riding-aristotle-in-a-walled-garden-by-master-m-z-ca-1500-art-institute-of-chicago
Phyllis riding Aristotle in a walled garden, by Master M.Z., ca 1500 – Art Institute of Chicago

In Inferno IV, when Dante catches sight of him in a mild foyer to the spiralling pit of hell, Averroes is simply described as ‘he who made the great Comment’; but in Convivio IV, the only other place where Dante references him, Averroes is specifically ‘the Commentator on Aristotle’s De Anima III’.

Dante wrote this in the first decade of the fourteenth century, when Averroes was still, in effect, the commentator on De Anima III. But by the last decades of the fifteenth century, a ‘Simplicius’ commentary on the De Anima was being circulated in Italy by émigrés from Constantinople. This commentary rapidly exerted an influence on the likes of Pico della Mirandola and Agostino Nifo. It saw a first Greek edition in Venice in 1527, with a complete Latin translation appearing in 1543, also in Venice. As its first translator pointed out in his prefatory letter, Averroes had a contender in this De Anima commentary. The title of a 1553 Latin translation then left no doubt: here was the Commentaria Simplicii Profundissimi & acutissimi philosophi in tres libros De Anima Aristotelis. And by the end of the sixteenth century, this commentary had inspired a vocal coterie in Italy, the so-called sectatores Simplicii.

Despite the fervour of these sectatores Simplicii, there is now a stable consensus that their De Anima commentary is pseudo-Simplician. The translator of the present volume, Carlos Steel, has long been convinced that the work should be attributed to Priscian of Lydia; and in this he is preceded by Francesco Piccolomini, a sixteenth-century opponent of the simpliciani who also put Priscian forward as the commentator. Ilsetraut Hadot has fiercely criticised this re-attribution in a 2002 article in Mnemosyne, ‘Simplicius or Priscianus? On the Author of the Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima’, and Steel refers to the dispute in his introduction. He is sanguine: ‘As no other scholar apparently shares Hadot’s view, there is no need for further polemics’ (p. 32 n. 6). …

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