Monday, November 07, 2011

Rheins, Jason G. Review of Daniel W. Graham, ed. and trans. THE TEXTS OF EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (October, 2011).

Graham, Daniel W., ed. and trans.  The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: the Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics.  2 Vols.  Cambridge: CUP, 2010.

Hermann Diels' seminal Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (hereafter, DK) set the highest of standards for sourcebooks of early ancient Greek philosophy, and it has remained the scholar's single most indispensible tool for researching and reconstructing the philosophical thought of the figures of that time. However, nearly six decades have passed since Walther Kranz produced the sixth and latest revised edition of that work. Without periodic polishing over that time, our gold standard has lost some of its luster, for in those three score years, the body of our source material has grown as new texts have been discovered (e.g., the Derveni and Strasbourg papyri) and significant fragments and testimonials have been identified in already extant works. At the same time, scholarly opinions concerning the 'Presocratics' have developed and shifted, sometimes radically. Nonetheless, DK has remained utterly indispensible, as no other comparable work has come forward to either update or replace it.

Daniel Graham makes similar observations in his preface to The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy (hereafter, TEGP), where he discusses how and why this work came about. A newly revised version of DK, and one, furthermore, which would also include English translations of all its fragments and testimonies, would constitute a truly peerless contribution to the study of the history of philosophy and to classical scholarship more broadly. Readers of TEGP who come to it expecting a successor to DK will leave it disappointed, however; it is not sufficiently comprehensive or exhaustive. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to undervalue Graham's work for that reason, as TEGP is not really designed to replace DK. Rather, it is intended to satisfy a legitimate and pressing need for which there is currently no suitable alternative -- namely, for what Graham describes as "not so much an exhaustive collection" but "a bridge between the introductory textbook and the exhaustive collection, a kind of portable and up-to-date assemblage of the texts everyone should have access to for the figures everyone studies" (p. xiii). TEGP succeeds in this mission, and admirably, though not flawlessly. . . .

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