Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - phillosophy



general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Placita

Title: Placita
Author: Aetius
Genre: Compendium
Written: ca. 100 (Eng. 2020/2023)
Length: 547 pages
Original in: ancient Greek
Availability: Placita - US
Placita - UK
Placita - Canada
I dossografi greci - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Harvard University Press
  • Translated and edited by Jaap Mansfeld and David Runia
  • Previously published, in different form (and more extensively annotated), in the four-volume Aëtiana V
  • This is a bilingual edition that includes the original (mostly) Greek text facing the English translation

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

(--) : an interesting work; very well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Ancient Philosophy . (41:2) Fall/2021 John M. Dillon
BMCR* . (2021.08.28) Alberto Bernabé

(* review of a different edition)

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is impossible to go into detail here on the richness, complexity and accuracy of this work, which is backed by the experience, knowledge and intellectual preeminence of its authors (.....) (T)he translation (...) is extremely faithful to the original. (...) The edition is very careful, with critical apparatus of great clarity, with a precise presentation of each complementary source, with brief indications, such as (p. 366): “Cicero ND 1.118 (the Academic Cotta speaks),” which allows the reader to contextualise them in a very precise way. (...) In short, this is a real gift for the researcher, which will mark a turning point in the study of Greek doxography." - Alberto Bernabé, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Aëtius' Placita ('tenets', which is what this is a collection of) is a very unusual work -- specifically because, as the editor-translators note in their General Introduction:

The original is lost, and of the author we know nothing except his name, and even that has been challenged by scholars.
       What we have here is a text reconstructed from other works that quoted the (lost) original verbatim -- a significant amount, with the editors noting: "We are in all likelihood in possession of about 86 percent, or six-sevenths of the original work". Placita is thus pieced together from works by Plutarch -- but not that Plutarch, and so referred to as Ps.-Plutarch here --, Stobaeus (John of Stobi), and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. Not all of Ps.-Plutarch's work survived in the original Greek, either, but there is a complete Arabic translation, by Qusṭā ibn Lūqā, and while the original text presented here is almost entirely in Greek there are some bits which are presented in that Arabic translation.
       The Loeb Classical Library edition is a version of the four-volume Aëtiana V (2020) -- the same text and basically the same translation, though with far less supporting material; as the editors put it: "it is a reduced and slightly modified and updated version of the same edition". It also differs from the Aëtiana V-version in that the original Greek text here conveniently faces the English translation -- the usual Loeb-presentation -- while it is printed separately in the Aëtiana V-edition.
       Aëtiana V was the successor to Hermann Diels' landmark Doxographi graeci. If nowhere near as extensive as Diels' later Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker -- and now the invaluable nine-volume Loeb Early Greek Philosophy (Harvard University Press) -- this collection presenting the different viewpoints, theories, and propositions of the philosophers of those times (up to around 100 BCE, with only three later figures being mentioned) on a variety of subjects also offers an overview of early Greek philosophical thought.
       Typically, for example, a section 'On the shape of the sun' consists of the list:
1. Ἀναξιμένης Ἀλκμαίων πλατὺν ὡς πέταλον τὸν ἥλιον. |
2. Ἡράκλειτος σκαφοειδῆ, ὑπόκυρτον. |
3. οἱ Πυθαγόρειοι <καὶ> οἱ Στωικοὶ σφαιροειδῆ, ὡς τὸν κόσμον καὶ τὰ | ἄστρα. |
4. Ἐπίκουρος ἐνδέχεσθαι τὰ προειρημένα πάντα.

1. Anaximenes and Alcmaeon say that the sun is flat, like a leaf.
2. Heraclitus says that it is bowl-like, somewhat convex.
3. The Pythagoreans <and> the Stoics say that it is like a ball, just like the cosmos and the stars.
4. Epicurus says that all the above-mentioned shapes are possible.
       As the editors suggest:
What the compendium provides is above all a multipurpose resource, a manual of neatly packaged material on a wide variety of topics -- to be used for study and as an aide-memoire, for displays of erudition, for persuasion in rhetorical or apologetic contexts, and so on.
       Placita is divided into five books, covering: 'First Principles', 'Cosmology', 'Meteorology and the Earth', 'Psychology', and 'Physiology'. The editors provide a brief introduction to each of these sections, and there is also an index of the chapter-headings at the beginning of each, giving a quick overview of what is covered. There is a great range here: Book IV, on Psychology, opens with: 'On the rising of the Nile', followed by 'On the soul', and also includes sections: 'On intellect', 'On sight, how we see', 'Whether voice is incorporeal and how echo occurs', and closes with: 'On bodily affections and whether the soul experiences pain along with these'.
       As the editors also note: "The Greek text is often highly compressed", and the list-format also generally makes for a succinct summing-up of the different propositions -- sometimes, as in how various philosophers thought of 'minimal bodies', extremely succinct, e.g. Ἡρακλείδης θραύσματα ('Heraclides as fragments'). Some examples, however, are elaborated on at considerably greater length -- including the final entry, covering 'On health and disease and old age', somewhat unusual in that it doesn't just state a theory or hypothesis but is presented as evidence-based (though the evidence is obviously (ridiculously) anecdotal, rather than based on actual data and observation):
7. Ἀσκληπιάδης Αἰθίοπάς φησι ταχέως γηράσκειν ἐτῶν τριάκοντα διὰ τὸ | ὑπερθερμαίνεσθαι τὰ σώματα ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου διαφλεχθέντας· ἐν Βρεττανίᾳ | ἑκατὸν εἴκοσιν ἐτῶν γηρᾶν διὰ τὸ κατεψῦχθαι μὲν τοὺς τόπους, ἐν | ἑαυτοῖς δὲ στέγειν τὸ πυρῶδες· τὰ μὲν γὰρ τῶν Αἰθιόπων σώματά εἰσιν | ἀραιότερα διὰ τὸ ἀναχαλᾶσθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου, τὰ δ᾿ ὑπὸ τῶν ἄρκτων | πυκνά, διὰ τοῦτο οὖν καὶ πολυχρόνια.

7. Asclepiades says that Ethiopians become old quickly at the age of thirty years because their bodies are overheated when they are burned by the sun. In Britain people live to the age of one hundred and twenty through their localities being chilled and the protection of the fiery element in themselves. The bodies of Ethiopians are in fact thinner because they are distended by the sun, whereas those of the dwellers in the northern regions are stockier, and so for this reason they also live longer.
       The listings provide an often fascinating overview of the various theories that had been proposed, sometimes in more detail, sometimes very succinctly, as in 3.10, 'On the shape of the earth':
1. Θαλῆς καὶ οἱ Στωικοὶ σφαιροειδῆ τὴν γῆν. |
2. Ἀναξίμανδρος λίθῳ κίονι τὴν γῆν προσφερῆ, τῶν ἐπιπέδων <δὲ αὐτῆς | γυρῶν> |
3. Ἀναξιμένης τραπεζοειδῆ. |
4. Λεύκιππος τυμπανοειδῆ. |
5. Δημόκριτος δισκοειδῆ μὲν τῷ πλάτει, κοίλην δὲ τῷ μέσῳ.

1. Thales and the Stoics say that the earth is like a ball.
2. Anaximander says that the earth resembles a column drum, <with curved surfaces>.
3. Anaximenes says that it is like a slab.
4. Leucippus says that it is like a kettledrum.
5. Democritus says that it is like a disk in breadth, but hollow at the center.
       The number of authorities cited and explanations offered for each issue that is addressed varies; in some cases only a single lemma is presented (though it must also be remembered that the text is incomplete). The lemmata are generally ascribed to individual philosophers (or schools of thought, e.g. 'the Stoics'), but if several are in agreement that too is noted -- down to the extreme example on the question of: 'Whether sensations and impressions are true':
1. Πυθαγόρας Ἐμπεδοκλῆς Ξενοφάνης Παρμενίδης Ζήνων Μέλισσος | Ἀναξαγόρας Δημόκριτος Μητρόδωρος Πρωταγόρας Πλάτων ψευδεῖς | εἶναι τὰς αἰσθήσεις. |
2. οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀκαδημίας ὑγιεῖς μέν, ὅτι δι’ αὐτῶν οἴονται λαβεῖν ἀληθινὰς | φαντασίας, οὐ μὴν ἀκριβεῖς. |
3. Ἀριστοτέλης τὴν αἴσθησιν μὴ πλανᾶσθαι περὶ τὸ ἴδιον, περὶ δὲ τὸ | συμβεβηκός. |
4. οἱ Στωικοὶ τὰς μὲν αἰσθήσεις ἀληθεῖς, τῶν δὲ φαντασιῶν τὰς μὲν | ἀληθεῖς τὰς δὲ ψευδεῖς

1. Pythagoras, Empedocles, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Melissus, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Metrodorus, Protagoras, and Plato say that sensations are false.
2. The successors of the Academy say that sensations are sound, because they believe that by means of them they grasp true impressions, though these are not precise.
3. Aristotle says that sensation does not err with regard to its proper object, but it does err with regard to what is incidental.
4. The Stoics say that sensations are true, but that of impressions some are true and some false.
       The range of subjects covered is considerable, and it's quite fascinating to see the variety of opinions and theories -- many surprisingly astute, and certainly of interest, especially in the chapter on Cosmology.
       Of course, there's also a fair share of the very far-fetched -- though some of these also have an amusing side, such as one of the theories on: 'How it happens that those who are born resemble others and not their parents':
Ἐμπεδοκλῆς τῇ κατὰ τὴν σύλληψιν φαντασίᾳ τῆς γυναικὸς μορφοῦσθαι | τὰ βρέφη· πολλάκις γὰρ ἀνδριάντων καὶ εἰκόνων ἠράσθησαν γυναῖκες, | καὶ ὅμοια τούτοις ἀπέτεκον.

Empedocles says that the babies are shaped by the imagination of the woman during conception. For often women fell in love with statues and images, and they gave birth to children who resemble these.
       If often simply succinct summings-up, there are also a variety of longer passages -- including some nicely expressed opinions, as in the mention that:
καὶ γὰρ Πλάτων ὁ μεγαλόφωνος εἰπών ὁ θεὸς ἔπλασε τὸν κόσμον | πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὑπόδειγμα ὄζει λήρου βεκκεσελήνου κατά γε τοὺς τῆς | ἀρχαίας κωμῳδίας ποιητάς·

And when the grandiloquent Plato says that God formed the cosmos by looking at himself as model, he reeks of archaic moonstruck nonsense, to use the language of the ancient comic poets.
       As the editors also point out, "The prominence of the philosopher Pythagoras is striking" -- and among the most nicely-turned lines in the compendium is the pithy final lemma in the chapter examining: 'From what kind of first element did the god begin to make the cosmos':
Πλάτων δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις πυθαγορίζει.

Plato in these matters too pythagorizes.
       While not as comprehensive in its supporting material as the mammoth Aëtiana V edition, this handy Loeb volume packs in a great deal and should be sufficient for most readers' purposes. The scholarship here does not weigh down or distract from the text, and that quite fascinating text and helpfully fattened-up translation make for an accessible and intriguing book. While a compendium of this sort isn't really for 'reading' straight through -- presumably it was meant more as a reference work -- the contemporary reader can certainly approach it as such, and will find a very good (and really quite entertaining) overview of early Greek philosophy on a wide variety of subjects.
       There's a great deal of material here -- both in the original text and in the supporting apparatus presented here -- making for an excellent edition of an interesting and curious work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 February 2024

- Return to top of the page -


Placita: Reviews (* review of a different edition): Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Aëtius presumably lived in the first or second century.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2024 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links