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Alexander Aphrodisiensis

Ἀλέξανδρος Ἀφροδισιεύς), a native of Aphrodisias in Caria, who lived at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century after Christ, the most celebrated of the commentators on Aristotle. He was the disciple of Herminus and Aristocles the Messenian, and like them endeavoured to free the Peripatetic philosophy from the syncretism of Ammonius and others, and to restore the genuine interpretation of the writings of Aristotle. The title ἐξηγητὴς was the testimony to the extent or the excellence of his commentaries. About half his voluminous works were edited and translated into Latin at the revival of literature; there are a few more extant in the original Greek, which have never been printed, and an Arabie version is preserved of several others, whose titles may be seen in the Bibliotheca of Casiri. (Vol. i. p. 243.)

If we view him as a philosopher, his merit cannot be rated highly. His excellencies and defects are all on the model of his great master; there is the same perspicuity and power of analysis, united with almost more than Aristotelian plainness of style; everywhere "a flat surface," with nothing to interrupt or strike the attention. In a mind so thoroughly imbued with Aristotle, it cannot be expected there should be much place for original thought. His only endeavour is to adapt the works of his master to the spirit and language of his own age; but in doing so he is constantly recalled to the earlier philosophy, and attacks bygone opinions, as though they had the same living power as when the writings of Aristotle were directed against them. (Ritter, Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. iv. p. 255.)

The Platonists and earlier Stoics are his chief opponents, for he regarded the Epicureans as too sensual and unphilosophical to be worth a serious answer. Against the notion of the first, that the world, although created, might yet by the will of God be made imperishable, he urged that God could not alter the nature of things, and quoted the Platonist doctrine of the necessary coexistence of evil in all corruptible things. (Ritter, p. 262.) God himself, he said, was the very form of things. Yet, however difficult it may be to enter into this abstract notion of God, it would be unjust, as some have done, to charge him with atheism, as in many passages he attributes mind and intelligence to the divine Being. This is one of the points in which he has brought out the views of Aristotle more clearly, from his living in the light of a later age. God, he says (in Metaphys. ix. p. 320), is "properly and simply one, the self-existent substance, the author of motion himself unmoved, the great and good Deity, without beginning and without end:" and again (in Metaph. xii. p. 381) he asserts, that to deprive God of providence is the same thing as depriving honey of sweetness, fire of warmth, snow of whiteness and coolness, or the soul of motion. The providence of God, however, is not directed in the same way to the sublunary world and the rest of the universe : the latter is committed not indeed to fate, but to general laws, while the concerns of men are the immediate care of God, although he find not in the government of them the full perfection of his being. (Quaest. Nat. 1.25, 2.21.) He saw no inconsistency, as perhaps there was none, between these high notions of God and the materialism with which they were connected. As God was the form of all things, so the human soul was likewise a form of matter, which it was impossible to conceive as existing in an independent state. He seems however to have made a distinction between the powers of reflection and sensation, for he says (de Anima i. p. 138), that the soul needed not the body as an instrument to take in objects of thought, but was sufficient of itself; unless the latter is to be looked upon as an inconsistency into which he has been led by the desire to harmonize the early Peripateticism with the purer principle of a later philosophy. (Brücker, vol. ii. p. 481.)


The most important treatise of his which has come down to us, is the De Fato, an inquiry into the opinions of Aristotle on the subject of Fate and Freewill. It is probably one of his latest works, and must have been written between the years 199-211, because dedicated to the joint emperors Severus and Caracalla. Here the earlier Stoics are his opponents, who asserted that all things arose from an eternal and indissoluble chain of causes and effects. The subject is treated practically rather than speculatively. Universal opinion, the common use of language, and internal consciousness, are his main arguments. That fate has a real existence, is proved by the distinction we draw between fate, chance, and possibility, and between free and necessary actions. It is another word for nature, and its workings are seen in the tendencies of men and things (c. 6), for it is an all-pervading cause of real, but not absolute, power. The fatalism of the Stoics does away with freewill, and so destroys responsibility: it is at variance with every thought, word, and deed, of our lives. The Stoics, indeed, attempt to reconcile necessity and freewill; but, properly speaking, they use freewill in a new sense for the necessary co-operation of our will in the decrees of nature : moreover, they cannot expect men to carry into practice the subtle distinction of a will necessarily yet freely acting; and hence, by destroying the accountableness of man, they destroy the foundation of morality, religion, and civil government. (c. 12-20.) Supposing their doctrine true in theory, it is impossible in action. And even speculatively their argument from the universal chain is a confusion of an order of sequence with a series of causes and effects. If it be said again, that the gods have certain foreknowledge of future events, and what is certainly known must necessarily be, it is answered by denying that in the nature of things there can be any such foreknowledge, as foreknowledge is proportioned to divine power, and is a knowledge of what divine power can perform. The Stoical view inevitably leads to the conclusion, that all the existing ordinances of religion are blasphemous and absurd.

This treatise, which has been edited by Orelli, gives a good idea of his style and method. Upon the whole, it must be allowed that, although with Ritter we cannot place him high as an independent thinker, he did much to encourage the accurate study of Aristotle, and exerted an influence which, according to Julius Scaliger, was still felt in his day. (Brucker, vol. ii. p. 480.)

Overview of Alexander's Works

The following list of his works is abridged from Harles's Fabricius. (Vol. v. p. 650.)

I. Περὶ εἰμαρμένης καὶ τοῦ ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν (

Περὶ εἰμαρμένης καὶ τοῦ ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, De Fato, deque eo quod in nostra potestate est : the short treatise mentioned above, dedicated to the emperors Severus and Caracalla.


First printed by the successors of Aldus Manutius, 1534, folio, at the end of the works of Themistius: translated into Latin by Grotius in the collection entitled "Veterum Philos. Sententiae de Fato," Paris, 1648, 4to., Lond. 1688, 12mo., and edited by Orelli, Zurich, 1824, 8vo., with a fragment of Alexander Aphrodis. De Fortuna, and treatises of Ammonius, Plotinus, &c. on the same subject.

II. ((Ὑπόμνημα)


Venet. Aldi, 1520, fol.; Floren. 1521, 4to., with a Latin translation by J. Bap. Felicianus.



Ven. Aldi, 1513; with a Latin version by G. Dorotheus, Ven. 1526 and 1541, and Paris, 1542, folio; and another by Rasarius, Ven. 1563, 1573, folio.


Graecè, Ven. Aldi, 1520, fol.; Flor. 1520, fol.: translated into Latin by J. B. Rasarius.



Ex versione J. G. Sepulvedae, Rom. 1527, Paris, 1536, Ven. 1544 and 1561. The Greek text has never been printed, although it exists in the Paris library and several others.



The Greek text is printed at the end of the commentary of Simplicius on the De Animâ, Ven. Aldi, 1527, folio; there is also a Latin version by Lucilius Philothaeus, Ven. 1544, 1549, 1554, 1559, 1573.


Supposed by some not to be the work of Alexander Aphrod.


Ven. Aldi, 1527



Bound up in the same edition as the In Aristotelis Meterologica.

IX. (two distinct works)


Printed in Greek at the end of Themistius: there is a Latin version by Hieronymus Donatus, Ven. 1502, 1514, folio.



In Greek, Ven. Trincavelli, 1536, folio; in Latin, by Hieronymus Bagolinus, Ven. 1541, 1549, 1555, 1559, 1563.

XI. Ἰατρικὰ Ἀπορήματα καὶ Φυσικὰ Προβλήματα,

XII. Περὶ Πυρετῶν,

The last two treatises (XI. and XII.) are attributed by Theodore Gaza and many other writers to Alexander Trallianus. They are spoken of below.

Works still extant in Arabic or in fragmentary form

His commentaries on the Categories, on the latter Analytics (of the last there was a translation by St. Jerome), on the De Animâ and Rhetorical works, and also on those περὶ γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς, together with a work entitled Liber I de Theologiâ, probably distinct from the Commentaries on the Metaphysics, are still extant in Arabic. A Commentary on the prior Analytics, on the De Interpretatione, a treatise on the Virtues, a work entitled περὶ δαιμόνων λόγος, a treatise against Zenobius the Epicurean, and another on the nature and qualities of Stones, also a book of Allegories from mythological fables, are all either quoted by others or referred to by himself. [B.J]

Other works attributed to Alexander Aphrodisiensis

Besides the works universally attributed to Alexander Aphrodisiensis, there are extant two others, of which the author is not certainly known, but which are by some persons supposed to belong to him, and which commonly go under his name.

Ἰατρικὰ Ἀπορήματα καὶ Φυσικὰ Προβλήματα (

The first work attributed to Alexander is entitled Ἰατρικὰ Ἀπορήματα καὶ Φυσικὰ Προβλήματα, Quaestiones Medicae et Problemata Physica, which there are strong reasons for believing to be the work of some other writer. In the first place, it is not mentioned in the list of his works given by the Arabic author quoted by Casiri (Biblioth. Arabico-Hisp. Escurial. vol. i. p. 243); secondly, it appears to have been written by a person who belonged to the medical profession (ii. praef. et § 11), which was not the case with Alexander Aphrodisiensis; thirdly, the writer refers (1.87) to a work by himself, entitled Ἀλληγοριαὶ τῶν εἰς Θεοὺς ᾿Ἀναπλαττομένων Πιθανῶν Ἱστοριῶν, Allegoriae Historiarum Credibilium de Diis Fabricatarum, which we do not find mention ed among Alexander's works; fourthly, he more than once speaks of the soul as immortal (ii. praef. et § 63, 67), which doctrine Alexander Aphrodisiensis denied; and fifthly, the style and language of the work seem to belong to a later age. Several eminent critics suppose it to belong to Alexander Trallianus, but it does not seem likely that a Christian writer would have composed the mythological work mentioned above. It consists of two books, and contains several interesting medical observations along with much that is frivolous and trifling.


It was first published in a Latin translation by George Valla, Venet. 1488, fol. The Greek text is to be found in the Aldine edition of Aristotle's works, Venet. fol. 1495, and in that by Sylburgius, Francof. 1585, 8vo.; it was published with a Latin translation by J. Davion, Paris. 1540, 1541, 16mo.; and it is inserted in the first volume of Ideler's Physici et Medici Graeci Minores, Berol. 1841, 8vo.

Περὶ Πυρετῶν (

The other work is a short treatise, Περὶ Πυρετῶν, De Febribus, which is addressed to a medical pupil whom the author offers to instruct in any other branch of medicine; it is also omitted in the Arabic list of Alexander's works mentioned above. For these reasons it does not seem likely to be the work of Alexander Aphrodisiensis, while the whole of the twelfth book of the great medical work of Alexander Trallianus (to whom it has also been attributed) is taken up with the subject of Fever, and he would hardly have written two treatises on the same disease without making in either the slightest allusion to the other. It may possibly belong to one of the other numerous physicians of the name of Alexander.


It was first published in a Latin translation by George Valla, Venet. 1498, fol., which was several times reprinted. The Greek text first appeared in the Cambridge Museum Criticum, vol. ii. pp. 359-389, transcribed by Demetrius Schinas from a manuscript at Florence; it was published, together with Valla's translation, by Franz Passow, Vratislav. 1822, 4to., and also in Passow's Opuscula Academica, Lips. 1835, 8vo., p. 521. The Greek text alone is contained in the first volume of Ideler's Physici et Medici Graeci Minores, Berol. 1841, 8vo.


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