Alexander of Aphrodisias
was the most celebrated of the Ancient Greek
commentators on the writings of Aristotle
. He was styled, by way of pre-eminence, "the expositor" (ὁ ἐξηγητής).
Life and career
Alexander was a native of Aphrodisias
and came to Athens
towards the end of the second century
. He was a student of the two Stoic
, or possibly Peripatetic
, philosophers Sosigenes
, and perhaps of Aristotle of Mytilene. At Athens he became head of the Lyceum
and lectured on Peripatetic philosophy. Alexander's dedication of On Fate
to Septimius Severus
, in gratitude for his position at Athens, indicates a date between 198 and 209. A recently published inscription from Aphrodisias confirms that he was head of one of the Schools at Athens and gives his full name as Titus Aurelius Alexander. His full nomenclature shows that his grandfather or other ancestor was probably given Roman citizenship by the emperor Antoninus Pius
, while proconsul of Asia. The inscription honours his father, also called Alexander and also a philosopher. This fact makes it plausible that some of the suspect works that form part of Alexander's corpus should be ascribed to his father
Alexander composed several commentaries on the works of Aristotle, in which he sought to escape a syncretistic
tendency and to recover the pure doctrines of Aristotle. His commentaries are still extant on Prior Analytics
(Book 1), Topics
, Sense and Sensibilia
, and Metaphysics
(Books 1-5, together with an abridgment of his commentary on the remaining books).
In April 2007, it was reported that imaging analysis had discovered an early commentary on Aristotle's Categories in the Archimedes Palimpsest, and Professor Robert Sharples suggested Alexander as the most likely author.
There are also several original writings by Alexander still extant. The most important of these are a work On Fate
, in which he argues against the Stoic
doctrine of necessity; and one On the Soul
, in which he contends that the undeveloped reason in man is material (nous hulikos
) and inseparable from the body. He argued strongly against the doctrine of the soul's immortality. He identified the active intellect (nous poietikos
), through whose agency the potential intellect in man becomes actual, with God.
His commentaries were greatly esteemed among the Arabs
, who translated many of them, and is heavily quoted by Maimonides
In 1210, the Church Council of Paris issued a condemnation, which probably targeted the writings of Alexander among others.
In the early Renaissance his doctrine of the soul's mortality was adopted by Pietro Pomponazzi (against the Thomists and the Averroists), and by his successor Cesare Cremonini. This school is known as Alexandrists.
Alexander's band, an optical phenomenon, is named after him.
Several of Alexander's works were published in the Aldine
edition of Aristotle, Venice, 1495-1498; his De Fato
and De Anima
were printed along with the works of Themistius
at Venice (1534); the former work, which has been translated into Latin
and also by Schulthess
, was edited by J. C. Orelli
, 1824; and his commentaries on the Metaphysica by H. Bonitz