The commentary on de Caelo was written before that on the Physica Auscultatio, and probably not in Alexandria, since he mentions in it an astronomical observation made during his stay in that city by Ammonius. Simplicius wrote his commentary on the Physica Auscultatio after the death of Damascius, and therefore after his return from Persia. When it was that he wrote his explanations of the Categories, whether before or after those on the above-mentioned Aristotelian treatises, it is impossible to ascertain. Besides these commentaries of Simplicius which have been preserved, he himself mentions explanations on the metaphysical books, and an epitome of the Physica of Theophrastus.
Simplicius, as a Neoplatonist, endeavoured, frequently by forced interpretations, to show that Aristotle agrees with Plato even on those points which he controverts, so that he may lead the way to their deeper, hidden meaning. In his view not only Plotinus, but also Syrianus, Proclus, and Ammonius, are great philosophers, who have penetrated into the depths of the wisdom of Plato. Many of the more ancient Greek philosophers he also brings into much too close a connection with Platonism. He is, however, advantageously distinguished from his predecessors, whom he so admires, partly in confounding and jumbling things together much less than they do, especially in making very much less frequent application of spurious Orphic, Hermetic, Chaldean, and other Theologumena of the East, and in not giving himself up to a belief in magical superstition; partly in proceeding much more carefully and modestly in the explanation and criticism of particular points, and in striving with unwearied diligence to draw from the original sources a thorough knowledge of the older Greek philosophy. His commentaries can, therefore, be regarded as the richest in their contents of any that have come down to us concerning Aristotle. But for them, we should be without the most important fragments of the writings of the Eleatics, of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Diogenes of Apollonia, and others, which were at that time already very scarce, as well as without many extracts from the lost books of Aristotle, Theophrastus and Eudemus: but for them we should hardly be able to unriddle the doctrine of the Categories, so important for the system of the Stoics. It is true he himself complains that in his time both the school and the writings of the followers of Zeno had perished. But where he cannot draw immediately from the original sources, he looks round for guides whom he can depend upon, who had made use of those sources. In addition, we have to thank him for such copious quotations from the Greek commentaries from the time of Andronicus of Rhodes down to Ammonius and Damascius, that, for the Categories and the Physics, the outlines of a history of the interpretation and criticism of those books may be composed. With a correct idea of their importance, Simplicius made the most diligent use of the commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Porphyry; and although he often enough combats the views of the former, he knew how to value, as it deserved, his (in the main) sound critical sense. He has also preserved for us intelligence of several more ancient readings, which now, in part, have vanished from the manuscripts without leaving any trace, and in the paraphrastic sections of his interpretations furnishes us with valuable contributions for correcting or settling the text of Aristotle. Not less valuable are the contributions towards a knowledge of the ancient astronomical systems for which we have to thank him in his commentary on the books de Caelo. We even find in his writings some traces of a disposition for the observation of nature.
Although averse to Christianity he abstains from assailing Christian doctrines, even when he combats expressly and with bitterness the work of his contemporary, John Philoponus, directed against the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the universe. In Ethics he seems to have abandoned the mystical pantheistic purification-theory of the Neoplatonists, and to have found full satisfaction in the ethical system of the later Stoics, however little he was disposed towards their logical and physical doctrines.
Simplicius is not an original thinker, but his remarks are thoughtful and intelligent and his learning is prodigious. To the student of Greek philosophy his commentaries are invaluable, as they contain many fragments of the older philosophers as well as of his immediate predecessors.
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