Of science, skepticism and sophistry: the pseudo-Hippocratic On the art in its philosophical context



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Maligned for millennia, the Sophists began to experience in the nineteenth century a renaissance of sorts. Hegel saw their "subjectivism" as an integral moment in the philosophical development of Geist, and Nietzsche praised them for their individuality, autonomy and intellectual courage (see further Mann 2004). Classicists like George Grote strove to undo what they took to be the unjust damage done to the sophistic reputation by Platonic slander. In addition, the steady swell of interest in pre-Socratic philosophy over the years has buoyed the fortunes of the Sophists along with those of Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles and the rest. So when I encountered On the Art for the first time, I was surprised to find out just how little attention had been paid to this veritable diamond of sophistic philosophy in the rough. I was astonished that so few scholars had tried to give it a good cut and polish. Already deeply fascinated by the sophists and pained by the paucity of extant material, I resolved to try my hand at historical gemology. Regarding the text itself and its transmission, I cannot do better than the account given by Jacques Jouanna in the Budé edition (1988, 190-223), and I will not try to do so, except to give the most cursory overview. The best MSS are M (Marcianus gr. 269, coll. 533), which dates from the tenth century CE, and A (Parisinus gr. 2253 from the eleventh or twelfth. All others, with the exception of the partial text given by Vat (Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 64), are copies of A and M. Jouanna relies heavily on A and M and refers to the readings of other MSS only rarely, usually when there is serious disagreement between them. The text as I print it is not Jouanna's, but it stands to Jouanna's as Jones' Edition for the Loeb Classical Library stands to Gomperz'. That is to say, I follow Jouanna in the main, though I diverge where I believe him to have underappreciated a variation or where I deem conjecture justified. The apparatus criticus, based on Jouanna's collation, gives only what I have deemed to be the v most significant variations in the MSS. I cannot pretend to Jouanna's philological expertise, and, in any case, I doubt seriously whether Jouanna's edition leaves much room for improvement. Coupled with the fact that the text is on the whole remarkably secure, my indolence on this count will perhaps be forgiven. Instead of an edition proper, I offer the reader a new translation of On the Art into English, of which there is much need. Jones' translation for the Loeb Library, while admirably clear and expressive in many respects, is now dated and suffers from some key conceptual miscues. The translation given by Chadwick and Mann in G.E.R. Lloyd's Hippocratic Writings, while decisively more modern than Jones', is too much so, wandering far astray from the Greek. By contrast, I hope readers will find in my translation a contemporary voice that speaks to the original spirit and style of this ancient text. To ensure this, I have undertaken the most comprehensive study of On the Art since Gomperz' Apologie der Heilkunst. Some of my conclusions are found in the Introduction, but I have reserved most for the pages of commentary that follow the text and translation. I hope that my readers with a soft spot for sophists will find my comments to their taste, but if not, I will be satisfied if they come away with the impression that On the Art itself, apart from my interpretation of it, is worth savoring.