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Averroes' Middle and Long Commentaries on the De anima*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Alfred L. Ivry
New York University, Faculty of Arts and Science, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, 50 Washington Square South, New York, N.Y. 10003, U.S.A.


This article claims that Averroes wrote his Middle Commentary on the De anima after he composed both his Short and Long commentaries. A close comparison of the two texts proves that he had the Long commentary before him when composing the Middle. This has implications both for the development of Averroes' doctrine of the intellect, and for understanding Averroes' style of composing commentaries.

On se propose d'établir dans cet article qu'Averroès a rédigé son Moyen commentaire sur le De Anima après son Épitomé et son Grand commentaire. Une comparaison minutieuse des deux textes montre qu'il avait sous les yeux son Grand commentaire lorsqu'il composait son Moyen commentaire. Ceci est de grande conséquence tant pour notre appréciation du développement de la doctrine de l'intellect chez Averroès que pour notre compréhension du mode de composition de ses commentaires.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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1 Averroes wrote three such commentaries to only four other texts of Aristotle, the Posterior Analytics, Physics, De Caelo and Metaphysics. This extensive treatment may be taken as indicative of the special importance the subject matter of these texts held for Averroes. Cf. the list of all of Averroes' commentaries prepared by Wolfson, H., “Revised plan for the publication of a Corpus Commentariorum Averrois in Aristotelem”, Speculum, xxxviii (1963): 90–4, p. 90 f.Google Scholar (reprinted in Wolfson's Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion, ed. I. Twersky, G.H. Williams, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Ma., 1973), vol. I, pp. 433–40), and see the particular discussion of the three commentaries to the De anima in J. Vennebusch, “Zur Bibliographie des psychologisehen schriftums des Averroes”, Bulletin de philosophie médiévale, 6 (1964): 92–100.

2 The Epitome of De anima has been mistakenly taken for its Middle Commentary (Talkhīs in Arabic) by its editors, and published as such. Cf. Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, ed. A.F. Al-Ahwānī (Cairo, 1950); Ibid., ed. S. Gómez Nogales (Madrid, 1985).

3 Cf. the splendid edition of Crawford, F. Stuart, Averrois Cordubensis: Commentarium Magnum in Aristotelis De Anima Libros (Cambridge, MA., 1953).Google Scholar

4 Cf. Chahida, A. Ben, “Iktishāf al-nass al-'arabī li-ahamm ajzā' al-sharh al-kabīr li-kitāb al-nafs ta'lif Abī al-Walīd ibn Rushd,” Al-Hayāt al-Thaqāfïyya, 35 (1985):1448.Google Scholar

5 The Arabic edition of this text, just published under the aegis of the Egyptian Academy of the Arabic Language, is some 153 pages. Cf. Ivry, A. (ed.), Abū al-Walīd ibn Rushd: Talkhīs kitāb al-nafs li-Aristtū (Cairo, 1994).Google Scholar The medieval Hebrew edition of Moses ibn Tibbon is to be published by the Israel Academy of Sciences. Future references to the Middle Commentary will be cited as Talkhīs. Mention should also be made of the critical edition and German translation of the Middle Commentary chapter on the appeti ive faculty published by Gätje, H., who prefaced his edition with a general discussion of the text. Cf. Das Kapitel über das Begehren aus dem mittleren Kommentar des Averroes zur Schrift über die Seele (Amsterdam, Oxford, New York, 1985), pp. 1100.Google Scholar

6 Averroes, not knowing Greek, was dependent on Arabic translations of Aristotle's corpus. In the case of the De anima, there were two such, the one by the famous Ishāq ibn Hunayn, the other anonymous, but wrongly attributed to Isháq. The Pseudo-Ishāq translation has been published by Badawi, A.R., Aristotelis De Anima (Cairo, 1954).Google Scholar The Ishāq translation itself is mostly lost, though a good deal of it may be reconstructed now from the quotations utilized by Averroes in the Middle Commentary, checked against the citations of the text in Themistius' commentary, also translated by Ishaq (see the following note). Fragments of Ishāq's translation to the K. al-Nafs have also been preserved in marginal comments made by Ibn Sīnā to that work, edited by Badawi, A., Aristū 'inda al-'Arab (Cairo, 1947), pp. 75116.Google Scholar These fragmentary quotations have been identified and assembled by Frank, R., and cf. his article, “Some fragments of Ishāq's translation of the De Anima,” Cahiers de Byrsa, VIII (19581959): 231–47.Google Scholar

7 Ed. Lyons, M.C., An Arabic Translation of Themistius Commentary on Aristoteles De Anima, Oriental Studies II (Thetford, 1973).Google Scholar

8 Cf. the study of Averroes' commentaries and attempt to date them by Alonso, M., Teología de Averroes (estudios y documentos) (Madrid-Granada, 1947), pp. 5198.Google Scholar Alonso has been followed by most subsequent scholars in their discussions of Averroes' writings. Cf. Badawi, A., Histoire de la philosophie en Islam, II: Les philosophes purs (Paris, 1972), pp. 743–55;Google ScholarNogales, S. Gómez, “Bibliografla sobre las obras de Averroes”, Multiple Averroes (Paris, 1978), pp. 351–87;Google Scholar and Anawati, G., Mu'allafat Ibn Ruŝd (Cairo, 1978).Google Scholar See too Hernandez, M. Cruz, Abū-l-Walīd ibn Ruŝd (Averroes). Vida, obra, pensamiento, influencia (Cordoba, 1986), pp. 41–6, 55–8Google Scholar, and Jamāl, al-Dīn al-‘Alawī, Al-Matn al-Rushdī: Madkhal li-qirā'a jadīda (Casablanca, 1986), pp. 1451.Google Scholar

9 There are only two dates given in the manuscripts for the composition of this Middle Commentary, viz., 567 A.H./1172 A.D., and 577/1181. The earlier date, found at the end of the first text in a codex of four middle commentaries (Paris, BN, MS hébr. 1009, formerly 317), may not reflect the date of composition of our text. Even the later date, however, is that usually associated with the Middle Commentary period of Averroes' compositions.

10 Cf. his Teología de Averroes, pp. 84 f., 95 f.

11 Cf., however, the study of the order of Averroes' commentaries undertaken by Teicher, J., “I commenti di Averroè sul ‘De Anima’ (Considerazioni generali e successione cronologica),” Giornale della Società Asiatica Italiana, n.s. III.3 (1935): 244–9. Teicher concluded that the Middle Commentary was composed after the Long, and possibly after the Epitome as well. H. Gätje, who has carefully studied these texts, accepted Teicher's arguments, and of. his study (referred to above, note 5), p. 29.Google Scholar

12 Cf. still Hamelin, O., La théorie de l'intellect d'après Aristote et ses commentateurs (Paris, 1953);Google Scholar and see the supplementary information provided by Gätje, H., Studien zur Uberlieferung der aristotelischen Psychologie im Islam (Heidelberg, 1971).Google Scholar

13 Cf. Hyman, A., “Aristotle's theory of the intellect and its interpretation by Averroes,” in O'Meara, D.J. (ed.), Studies in Aristotle (Washington, 1981), pp. 161–91;Google ScholarDavidson, H., Alfarabi, Avicenna, & Averroes, on Intellect (New York, Oxford, 1992), pp. 258340.Google Scholar

14 The De anima translations follow Hamlyn, D.W., Aristotle's De Anima. Books II and III (Oxford, 1968). The Middle Commentary translations are from my forthcoming translation.Google Scholar

15 Cf. Talkhīs, 33:16–34:5, and compare the Long Commentary, pages 88–91. Future Long Commentary citations will include where necessary the page, paragraph and line divisions of Crawford's edition.

16 “Conceptualization” is given in Arabic as al-tasawwūr bi-al-'aql, literally “representation by the intellect.” It stands here for both the noein and theorein of De an. 408b24, translated in the lemma of the Long Commentary (Crawford p. 88, 66:1) as intelligere et considerare, but given by Averroes in his commentary (p. 89, 66:18) only as intelligere.

17 “Not perishing”, as the Arabic laysa yafsud (Talkhīs, 33:17), corresponding to the apathēs of De an. 408b25, and rendered in the lemma of the Long Commentary as nichil patitur (Crawford, p. 89, 66:3). In Averroes' citation of this sentence in his commentary there (Ibid., lines 22–26), he remarks as follows: Deinde dixit: “ipse autern in se nichil accidit ei,” ‥ scilicet intellectus yrnaginans. Et post declarabit quod hec est res ymaginata, aut intellecta; et est illud quod vocat in tertio tractatu intellecturn passibilem.

18 “Recollection,” as the Arabic al-tadhakkur (Talkhīs, 33:17), for to dianoeisthai of De an. 408b25. Given in the Long Commentary lemma as distinctio (Crawford, p. 89, 66:3), to which Averroes comments, distinctio autern, que attribuitur virtuti cogitative (Crawford, p. 90, 66:38).

19 This last sentence is rendered in Arabic as wa-qad buyyina hādhā al-ma'nā 'alā al-tamām fi sharh kalāmihi fī hādhā al-fasl (Talkhīs, 34:5).

20 Hamlyn has bracketed this sentence in his translation, commenting that as it is repeated at De an. 431a1, it “has probably been substituted here for a reference to the active intellect, which is required for what follows.” As Averroes' “quotation” and commentary here show, Averroes has also understood Aristotle in this way.

21 Compare this with the Long Commentary here, Crawford, pp. 443–54.

22 “Imaginative intentions” translates the Arabic al-ma'ānī al-khayyāliyya (Talkhīs, 131:2), rendered in the Long Commentary (Crawford, p. 449, 20:180) as intentiones ymaginatas.

23 This last phrase is given in Arabic as 'alā mā bayyannāhu fī sharhinā li-kalām Aristū (Talkhīs, 131:3–4).

24 These remarks follow Averroes' exposition of De an. III.4.429a10–24.

25 Bi-hādhā al-mawdi' alladhī qulnāhu (Talkhīs, 125:6).

26 Cf. Davidson, Alfarabi, p. 292. An earlier presentation of this material is given in id., Averroes on the material intellect,” Viator, 17 (1986): 99137.Google Scholar

27 Cf. Crawford, pp. 387–413.

28 Davidson, Alfarabi, pp. 258–98.

29 Ibid., p. 277.

30 Ibid., note 82.

31 Cf. Al-Ahwānī's edition, p. 90, and see Davidson, Alfarabi, pp. 265–72.

32 Al-Ahwānī, p. 91.

33 Davidson, Alfarabi, p. 258.

34 Ibid., p. 276.

35 The Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts are Paris, MS hébr. 1009 (formerly 317) and Modena 41 (formerly 13). The latter MS contains extensive variant readings in the margins, comprising almost a third source for establishing the text. The Hebrew translations were made in the mid-thirteenth century, one by Shem Tob ben Yizhaq of Tortosa, the other, now prepared in a critical edition, by Moshe ibn Tibbon. Full details of the manuscripts used in establishing the Arabic and Hebrew editions of this commentary are given in the introductions to them (see note 5 above).

36 The significance of Averroes' opening comments in his De anima commentaries for his understanding of the subject matter of Aristotle's text has been explored in Ivry, , “La logique de la science de l'âme,” in Sinaceur, M.A. (ed.), Penser avec Aristote (Toulouse, 1991), pp. 687700.Google Scholar

37 Cf. the story of Ibn Rushd's meeting with the Almohad ruler, Abū Ya'qūb Yūsuf, which probably (following Gauthier, L., Ibn Thofail, sa vie, ses œuvres (Paris, 1909), pp. 1517Google Scholar) took place in 563 or 564 A.H./1168–69 A.D. A translation of the meeting, as reported by al-Marrākushī (Mu'jib, pp. 174–5), is given by Hourani, G., Averroes on the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (London, 1967), p. 12 fGoogle Scholar. The Amīr al-Mu'minīn asked for, and Averroes agreed to provide, summaries of Aristotle's writings which are specifically called talākhīs. Our text is just such as to satisfy the caliph and his educated, though not philosophically over-educated, circle. Examples of the accomodations Averroes made towards this audience in composing the Middle Commentary are given in Ivry, “Le rapport entre les Moyen et Grand Commentaires d'Aristote sur le De anima d'Aristote,” forthcoming in the proceedings of Symposium Averroïcum I, ed. M. Misbāhī (Fez, 1989).

38 Cf. Crawford, p. 379.

39 Cf. Kitāb al-Nafs li-Ibn Bājja al-Andalusī, ed. al-Ma'sūmī, M. (Damascus, 1960), p. 127.Google Scholar

40 Cf. above, note 6.

41 It is not likely that a medieval translator – and even less likely that a scribe – would have taken upon himself such editorial rearrangement.

42 Cf. Ta1khīs, 110:9.

43 Cf. note 37 above.

44 The view of Averroes in the Christian West was shaped in part by the texts which were not made available in Latin. Cf. Ivry, , “Averroes and the West: The first encounter/nonencounter,” in Link-Salinger, R. et al. (ed.), A Straight Path (Washington, 1988), pp. 142–58.Google Scholar

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