Comparative Textbook Review
Book Details: J. Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), 318 pp.
Book Details: P. Curd, A Presocratics Reader (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996), xii + 126 pp.
Book Details: G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, & M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), xiii + 501 pp.
Book Details: R. D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction with Texts and Commentary (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), xvi + 436 pp.
Book Details: R. Waterfield, The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and The Sophists, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), xlvi + 354 pp.
Barnes' volume contains translations for the Presocratics, though not the Sophists, and each collection is unified by connecting comments. The typographical layout [italics for fragments; roman type for the context around fragments; italics for Barnes' comments] can at times be confusing. However the volume does benefit from an excellent Introduction, as well as the usual indexes, maps, and the like.
Curd's collection is basically translations from McKirahan (see below) reprinted without the commentary in McKirahan's own volume. The material also repeats the first part of Cohen, Curd, and Reeve's Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy. Each philosopher is given a brief introduction but, in general, the fragments are left to speak for themselves. A brief selection of Sophists are also included: Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, and Critias. A bibliography and list of sources conclude.
Kirk, Raven, and Schofield offer a considerably more substantial volume, containing Greek texts, translations, and an impressive commentary. The text includes not only a subtle philosophical interpretation but also displays a sensitivity to philological matters and questions of translation. As with Barnes, the focus is upon Presocratic natural philosophy from Thales to Diogenes of Apollonia and the Sophists are not present. But for anyone studying the Presocratics this volume is an invaluable work of reference.
McKirahan's volume also offers a substantial commentary built around translations, although without the Greek texts. The Sophists are present, including sections on Callicles, Thrasymachus, and Thucydides. Footnotes report alternative translations and other interpretative points. Chapters vary: some report a whole series of fragments followed by an extended essay; others intermingle texts and comments. In general, this volume forms a valuable study in its own right.
Waterfield's anthology opens with a substantial introduction and bibliography. It then offers translations of the bulk of the texts in Diels & Kranz, including the Sophists and 'Dissoi Logoi'. Each section has its own introduction and its own more specific bibliography. Every passage is cross-referenced not only to DK but also to KRS (above) and other editions of individual philosophers' fragments. The volume also has separate explanatory and textual notes at the end.
Although both impressive, the volumes by Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, and McKirahan are perhaps too laden with commentary to form suitable textbooks for students new to the subject. However they are excellent studies to which students should be directed in the library. Barnes' collection is excellent in its execution but suffers from not including any of the Sophists. Curd's volume is perfectly adequate but includes perhaps too little by way of supporting material. For me, the recent volume by Waterfield stands out as the best of these collections. The multiple introductions, bibliographies, and cross-references make this collection especially useful. Moreover, its recent date ensures that these are all right up to date.
This site was created by Dr John Sellars for the PRS-LTSN, 2002.