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This webpage reproduces the introduction to the essay
De sollertia animalium

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. XII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1957

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

(Vol. XII) Plutarch, Moralia

On the Intelligence of Animals

p311 Introduction

There can be little doubt that Plutarch composed this pleasant work from commentarii (ὑπομνήματα) derived not merely from Aristotle (mentioned specifically in 965D and quoted often), but also from various other compendia, the remains of which are to be seen in Aelian's and Pliny's natural histories and elsewhere.1 In fact, if one reads Plutarch and Aelian and Pliny side by side, one may acquire the impression that they had before them substantially the same sources, and that these were numerous. Whereas p312Pliny and Aelian appear to adopt nearly everything their authorities may have offered (for they were writing factual commentaries), Plutarch, as always, selects. It is possible, in some cases, that Plutarch's MSS. (which are not good and also contain lacunae) may have been interpolated from Aelian's; and the reverse is likewise possible. This is a very difficult matter, but the hope may be entertained that some main sources of Plutarch and Aelian, if not of Pliny, and the as yet unassessed evidence of Philo, may eventually be disentangled for substantial sections, though this is not the place to attempt such a feat.

The title is not well chosen, since the victory is awarded to neither side. The real point of the dialogue seems to be, in its second as well as its first part, that all animals of whatever provenance are intelligent.2 The occasionally bantering tone may serve to indicate that we have before us something of a school exercise from Plutarch's own academy, with perhaps the first draft of the second part composed by pupils.3 Note the carefully established details: the contest will take place at a fixed time (960B, 963B) before their fellow-pupils and a specially appointed judge (965C‑E). More or less elaborate preparation has been made by the contestants (960B, 975D).4 Because of the occasion the school has been granted a holiday.

p313 In the first part (chapters 1‑8), the author demonstrates through the authoritarian voice of his own father that the Stoics, in so far as they affirm the irrationality of animals, contradict their own tenets. The second part proves that animals of all kinds are rational (chapters 9‑36); the last small section, while refusing to award first honours in the debate, appears to contain Plutarch's exhortation to his pupils to continue the fight against the Stoics. For an excellent summary with sympathetic comments see E. R. Dodds, Greece and Rome, II (1932/3), pp104‑105.

D' Agostino5 and others have shown the there is little originality in Plutarch's animal psychology, while not denying our author considerable vivacity in presentation. While it is true that whole sections, like 976A‑D, are drawn from the identical source that Aelian (De Natura Animalium, VIII.4‑6) used, yet one has only to compare the use these authors have made of precisely the same material to recognize the great superiority of Plutarch. The principal sources have been disputed:6 Chrysippus, Theophrastus, Hagnon, Alexander of Myndus,7 Juba, Xenocrates have all been suggested, but there can be little doubt (as p314with De Tranquillitate8 and many other works) that a considerable variety of sources has been utilized. Now that Schläpfer9 has demonstrated that Plutarch had himself read and meditated upon great sections of classical poetry, critics may perhaps be more willing to allow our author first-hand familiarity with a wider range of prose, and works of reference as well.

It is by no means impossible that the work is incomplete in our MSS.; there are, at least, several demonstrable lacunae and it is possible that it was considerably longer and may even have justified its title when it left Plutarch's hands.

As for the date of the dialogue, the terminus post quem is A.D. 70 (not 79, as it cannot be certainly inferred from 974A that Vespasian was then dead); it is probably a work of Plutarch's youth, preceding in any case the Lives and the Symposiacs. It may well date from Plutarch's anti-Stoic period which produced the De Facie, the De Communibus Notitiis, and the other anti-Chrysippean polemics. It has much in common with the Gryllus and the fragments of De Esu Carnium and some correspondence with the Amatorius.10 It may, in fact, have been written during nearly the same period as that in which the elder Pliny (whose preface is dated A.D. 77) was compiling his own Natural History.

p315 The citations in D'Arcy Thompson's Oxford translation of Aristotle's Historia Animalium11 are somewhat inaccurate and inconsistent, being, as he says, "compiled at various times and at long intervals during many years." Nevertheless the work is of great value and it may be hoped that the notes in this edition that rely on it (and these are many) have been adequately sifted. Also to be constantly and gratefully consulted are Thompson's A Glossary of Greek Fishes (Oxford, 1947) and A Glossary of Greek Birds (2nd edition, Oxford, 1936). There will be many references to Thompson's Aristotle; but if the creature in question is a bird or a fish, it is to be understood that supplementary and often corrective material is to be found in the Glossaries. There is, further, a tribute of admiration due to A. W. Mair's L. C. L. edition of Oppian, with its exhaustive notes.12 Rackham (L. C. L. Pliny, vol. III, books VIIIXI) is very interesting on the text, but has almost completely denied himself the privilege of citing parallel passages.

The debunking of many of Plutarch's stories, if such a task is necessary, has been pleasantly done in the leisurely course of Bergen Evans' The Natural History of Nonsense (New York, 1946). It should be added, however, that modern scientific speculation is approaching somewhat closer to one of Plutarch's main tenets, if one may judge from such a work as W. C. Allee's Coöperation Among Animals (New York, 1951: a revision of his earlier The Social Life of p316Animals); and on the thesis of animal intelligence see Evans himself, p173, and the authorities cited there, note 1.

Both the translation and the notes of this and the following essays have benefited immeasurably from an exhaustive criticism generously given them by Professor Alfred C. Andrews of the University of Miami, Florida. He has in fact supplied a number of valuable notes and also the Appendix, a classified zoological index. It must be understood, however, that any errors remaining are to be attributed solely to the editor.13

The dialogue is no. 147 in the catalogue of Lamprias. According to this document Plutarch wrote another work (no. 135) on the same subject: Do Beasts Possess Reason? But no. 127, Περὶ ζῴων ἀλόγον ποιητικός, is probably the same as our Gryllus, the following dialogue in this edition.

Abbreviations used in citing Modern Authors

Brands = J. P. J. M. Brands, Grieksche Diernamen, Purmerend, 1935.

Cotte = J. Cotte, Poissons et animaux aquatiques au temps de Pline, Paris, 1945.

Keller = Otto Keller, Die antike Tierwelt, Leipzig, 1909‑1913.

Mair = A. W. Mair, Oppian, Colluthus, Tryphiodorus, L. C. L., 1928.

Saint-Denis = E. de Saint-Denis, Le Vocabulaire des animaux marins en latin classique, Paris, 1947.

Schmid = Georg Schmid, "Die Fische in Ovids Halieuticon," Philologus, Supplementband XI (1907‑1910), pp253‑350.

Thompson, Aristotle = D'Arcy W. Thompson, The Works of Aristotle, vol. IV, Historia animalium, Oxford, 1910.

Thompson, Birds = D'Arcy W. Thompson, A Glossary of Greek Birds, rev. ed., Oxford, 1936.

Thompson, Fishes = D'Arcy W. Thompson, A Glossary of Greek Fishes, = Oxford, 1947.


The Author's Notes:

1 On the sources see Ziegler's article "Plutarchos" in Pauly-Wissowa, col. 738, and, of the authorities he cites, particularly Wellmann's papers in Hermes, XXVI, XXVII, and LI, and Max Schuster, Untersuchungen zu Plutarchs De Sollertia Animalium (Diss. Munich, 1917). There is also an amusing work of Philo, surviving only in an Armenian version, which is most conveniently accessible in Aucher's Latin translation in vol. 8 of the Bibliotheca Sacra edition (Schwickert, Leipzig, 1830): De Ratione quam habere etiam Bruta Animalia dicebat Alexander. In the first part of this work Alexander presents the arguments for animal intelligence, which Philo himself attempts to refute in a somewhat summary fashion at the end. The occasional parallels with Plutarch will be cited as Philo, with Aucher's section and page numbers. Antigonus of Carystus, Historia Mirabilium, will be cited from O. Keller's edition of the Naturalium Rerum Scriptores Graeci (Teubner, 1877) and Aelian's Natura Animalium from R. Hercher's Teubner (not Didot) edition.

2 Schuster thinks, rather, that Plutarch's chief aim is to make clear a moral and juridical relationship between man and beasts.

3 See Schuster, pp57 ff. Aristotimus and Phaedimus were doubtless actual pupils of Plutarch.

4 Plutarch lays special emphasis on preparation: Mor. 80D, 652B.

5 V. D' Agostino, Archivio Italiano di Psicologia, XI (1933), pp21 ff., a useful summarizing article.

6 Hirzel, Der Dialog, II, p179, n. 1. All of Hirzel's discussion is worth reading, though there are occasional slips, as when he affirms (p173, n. 2) that the story in 969E f. goes back to Plutarch's own experience. This is quite unlikely in view of Aelian's version of the same story; nor has Aelian drawn from Plutarch as some, including Wyttenbach, have thought.

7 For the difficulty and danger involved in identifying the sources exactly see the lists of authorities furnished by Pliny in his first book. Alexander of Myndus, for example, does not appear at all as a source for books 8‑11.

8 See the introduction in the Loeb edition.

9 Plutarch und die klassischen Dichter, Zürich, 1950, especially pp59‑60.

10 But allowance must be made for exaggerated and partially false premises in Hartman, De Plutarcho, p567. A modified chronological scheme of Plutarch's writings has lately been proposed by T. Sinko (Polish Acad. Cracow, 1947), but it is too complicated to be examined here.

11 The Loeb edition of A. L. Peck is still awaited at this date of writing. It should be noted that quotations from the ninth book, in particular, are liable to peculiar suspicion and may not proceed from the great naturalist himself.

12 Even the extremely hostile review in Phil. Woch. LI (1931), pp1569 ff., exempts the notes from censure.

13 Since our text was formed and our translation and notes composed a year or more before the appearance of the new Teubner edition, almost no new references have been added which are not purely textual. The curious reader is referred to Hubert's wealth of illustration to supplement our contributions.


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