Sources Chrétiennes 579—Denys l’Aréopagite (Pseudo-), Les Noms divins (Chapitres v-xiii); la Théologie mystique and sc 578—Denys l’Aréopagite (Pseudo-), Les Noms divins (Chapitres i-iv) Euros 55, written by Ysabel De Andia (Les Éditions Du Cerf : Paris, 2016)

in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition

Sources Chrétiennes 579—Denys l’Aréopagite (Pseudo-), Les Noms divins (Chapitres v-xiii); la Théologie mystique and sc 578—Denys l’Aréopagite (Pseudo-), Les Noms divins (Chapitres i-iv) Euros 55

Ysabel De Andia’s two volume annotated translation of Pseudo-Dionysius’s Divine Names and Mystical Theology follows in the tradition of the esteemed 1958 Roques/Heil/Gandillac volume of Dionysius’s Celestial Hierarchy, also in the Sources Chrétiennes series (sc 58). The present book is the life’s work of De Andia, one of the great Dionysian scholars of the modern age. It is at once a clear translation of the Divine Names and Mystical Theology and—because it involves Dionysius’s statement on positive theology (the Divine Names) and negative theology (the Mystical Theology)—a thorough introduction to the Dionysian universe. It is likely to remain the standard text on the Divine Names and Mystical Theology for many generations.

De Andia’s introduction to the Divine Names is a hefty 300 pages; it could easily stand alone as a monograph outlining Dionysian thought, particularly Dionysius’s place in the Platonist tradition. Her work follows in the tradition of Dionysian research among French scholars such as Pierre Hadot, Jean Pépin, Henri-Dominque Saffrey—all of whom focused on the Platonist foundations of Dionysius. The introduction treats a range of topics; she outlines the text itself and she provides a summary of scholarship from medieval to modern commentaries. First among topics is the skopos of the work. She gives as the skopos of the Divine Names the function of procession and reversion in the Dionysian universe. Thus, De Andia asserts her thesis that the Dionysian universe is structured according to procession and reversion. This was the argument made in her monograph, Henosis. L’Union à Dieu chez Denys l’Aréopagite (Leiden, 1996), a work maintaining that the divine names are the procession of the thearchy that triggers the anagogy of intellect. This thesis shapes both her introduction and the annotations of her translation for the Divine Names.

The introduction to the Mystical Theology (the introduction, text, and translation for which take up the second half of the second volume) draws a connection between the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology. This relationship of positive and negative theology has its Platonist analogue with the first and second hypotheses of the Parmenides, as De Andia describes. This topic is further elucidated in De Andia’s treatment of the recommendation to Timothy (Mystical Theology 997B-1000B), a study on ascension and union in ignorance. Among topics covered in the introduction, she presents a study of the prologue prayer in light of Platonist theories of prayer, particularly Iamblichus’s.

In the introduction to the Divine Names, De Andia remarks that it is “nearly impossible” to offer a literal translation of Dionysius’s writings. This is certainly true. Given Dionysius’s predominance—unusual even for late antique Greek—of participles, neologisms (not to mention nominalizations of verbs and a proliferation of cognate adverbs—e.g., “superabundantly a superabundance”), and frequent anacoluthons, there is a tension between the literal translation that makes little sense, and the florid translation that captures the sense of Dionysius, but at the cost of becoming its own artful work, rather than a mere tool for reading Dionysius. De Andia closely follows the syntax of the Greek. In fact, her translation is quite similar to John Parker’s readable 1897 English translation (although she does not note this translation in her extensive bibliography)—both translators seem to have respected the same essential principles of translation. Her translation of technical vocabulary follows the French translations of Platonist terminology by A.-P. Segond and H.D. Saffrey. These translations, moreover, agree with what is now the standard translation of Platonist technical vocabulary in English: c.f., the translations of Lloyd Gerson and John Dillon in Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings (Hackett, 2004), or the translations of Plotinus’ Enneads published recently by Parmenides Press. This is helpful for the scholar trying to trace correlations between Dionysius and Hellenic Platonists. For instance, she translates logia not as “dits” (Gandillac’s translation), but using the language of oracles to maintain the Neoplatonic sense. She translates nous as “intellect”, rather than “intelligence” (Gandillac’s preference) or “spirit” (Hadot’s preference in his translation of Plotinus’s treatise 38 (Le Cerf, 1988)); noeros, as “intellectual”, and noetos as “intelligible”, again following the custom of recent translations of Platonist texts. Her use of ousia as “essence” also allows for a certain consistency with Dionysian compounds (hyperousios as “superessential” and hyperousiōs as “superessentially”.)

The translation is heavily footnoted with a nearly line-by-line account of the text. De Andia concentrates on terminology, cataloging how words are used by writers in the Platonist and patristic traditions (this differs from some well-known translations that have annotations noting scriptural references only (cf. Colm Luibhéid’s translation (Paulist Press, 1987)).) Not only are the notes extensive, but they collectively function as an apparatus that shows the reader in what ways Dionysius is steeped in Christian Platonism. Consider, for example, Divine Names 592 B where De Andia comments on Dionysius’s use of asynchytos, the term used in the definition of the hypostatic union of Christ in the Council of Chalcedon. De Andia briefly gives other loci in the Dionysian corpus where the term appears, then she gives Porphyry’s use of the term, as well as Nemesius’s. For more obscure passages, she frequently cites a line or two of the parallel passage to show just how a term is used in context by a Hellenic author. In the above example her citation of Nemesius lends insight into Dionysius’s discussion regarding the properties of the godhead—this, in turn, sheds light on the Christian appropriation of Hellenic terminology for Dionysius. Given her methodology as an historian of philosophy it is no surprise that any given note is elaborate.

Last, the topical bibliography is a formidable reference tool. At 87 pages, it is not annotated, but each entry is broken into numerous subcategories (for instance, the topic “identification” breaks into 12 subcategories.) Were this bibliography made available online, it would be a tremendous asset to students and scholars. The greatest regret of this work is that it will prove difficult for non-French speaking undergraduate students to access. The introduction, in particular, is a remarkable study of Dionysius; it would be beneficial were it separated from the rest of the volumes and translated into English. Neither of these comments are criticisms of the volumes by any stretch of the imagination—cost and accessibility are the blights of modern scholarship.


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