"... one of the most important contributions to the study of ancient Greek philosophy in our time."
That's how Lloyd Gerson describes Richard Sorabji's project of translating the Greek commentators on Aristotle into English, in Gerson's review in BMCR (read it here) of a three-volume sourcebook derived from that project.
Yes, that is undoubtedly true. And yet, I cannot make sense of Gerson's two arguments for that claim.
First, he says, now that the commentators are translated into English, "the study of the entire canon of ancient Greek philosophy will be reinvigorated". This will correct for the "overfishing in the waters of the 4th century B.C.E. and a consequent marginalization of ancient Greek philosophy within the larger enterprise of professional philosophy."
This strikes me as bizarre. Ancient Greek philosophy is currently marginalized (is it, more than any other specialization?) because of attention to Aristotle and Plato primarily? And then because they can now read in English lots of ancient commentaries on Aristotle, scholars (students? philosophers generally?) will be motivated to study (say) Xenophanes and Epicurus? I don't get it.
Second, Gerson says, the Greek commentators show us a different way of reading Aristotle. They believed that Aristotle's thought was a unified system which did not develop; that it was in harmony with Plato's thought; and that the study of Aristotle was a good way to become initiated in the higher mysteries of Plato's thought.
Yet one might suppose that this different way of reading Aristotle will prove significant, in English translation, only if it is correct. Is it true that Aristotle's philosophy did not develop? Is it true that his thought constitutes with Plato a single, harmonious philosophical outlook? In what seems a relativistic passage, Gerson stops short of endorsing this:
([T]he commentators assumed that Aristotle's philosophy was a whole... and [that] that philosophy was a version of Platonism, albeit a version coming from a dissident within the Platonic school. Accordingly, they read all of the works in the corpus as based on identical (Platonic) principles. But of course their assumption was no less of an assumption than was Jaeger's.But Jaeger's view was a conclusion, not an 'assumption'. And can't we judge whether the commentators were right in what they 'assumed'?
My suspicion is that Gerson gives such poor reasons, because he does not quite state his real reasons. The review looks to me as if written by someone who wants to say--but does not quite find the nerve to affirm it outright--that there is indeed "a single perennial pagan philosophy" (as Gerson puts it), which is a vigorous alternative to philosophy as practiced since Descartes; that the study of this philosophy could in principle replace, almost without loss, philosophy as now practiced; and that we can see that this is so--and perhaps even become converted to it--by entering into a community in which this sort of philosophy is practiced, which is precisely what is constituted by the ancient Greek commentators. The Greek commentators, on this view, are meant to play a role relative to this 'single perennial pagan philosophy' analogous to Aquinas' Summa and an ostensible 'single perennial Christian philosophy'.
I don't know; this is speculation. But it's how I would make sense of the strange mixture of noble enthusiasm and poor argument that I find in that review.