[1954. New Scholasticism 28 (2) (April): 243-245]

Principium Sapientiae. The Origins of Greek Philosophic Thought. By F. M. Cornford. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1952. Pp. viii + 270, with index. $5.00.

“The manuscript of the book, which is unfinished, was submitted to Professor E. R. Dodds, in order that the decision—always a difficult one—whether to publish it posthumously should not be taken on one man’s opinion alone. After reading it Professor Dodds wrote: ‘I am strongly of the opinion that it ought to be published . . . Cornford would doubtless have pulled the threads together in a final chapter . . . But even as it stands the book seems to me to throw important new light on the origins of Greek philosophical thinking. . . .'” (Preface p. vii, by editor W. K. C. Guthrie).

Both Dodds and Cornford have published admirable works on ancient thought; but when the survivor says, “I am strongly of the opinion” that Cornford’s last manuscript should be published, the “strongly” should be taken somewhat as a personal tribute. Undoubtedly Dodds speaks the literal truth when he further says, “It certainly contains pages as brilliant as any that he ever wrote”; but there still remain many threads to be pulled together.

In Part II Cornford returns to the theme that the Ionian natural philosophers were neither experimentalists nor scientific observers. On Anaximander he has some excellent pages (170-186) which merit Dodd’s praise. But later he attempts a strained and conjectural comparison between Hesiod and Genesis, apparently accepting the Zohar (p. 207) as a reliable commentary on the latter, together with the assumption that rites are prior to myths (pp. 212, 237). After a chapter reconstructing mythology, Cornford concludes “We have now traced back the abstract scheme or pattern of Anaximander’s physical system to the type of cosmogony which appears in Hesiod and Genesis” (p. 225). To the reviewer this appears as vague and unsubstantiated Formgeschichte; and though Cornford would probably have stood by his general thesis; one regrets that he did not live to pull the threads together in a final chapter.


Butler University,
Indianapolis, Indiana