The torpedo fish (also known as the electric ray, or crampfish) is known for causing numbness to the hands of fishermen when captured in their nets. This essay reconstructs a line of discussions concerning the nature of this fish’s numbing power through a long period pre-dating our contemporary notion of electricity. By following selected mentions of the animal in texts ranging from Plato to Galen (including Aristotle, Theophrastus, Clearchus of Soli, Strato of Lampsacus, Hero of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, and Plutarch of Chaeronea), and by comparing the relevant passages at a small-scale level with previous, contemporary, or subsequent documents, a certain approach to the history of ideas is suggested. On the basis of this case study, the article seeks to reflect on what interpretation is, and thus to illustrate what kind of philosophical interest a study of outmoded questions and texts can have.
Article available through Philosophy Documentation Center, here.
Valérie Cordonier is currently a researcher at Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. A recent edited collection (with Tiziana Suarez-Nani), L’Aristotélisme Exposé: Aspects du Débat Philosophique entre Henri de Gand et Gilles de Rome (Academic Press, 2014), joins her numerous articles on ancient and medieval thought, including “La version latine des ‘Magna moralia’ par Barthélémy de Messine et son modèle grec,” in Translating at the Court: Bartholomew of Messina and the Cultural Life at the Court of Manfred of Sicily, ed. Pieter de Leemans (Leuven University Press, 2014), and “La doctrine aristotélicienne de la providence divine selon Thomas d’Aquin,” in Fate, Providence and Moral Responsibility in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought: Studies in Honour of Carlos Steel, ed. Pieter d’Hoine and Gerd van Riel (Leuven University Press, 2013).
Valérie Cordonier, “A Micro-Intertextual Approach to Ancient Thought: The Case of the Torpedo Fish from Plato to Galen,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 37:1 (2016), pp. 15–48.