I had always assumed that Aristotle titled his own works. But under the Wikipedia article on Metaphysics, it gives an alternative explanation for the origin of the work's title:

Subsequent to the arrangement of Aristotle's works by scholars at Alexandria in the first century CE, a number of his treatises were referred to as τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά (ta meta ta fysika; literally, "the [writings] after the Physics"). This is the origin of the title for collection of treatises now known as Aristotle's Metaphysics. Some have interpreted the expression "τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά" to imply that the subject of the work goes "beyond" that of Aristotle's Physics or that it is metatheoretical in relation to the Physics. But others believe that "τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά" referred simply to the work's place in the canonical arrangement of Aristotle's writings, which is at least as old as Andronicus of Rhodes or even Hermippus of Smyrna.

That whole passage has a citation to one book to which I don't have access:

  • W. D. Ross, Aristotle's Metaphysics (1953), vol. 1, p. xxxii.

It seems to be implied here that Aristotle didn't title Metaphysics himself, if the source is to be believed. Does this mean that all the titles of Aristotle's works, Poetics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric, On the Soul, etc., were actually not titles explicitly denoted by Aristotle, but chosen by scholars arranging his work at the library of Alexandria?

To provide some context, this subject is of interest to a question on the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange: Why do the titles of scholarly works sometimes begin with the word “on”?

  • 3
    I believe it was Andronicus of Rhodes ("Metaphysics", at the very least), but I can't find any respectable source to support this claim at the moment.
    – Matt
    Jul 25, 2017 at 18:34
  • @Matt would this do? Jul 25, 2017 at 19:19
  • @sempaiscuba Not sure if it's enough. The author says it's just "traditional and routinized" version.
    – Matt
    Jul 25, 2017 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


To begin with Aristotle's Metaphysics, it's worth noting that the word "metaphysics" doesn't actually appear in any of Aristotle's texts as they have come down to us today.

As Matt has pointed out in the comments above, the traditional answer to the question of "Who gave the title "Metaphysics" to Aristotle's work?" is Andronicus of Rhodes. According to the tradition, he was the Greek philosopher and scholar who, as Scholarch of the Peripatetic school in the first century AD, catalogued and named Aristotle's works.

Andronicus wrote a series of volumes about Aristotle, the fifth of which contained a complete list of the philosopher's writings. The story that has come down to us tells that the collection of works in Aristotle's "Metaphysics" were simply a collection of works that lacked a collective title, and which were shelved after his works on physics (hence μετά (metá = "beyond" or "after") and φυσικά (physiká = "physics")).

Andronicus similarly gave titles to the other works by Aristotle (and even suggested the order in which they should be studied).

Not all these works have survived from antiquity. The surviving works are given the collective title Corpus Aristotelicum, and are often referred to by "Bekker numbers" (from the pagination of Immanuel Bekker's 1831 edition of Aristotle's works). These Bekker numbers in turn reflect the order of study that had been suggested by Andronicus.

These surviving works have often come down to us via rather tortuous routes. For example, throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Poetics was only available as a Latin translation of an Arabic version written by Averroes. We simply don't know what title, if any, Aristotle intended to assign to these works.


Well, we should remember that many of Aristotle's original works were probably lectures or seminars he delivered and taught to his students at the Lyceum in Athens-(His "Rhetoric to Alexander" treatise, is probably his own originally written work during his years tutoring a high school aged Alexander "The Great" in the Northern Greek town of Naoussa). Aristotle probably assigned a team of what we, in the contemporary age, would refer to as, Graduate Assistants or Fellows, who were employed as professional scribes that were assigned to record the majority of his teachings.

There is a theory that Aristotle wrote a few of his own works, though they were probably lost to history-(due,in all likelihood, to the fiery end of the Alexandrian Library). So when reading and studying Aristotle's works, they very much read like the lectures of a Professor or a Professional Researcher-(which Aristotle was to a great extent, especially in the Biological Sciences).

However, some of Aristotle's shorter and lesser known treatises, such as, "On Youth and Old Age" or "On Marvelous things heard", were probably authored and titled-(as well as edited) by Aristotle directly. His lengthier and more well known works, such as, "Metaphysics", the various Logic based treatises-(nicknamed, "The Organon"), "The Politics" and "The Art of Rhetoric", as well as many other works, were probably titled-(and somewhat edited) over the centuries, by scholars and bibliophiles during the heyday of the Alexandrian Library.

(Remember though that Aristotle had a son named, "Nicomachus". And one of his more famous, prolific and influential works, "The Nicomachean Ethics", was dedicated to his son. It would seem unlikely, that such a personal work would have been dictated to an academic scribe. In all likelihood, "The Nicomachean Ethics", was probably one of the few written and personally authored works we have directly from Aristotle....and it is a great work!)

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