Great Dialogues of Plato

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Great Dialogues of Plato

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Philosophy (Ancient)


by: Plato; Matthew S. Santirocco (Introduction), W. H. D. Rouse (Translator)

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The dialogues in this book are treatises on various interesting questions, such as what is love, virtue, etc. The style of the texts are based on the Socratic (dialog) method of asking questions and use of analogy to test an hypothesis. This gives the texts the style of mysteries as you follow the twists and turns of the arguments to get to the conclusion. Socrates is often the protagonist guiding the reader so it also gives the texts a sense of biography. This collection contains probably the best works, and Rouse's translation is clear and easy to read. Fun and mind-opening.

For beginning philosophy students one can't really do better than this superb translation done in (fairly) modern english. (There's other versions of this text dating from the 1950's) For serious students it's wise to read more than one translation because there will always be differences and omissions. We've also read Rouse's excellent prose treatments of Homer as well--we know some of you prefer the poetic versions, however it is more important that people read these works even if the form has changed. If you've tried reading other translations and the reading seems too dry or seems too structured, this version is done in plain, conversational english.


Like him or not (and there are plenty of folks who feel both ways), Plato is essential reading for anyone interested in Western phil./thought. So much so that A. N. Whitehead made the famous, if controversial, comment that "all of philosophy is but a series of footnotes to Plato." Even if that's a bit over the top, Plato is still simply one of those "must reads," for philosophy in particular, and for the humanities in general. Plato raised questions about virtue, justice, love, government, god, society, epistemology and metaphysics that we still wrestle with today, and his answers, for better or worse, have greatly impacted our culture and history.
If you're new to Plato, this edition is a good start. We've had our copy of the Great Dialogues of Plato--now dog-eared, scribbled in, and Scotch-taped together-since we first wrestled with the Apology and the Republic in mour high-school humanities class. These are hardly Plato's only dialogues, but they are arguably the most important, especially for general students. Rouse's translations are highly readable. He captures the flavor of what Plato wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, without sounding antiquated or artificially modern.
It's worth noting that this edition does not present the dialogues in the order in which Plato probably wrote them, but in the order which seems to represent the unfolding of the particular events described. Thus, the Apology, Crito and Phaedo-describing the trial and death of Socrates-come together at the end, even though the Apology was one of the first dialogues written by Plato, and the Phaedo was among his middle dialogues. This is important because earlier dialogues are probably more representative of Plato's teacher, Socrates, while later dialogues reflect increasingly Platonic thinking, even though Plato continued to use "Socrates" as a character. The Socratic ethics of the Apology and Crito, for instance, seem sharply at odds with the ethics of the Republic, probably Plato's most complete and representative work.
So you might want to read the dialogues in the following order: Apology, Crito, and Ion, for roughly Socratic thought; Meno and Phaedo, for transitional dialogues; and Symposium and Republic for solidly Platonic thinking. Of course, there is no universal agreement on the order of Plato's dialogues, nor as to which represents whose views most faithfully.
Drawbacks to this edition: there are no introductions to the individual dialogues, Rouse's general "Preface" is short and weak, and the standardized reference numbers to the original Greek pages are only summarized at the top of odd pages, instead of given as line-by-line annotations, which makes cross-referencing a chore. (Because of the lack of introductions, you should read at least an article or two on Socrates and Plato from any general history of philosophy.) Nonetheless, we like Rouse's translations, and the edition is superb.

Superb translation: You may be new to Plato. Essential readings are: The Republic, Meno, Crito, Euthyphros, Symposium, Phaedo, Phaedrus and The Apology. Not all of these translations (or pieces of them) are in this book. Phaedrus was one good example of what was missing--the translator being Benjamin Jowett. You may also be familiar with Jowett's translation of the Republic. After reading that translation, you may come to this book, translated by Rouse.
Hands down, Rouse takes the cake. We immediately noticed a difference in how easily the material is understood. Within the first ten pages of a reread of The Republic (and Symoposium and Apology), we could understand what was being presented far better than we could in the other translation. We had thought before that the material was difficult to understand, and in books like Phaedrus, it can seem so. What we discovered though, is that the material is only as difficult as the translators skill, or lack thereof, makes it. We know that some people have complained about how the material is 'anglicized' for the public, but we would think that this would be a good thing. Plato is from a different time and place than the mass of people living today (with only an elite few really having the full scope to understand everything needed to slog through Jowetts translation -- we weren't really one of them) and should be changed slightly to help accomodate those with the desire to understand him and the contributions he made.
This book does that wonderfully. The annotations do a wonderful job of helping to explain what might seem vague. The quotation marks help to place dialogue in the (english) readers mind. The arrangement of the books is done in an order that makes sense, allowing a person to logically progress through the series of Platos' thought process. The material itself is something that every human being with a desire to learn should experience, and Rouse did a wonderful job of exacerbating that to the public at large.
Bottom line: if you want to read Plato and don't have the time to earn a degree in ancient Hellenistic culture first, then pick up this translation. Also ignore the detractors that might think this way of seeing the ancient Greek as too 'tainted', they're just jealous because Plato is now accessible to everyone in this book.

Topics include: good reciter, oligarchic man, insatiate desire, desiring part, unjust man, democratic man


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