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A superb example of the bookmaker's and translator's art, this new edition of Plato's Symposium exhibits aesthetic, literary, and intellectual excellences rarely found together in a single volume.
Tom Griffith's translation of this foundation work of Western culture is unsurpassed for the balance it achieves between readability and fidelity to Plato's Greek. For felicity of phrasing, freshness, care to match the sense of the Greek rather than its wording, and for its idiomatic rendering of the spoken word, it has no peer.
Originally published in a limited edition with facing Greek and color wood engravings, Griffith's translation is here presented in reduced format that retains the aesthetic quality of the original version at an affordable price.
Posted August 18, 2012
Plato's Symposium translated by Tom Griffith
The poet Agathon hosted a symposium to celebrate victory in his first dramatic competition, the Dionysia of 416 BC. A discussion on the theme of love took place at this symposium, a discussion which has since become famous. Aristodemus, who was present, reported the conversation to Phoinix and Apollodorus.
The opening pages of the Symposium are considered the best description in any ancient Greek source of the ramifications of an oral tradition. Plato has set up a multitude of layers between the original symposium and his written narrative: he heard it fourth-hand (if we are to identify him with Apollodorus's friend), so it comes to us fifth-hand. In addition, the story Socrates narrates was told to Socrates by Diotima, creating one more layer between the reader and the philosophic path that Socrates traces.
My favorite passage is by Aristophanes, a writer of comedies, commenting on our better halves, and it goes: line 192d:
"That is why we have this innate love of one another. It brings us back to our original state, trying to reunite us and restore us to our true human form. Each of us is a mere fragment of a man (like half a tally-stick); we've been split in two, like filleted plaice. We're all looking for our 'other half'. Men who are a fragment of the common sex (the one called hermaphrodite), are womanizers, and most adulterers are to be found in this category. Similarly, women of this type are nymphomaniacs and adulteresses. On the other hand, women who are part of an original woman pay little attention to men. Their interest is in women. Lesbians are found in this class. And those who are part of the male, pursue what is male. As boys, because they are slices of the male, they are fond of men, and enjoy going to bed with men and embracing them. These are the best of the boys and young men, since they are by nature the most manly. Some people call them immoral--quite wrongly. It is not immorality, but boldness, courage, and manliness, since they take pleasure in what is like themselves....They're quite happy to live with one another, and not get married."
In a dialogue that Socrates recounts at the symposium, Diotima gives Socrates a genealogy of Love (Eros), stating that he is the son of "resource and need." In her view, love is a means of ascent to contemplation of the Divine. For Diotima, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of Divinity. With genuine Platonic love, the beautiful or lovely other person inspires the mind and the soul and directs one's attention to spiritual things. One proceeds from recognition of another's beauty, to appreciation of Beauty as it exists apart from any individual, to consideration of Divinity, the source of Beauty, to love of Divinity. As per lines 209 - 211.
Mr. Griffith's translation is very good, easy to read, and the book contains the original Greek, for those who understand Greek. The book is beautifully engraved by Peter Foster and it reads very easily. For those who wish to learn about LOVE, I recommend this book.