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Plato’s “Symposium”

February 6, 2012

So Darby and I are very slowly reading through the Symposium, and I figure that this is a fine venue for my measly attempts at translation. We’re doing a few pages a week, so I’ll add as we go. Here’s the first bit.



I think I’m not unprepared for what you’re asking. For just the other day I was heading up to town from my home out in Phalerum when one of my acquaintances caught sight of me from behind and called from afar: “You—the Phalerian!” he mocked, “Apollodorus! Will you wait?” I stopped and waited for him. “Apollodorus,” he said, “in fact I was just looking for you, because I want to figure out—during that get-together [synousia] of Agathon’s, with Socrates and Alcibiades and the others who hung out [paragenomenoi] at the dinner that night—about their speeches on erotics, like, what they were. Because another guy took me through it who had heard from Phoenix, son of Phillip, and he said he saw you there too. But he couldn’t say anything clear. So you take me through it; your report would really do justice to your companion’s speeches. But first tell me,” he said, “were you at that get-together or not?”

To which I responded, “the guy that took you through it wasn’t clear at all, if you think that the get-together that you’re asking about happened recently enough for me to be have been there.”

“Well, yeah,” he said.

“Glaocon, where did you get that idea? Don’t you know that it’s been many years since Agathon has been among the people, and that I’ve been spending my time with Socrates and have made it my concern to know each day what he says or does only for the last three? Before then, I would just run around wherever I chanced, and although I always believed I was doing something, I was more schizophrenic [athlerios] than anybody else (though no worse than you now), since I believed it necessary to do everything—rather than philosophize.”

“Don’t mock me,” he said. “Just tell me when the get-together itself happened.”

“Back when we were still children,” I said, “when Agathon triumphed with his first tragedy: it was the following day, when he himself provided the sacrifices for the triumphal feast—he and his chorus members.”

“So then,” he said, “it seems like it was a long time ago. But did someone describe it to you? Was that someone Socrates?”

“No, goddammit,” said I, “but it was the same someone that described it to Phoenix. That someone was Aristodemus, of Cydathenaeum: a small guy, always barefoot. He had been at the get-together because back then he was one of Socrates’ most ardent lovers [erastes]—or so it seems to me. But of course, I immediately asked Socrates about what I had heard from Phoenix, and he corroborated it just like Phoenix described.”

“So why don’t you take me through it?” he said. “The road to town suits speaking and hearing, for rambling-men [poreuomenoi].”

Thus, we made speeches about it all as we went. So, as I said at the beginning, I’m not unprepared. So then; if I’ve got to take all of you through it also, then that’s just what I’ll have to do. In any case, for me, when it comes to speeches about philosophy, whether I’m making them or hearing them, and even apart from expecting to be profited by them—I enjoy it exceedingly. But when it comes to other speeches, not limited to but certainly including yours—the speeches of rich men and business men—I get depressed and feel sorry for you, my fellows, because you believe you’re doing something, but you’re really doing nothing. And you in turn hold that I’m the one who’s bedeviled [kakodaimon], and I believe that you believe the truth [alethe]; but about you, I do not merely believe [oiomai]—I know [eu oida].


2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2012 9:31 am

    Wow — this is fresh & lively. What are you translating as “like” in “about their speeches on erotics, like, what they were”?

    • February 6, 2012 5:05 pm

      I’m translating a tough bit of syntax, rather than any particular phrase. I feel like “like” often, but doesn’t always, but surely sometimes, works this way in English–like–as a deixis that gets us back on track after a circuitous clause. The Greek is: “…βουλόμενος διαπυθέθαι τὴν ᾿Αγάθος συνουσίαν καὶ Σωκράτους καὶ ᾿Αλκιβιάδου καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τῶν τότε ἐν τῷ συνδείπνῳ παραγενομένων, περι τῶν ἐρωτικῶν λόγων τίνες ἤσαν”.

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