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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ladder of love
In this review I will compare 5 translations of Plato's Symposium:
1. Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff (Hackett Pub Co, 1989).
2. Benardete (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
3. R.E. Allen (Yale University Press, 1993).
4. Shelley's Translation (St Augustine Press, 2002)
5. Sharon (Focus Publishing/R.Pullins Co, 1997)

I have given...
Published on April 22, 2011 by stephen liem

versus
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the most accurate translation available
This is the same translation as the "Complete Works of Plato" edited by Cooper (known as the "Big Red"), but with an introduction, more notes, and some bibliography. I shouldn't blame the translators for not giving an accurate version of Plato's masterpiece, since their principle of translation is already stated on xxvii: "Our aim has been to produce an idiomatic English...
Published on June 11, 2011 by I-Kai Jeng


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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ladder of love, April 22, 2011
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stephen liem (antioch, ca United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
In this review I will compare 5 translations of Plato's Symposium:
1. Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff (Hackett Pub Co, 1989).
2. Benardete (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
3. R.E. Allen (Yale University Press, 1993).
4. Shelley's Translation (St Augustine Press, 2002)
5. Sharon (Focus Publishing/R.Pullins Co, 1997)

I have given all translations 5 stars for their own unique perspectives. Each of these editions has its own strengths and weaknesses, and because of this, none of this edition is complete in itself. Inevitably, if you are serious in undertaking this work, you need to pick up more than one edition. I will give a recommendation on which one to use, at the end of this review.

Symposium consists of a series of speeches on love (Eros), culminating in Socrates' and then Alcibiades'. What I am looking for is, first, ease of understanding the central concept of the book, this is obtained through different types of translations. My bias is toward a translation that is fluid, natural, and conveys the concept in a straight forward way. Second, I am also looking for helpful insights and philosophical explanations of some key thoughts. You get this from the quality of commentary/notes as part of the book.

Both Sharon's and Nehamas' editions are similar in their lucid, straightforward, and current translations. I find that these 2 editions to be the best and easiest in understanding the text. On the translation side, I give these 5 stars. However, the commentaries in both editions are basic, and unsatisfying in my mind. For this, I give 4 stars.

Benardete's edition has a superb commentaries both written by him and another (which is the gem here) written by Allan Bloom. You may or may not like Bloom's style, but he does give you a lot of background especially in ancient Greek pederasty culture, and valuable insights in each of the speeches. I give this a 5 star. I will recommend buying this book just for those 2 commentaries. On the translation itself, however, I am not a fan of Benardete's style. I have commented this in other reviews for his other translations, especially the "Sophist". For some reason, I find it more complex, long winded, and harder to understand. For this I give this edition translation 4 stars only.

Allen's edition is superb for both translation and commentaries; this is a 5 star book for me.

Finally, on Shelley's translation: this is a unique edition for a couple of reasons. It is a translation of a masterpiece work, by a master in literature himself, Percy Shelley. So, you are reading not only Plato's works, but also a work by one of the most influential literary figure in the English world. Secondly, there is an extensive commentary by David O'Connor, not only on the Symposium, but also on Shelley's process and motivation of doing the translation. A superb edition.

My final recommendation: pick up either Sharon or Nehamas' book (personally I prefer Sharon's, it is beautifully done) for the translation, and then pick up Stanley Rosen's "Plato's Symposium" for the commentary (I have a separate review for this superb book). However, if you must read 1 and only 1 book, I would stay with Allen's.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the most accurate translation available, June 11, 2011
This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
This is the same translation as the "Complete Works of Plato" edited by Cooper (known as the "Big Red"), but with an introduction, more notes, and some bibliography. I shouldn't blame the translators for not giving an accurate version of Plato's masterpiece, since their principle of translation is already stated on xxvii: "Our aim has been to produce an idiomatic English version of the Symposium with some literary grace and appropriate variations in style....Sometimes, where the Greek is simple, we have been compelled to be wordy; at other times the situation is reversed." blah blah blah. Fair enough; there should be both literal and literary translations of Plato and I'm happy to see someone attempting the latter while I clearly prefer the former. But there's a limit to everything: just as being overly literal might result in unnecessary unintelligibility that didn't exist in the original, being literary has the danger of turning the practice of translation into paraphrasing. So for example:

(214B where Eryximachus speaks to Alcibiades): " 'This is certainly most improper. We cannot simply pour the wine down our throats in silence: we must have some conversation, or at least a song. What we are doing now is hardly civilized.' What Alcibiades said to him was this: 'O Eryximachus, best possible son to the best possible, the most temperate father: Hi!' " A literal translation of the Greek would be something like this: " 'Is this, Alcibiades, the way we're gonna do this? Namely, we are neither speaking in passing the wine-cup nor singing anything, but simply drinking away like those who are thirsty?' And Alcibiades said, 'O Eryximachus, best of the best and the most temperate father: Hi!' "

Indeed Eryximachus means that simply drinking without speaking or singing is "improper" or "hardly civilized"; but the words aren't there, and it's not difficult to be "idiomatic" or "literary" even if one sticks to what is actually written. The polite and tentative tone of Eryximachus also becomes rather straightforward and blunt. Moreover, I see no reason for adding "possible" in Alcibiades' reply, and it doesn't make it idiomatic in English. Now this example seems to me guilty of paraphrasing without being wrong; but in another case it becomes simply wrong:

185A: "..in every other case it is shameful; both for the deceiver and the person he deceives." The correct translation should be "..in all other cases it is shameful both for the deceived and the one not deceived."

Pausanias' point is this: if the beloved intends to get anything other than virtue, then it doesn't matter whether he is deceived or not, it's totally shameful. And there's also a beauty to that - Pausanias never mentions whether it is shameful for the lover to deceive (because he is the lover of Agathon). By ignoring discussion of whether deceiving is shameful for the lover, Plato artfully points out the flaws inherent in Pausanias' view.

These are only a couple among the many unsatisfactory passages that I've noticed up to now (I only compared about 1/6 of the translation with the Greek, and they're numerous enough to horrify me and post this review). One might think that the cases in which these free renderings and/or mistakes occur do not effect the philosophical issues raised in the Symposium, and that's the purpose for which we read Plato. Well if that is the case I'd rather read a summary of or a secondary book on the Symposium than a translation. And who's to say that these dramatic passages have no or less philosophical content? For Plato philosophy is a way of life, and thus one's actions and words respond to one another. And If idiomatic English can be achieved by being faithful to the Greek, why sacrifice the latter?

To be fair, Nehamas and Woodruff sometimes do a great job of conveying the tone of the original. Like the ending of Agathon's speech (197d-e) wonderfully reproduces the Gorgianic flavor (jingles, alliterations, rhymes) which is important for appreciation of Agathon's account of eros, and which Socrates picks up for criticism. They also treat the obviously more "philosophical" passages with greater care (more specifically, Diotima's speech) and accuracy as far as I can tell. And at least they did note their several choices of translation when it comes to the keywords in the dialogue (again on xxvii). It also has a nice introduction with some very nice notes that help the reader understand the historical background and notice certain ambiguities in the Greek and/or echoes across different speeches. For these reasons it is certainly a usable book to some extent, and considering the price, I'm willing to give it three stars instead of two.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best translation out there, August 6, 2008
This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
Perhaps greatest things about this translation are 1) the Introduction, in which the translators summarize the text and explain why they translated certain ancient Greek words in certain ways; 2) the footnotes, which provide a wealth of historical background information; and 3) the Bibliography at the end, which refers the reader to numerous other books and articles that might help them better understand the text.

Hackett Publishing is the King Midas of Philosophy texts...everything it touches turns to gold. Anything produced by Hackett Publishing is probably the best and most informative translation you are going to find. This Nehamas/Woodruff translation of Plato's Symposium is no different. That being said, I also recommend the similarly structured Nehamas/Woodruff translation of Plato's Phaedrus, which they reference a few times in this version of Symposium.

Symposium is a short read that should take you no longer than 2-3 days to complete. This translation is also very funny when appropriate, as Symposium is supposed to be, which makes it an even easier read. (For example, when Alcibiades enters at the end and exclaims "Good evening, gentlemen! I'm plastered!") But it is also a serious text that explores the very nature of love between both men and women, as well as the Platonic Form of Beauty, from several different points of view. It is one of the most eloquent and literary ancient philosophical texts available, and I highly recommend this translation to anyone looking for a good read on what makes the world go 'round -- love.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plato's famous and influential examination of love, July 25, 2002
This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
It is rather difficult to review Plato's Symposium from a modern viewpoint. The attempts by Agathon's guests, including Socrates, to define love are largely based on the love of boys rather than women. While that is a difficult concept for me to ponder, I recognize that such a social custom prevailed to some degree in ancient Athens and will attempt to offer an unbiased view of the text. Basically, partygoers celebrating Agathon's first victory in a drama contest decide to do something besides drink themselves into a stupor because they are still paying for such activity the night before. Socrates joins the group on this second night, and it is decided that each man in turn will offer his praises to love. Each of six men offer their interesting, diverse thoughts on the matter, ranging from the conventional to the Socratic ideal. Phaedrus says that the greatest good a boy can have is a gentle lover and that the greatest good a lover can have is a boy to love. He stresses self-sacrifice and virtue as the kind of love the gods love most. Pausanias describes two kinds of love: vulgar love is best explained as love for a woman in the interest of sexual satisfaction; noble love is that concerned with bettering the soul of the object of love (necessarily a young boy). The doctor Eryximachus explains love in terms of harmony, and he goes so far as to credit the vague notion of love with accomplishing all kinds of things in a diverse set of subjects. Aristophanes begins by relating a myth about man's origins. When man was created, individuals were actually attached back to back; the gods later split each human entity in half, and love consists of each person's search for his "missing half" who can be of either sex; even when two mates find one another, their love is imperfect because they cannot become literally attached as they were originally. Agathon says that Love is the youngest of the gods, that he offers the means by which all disputes between the gods and between men are settled, and emphasizes the beauty of love (represented quite well by himself, he seems to say).
Socrates, as can be expected, shifts the discussion of love to a higher plane. Claiming to know the art of love if nothing else, Socrates tells how he gained his knowledge from a fictional character called Diotima. He says that love represents the desire to give "birth in beauty," that love is neither a god or a mortal but is instead the messenger between god and man. To love is to want to acquire and possess the good forever and thus attain immortality. Socrates goes on to give a very important speech about one of Plato's perfect Forms--namely, the Form of Beauty. The advanced lover will learn to seek Beauty in its abstract form and will take no more notice of physical beauty; the perfect lover is a philosopher who can create virtue in its true form rather than produce mere images of virtue. This short summary in no way does justice to Socrates' speech, but it gives the general idea. After Socrates speaks, a drunken Alcibiades (Socrates' own beloved) crashes the party and commences to give a speech about Socrates, the effect of which is to identify Socrates as a lover who deceives others into loving him. As both lover and beloved, Socrates is seemingly held up by Plato as the true embodiment of love. To truly love is to be a philosopher.
I myself don't hold this text in as high regard as many intellectuals, but there can be no doubt of this dialogue's influence on Western thought over the centuries. The book succeeds in the presentation of advanced philosophical ideas and as literature. The discussion of the Form of Beauty is particularly useful in terms of understanding Platonic thought. It would seem that this dinner party and the speeches we read are very likely fictitious and represent Plato's thoughts much more closely than Socrates' own views, but it is impossible to tell to what extent this is true. The Symposium is inarguably one of Plato's most influential, most important texts and is required reading for anyone seriously interested in philosophy as it has existed and continues to exist in Western society.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A version which lets the masterpiece speak for itself, March 18, 2001
This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
I bought this textbook for my Classical Philosophy class (which was taught by William Placher - check his books out, they're awesome), and the Symposium really got me thinking about what love really is. What's cool about the work is that while each of the speeches make some great points, in the end they never really decide on a final answer, so it's still your call.
I liked the Symposium so much, that I decided to buy it as a gift for my friend. It was then that I realized how superior the Woodruff version is - other versions I found in bookstores featured commentary that was sometimes more than twice as long as the actual work! In this version, on the other hand, the introduction is short but informative - therefore you're not paying extra to hear some other guy give his two cents on Plato's work, when Plato's words themselves are really all you're interested in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drinking and talking in ancient Greece, February 5, 2009
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This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
I guess that, when someone wants to buy works of Plato, one wants to know few things about translation, existence of commentaries, foreword author and all about the presence of academic apparatus behind the book. All that comes from long centuries of research, studies and endless debates about the real meaning of Platos work. Stuff like that are precisely what makes history of philosophy present in modern times. Sadly enough, I don't know anything about that. At least not for this edition in particular. But, as you might have guessed there are enough Plato scholars out there, and chances that you'll stumble upon bad translation are minimal. That, of course, depends upon your level of interest.

If you're somewhat advanced student of philosophy, commentaries and translation should interest you, but then again you wouldn't want to be reading review on Amazon about Plato's work in general. One is precisely aware that couple hundred words cannot begin to encompass complexness and richness of this man and his works. So I'll be writing just a few lines for absolute beginners, those that will stumble upon these pages and shall require some information that is not in line of who said what, and what was the reply.

Symposium (or Feast - in a more of a lose way of translation) is one of the major works of Plato, and as it tends to be with his works, one of the works that layed foundation for entire history of Western thought. In a way, it's a romantic tractate, filled with zeal towards the beauty, the passion for philosophy as a search for truth. It is a romantic text written more than two thousand years before romanticism. And, as all romantic texts of great importance do, this one also puts forward the positive idea - one of those that produced the concept of 'humanity', one of those that will for ever be debated and interpreted and whose 'truth' will always be a mistery. It is not religious text in any way - as far as it goes, it is very precise piece of work - somewhat more mistical and allusive than works of Aristotel - but in an inspirational sort of way, it goes far above any of Aristotels works.

It's main interest lies in a process of defining what love is. Of course, for Greeks of those age, love doesn't come with all the baggage of myths of moderne - it is more a question of what Eros is - is it a God, a power, a demon is it good in any way. In a way it's a quest for identity, 'cause, following the argumentation in the book, to search for an answer for what Eros is one should already be possessed with it.

In Symposium Plato is, as always, an idealist, and that is saying that debate in Symposium doesn't draw out from all of the possible angles. It's more of a scatchbook than anything else. But, those scatches speak to all of the blue-eyed idealist out there, they are establishing connection of interest over twenty centuries long, and it is showing that humans are capabale of doing truly wondrous stuff. It's not a feel-good literature if for a second you thought it is, but upon reading it good feeling emerges. Together with call to continue on debating. And for the beggining, that is all what we need.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Rendition, April 6, 2014
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This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
This translation is extremely readable without seeming overtly modern at the expense of the material. I knew about the greeks love for young men, but this really ties the notion together. Some philosophers in the symposium going as far as saying that noble love can only exist between two men. The book culminates with Socrates sharing Plato's ideas of Forms. A really fun philosophical read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Execllent quality translation!, April 25, 2013
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This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
This translation makes the dialogue come alive for a modern English speaker. It retains it's elegance while making use of modern language (as Alcibiades joins the party, he informs the other interlocutors "I'm plastered!") making it easier to get into for students not used to reading classical Platonian dialogues. And it's cheap!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Theories of the Greeks, March 5, 2013
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I enjoyed reading this because I got to see different aspects of the different Greek dramatist. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Plato Symposium, March 3, 2013
This review is from: Plato Symposium (Paperback)
I have never read Plato before so this is my time first time with any translation. As a beginner I was quite glad the translators Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruffs added background to each character at the bottom of the page when the their speech began. Although it was a little wordy at times it was easy to understand. Coming from someone who is not an expert in Greek reading I got the messages that was being conveyed. I often have a hard time comprehending what I read and especially when it is something that is not my choice and trust me this was not my choice but it was quite interesting.
Coming from a culture where love and having love is everything hearing these speeches on their ideas of love from so long ago is very informative and it really makes you think. Although in my opinion Socrates comes off quite a bit cocky or like a know it all I found myself agreeing with him on most of his ideas about love and virtue. I love the description that was given of each person, what they do professionally and how they are socially, because it helps you decide the tone and also because you know a little bit of who they are, you understand what they mean.
This was a required text for a philosophy 101 class that I took. So if you ever have to read the Symposium by Plato this is a great translation. It was easy to understand and a great read. :)
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Plato Symposium
Plato Symposium by Plato (Paperback - May 1, 1989)
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