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This is a review of Christopher Rowe's new (2012) translation of Plato's masterpiece, the Republic (ISBN 0141442433). It is not a review of Plato's Republic as such, but solely of the merits and demerits of Rowe's translation.
I've never quite trusted Rowe as an exegete of Plato, as he's got too much of his own personal agenda intrude on his analysis. His joint book with Terry Penner on the Lysis, for instance, falls far short of giving us an unbiased, expansive, authorative commentary on the dialogue, especially when compared to more sober competitors like Michael Bordt's in the Göttingen Plato.
But as a translator, Rowe has proven time and again that he's singularly scrupulous, and attentive to technical detail where it matters. His renderings of Plato's Politicus (Statesman) and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, the latter published with Sarah Broadie, are probably the most authoritative around.
The same can be said for this newest of his translational efforts. In general, translations of the Republic usually err on the side of either trying too heavily to recreate the literary qualities of the original, or miss out so much of that detail because they try to be super exact on technicalities, that in either case the English falls far short of giving us a good understanding of Plato's Greek. The solution, so far, is to read Plato's Republic with (at least) two translations side by side. For instance, on the literal I've found Desmond Lee's quite good, and on the literary, Tom Griffith's stands out. Among the older ones, Paul Shorey's is particularly good on the literary side. Others, like Cornford, Waterfield, or Grube (even when revised under Reeve) can be safely avoided, for having the translators' hobby horses intrude on and mar the main text.Read more ›
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This modest review doesn't have, by any means, the aim to cover the importance of this book in human history; I won't even try. Rather, this is a review based on my personal experience and what you should expect as an amateur philosophy reader.
A whole lot of ideas are discussed in this volume, and I found the discussions most interesting, in that "so old" sort of way that makes you think people weren't all that different even 2,400 years ago. Granted, the dialogue format will sound contrived to a modern reader, especially after so many pages of it. You will know how to agree with someone in over 150 ways, no doubt. Indeed. Absolutely. Very true. Rightfully so. Exactly. Correct. Etc.
Imagining the perfect city/society is a concept that alone is worth one's interest, but added to it is the distance in time and the opinions held in this book that wouldn't go down smoothly nowadays, especially when it comes to the more dictatorial ideas discussed in the Republic.
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