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The Symposium (Penguin Great Ideas) Paperback – May 30, 2006
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Great Ideas... is the right name for these slim, elegant paperbacks... They are written with precision, force, and care. ("The Wall Street Journal") Penguin Books hopes to provide an economical remedy for time-pressed readers in search of intellectual sustenance. ("USA Today")
About the Author
Plato (c. 427–347 b.c.) founded the Academy in Athens, the prototype of all Western universities, and wrote more than twenty philosophical dialogues.
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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.
I knew beforehand that this book contained dialogues about Euros, but I didn't realize that with many of the dialogues the love is referring to pederasty, I should have guessed from some of the interactions with other Plato dialogues. To someone like myself from a different time and culture this was slightly disturbing at first, but once I got past my own opinions, this was actually a great dialogue. I did wonder how this dialogue was so well copied throughout the Catholic middle ages, one would think that it would get swept under the rug like so many other documents, but perhaps because its Socrates or just because its good, it got a pass. I think its among the best of the Plato dialogues I've read, it seems more lively and entertaining than some of the others.
In this, men at a symposium sit around making speeches in praise of love. I don't remember the first ones very well, but the later ones were pretty good. I liked the popular one by Aristophanes where he tells of a love creation type of myth were people at one time had double the body parts but were separated into two by a god, then they search for their other half. I think my favorite part though happened at the end where Alcibiades comes in drunk and tells stories about Socrates, it gives another dimension to the man and made me appreciate him more (his apology was even more effective when I read it after this).