Plato: Laws 1 and 2

Plato: Laws 1 and 2

Plato: Laws 1 and 2

Plato: Laws 1 and 2

Synopsis

Susan Sauve Meyer presents a new translation of Plato's Laws, 1 and 2. In these opening books of Plato's last work, a Cretan, a Spartan, and an Athenian discuss legislative theory, moral psychology, and the criteria for evaluating art. The interlocutors compare the relative merits of different nomoi (laws, practices, institutions), in particular, the communal meals (sussitia) practiced in Sparta and Crete and the paradigmatically Athenian institution of the drinking party (sumposion). They agree that the legislator's goal is to inculcate virtue in the citizens, but they disagree about what the virtues are, and what institutions are required to inculcate them. The Spartan and Cretan, who value military strength in a city and courage in its citizens, see no value in drinking parties, which they take to encourage softness and susceptibility to pleasure. The Athenian insists that drinking parties train citizens in moderation, just as military exercises train citizens in courage. He defends this paradoxical thesis by offering a moral psychology and theory of virtue (rather different from that of the Republic but highly evocative of Aristotle's Ethics), along with a theory of education in which choral song and dance play an important role. A detailed discussion of the criteria for evaluating works of art rounds out the discussion, and here too the reader will find a discussion very different from the treatment of art in the Republic. Meyer's fluent and readable translation achieves a high standard of fidelity to the original Greek. The commentary lays bare the structure of the argumentation, illuminates the philosophical issues, and explains difficult passages, making this complex and intricate work accessible to students andscholars alike.

Excerpt

Why the present volume? Students of Plato’s Laws already have the benefit of several excellent commentaries and translations produced in the last century. England’s magisterial commentary on the Greek text (1921) continues to be a valuable resource to readers in English, as is the more limited set of notes on the text in Saunders (1972). Neither, however, offers much guidance on points of philosophical, as opposed to philological, interpretation. On many fronts both have been superseded by the excellent commentary in German, with accompanying translation, recently completed by Schöpsdau (1994–2011). the latter contains considerably more historical material than England, and is an indispensable resource for any serious scholarship on the Laws today. Readers of Spanish or French have the benefit of up-to-date scholarly translations with accompanying notes by Lisi (1999) and Brisson/Pradeau (2006), respectively. While readers in English have in recent years had the benefit of a number of pioneering studies (such as Bobonich 2002) and collections of essays (Lisi 2001; Scolnicov and Brisson 2003; Bobonich 2010; Horn 2013; Peponi 2013b; and Sanday 2013), the closest we have to a philosophical commentary on the Laws in English are the notes and long interpretive essay that accompany the translation by Pangle (1980) and the detailed analysis by Strauss (1975); however, the aggressively ‘Straussian’ orientation of these two works makes them less helpful to readers of other philosophical persuasions. of course, no philosophical commentary can plausibly claim to be without theoretical presuppositions, and the orientation of the present work reflects presuppositions characteristic of scholarship on Plato by so-called ‘analytic’ philosophers in the English-speaking world over the last half-century. the translation aims to be more idiomatic than Pangle’s, and is heavily indebted to the very elegant and readable translation by Saunders (1970). the latter displays a . . .

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