Phaedrus (Classics) Paperback – 30 Aug 1973
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About the Author
Plato (c.427-347 BC) stands with Socrates and Aristotle as one of the shapers of the whole intellectual tradition of the West. He came from a family that had long played a prominent part in Athenian political life, and it would have been natural for him to follow the same course. He declined to do so however, disgusted at the corruption of political life, and sickened especially by the execution in 339 of his friend and teacher, Socrates. Plato sought a cure for the ills of society in philosophy rather than politics, and founded the Academy in Athens. Plato wrote over twenty philosophical dialogues and his literary activity extended over half a century.
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Letter," purportedly ascribed to Plato, in this edition of
the *Phaedrus* deserves a comment or two. The translation
and Introductions in this edition by Penguin Classics are
by Walter Hamilton. The edition is copyrighted 1973, but
the copy I have has a last reprinting date of 1988.
The "Introduction" to the Letters states: "Plato's written
works include, in addition to the dialogues, a collection
of thirteen letters. They have formed part of the Platonic
canon since the 1st century A.D. and possibly since the
3rd century B.C., and one in particular, the Seventh,
which is as long as all the rest together, is a document
of crucial importance for our knowledge of Plato's life.
It opens with an account of his early development and of
his reasons for abstaining from public affairs, and it
records in detail the motives which led -- in later life --
to his famous and unsuccessful excursion into the practical
politics of Sicily and his relations with Dionysius II of
Syracuse. It may almost be said that without the Seventh
Letter, Plato's personal history would be unknown."
Plato's relation in the 7th Letter is: "When I was a
young man I expected, like many others to embark, as
soon as I was my own master, on a political career."
[But a revolution occurs in Athens...and the rule of
the 30 is established.] "Naturally enough, in view of
my youth,I expected that this government would bring
about a change from corrupt to upright administration,
and I watched with the keenest interest to see what
they would do. I found that it had taken these men
no time at all to make the previous government look like
an age of gold... So when I saw this and the kind
of men who were active in politics and the principles
on which things were managed, I concluded that it was
difficult to take part in public life and retain one's
integrity, and this feeling became stronger the more I
observed and the older I became."
The *Phaedrus,* on the other hand,
deals with the nature of Love...and the Soul...and
the Realm of Reality and Truth beyond this world
of the senses and shadows... illusions...the Love
spoken of is spoken of in context with the Athenian
mores of the time...it is the Love between two males...
Hamilton's edition is excellent in many ways...he
divides the text at important places and inserts titles
and analyses which alert the reader to the topics which
are going to be discussed in the next section--and
his footnotes are excellent and enlightening as well.
Here are examples of two of his title inserts at most
important places in the dialogue: The Myth./The Allegory
of the Charioteer and His Horses./The Procession of the
Gods and the Vision of Reality./The Fall, Incarnation,
and Liberation of the Soul./The Privilege of the
Philosopher./Recollection as a Means to the Recapture
of Knowledge of the Forms./" ...and... "The Charioteer
Allegory Resumed./The Subjugation of Appetite, typified
by the Bad Horse, and The Awakening of Love for the
Lover in the Beloved./A Concluding Prayer to the God
for Lysias and Phaedrus./"
Hamilton's translation of the dialogue is good, though
there are places that don't please me personally, such
as this: "You are a dear fellow, Phaedrus, genuine gold
all through, if you suppose me to mean that Lysias has
completely missed the mark, and that it is possible to
compose a second entirely different speech." Benjamin
Jowett, in the Dover edition containing both *Symposium*
and *Phaedrus,* translates this as: "You are a dear golden
simpleton if you suppose me to mean that Lysias has
altogether missed the mark, and that I can make a speech
from which all his arguments are to be excluded." And
R. Hackforth, in the Collected Dialogues and Letters
edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, translates
it as: "How kind you are, Phaedrus, and what a pattern
of golden-age simplicity, in supposing me to mean that
Lysias has wholly missed the mark and that another speech
could avoid all his points! Surely that couldn't be so
even with the most worthless of writers."
I much prefer the R. Hackforth translation...it seems
to me to be TRUER to the Spirit and the Subject of the
dialogue...he doesn't flinch...and his prose is clear
and lucid...and meaningful...
But this Hamilton edition is less expensive...as is
the Dover Jowett...and this Hamilton edition has the
excellent inserts in the text which explain what is
being discussed and the flow and pattern
of the argument:
"The argument for the immortality of soul is, like
the final argument of the *Phaedo,* a dialectical
argument; Plato believes that this is something
which can rightly be demonstrated. What soul is
like, however, and the nature of its existence
can be described only in symbols, or what Plato
terms a 'myth.'"
Here is Hamilton at his best: "...and when he
catches sight of the loved one [he] is ready to die
of fear. So at last it comes about that the soul of
the lover waits upon his beloved in reverence and awe.
Thus the beloved finds himself being treated like a god
and receiving all manner of service from a lover whose
love is true love and no pretence, and his own
nature disposes him to feel kindly towards his
...it appears the dialogue, here, also resorts