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on 13 May 2016
Publishers have tended to give attention to the longer and more well known dialogues, such as the Republic, the Phaedrus etc., than some of the shorter ones. Hackett, using Grube’s translations published a ‘Five Dialogues’ (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, and Phaedo), or dialogues have been paired – although the rationale for the pairing has not always been obvious. One problem for the reader with this approach who wants to read a particular dialogue, is a duplication of translations. I now, for example, have four different translations of the Meno, and if I want to look up anything the tendency is to refer to a particular translation. So what could be different in different translations? Two factors present themselves: the first is that a later translation can take on board more recent criticism of the particular text; while the second is the choice of idiom, which will influence both accessibility and readability.

The other three dialogues here are Charmides, Laches, and Lysis, and because I have found Robin Waterfield to provide clear and accessible translations – the Republic, and the Phaedrus in the same OUP series, rather than hunt around, I chose this edition. The cover blurb states ‘In these four dialogues Plato considers virtue and its definition. Charmides, Laches, and Lysis investigate the specific virtues of self control, courage, and friendship; the later Meno discusses the concept of virtue as a whole, and whether it is something that can be taught.’ Near the end of the Republic, Socrates says that ‘Virtue has no master’, although the individual virtues, it could be argued, can be taught. In the excellent introduction Waterfield says, with reference to the original Greek word, arête, that he prefers to translate it as ‘excellence’, rather than as virtue. While most translators, admitting that arête cannot be simply translated into English, translate it as virtue – as does the cover blurb, because the word virtue has established connotations, for example in the Cardinal virtues (i.e. the Platonic ones of Courage, Justice, Temperance, Truthfulness). Most people if asked to say what the main idea in the Meno is, would say, ‘Learning is recollection’ – which in context, does not refer to virtues. In the Phaedo, the that assertion that ‘learning is recollection’ is questioned, suggesting that it is the result of skillful questioning. The problem with it is that Socrates uses it to ‘prove’ reincarnation, and reincarnation ‘proves’ that the soul is immortal.

That said, the tone of the three dialogues, is a change, because Socrates is among friends, and the discussions have a narrower focus, so there is a lightness and freedom from the combative streak of Socrates’s we find in Alciabiades I and Gorgias. This is a welcome addition to a corpus of good translations, and as usual with Waterfield, the notes, name glossary, and bibliography, are excellent. Nice one Oxford.
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on 17 April 2013
Filled with brief commentaries that help a lot in the understanding of the story and of the background, this version is excellent for a first approach to these dialogues. It has a very helpful index of names and plenty of indications of books for further reading on the many different ideas of all the dialogues.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 January 2011
One can't really review the dialogues of Plato. After all they are just there, like the Alps. Awarding them stars is like giving Michelangelo marks out of ten for the Sistine Chapel. The particular dialogues in this book are all (thought to be) from Plato's early period, and are collectively known as the dialogues of search, though perhaps they should be known as the dialogues of miserably failed search. They all feature the wily Socrates having Athenian gentlemen running mental rings about themselves, trying to find definitions for metaphysical imponderables they once took for granted, like love, courage and justice, and they all fail miserably, baffled and bewildered, while Socrates looks fashionably smug. They are easy to read, and their arguments are easy to deconstruct and analyse, which is why they are still used as examples of rational clarity two and a half millennia later. Their logical essence is embedded within a fluffy exterior of Athenian politeness and banter, which can seem quaint and even alien at times. I suppose what can be reviewed is the introductory background text which accompanies all such volumes. In this case it is provided by the scholar Robin Waterfield, who imparts a great deal of socio-historical context in an engaging and easily assimilable manner. I do look forward though to the day when some scholar manages to finally switch a light on in my head. The light that helps me truly understand how the acknowledged father of systematic thought could spend a lifetime arguing for a higher, and more real world, which contained one perfect ideal chair, one perfect ideal table, and so on. Stuff like this continues to bother me. He clearly had his reasons.

Read this if you like, but every school child should be required to read and discuss Plato's The Republic.
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on 24 May 2016
Classic Plato, not much else to add. Modern translation, so easy to read.
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