Page images

no artificially constructed periods', no pompous phrases, no technical terms of science or philosophy; all the grace is unstudied and the harmony natural. It seems to me that this unartificial character has been occasionally in some degree overlooked in more than one of the most approved, and otherwise most excellent, of the recent English versions of Plato. Translators in turning their phrases and rounding their periods are constantly liable to lose sight of the unstudied and simple graces which charm us in the original, and to convey to their version a certain appearance of stifness and constraint altogether alien from the unrestrained freedom of the Platonic style. It is quite possible to translate Plato too neatly. In endeavouring to avoid this error I have myself as far as possible eschewed the use of all long and technical words, formal and set phrases, and elaborately turned periods, and have been content, as far as I could manage it, to let Plato speak in his own manner, as well as in his own language. With this view likewise I have sometimes preserved even the anacolutha, and always as far as I could retained the same order of the words as that in which Plato wrote them.

One of the most prominent and striking difficulties which a translator of this author has to overcome

1 Plato's style in respect of the structure of his sentences-they are hardly to be called regular periods-is well described by Dissen, in the Essay De Structura Periodorum, prefixed to his edition of Demosth. de Coron. pp. lxx-lxxv.

in the attempt to impart simplicity and freedom to his version lies in the treatment of the Greek particles. These, singly and in endless combinations, are so numerous, the shades of meaning conveyed by them are so fine and delicate, often by their subtlety escaping detection, always difficult to render; they have so few equivalents in our own language, and many of these awkward and cumbrous words, which thrust themselves forward and force themselves unduly upon our notice-whereas in the Greek those which most frequently occur are little creatures of no more than two or three, or at the most four, letters', occupy little space and attract little attention to themselves-that they throw an endless series of traps and stumblingblocks in the way of a translator who is bent upon expressing them, as perplexing and provoking as they are unavoidable. The simplest and most usual mode of dealing with these particles is to omit them altogether. Here however I must make a special exception in the case of Schleiermacher, who carrying the literal and rigorous exactness by which his work is characterised down to these minute particulars conscientiously translates them all: though how far the German substitutes actually correspond to the Greek originals no foreigner probably is competent

1 μέν δέ γε γάρ που ποι πως τοι δή αὖ ἄρα οὖν μήν ἀλλά ποτε with their various combinations make up pretty nearly the entire list of the particles in common use in a Greek dialogue.

to decide. If I might venture to express my own opinion upon the point, I should say that in this as in other respects his version is rather over dry and formal. But in omitting these particles we sacrifice in a great measure the expression, so to call it, of the dialogue. It is by these in a great degree that the irony the insinuation the sneer, modesty delicacy reserve hesitation diffidence vehemence resolution positive assertion contempt indignation derision, and numberless other shades and refinements of thought feeling and character are conveyed, or at any rate aided and heightened; they give point to an observation and connection to an argument: they are the light shades and delicate touches of the picture— like the play of features in the actor-hard to catch, easy to overlook or misapprehend, but essential no less to the harmony and finish, the expression and character of the performance. I have therefore never designedly omitted any one of them, except in the few cases where it seemed that such omission would more faithfully represent the original than their insertion1; and in so doing have often I fear run the risk of encumbering and impeding Plato's lively narrative, smart cut and thrust dialectics, or easy conversation, with a number of disproportionately lengthy words or more commonly phrases, for long

1 The case of the particle yap, when it occurs as introductory to a narrative, is one of these. Schleiermacher always renders this by nämlich 'that is to say, as follows': but I doubt if we have in our language anything exactly corresponding either to the one or the other.

words I have always done my best to avoid-which often must be employed in default of any others in our own language capable of adequately expressing the same meaning with greater conciseness.

Another error to be carefully avoided by a translator who desires to adhere faithfully to the simplicity and freedom of the Platonic style is the use of technical terms to convey the doctrines and conceptions of philosophy. One of the most striking peculiarities of Plato's philosophical writings which distinguishes them in a very marked manner from those of his successors is the almost entire absence of any scientific terminology: with the exception of one or two peculiar terms such as εἶδος or ἰδέα and διαλεκτική, and the special appropriation of diávoia and Ovμoeidés in the Republic, and possibly one or two others, Plato's philosophy is absolutely devoid of any technical phraseology. This is no doubt in a great measure due, and especially in the earlier dialogues such as Gorgias, to the conversational and dramatic form into which he has chosen to throw the greater part of his writings, and also to the fact that in the departments of mental and moral philosophy which he especially cultivated there was no terminology sufficiently established and popular to be suited to his purpose; and partly also I should suppose from what he says in the Phædrus and elsewhere to a dislike and suspicion of technical as well as all other pompous phrases, as unable to 'give an account of themselves,'

and without a detailed explanation and modification according to circumstances likely only to mislead and confuse, to pass off fallacies under cover of wisdom. That this may be, and indeed often is, actually the effect of them, will hardly I believe be denied by any one who has ever read even a few pages of any modern German philosophical work: nor do I think that the harsh and ill-sounding terminology of the Stoics, or even, may I say? of Aristotle, contributes in any degree to render their systems more intelligible. But whatever the reason may be, the fact at all events is that the stock of words and phrases by which Plato carries on his arguments, and arrives at his philosophical conclusions is borrowed almost entirely from the commonest language of common life, and the translator is therefore bound on his part to abstain as far as possible from all technical terms, though they may seem perchance to express the same ideas more neatly and compactly, however authority may have sanctioned and subsequent usage familiarised us with them.

I may here just notice two other classes of expression which offer some difficulty-trifling compared with the preceding—in a literal translation of Plato, namely the complimentary formulas and the oaths; these though of comparatively slight importance will still often be found somewhat troublesome and impracticable. In regard of the former, which in Plato's text are constantly making their appearance

« PreviousContinue »