Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Plutarch and Plato

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The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, compared together
by that grave learned philosopher & historiographer, Plutarke of Chæronea:
Translated out of Greeke into French by James Amyot,
Abbot of Bellozane, Bishop of Auxerre, one of the Kings Privy Counsel,
and Great Amner of Fraunce, and out of French into Englishe,
by Thomas North. Decorated by Thomas Lowinsky.
Eight Volumes. 1928.

So far in my reading this year, it has truly been “all Greek to me,” beginning with an eight-volume set (roughly 3,200 pages) of Plutarch’s Lives in the sixteenth century Thomas North translation, preserved in the gloriously irregular spelling of those days and consulted by Shakespeare, followed by noted Greek scholar Benjamin Jowett’s nineteenth century translations of Plato’s dialogues, the latter in two volumes (about 1,800 pages). Both works are marked by vigor and enthusiasm attributable to their authors and translators alike. They are amazing accomplishments, marvelous reading, inspiring, challenging, thought-provoking, and full of perspective. One thing I have taken away from the process is that the idea that man has not changed is as ludicrous as the idea that he has. (Do I contradict myself? Very well, then.) Another is that Plato and I are in a strange competition to prove which of us is the craziest, he by speaking while dead, and I by answering through the turning of his pages. Oh, yes, we make a fine pair. But seriously (ha), I was, after putting off our engagement all these years, pleased and surprised to learn he has such a delightful sense of humor. That he waited for me, though, is perhaps the funniest thing of all. Nevertheless, it is something for which I will be forever grateful.

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