318 (English, original)

An original translation

I said, “I’ll start in the same place I did just now, Protagoras, and say what I came for. Hippocrates here really wants to spend time with you. He says he would like to know what he’ll get out of doing that. That’s all we’ve said so far.”
Protagoras responded, “Young man, if you come and learn from me, that same day, you’ll go home better, and the same thing the next day. And every day after, you will make progress towards betterment.”
I said in turn, “Protagoras, what you’re saying is no surprise; it’s only to be expected. Even you, despite your age and wisdom would become better if someone taught you something you happened to not know. So don’t just give us that; think of it this way: say Hippocrates here had a change of heart and longed instead to spend time learning from this young man who’s new in town, Zeuxippus from Heraclea. Say Hippocrates came to him, like he’s come to you now, and heard the same things from Zeuxippus that he has from you: that every day he’s with him, he’d become better and make progress. What if Hippocrates asked further, ‘Now, what exactly will I get better at and what am I going to make progress toward?’ Zeuxippus would tell him, ‘At painting.’ Now let’s say he went to study with Orthagoras the Theban, heard the same things he’s heard from you, and asked him what exactly he’d get better at by spending every day with him, Orthagoras would tell him, ‘At playing flute.’ Now, in the same way tell the young man – and me, since I’m asking for him – if Hippocrates here spends time learning from Protagoras, he’ll go home and be better on the first day he spends time with you and make progress every other day after that, but better in what, Protagoras? Better in what area?”
Protagoras listened to all this and said, “Excellent question, Socrates. I enjoy answering people who ask good questions. If Hippocrates comes to me, he won’t suffer what the other sophists would put him through. They treat young people disgracefully. Their students have managed to escape technical subjects, and then they’re thrown back into them unwillingly when their teachers make them do arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music” — here, he looked over at Hippias. “But if he comes to me, he’ll learn nothing but what he came for.”

Compare W.R. Lamb’s 1924 translation at the Perseus Project (Greek text and commentary also available).


8 Responses to 318 (English, original)

  1. Nakul says:

    1. ‘He says he would like to know what he’ll get out of doing so’: I suggest ‘doing that’ as more natural than ‘so’.

    2. ‘Protagoras responded, “Young man, if you come and learn from me, that same day, you’ll go home better, and the same the next day. And every day after, you will make progress towards betterment.”’
    I fear ‘the same the next day’ misleadingly suggests that he won’t make any progress on the second day. And ‘go home better’ sounds too much like something a doctor would say (unless that’s how you’re reading the line). And ‘betterment’ is very unidiomatic, isn’t it? ‘Improvement’, perhaps. Or better(!), ‘And every day after that, you’ll just keep getting better and better.’ (Perhaps you want P to sound a little grandiose here, but I think the proper contemporary analogue would be smooth advertisement voiceover artist.

    3. ‘Protagoras, what you’re not saying is no surprise, but perfectly reasonable.’
    The ‘not’ there is a typo? And in the final clause, I propose that ἀλλὰ might be more idiomatically rendered ‘on the contrary, it’s…’, or ‘in fact, it’s…’

    4. ‘Even you, despite your age and wisdom – if someone taught you something you didn’t in fact know, you’d become better.’
    I think you might have followed the Greek word order more closely than necessary (any particular reason?) And the ‘in fact’ sticks out a bit, and doesn’t seem to be the point of τυγχάνοις.
    I propose something on the lines of: ‘Why, even you, old and wise though you are, would become better if someone taught you something you happened not to know.’

    5. ‘So don’t just give us that, but say Hippocrates…’: the ‘say’ there, coming just after ‘don’t give us that’ makes it seem like the imperative verb. Perhaps make that ‘let’s say’. And I wonder about the second ἀλλὰ in that sentence. Rendering it ‘but’ just doesn’t sound right in English — it’s introducing a new supposition rather than a contrast with something said previously. Something like ‘for’ (in the sense of ‘because’) sounds more plausible (are there any other readings of that sentence? Or, can ἀλλὰ ever have that sense?)

    6. Peri ‘a young fellow’ — why the indefinite article here? And how American is ‘fellow’? I suggest ‘this new guy in town’.

    7. ‘longed instead’ rather than ‘instead longed’?

    8. ‘σύ τε καλῶς ἐρωτᾷς, … ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ ἐγὼ τοῖς καλῶς ἐρωτῶσι χαίρω ἀποκρινόμενος’
    I’m don’t know how natural the adverbial construction is, but I wonder if something like
    ‘Great question Socrates; I _enjoy_ answering people who ask good questions.’ I’m hearing Protagoras as slick, and slightly patronising here…

  2. Dhananjay says:

    Oh, I wanted “progress towards betterment” to sound vague and vaguely bureaucratic. Is it just too ham-fisted?

  3. Bill Walderman says:

    τοσοῦτος ὅ γε ἡμέτερος λόγος. How about “That’s the gist of what we’ve been saying.”

    “progress towards betterment” Why not just say, “You’ll make progress.”

    A small irrelevancy: aule is not a flute but a reed instrument, though maybe “flute” is the most natural contemporary American translation.

    • Dhananjay says:

      Socrates’ point is not that he’s summarizing what they’ve said (as ‘gist’ would suggest). That’s the force of the ‘tosoutos’. His point is that that’s _all_ they’ve said for their part, which is a dig at Protagoras’ long and irrelevant response about the ancient art of sophistry. This comment foreshadows the later interchanges in the dialogue about macrology, brachylogy and the appropriate mode of philosophical discussion.

      The point of ‘progress toward betterment’, as I indicated in reply to Nakul, is to capture the way in which Protagoras’ promise is otiose and uninformative. (Readers of the Greek would naturally think, well, what on earth is ‘to beltion’?) That sets the stage for Socrates’ natural question – better at what? When it’s something that comes up for discussion in the dialogue itself, I think it’s better to leave things that are inelegant in Greek inelegant in English.

      As much as I’d like to resist ‘flute’, anything more accurate is distracting. A footnote (as in the Griffith translation) would suffice, I think.

  4. Adam Beresford says:

    The translation is very good, and the comments excellent, too.

    Two things:

    The point someone makes above translating ἀλλὰ with a semi-colon, rather than ‘but’ is very important. That should be virtually the default translation. ἀλλὰ in Greek = asyndeton in English. There’s another example just a few lines later:

    “So don’t just give us that; think of it like this…”


    “That’s not what we want. Look – say Hippocrates here…etc

    “But” here simply isn’t correct English.

    One other thing: I’d say that eikos in the phrase ‘it’s perfectly reasonable’ probable doesn’t mean ‘reasonable’. It probably means ‘to be expected’ – as it often does. Socrates is being fairly impolite. After P’s grandiose self-description he says

    “Well, obviously Protagoras. No big surprises there. That’s just what I’d expect. He’ll get better at something. Big whoop . But better at what???”

    There’s a subtle but important difference between saying his claim is ‘reasonable’, and saying it’s, in this sense, ‘nothing extraordinary’.

  5. Nakul says:

    I agree about eikos: you might even make that ‘only to be expected’, depending on how impolite you think S is being, and how colloquial that sounds (maybe: ‘that’s what you’d expect’? Or ‘Like, duh, Protagoras.’)

    • Dhananjay says:

      Fairly impolite, I think. The ‘only’ is a good addition. Griffith, I note, chooses not to translate the expression at all, but folds it into the previous clause.

      Next page coming soon!

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