319 (English, original)

An original translation

What I teach is good judgment in personal affairs, so he can best manage his own household, as well as in city affairs, so he can both act and speak powerfully when it comes to his city.”
I said, “Do I follow what you’re saying? I get the feeling you’re talking about the art of politics and that you’re claiming to be in the business of turning men into good citizens.”
“That’s exactly what I’m advertising.”
“Now, that’s certainly a nice trick to have up your sleeve … if you have it. Now, I won’t tell you anything I don’t really think, Protagoras. You see, I didn’t think this skill could be taught. Yet I can hardly disbelieve you when you say that you do. So it’s up to me to tell you where I got the idea that it can’t be taught or even passed on from person to person. Now, like everyone else in Greece I claim that the Athenians are wise. I’ve also noticed that when we gather in the Assembly and the city has to do something relating to building, they get the builders to come as building consultants. When it relates to shipbuilding, they get the ship-builders to come, and the same thing for everything else they think can be taught and learned. But if someone they don’t consider an expert tries to give them advice, no matter how beautiful or rich or upper-crust he is, they won’t have any of it. Instead, they boo him and shout him down, until the would-be speaker either leaves himself when he gets shouted down, or when the executive council gets the archers to drag or carry him away. So that’s what they do when they think it’s a technical matter. But when they have to decide on something to do with managing the city, on these questions, anyone who stands up advises them on the same footing, whether he’s a carpenter, a metal-worker, a shoemaker, a retailer, or a ship-owner, rich or poor, big-shot or nobody. Unlike before, no one chews them out and says, ‘This guy hasn’t studied anywhere, he doesn’t even have a teacher, and here he is trying to give advice.’ Clearly that’s because they don’t think it’s teachable. Not only is this true in the public affairs of the city, but also in private, where our wisest and best citizens can’t pass on this goodness they have to others.”

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


4 Responses to 319 (English, original)

  1. adam says:

    Now, I won’t tell you anything I don’t really think, Protagoras.

    Now, like everyone else in Greece I claim that the Athenians are wise.

    When unsure, you translate ‘gar’ as ‘now’. But that’s a bit of a fudge.

    In the first case here gar is used because Socrates wants to explain his apparent rudeness. “I doubt you actually have this ability. Because I’m not going to beat about the bush here, Protagoras. I’m going to tell it like it is.”

    The use of “because” here seems to me to correspond perfectly to this use of gar, and of course “because” is also it’s usual sense. (Here the special sense of “because” is “I’m saying this in this unexpected way because…”.) The English and Greek idioms shadow each other here very closely. Here’s another example of the same idiom in English:

    “My view – because I think we need to be blunt here – is that it’s completely hopeless.” Again, that would be ‘gar’ in Greek.

    Are you worried about using “because” at the start of a sentence? I know some translators are, and it’s a shame, because it cuts them off from a whole range of important connective idioms in standard English. Not just this one, but also the standard “because” (“This is the case because…”) IN reality we put “because” up front at least as often as gar occurs in Greek, and the rule against it artificial.

    The second gar here is slightly different. This is the gar that Greek writers use when they’ve just said that they’re going to do something, and then do it. “I’d better explain why I think this way. Right, so, here’s the explanation…when we assemble etc.”

    That’s an exaggeration, but that’s what gar is doing.

    For your style, how about: “I’d better explain why I think this way. It’s like this: when we assemble…” or

    I’d better explain why I think this way. The thing is, when we assemble…

    ‘You see’ could also work. Perhaps not quite as well.

    I’m laboring this point a bit because I think particles are really important to the flow of the argument, and the translation should really go out of it’s way to get them right.

    “until the would-be speaker either leaves himself when he gets shouted down, or when the executive council gets the archers to drag or carry him away.”

    The until is correct, and so the “when” in the second clause should also be “until” or could be left out, so that what follows naturally falls into the same construction. (You might then have to move the “either” to the second word of the clause.

    “Leaves himself” is correct but ambiguous. “Leaves all by himself”?
    I said “Leaves of his own accord” but how about “after being shouted down, takes the hint and leaves”?

    I disagree about translating “politike techne” as “the art of politics”. But let me admit that this is a more difficult, and more subjective matter. My (subjective) view is (1) that the term in Plato basically means “the art of citizenship” (note that the noun that is the explicit base of the word, as with all Greek art terms, is the person, the “polites”, not “polis”; compare “strategike” [strategos] “rhetorike” [rhetor] “kitharistike” [kitharistes] etc). But beyond that, (2) it seems quite clear that for both Plato and Aristotle “politike” comes very close at times to being the nearest Greek equivalent to our term “Ethics” – because as they repeatedly make clear, in the Greek idiom the questions that face us as “citizens” are, above all, questions of right and wrong, good and bad: how to treat our fellow citizens, and how to decide, with them, what to do. This very passage is a case in point. Socrates makes it clear that he means that he thinks ethical, as opposed to technical expertise cannot be so easily taught. So I think the translation of the term needs to do something to show that Socrates is saying “So you claim to teach people how to be good at deciding on issues of right and wrong?” How many readers would think that that was implied by “the art of politics”? For your version, how about “skill at being a citizen” “citizen’s expertise, i.e., you’re saying you can make them good citizens”

  2. Nakul says:

    1. One of the challenges of that first sentence is to get the οἰκείων / πόλεως contrast as well as the connections between τῶν οἰκείων and οἰκίαν διοικοῖ on the one hand, and τῶν τῆς πόλεως and τὰ τῆς πόλεως [… etc] πράττειν καὶ λέγειν. You’ve captured the latter — somewhat inelegantly — with ‘city affairs’/’when it comes to the city’ but ‘personal’/’household’ is less successful at capturing οἰκείων/οἰκίαν διοικοῖ.

    I’m quite keen on ‘domestic matters’ for οἰκείων (which is more obviously suggestive of a household and lets you use ‘private’ for ἰδίᾳ later) and ‘public matters’ for πόλεως (which is less literal, but offers just as natural way to see why Socrates would then say ‘Ah, so you’re talking about politics (from ‘public’) and citizenship (from ‘city’)). As for κοινὸν later in the page which you render ‘public’, I suggest ‘communal’ (or ‘shared’ if you’re striving to avoid Latinate expressions), which is more literal I think, and just as obviously opposed to ‘private’.

    Also, can I suggest ‘effectively’ or ‘ably’ for δυνατώτατος rather than ‘powerfully’ — ‘powerfully’ works with λέγειν but sounds a little strange with πράττειν.

    So I propose: ‘What I teach is good judgment in domestic matters, so he can best manage his own household, as well as in public matters, so he can both act and speak effectively when it comes to his city.’

    2. Re: ‘ποιεῖν ἄνδρας ἀγαθοὺς πολίτας’. Is ‘turning men into…’ too much for ποιεῖν; why not just ‘making men good citizens’?

    3. Re: ἦ καλόν … τέχνημα ἄρα κέκτησαι, εἴπερ κέκτησαι
    I like ‘nice trick to have up your sleeve’, but ‘if you have it’ doesn’t quite work for εἴπερ κέκτησαι at the moment, even with the sly ellipsis. I’d suggest ‘if you can pull it off’, but that loses the repetition of κέκτησαι. Also, the OED has for ‘have up one’s sleeve’ — ‘to have in reserve, at one’s disposal, or ready for some need or emergency’, which isn’t quite right here. This isn’t just a trick Protagoras pulls out on special occasions — it’s what he does, all the time. So perhaps, ‘Now that’s a nice trick for sure, if you can pull it off’?

    4. I wonder about the best way to render the tense of οὐκ ᾤμην. I suggest the English perfect might capture the sense better, as in, ‘You see, Protagoras, I hadn’t thought this skill could be taught’. Or maybe the present perfect, ‘… I’ve never thought this skill could be taught’ (the ‘never’ capturing the imperfect aspect, i.e. I still think this).

    5. Re: ἀπιστῶ. I think ‘can’t disbelieve you’ is both awkward and perhaps too strong (given that S can and does disbelieve him). The most he’s conceding is that the burden of proof is now on him (Socrates). I suggest ‘I can’t not take you seriously when you say you can’. Or, ‘I can’t (just) dismiss you offhand …’

    6. For all the περὶ’s in 319b, I suggest ‘to do with’ or ‘about’ rather than ‘relating to’.

  3. adam says:

    Re tense issue:

    “I didn’t think it could be taught” (imperfect) is also the normal Greek for

    “I’ve [always] thought that this couldn’t be taught”

  4. adam says:

    Re ἀπιστῶ

    Actually I think “I can’t disbelieve you” is OK. It’s strong, and yes, it contradicts Socrates’ actual position. But it’s ironic.

    ” I always thought it couldn’t be taught. But now that you say otherwise – well, I suppose I have to believe the great Protagoras. If you say it, it MUST be true; that’s my motto!”

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