April 08, 2010
Dr. James Arieti, Thompson Professor of Classics, and Dr. Roger Barrus, Elliott Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, have published a new translation of Plato's Protagoras that will be released this spring by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.
Protagoras is a wild, splashy frolic - unpredictable, name-dropping, microscopically pedantic, galactically expansive - populated by a slew of characters who are naïve, pompous, vain, ostentatious, and even serious. Plato's prose is spectacularly suited to his subject matter - playfully crammed with puns, equivocations, sleights of sense, and burlesqued allusions to the classical literature of his day. The challenges to translators are profound. How can they clear the hurdle of two and a half thousand years to convey the substance and spirit of this far off conversation?
Drs. Arieti and Barrus have done their best and have still produced a volume twice as long as the original. How could this have happened? They have held the text itself as sacrosanct. Their method has been that of the Masoretes, those biblical scribes who elucidated the sacred text without altering it by establishing a non-invasive system of diacritical marks around the Hebrew letters to provide aid to readers. Like those scholars, Drs. Arieti and Barrus have put their helps around the text, in the form of an introduction to establish the scene, notes to gloss or interpret points in the dialogue, and appendices to illustrate the physical setting of the dialogue, to explain their choices of translations of particularly vexing terms, to review some of the recent interpretations of the poem by Simonides that Socrates and Protagoras wrangle over, and to show how Aristotle's On Sophistical Refutations might throw light on the Protagoras. They have tried to be as faithful as possible to the text of Plato himself.