Plato: Complete Works

Have you been looking for a complete set of the works of Plato in a modern translation? I had been for a long time, and somehow had not run across Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper, with associate editor D. S. Hutchinson, from Hackett Publishing Company. I managed to run across it in a real bookstore, in person! This hefty tome of over 1800 pages includes all the authentic and spurious works organized according to the canon established by Thrasyllus of Alexandria. That is, the works that Thrasyllus considered canonical are arranged in nine tetralogies (groups of four), with a further eight dialogues (Definitions, On Justice, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Halcyon, Eryxias, Axiochus; all of which Thrasyllus considered spurious) and a set of epigrams outside the number. Of course, several of the dialogues included within Thrasyllus’ canonical tetralogies are now recognized as spurious, and other dialogues have their authorship by Plato under discussion. The Letters and Epigrams are of similarly mixed authenticity. (As an aside, the nine tetralogies make me wonder if their number nine was the source for Plotinus’ Ennead, with Plotinus drawing an even greater import from this peculiar arrangement of Plato’s works than is intended. It’s a possibility anyway.)

In any case, this is a nice volume to have, particularly when running across an obscure reference to one of the very hard to find spurious works. The translations are perhaps a little too contemporary for my taste, but they’re effective for reading and getting the gist of the Greek, which is notoriously difficult but rewardingly beautiful with Plato. The footnotes are clear and not too digressive, clarifying quotations and allusions to other works of the period, which is very helpful. This is something that has been restricted to the more expensive editions, so it’s quite nice to have it all at hand in one book. And though the book is too large for reading without a desk, it’s well-bound, using “Bible paper” which is sufficiently opaque to avoid bleed-through and its consequent eye strain. The only thing I found lacking in this volume was an alphabetical list of the works. The Thrasyllan canon’s order is not one that I suspect most people are familiar with, so having an alphabetical table of contents in addition to the regular one would’ve been nice. I put one together myself in a few minutes anyway, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

Anyhow, I recommend the volume. It was a work of love by those involved at Hackett Publishing, the publisher of earlier more extensively introduced editions of most of the translations included in this volume. We should all thank them for their dedication and consideration in putting together such a very useful volume.

A Little Eliot

Out and about last Friday, I stopped by my favorite Berkeley bookstore, Black Oak Books. After making my usual rounds, through Christianity/Theology/Biblical Studies, Archaeology, Judaica, Classics, and Middle Ages, I popped by the Poetry section, which has lately been shrinking somewhat alarmingly. To be honest, the whole store has a kind of resigned feel to it these days, a “get it over with” mood that’s not encouraging. Rumors abound among Berkeley’s litterati that its time has come, to generalized dismay. Regardless, I managed to find a great little book there.

It’s Eliot: Poems and Prose, from the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series, published by Alfred A. Knopf. This little (4.5 x 6.5 x .75″) hardback comes complete with dustcover and register (the bound-in bookmark). The paper is creamy and smooth. The sewn binding is perhaps a little too tight, but sure to loosen comfortably with age and use. Best, the whole thing fits easily in a coat pocket.

For a T. S. Eliot fan, there’s a fine selection of his work in here. The editor, Peter Washington, receives my admiration, particularly for his choice to include some of Eliot’s essays. The poetry contents are those of three collections: Prufrock and Other Observations, Poems 1920, and The Waste Land. I think perfection would’ve been achieved by including Four Quartets, but, as the old Mohammedan rugmaker said, perfection belongs to God. The essays included are: Reflections on Vers Libre, Tradition and the Individual Talent, Hamlet, The Perfect Critic, The Metaphysical Poets, The Function of Criticism, Andrew Marvell, and Ulysses, Order and Myth. And index of first lines follows the essays.

As I mentioned above, I’m happy to have a selection of Eliot’s prose in such a handy little book. But I’m even more happy to have both The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land in one such handy and pleasantly read volume.

The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series includes quite a number of volumes, all of which are listed here by author. For people who’ve created such great little books, their website is unfortunate. It’d be ideal to have a table of contents available for each of those volumes on their individual pages. As you may’ve noticed by clicking the link above to the Eliot volume, the pages are rather bare-bones.

Nonetheless, I can at least recommend the Eliot book for one’s winter pocket.

Dare to eat the peach!