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.

2 Replies to “Plato: Complete Works”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to check it out.

    So far, if I have to read Plato in English, I still prefer Jowett’s translation to the modern ones I’ve tried.

  2. It’s nice to have everything in one volume, despite the somewhat squiffy/too-modern translations. But they certainly read easily. If anyone’s going to do serious work, of course they’d go to the Greek texts, so I figure the convenience outweighs the slight misgivings about translation consistency between so many contributors, as in Bible translations: the big book of all the small books is so much handier than individual copies.

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