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55 Posts

Posted - 16 Jul 2006 :  20:04:05  

Reading in Plato's Politeia: "he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden".

'Calm and happy' make the text opaque, while the original (κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι) explains the reason of calm and happiness.

Kosmios (κόσμιος), an adjective coming from the word kosmos (the universe as shaped in beauty) is he, whose life is formed harmoniously, immersed in meaning, and eukolos (εὔκολος) is he who easily abandons his desires.

This explains why to the opposite disposition (alienated, desirous and resentful) youth and age are equally a burden.

Instead of 'calm and happy' maybe it's better to translate 'graced and easy'.

Jowett made this mistake because he didn’t pay enough attention to the roots of the words and the whole nature of Greek. This is clear from what follows in the text.

Plato writes: “they [people in general] think that old age sits lightly upon you, not because of your disposition, but because you are rich, and wealth is well known to be a great comforter”, etc. – and Jowett translates: “they think that old age sits lightly upon you, not because of your happy disposition, but because you are rich”, etc.

What happened here? Although the two kinds of disposition are mentioned just before, Jowett thought it was not proper to connect disposition in general with a light old age, but to remind what sort of disposition we are talking about, to emphasize it, this way making two mistakes.

The first mistake is that the relative ‘vagueness’ of the original slightly emphasizes by itself the power of the soul more than this or that (healthy or not) form and expression, which is in contrast with the opinion of ‘people in general’ who emphasize objectivity (the wealth as comforter). Jowett’s second mistake is even more important and is related with the way he translated kosmios and eukolos.

By ignoring how specific these descriptions are, how necessary is their whole and strict concept for the meaning of the above-the-ages disposition, Jowett thought that only one of them is enough to express the meaning, so that instead of repeating ‘calm and happy’ he kept only happiness. When a word has lost weight, it is easy to be deleted.

If we set aside the first mistake, saying that Plato did not intend even the least emphasis to the power of the soul, then we must accept that he just didn’t want to repeat the two adjectives again in the very next sentence, so that for aesthetical reasons he desided to omit them together, which means that he considered them both necessary - not to be replaced by a synonym of both of them, nor by the keeping of only one among them.

Calm and happy are almost synonyms, and thinking thus Jowett could very easily and naturaly keep only one of them. But kosmios and eukolos have other relationship. Only a kosmios can be eukolos in a positive way, because being eukolos without being kosmios would mean a person with a powerless soul, enslaved to fate, or going from this to that without wanting neither this nor that, etc. On the other hand, being kosmios without being eukolos, although temporary, while it lasts causes an imperfectness that does not permit relief from old age.

Both adjectives are necessary, but we need a concentration in language itself, in order to know it, a concentration on each word in its roots. If Jowett had this concentration he would not betray Plato’s (at least temporary or ironical) devaluation of objectivity and mechanical activity, even without having understood Plato – just by caring for the language.

We have, therefore, the chance to conceive that calm and happiness are not ‘nice words’, we have the chance not to dismiss Plato as a ‘romantic’, etc, but to know that these are some of the manifestations of a person who is kosmios and eukolos. These two are indeed possible inside all suffering - even when calm and happiness are not.

As Plato says for that person, “he will hardly feel the pressure of age”, with the ‘hardly’ following the general fogginess of Jowett’s translation, since in the original there is no ‘hardly’, but “in measure”, which means that suffering is measured, confined, contained, by the Kosmos of that man. Therefore, even if the suffering is great (as Plato's Cephalus says, that even “to the good [epieikes] yet poor man, old age cannot be a light burden”), such a man, a kosmios and eukolos, will not become desolated in despair.

Plato Home Page / Plato's Politeia



12 Posts

Posted - 01 Apr 2007 :  00:42:55  


Elpenor, I have read this post of yours a number of times and, finally, found myself compelled to reply. First of all, thank you for writing it, for it is informative and revealing, especially for one such as myself who loves reading Plato and is, late in life, just beginning to learn a smattering of ancient Greek. Too, I also thank you for your other post on Achilles hearing of the death of Patroclus. That post, too, is one of my favorites, though that is not the topic at present.

Though what you have pointed out here I don’t think is uncommon with Jowett, and, too, with other translators, if you had not written this post, I most certainly would not have known what was happening as clearly as I do now from having read it, for it has encouraged more investigation on my part. Though I do use different translations and did notice how different Taylor’s version was to Jowett’s, still, the deeper meaning you so thoroughly revealed would not have been discovered by me without your post.

Having said that, though what you say about “kosmios” and “eukolos” seems right on, I do have difficulty with your choice of “graced and easy,” for they, too, are obscure; and, though maybe less so than “happy and calm,” they still do not come even close to expressing what you reveal in the post. Though I can see why you might choose “graced”, for the word “kosmios” does reveal a cosmic connection, something that is of the heavens, that hints of the gods, even of a divine manifestation, I have trouble with “graced”, for it does not express the other side of the heavens that you mention, that of a celestial harmony, a beautiful order where everything is well-regulated, where everything is in its rightful place and doing what it is supposed to be doing, and doing it in the most natural way possible. Here, in this sense, the “kosmos” is an expression of perfect virtue, and the man whose disposition is “kosmios” is the man who is virtuous, the man who has all the parts of his soul in their proper order, in their specific places, each doing their rightful jobs, just like the planets in heaven, just like the gods in the sky.

Too, the man whose disposition is “kosmios” is not just a man who is “graced,” but also he is a man who looks up, a man who looks to heaven, who looks to that what is prior, to that what is better; not a man who looks down into the world, down into the body, to that what is posterior, to that what is inferior.

And just how is this brought about, by “eukolos”; as you say, Elpenor, by a man abandoning his desires, by letting go, by eliminating one’s attachment to the world, by eliminating one’s attachment to the body and to the senses, by eliminating one’s attachment to all that “what is ever becoming yet never is.” And this is far from “easy.”

So, if one is of this disposition, of κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι, how can old age then be a burden, especially so when old age does not have youth’s insane masters? Too, is this not what this small episode is really all about, the insane masters, those relentless desires of the body that pull us out of the soul and into the body? In other words then, how is one free from the insane masters of the body’s passions? By being “kosmios,” by being like the “kosmos,” by being like heaven, like the gods; and how is this brought about, how is it achieved? By being “eukolos,” by letting go, by eliminating one’s attachment to the body and its senses, by eliminating one’s attachment to the world.

And so, it does not appear to me that “graced and easy” reveals much more of all what has been said than does “happy and calm.” But I do appreciate the difficulty in translating, for I do not have any single word for either to suggest in the place of the ones that you have chosen; in fact, I am not sure that any single English words could do justice to the Greek ones used by Plato. Thomas Taylor’s choice of “well-regulated and moderate,” though far better than Jowett’s, are still weak when compared to all that has been said in regard to the original ones.

Having said that, still, I can’t help but wonder if Plato did not have a pun intended here by hinting that, "he who has a ‘well-regulated colon’ will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden".

Once again, Elpenor, thank you for your post.

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Don Paarlberg

50 Posts

Posted - 03 Apr 2007 :  06:22:04  


“'Calm and happy' make the text opaque, while the original (κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι) explains the reason of calm and happiness.”

Yes and no. Yes, it is important to translate the words correctly. But Plato’s overall context shows he intends that “the” reason will not be apparent merely from the words.

“κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι” are the words of Cephalus, the elderly metic shield-maker (i.e., Peloponnesian war profiteer) from Syracuse, elicited in response to Socrates’ question at the very beginning of the Politeia. Context shows Plato intends us to regard Cephalus’ pronouncement as introductory, puzzling and provocative. Holding then-common assumptions about wealth acquisition, Plato’s audience would have scoffed that Cephalus could only have become rich through defrauding others and therefore must – his false piety notwithstanding – have expected the gods eventually to punish him. But then, after nearly 300 additional Stephanus pages of Socratic analysis, we come to understand that (in Plato’s view) a rich man can indeed be happy if his tripartite soul is properly governed, if wealth somehow was his just due in society, and if he was not a slave to his tyrannous passions.

So there are reasons, and there are reasons. “κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι” may reveal some reasons for calm and happiness; but Plato clearly intends that Cephalus’ verbal reasons should prove dissatisfying to us if left to stand alone, and that we should remain perplexed, demanding further explanation, until Socrates has served up to us his full philosophical feast.

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