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12 Posts

Posted - 10 Dec 2007 :  20:48:33  

I wonder if I could get some help in translating two sentences from near the beginning of Charmides, in particular those lines regarding the question that Chaerephon asks Socrates (when he first seizes Socrates hand) and Socrates’ subsequent answer. Of the different translations that I have looked at, there is quite a variation in the English text; specifically, the answer does not seem to answer the question, or the question does not quite fit the answer. This incongruency is obvious in the Jowett translation below.

ω̂ Σώκρατες, η̂ δ' ός, πως εσώθης εκ της μάχης;
How did you escape, Socrates?
καὶ εγὼ πρὸς αυτὸν αποκρινόμενος, Ουτωσί, έφην, ως σὺ ορας
You see, I replied, that here I am.

You can see that the “how” of the question is not addressed in the answer. But, even more so, in the answer to the question, it appears that the first half of the Greek text is not even translated, that it is ignored, or minimally translated at best.

After using my Middle Liddell, and subsequent pondering, I have ended up thinking that the question is really about keeping in mind (a presence of mind), or remembering, or being mindful, during the fighting, as much as it is about escaping or surviving the battle in a physical sense. Too, the part of the answer that is not translated seems to suggest that it is about somehow keeping distinct in oneself while in the battle, about somehow keeping oneself separate from the battle even though one is in it fighting; in other words, it seems to be about not losing oneself in the battle lust, which if one did would be of course the loss of σωφροσυνη, the loss of temperance, for one would no longer of be of sound mind.

Even further, it seems that the title itself, Χαρμιδης, suggests that this dialogue is about the lust of battle, about losing oneself in the battle, about losing one’s temperance, one’s soundness of mind, one’s mindfulness, during the fighting. Too, this perspective is even suggested by the actual death of the two main characters, Χαρμιδης and Κριτιας (after the setting in which the dialogue is placed, but previous to Plato’s writing of it).

Now, χαρμη is the joy of battle, the lust of battle, and χαρμα is the sense of joy or delight, both of which come from χαιρω meaning to take delight in, or to lose oneself in the delight, which is the loss of σωφροσυνη, the loss of temperance, the loss of the soundness of mind. Too, Χαιρεφων, being μανικος, is he who takes delight (χαιρω) in the battle cry (φωνη).

This even suggested to me to the word karma that English has adopted from the east. From the above descriptions, we can easily see that karma is to take delight in things in the descent of the soul, to take delight and joy in the world, in the passions of the flesh, which of course fetters the soul, binds the soul in the descent, in matter. In other words, karma is the bondage that comes of partaking of desire, of succumbing to the battle lust, to the lust of life, which is the loss of σωφροσυνη, the loss of temperance, the loss of soundness of mind.

To sum up then, the title tells us that the dialogue is about the joy of battle, the lust of battle, of losing oneself in the passion of battle. Too, that the dialogue takes place in the Ταυρεου παλαιστραν tells us that it is in Neptune’s realm, for Taurus the bull is sacred to Neptune, and thus it is suggested that the dialogue is concerned about the descent of the soul into the world, which is where the battle takes place. Thus, the lust for battle is the lust for the world and all the things in it that delight the soul in its descent. And the battle is the continuous battle of the soul in her descent to keep from losing herself in the world of passion.

And so, does not the question of Χαιρεφων, at least the implied question, the underlying question, ask, “Socrates, how did you not lose yourself in the battle, how did you not lose your soundness of mind in the fighting? How did you not get lost in the battle lust, in the lust of the world.”

And so, too, does not Socrates answer, again at least the implied answer, the underlying answer, “By remembering myself even in the fighting, by keeping myself separate from the lust, keeping myself distinct from the passion, by keeping my presence of mind, my soundness of mind, my mindfulness, as you see me doing now.”

So, does this interpretation seem reasonable? Can those two sentences, Chaerephon’s question and Socrates’ subsequent answer, be translated in this light?

I do hope that this posting is suitable for this site, that it is acceptable to its readers and to its moderator.





55 Posts

Posted - 13 Dec 2007 :  03:55:25  


Hi Niel!

Your interpretation is really interesting. You add to the text your overall knowledge of Plato, because the two lines in particular that you refer to don't seem to support or contradict what you say. The answer to the question "How did you save yourself from the battle", the answer "This is how, I said, how you yourself see" (a literal translation as possible; the original plays with the words πως [how] and ουτως [thus]), remains cryptical. What is it exactly that Socrates supposed for his friend to see? It is not explained, and the conversation turns to other things.

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12 Posts

Posted - 13 Dec 2007 :  23:05:08  


Elpenor, thank you for reply, for your encouragement, and for the literal Greek interpretations. Most often I prefer to read older translations for that very reason, that they are more literal and Plato’s presence seems clearer, his voice more distinct, particularly so when compared with some recent translations. Too, Elpenor, I would like to thank you for your writings on this site, for they have been insightful and revealing for me, as I am sure they have been for many others also. Two in particular come to mind. First, that in which Achilles is told of the death of Patroclus, in which you reveal to the reader the depth of emotional expression and vividness of imagery that is in Homer, but does not make it through into the translations. And second, the one about Cephalus and old age from near the beginning of The Republic, where you reveal what was actually in the two adjectives, “kosmios” and “eukolos”, that Plato used in regards to old age, but again was lost in every translation that I checked. You truly reveal just how much is lost in translation—which in the last case is probably close to ninety percent. (As an aside, I still wonder if Plato did not intend a pun in there playing on the idea 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.") Anyway, though, how beautifully those two adjectives sum up the situation: simply look to the ordered reason of heaven and let the earth go, follow that what is above and release that what is below.

But to get back to where we were, in your literal interpretation of Socrates answer to Chaerephon, am I mistaken or did you not interpret the first half of the answer, καὶ εγὼ πρὸς αυτὸν αποκρινόμενος, which if there is any support for my interpretation, this is where it would reside. Particularly, it is that word αποκρινόμενος and how it fits in the sentence, that I wonder about. I end up with, "well, I kept to (towards) myself separated, or distinguished; or, I kept to myself distinct," which is suggestive of a presence of mind, a mindfulness, though not clear. Or have I missed it altogether?

Also, in your answer you translate Socrates saying, "This is how, ... how you yourself see," and I was wondering if this could mean exactly what it says? Is Socrates saying, "as you yourself see," not "as you yourself see me," thus having to do with how Chaerephon himself perceives rather than his actual perceiving of Socrates? If this were the case, then your statement, "What is it exactly that Socrates supposed for his friend to see?" could be stated, “How is it exactly that Socrates supposed for his friend to see?"

But though as you say, Elpenor, it is cryptic, I yet suspect that it is in these cryptic statements where Plato is revealing the secret, revealing what it is really about. And I say this because I do not think that Plato was cryptic or vague because he got tired of writing, or because he didn't know how to make it clear, or because he didn't care if it was clear or not. No, none of these. If it is cryptic, I suspect it is so because Plato meant it to be cryptic, for there is where he hides and yet reveals, where the secret truth is to be found if we, the reader, can uncover it.

There seem to be a number of these in Charmides. Another example would be the end of 160D where Socrates says, "attend more closely and look into yourself; reflect on the quality that is given you by the presence of temperance and what quality it must have to work this effect on you." And again, being cryptic, there is a noticeable degree of variance in the translations, and if you wished to give a very literal translation of this, I would very much appreciate it.

But, still, is this not a very revealing statement made by Socrates, for, in seeking to discover what σωφροσυνη is, he tells us that we can know of it by looking inside our self; and, too, is it not interesting that every reader who reads this is himself asked to pay more attention and look inside himself to perceive the quality that is given him by the presence of σωφροσυνη. That Charmides looks and does not see does not necessarily mean that it is not there, but rather that he does not pay enough attention, that he can not see for his "seeing" is preoccupied, is filled with images. Is Socrates not saying that it is there inside us if only we pay enough attention, if we look closely enough, or look if only we look in the right way? For is it not obvious that if one looks inside and they are apprehending through imagination all they will see is imagination. And, too, if one looks inside and they are apprehending through opinion and belief all they will see is opinion and belief. And that only if one looks inside with the eye of reason will there be a chance to see what is really there. Put another way, if one looks inside and all they see is ingenerated images—pictures, words, thoughts, phantasies, whatever—how could they ever see that what is not an image, that what is real. Once more, in other words, there is the source and there is the outflow, and if the outflow is flowing, if it is ingenerating a steady stream of endless images, if one is apprending through the outflow, apprehending through images, how could one ever see the source, of which σωφροσυνη is associated, in which σωφροσυνη resides; for surely the source is not a word, is not a thought, is not an image, is not a picture.

Anyway, Elpenor, did you not translate the first part of Socrates answer?

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55 Posts

Posted - 14 Dec 2007 :  17:03:24  


Dear Niel, I'm really glad that we have you in the forum, seeing how genuine is your study of Plato and the Greek tradition. Thank you for your comments on these pages, yet it is not the comments that keep them growing and advancing; it is rather studies like yours, creative and serious, that oblige these pages to go as far as they can.

As you rightly point out, I didn't translate the first part, where the grammatical support of your argument lies. This is because I took it for granted that ἀποκρινόμενος means "answering", i.e., "and me, answering to him, I said", etc. The middle voice apokrinesthai is common (not only in Plato, but anywhere) to mean "answer". Besides this, notice the syntax where apokrinomenos belongs. If we don't translate apokrinomenos as "answering", we can not explain "to him" (pros ayton). To support your argument the phrase should be somehow like "εγὼ πρὸς αυτὸν ἔφην, αποκρινόμενος", etc., that is "pros auton" should be connected with ephen and not with apokrinomenos, unless Socrates meant "separating myself from him, I answered him", which is rather improbable and in any case it wouldn't support your argument either.

Therefore, your argument doesn't seem to have a grammatical basis. This does not mean that it is less interesting. Better such misconceptions as yours, than many trivial interpretations. I'm saying this, because by using your instinct (or should I call it inspiration?) you used errors to arrive at a truth at least possible.

Reading again the phrase of Socrates, "And answering to him, Thus, I said, as you see". If his friend was seeing, why did he not understand, but on the contrary, he asked Socrates? Obviously, the answer Socrates had in mind was something that his friend should be able to understand, that is, not of the kind "I had good armor", etc. Maybe Socrates' answer was more literal than we take it to be: "Just the way you see, the same way I was saved", i.e., naturally, I didn't do anything at all in particular, it just happened, I don't know. Socrates' answer can also mean, "exactly as you don't know how I was saved, I don't know either!"

Both these ways to understand Socrates' answer come to the same point, "I don't know", which was also, as we recall, the reason for the Oracle at Delphi to pronounce Socrates the wisest man, because he knew that he didn't know anything at all, which brings us very close to your beyond-opinion-and-images interpretation.

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12 Posts

Posted - 17 Dec 2007 :  23:02:25  


Aah! Elpenor. Just as you see, you say, just as you see. Just like right now. Just like right here. Too, it makes much sense, Elpenor, what you say about Socrates not knowing, about it being just the way it is, about it being just as you see. It is straight-forward, literal, and ties in nicely with the rest. Too, it has a ring of simple beauty about it, which is noticeable in the introductory paragraphs (and, elsewhere, of course) of most of Plato’s writings. Since what you say is satisfying, Elpenor, I can now let that one rest. Thank you.

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