BMCR 1995.04.03

1995.04.03, Bonnette (trans.), Xenophon: Memorabilia

, , , Memorabilia. Xenophon. Memorabilia. (Bonnette). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. xxviii, 170 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780801429637. $28.95.

There are quite a few translations of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, both in libraries and on bookstore shelves (three editions are currently in print according to Books in Print Plus. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1995). Immediately, then, the question has to be asked: what does this new translation by Amy Bonnette (Ph.D., Boston College, 1989) offer that all the others do not? The translator herself provides the answer to this question: “I must repeat the standard translator’s warning that for those who wish to make an adequate study, reading this translation is no substitute for reading the original. At best a translation may provide a degree of access for those who cannot avoid such a compromise for now” (p. xxv). This new translation of Xenophon does indeed provide something that all the other translations do not: it is a current and faithful English translation supplemented by introductory text and extensive notes which serves well its intended audience—primarily scholars outside of the field of classical studies who possess little to no Greek.

That the English is current and fresh there is no doubt. Compare, for example, a passage (2.2.5) from a few of the other, standard translations: “‘The woman conceives and bears her burden in travail, risking her life, and giving of her own food; and, with much labour, having endured to the end and brought forth her child, she rears and cares for it, although she has not received any good thing, and the babe neither recognizes its benefactress nor can make its wants known to her: still she guesses what is good for it and what it likes, and seeks to supply these things, and rears it for a long season, enduring toil day and night, nothing knowing what return she will get'” (Xenophon, Memorabilia and Oeconomicus, Loeb Classical Library, E. C. Marchant, trans. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923, p. 107); and, “‘The woman, for her part, conceives the child, carries her burden; while she is pregnant, at the risk of her life, she shares with the child the very food with which she too is nourished. She bears the child with great pain, feeds it, and takes care of it, though she has not received any good. The infant does not know who is taking such good care of it, and cannot even indicate what it wants. She, however, guesses what is good for the baby and tries to supply what it likes. She spends long hours feeding it, and patiently toils day and night without even knowing if she will receive and benefits in return'” (Xenophon, Recollections of Socrates and Socrates’ Defense Before the Jury, Anna S. Benjamin, trans. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1965, pp. 42-43); and finally, “‘The wife conceives and carries this burden, bearing the weight of it and risking her life and giving up a share of her own nourishment; and after all her trouble in carrying it for the full time and bringing it to birth, she rears it and cares for it, although the child has never done her any good and does not know who his benefactor is. He cannot even indicate what he wants; his mother’s attempts to supply what will be good for him and give him pleasure depend upon her powers of guessing; and she goes on rearing him for a long time, putting up with drudgery day and night, without knowing whether she will receive any gratitude'” (Xenophon, Memoirs of Socrates and The Symposium (The Dinner Party), Hugh Tredennick, trans. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1970, p. 83). Now here is Bonnette’s translation of the same passage: “‘While the woman, after she conceives, bears this burden, weighed down, taking risks concerning her life and sharing the sustenance by which she too is sustained; and after she carries it to term with much labor and brings it forth, she sustains and attends to it, even though she has not been previously well treated by it, and even though the newborn does not recognize the one by whom it is well treated; not can it even signal what it needs, but she by guessing attempts to fill it with what affords both advantage and delight, and she sustains it for a long time, enduring labor both day and night without knowing what gratitude she will receive for these things'” (pp. 43-44).

Bonnette’s translation is a bit cleaner and reads more easily and naturally than do the other three. The passage above, selected more or less at random from among the more memorable passages in Xenophon, is representative of the work as a whole. However, awkward and incorrectly translated passages occur occasionally. For instance, most, if not all, translators render 3.3.11 much the same way as does Benjamin: “‘Do you think,’ said Socrates, ‘that a hipparch should be silent?'” (p. 71). Bonnette, however, distracts the reader by changing persons—the third-person hypothetical “hipparch” becomes a second-person “you” to whom the question is asked: “‘Did you think,’ he said, ‘that you ought to command the cavalry by silence?'” (p. 76). The sentence becomes particularly confusing as it is followed by the direct question: “Or haven’t you pondered the fact that it is through speech that we learned all the things that we have learned…” (p. 76). Another example occurs at 2.3.19: “And yet, in my opinion, the god made a pair of brothers to be even more beneficial to one another than a pair of hands…” (p. 49). “The god,” a translation for “ho theos” is, for at least the contemporary audience, preferable to “God,” but “gods” would have been the best choice in order to bring about consistency with the rest of the translation, and to bring about clarity here. Such errors and inconsistencies are present, but are not so abundant that the translation as a whole suffers. On the other hand, to the credit of Bonnette and her publisher, the translation is without errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The three translations above to which Bonnette’s has been compared set out to be and are faithful to the original Greek, and are well enough written so as to effectively convey Xenophon’s content, purpose, and style. Much the same can be said of Bonnette’s work. In fact, on these grounds alone one could say that this new translation is not superior to any of the others and, conversely, no translation superior to it. All of these works are not equal however, for Bonnette’s text as a whole is superior. From the paper (acid-free), to the binding (sewn signatures, cloth on boards), to the textual content (introduction and notes), this text proves its worth. Here is where this new translation of Xenophon distinguishes itself from all the other standard translations. The text begins with the “Introduction” (pp. vii-xxii) by Christopher Bruell (Boston College, Department of Political Science) entitled “Xenophon and His Socrates,” and although this is a reprint (with minor corrections) of a previously published paper ( Interpretation 16:2 (1988-9), pp. 295-306), it has a place here for it provides the reader with a necessary introductory synopsis and brief analysis of the Memorabilia. Bruell himself summarizes his introduction: “The following remarks are intended to lend support to the view that Xenophon’s account of Socrates deserves more respectful attention from those interested in Socrates than it often receives today” (p. vii). Bruell accomplishes this “first, by considering in a very general way what might be responsible for the current neglect of Xenophon’s account; and, then, by giving a brief summary of the contents of the Memorabilia…” (p. vii).

The introduction is followed by the “Translator’s Note” (xxiii-xxviii), which provides a brief bibliography of scholarship on Xenophon. This bibliography is unfortunately too brief, although Bonnette does direct the reader to the work of Morrison (Donald R. Morrison, Bibliography of Editions, Translations, and Commentary on Xenophon’s Socratic Writings 1600-Present. Pittsburgh: Mathesis Publications, Inc., 1988). Following the “Translator’s Note” is the translation itself (pp. 1-150), which is based upon the Teubner edition ( Xenophontis Commentarii, Karl Hude, ed. Leipzig: Teubner, 1934), and departures from it are indicated as footnotes. The original Greek is, unfortunately, not reproduced in this new edition. This is quite understandable, however, given, undoubtedly, the concerns of the publisher regarding cost. Furthermore, facing Greek text perhaps would be inappropriate given the intention of the translation and its intended audience. Bonnette does, however, provide the standard book, chapter, and section numbering, and, unique to her translation, begins a new paragraph at each numbered section.

The translation is followed by an extensive section of notes (pp. 151-170, nine-point type), which, as Bonnette states, “are of a more secondary nature, indicating alternate translations of words or passages, offering historical information, or providing references to other works for comparison” (p. xxvi). Examples of these three types of notes (taken at random) include: “‘Coward’ ( kakos) might also be translated as ‘a bad [man]'” (n. 87, p. 157); “A talent was the largest unit of weight in Greek measure. In currency it was equal to sixty minas” (n. 42, p. 161); and “Acumenus was an Athenian physician who is mentioned as a friend of Socrates in Plato Phaedrus 227a, 268a-b. He was the father of Eryximachus, also a physician, who speaks on love in Plato Symposium (176c; cf. Protagoras 315c)” (n. 90, p. 167). Nearly 400 notes fill this section which will be of benefit to a wide audience: for those who know Greek, Bonnette clarifies and justifies her translations by providing the original Greek (transliterated) and their corresponding dictionary definitions; and for those unfamiliar with all the particulars of Greek antiquity, Bonnette provides copious encyclopedic data. (It should be noted that Bonnette does assume her audience to have a knowledge of major historical events and persons.) Finally, following the notes is an index of proper nouns which occur in the Memorabilia (p. [171]). Whereas previous editions simply adequately translated Xenophon’s Greek into English, Bonnette surpasses them by successfully transferring Xenophon’s Greek world into the present.

This edition will certainly meet the needs of all scholars and students having an interest in Socrates, presumably in political science, from which the bulk of current published research on Xenophon has come (this translation was in fact sponsored by the Boston College Department of Political Science), and other areas such as history, law, and philosophy. The text may also find a use in the classroom, but it is unlikely that the nature of this particular work, the design and intention of the translation, or its price make it appropriate for the undergraduate. The work should, however, be added to college and research libraries for the use and enjoyment of all, for if, as is implicit in the text, the intention of Bonnette is to make Xenophon’s Memorabilia more accessible to a larger audience, then she certainly has succeeded.