BMCR 1996.09.04

1996.9.4, Bartlett, ed., Xenophon: Shorter Socratic Writings

, , The shorter Socratic writings : apology of Socrates to the jury, Oeconomicus, and Symposium: translations, with interpretive essays and notes. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. 201 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780801432149 $29.95.

This volume contains translations of three of Xenophon’s Socratic works; the fourth, the Memorabilia appeared earlier in this series in a translation by Amy L. Bonnette with an introduction by Christopher Bruell (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). This collection contains an eight page introduction, a new translation of the Apology by Andrew Patch with a revised essay on this text that was previously published by Thomas L. Pangle; a slightly revised reprint of the Carnes Lord translation of the Oeconomicus that was originally published in Leo Strauss, Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse (Ithaca, 1970) followed by an essay by Wayne H. Ambler; and a new translation of the Symposium by Robert C. Bartlett, with an essay by the translator. The essays, written in the Straussian style, are paraphrases and introductory-level philosophical discussions arranged as the topics arise in the texts. The primary affiliation of the contributors is with Political Science, not Classics.

The first name in the first footnote is Leo Strauss, and his publications are cited throughout the volume, though otherwise references to secondary literature are highly selective. The intended audience is apparently Greekless, but nevertheless interested in the exact meaning of Greek words; the notes, which are relatively few and brief, frequently suggest English synonyms. These alternative translations do not do much to improve translations following the rigid rule to render “a given Greek word by the same Engish equivalent” (p. 7). Given the unreliability of the manuscript tradition and the corruption of the texts of Xenophon’s Socratic works, 1 to treat the Greek texts as though they contained the ipsissima verba of Socrates seems unwarranted. In any case, the resulting translations are often clumsy and inelegant and not an adequate reflection of Xenophon’s style, which Cicero had described as gentle, agreeable, and sweeter than honey ( de Oratore 20.58, Orator 32).

Compare, for example, the opening paragraph of the Oeconomicus in Carnes Lord’s version (p. 39) with two other modern translations that are now in print:

I once heard him discourse on the management of the household as well, in about these words.
“Tell me, Critoboulus,” he said, “is management of the household the name of a certain kind of knowledge, as medicine, smithing, and carpentry are?”
“It seems so to me, at least,” said Critoboulus.
“Then just as we are at no loss to say what the work of each of these arts is, can we say also what the work of household management is?”
“It seems, at any rate,” said Critoboulus, “that it is the part of a good household manager to manage his own household well.”

Robin Waterfield: 2

I once heard him discussing estate-management as follows. ‘Tell me, Critobulus,’ he asked, ‘is estate-management the name of a branch of knowledge, like medicine, metalwork and carpentry?’
‘I think so,’ said Critobulus.
‘You know how we can attribute a function to each of those skills? Can we do the same for estate-management?’
‘Well, I think that a good estate-manager is one who manages his own estate well,’ said Critobulus.

Sarah B. Pomeroy: 3

And I once heard him discussing estate management also as follows:
Socrates: Tell me, Critobulus, is estate management the name of some branch of knowledge, as medicine, smithing, and carpentry are?
Critobulus: I certainly think so.
2) Socrates: And just as we would be able to say what the function of each of these occupations is, could we say what the function of estate management is?
Critobulus: Well, it is my opinion that the function of a good estate manager is to manage his own estate well.

Despite Bartlett’s avowed intention to rehabilitate Xenophon as a Socratic and to give his writings the attention they deserve (p. 1), it seems unlikely that a volume like this one will produce the desired result.

  • [1] See further Sarah B. Pomeroy, Xenophon Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press [Clarendon], 1994, pb. 1995), 91-3. [2] Robin Waterfield, trans. The Estate Manager. Xenophon. In Conversations of Socrates. Trans. by Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield (London: Penguin, 1990), 289. [3] Xenophon Oeconomicus.