BMCR 2007.03.11

The Republic. The Comprehensive Student Edition

, The Republic. The Comprehensive Student Edition. Lanham, MD: Littlefield, 2005. 416. $16.95.

Tschempilk’s The Republic is an excellent textbook for undergraduate students. It is based on the translation of John Llewelyn Davies and James Vaughan (1852), with the archaism and Briticism eliminated from the text. The book is organized in the traditional ten books with the Stephanus numbers. At the beginning of each book, there is a detailed outline of the argument; and, at the end of each book, there is a set of study questions and notes that clarify Plato’s references to persons, places, and historical events in the dialogue. Besides the introduction and the index, there are five appendices of texts selected to illuminate certain themes in the Republic: 1) Lysias’ Oration XII; 2) Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue; 3) Herodotus’ The Ring of Gyges; 4) Sections 7-10 from Xenophon’s Oikonomikos, that discuss the status of women in Greek society; and 5) Xenophon’s history of the Athenian Constitution. The appendices have brief introductions to place the work in a historical and political context. Finally, the introduction provides historical and biographical information about Plato, Socrates, and the other characters in the dialogue.

In her introduction, Tschemplik alerts students to the importance of the dialogue’s dramatic elements. The information that she provides about the characters, setting of the dialogue, and the historical period is done fairly, so students can decide for themselves what is important and relevant to their reading of the Republic. However, I do have one minor quibble with Tschemplik’s characterization of Adeimantus representing “decency and moderation.” In my view, Adeimantus, along with Glaucon, represents both epithumia and thumos at different times in the dialogue rather than the one-to-one correspondence to which Tschemplik assigns them. It was Adeimantus, not Glaucon, who objected to the guardians’ communist living arrangements in Book IV and the sharing of women and children in Book V, suggesting that Adeimantus suffers from epithumia, too. Nonetheless, Tscemplik has no philosophical agenda; rather, she allows the students to make up their own minds as to what is crucial in the Republic.

Tschemplik suggests the following organizational structure for the Republic: Books I-IV focus on the questions of justice in the city and individual; Books V-VII examine the requirements for a just city and the philosopher-king; Books VIII-IX scrutinize the different types of regimes as embodiments of different types of souls; and Book X concentrates on mimesis. This organizational structure is similar to those found in Hildenbrandt’s, Cornford’s, and Voegelin’s interpretations of the Republic. Their influence is also reflected in Tschemplik’s focus on the city as an analogy of the individual soul, although she adds a Freudian account to her interpretation with the id, ego, and superego corresponding to Socrates’ tripartite soul.

The other themes Tschemplik selects for examination are the Platonic forms; the roles of religion, poetics, and women in the city; the evolution and corruption of regimes; and the goals of happiness and justice for both the individual and the city. Here the appendices especially are helpful in illuminating these themes. For example, Lysias’ Oration and Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue provide alternative accounts of happiness and justice to Socrates’. The contrast between Socrates’ proposal of sexual equality in Books III and V and the status of women in Greek society reflected in Xenophon’s Oikonomikos is another instance where the appendices and Republic clarify the question about the role of women in politics. Overall, the appendices illuminate certain themes in the Republic that enable students to reflect on the nature of happiness, the question of justice, and the roles of women and sexual equality in politics.

Finally, Tschemplik explains some of the problems and challenges of how to read a Platonic dialogue. Citing the Phaedrus and Euthyphro, Tschemplik shows the problematic relationship between the spoken versus written word: the former can defend itself from misinterpretation while the latter cannot. She particularly is good at explaining how a Platonic dialogue is an invitation to the reader to engage in dialectics: when engaging in a conversation with other characters in the dialogue, Socrates also is asking the reader to reflect upon his or her own opinions, prejudices, and predispositions. This understanding of Socratic irony — the reader must decide whether Socrates is serious — is an invitation to the student to practice dialectics with the written word. Tschemplik effectively underlines this point without being didactic or indoctrinating.

Tschemplik’s Republic should strongly be considered for undergraduate students because of its excellent introduction and selected appendices. The outlines of the arguments at the beginning of each chapter will guide the student to understand the Republic, and the study questions at the end of each chapter will lead them to reflect upon what they had read. The revised translation is fine: it avoids indoctrinating the student in any particular school of thought. In short, Tschemplik presents a textbook that is both accessible and affordable without sacrificing scholarship and serious study to students.