A. N. Whitehead was perhaps more provocative than accurate when he wrote his famous dictum, that “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” But that Plato’s contribution to the development of what we now call (Western) “philosophy” was decisive can hardly be questioned. It was he among the Socratic writers who brought Socrates to general notice, he who founded the first enduring philosophical institute (the Academy), and it was his student Aristotle who, along with his master, proved decisive in making philosophy the foundation to European intellectualism for centuries. Not only philosophy but what we now call Science looks back to that formidable pair.
Among the greatest works in Plato’s corpus is the extravagant ten-book exploration of a utopian political system (Kallipolis) that looks strangely dystopian to us, known in Greek as the Politeia and in English the Republic. The goal of this course will be to come to know that work, and as much as we can to know it in the original Greek.
Conspectus. Making the Republic our own means that we must read deeply in the original; read intervening sections in translation; and also begin to get a firm sense of the scholarly debates. The course will therefore focus on two primary activities:
- Reading as much of the Republic as we can. We will read the whole of Book one, and selections from the remainder in Greek; the remainder in translation.
- Sampling the secondary literature. We will read systematically some gems among the English-language secondary literature. Our team-work on these will include discussion and presentation. In addition, you will have chances to work further on your own: two short papers (5 pages) on an important reading or limited topic, to give you the chance for individual exploration.
Graded material will be weighted as follows:
- Homework, class work, presentations 30%
- Two hour examinations 50%
- Written exercises 20%
For the Greek, we will use John Burnet’s OCT (Platonis Opera, vol. 4, 1902), buttressed by commentaries on reserve. I’d like to try the translation by Robin Waterfield for reading the intervening materials in translation. For the OCT, it’s fine to use the TLG electronic text (we’ll discuss best practice for using that facility) but you may prefer to have a text in hand. If you buy a physical book, be sure to get the revised OCT by Slings, which is available for $30 from 3rd-party vendors at Amazon. (TLG uses the 1902 Burnet editioin.) Waterfield is currently $10 new on Amazon.
Ioannes Burnet, rev. S. Slings. Platonis Opera tomus IV. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford, 2003.
Robin Waterfield. Plato, Republic. Oxford World Classics. Oxford, 2008.
H. W. Smyth, rev. G. M. Messing. A Greek Grammar. Harvard, 1956. Make sure to get the revised 1956 hardcover edition (often to be had for $30 used; avoid the paperback versions, which are copies of the 1905 original).
Reserve Texts. All reserve books are in the Classics Library (Allen 233). Do not remove from the Classics library!
James Adam. 1902. The Republic of Plato, 2 vols. A very old but large-scale commentary. Not worth slogging through every note, but can be useful.
Gilbert Rose. 1983. Plato’s Republic Book 1. Bryn Mawr Commentary. The opposite of Adam: short notes on the Greek without extensive commentary, intended for student use.
Geoffrey Steadman. 2011. Plato’s Republic I. Greek Text with facing vocabulary. Intended for the intermediate student, with rather too much going on. Not reliable in the commentary, but can be helpful. The main benefit is the list of common words (what he calls the “Running core vocabulary”) at the front. I suggest you xerox that section and use it to advantage to build your “core.”
G. R. F. Ferrari. 2007. The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic. A useful set of essays spanning a broad range of topics.
Luc Brisson, Richard Dufour have produced a copious bibliographical guide for the Oxford Bibliographies Online series. To gain access to that, look in the library catalogue under Oxford Bibliographies. Classics, and search for Plato. (There is not yet a separate bibliography for the Republic, but the Brisson/Dufour bibliography has a section on the dialogue.)