Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Publications: People's Republic of Plato

I started college in 1973, as a pre-ministerial student in a conservative branch of Lutheranism, at Concordia Lutheran Junior College in Ann Arbor, MI. I took a lot of extra courses and basically didn't have another full year's worth of schoolwork to do for my Associate's degree, which was all Concordia offered at that time; so in 1974 I transferred to Indiana University. There, I experienced a crisis of faith, because my continuing biblical studies exposed me to the reality that people at a state university often talk about the New Testament in terms that were very different from those with which I was familiar. I was not certain whether I could and should continue in a ministerial line of study, so I dropped out of I.U. and moved to Los Angeles, where I spent several years living with or near my brother and sister, both of whom had moved out there from Indiana within the past few years. The following year, I began taking courses at California State University, Long Beach. There, I continued the study of classical Greek, which I had begun at Concordia and had continued at Indiana, and I also gained more of an understanding of ancient Greek philosophers.

In those classics studies, and also in my subsequent political science study at Columbia College in New York, I got the impression that Plato and Aristotle had formed a lot of the basic ideas, and had posed many of the root questions, that have been intriguing thinkers ever since. I had dreams of becoming thoroughly educated in the classics, beginning with Plato.

Unfortunately, my legal education and practice took me far away from that earlier, learning-oriented mindset. For a number of years, my hope of becoming at least somewhat knowledgeable about the classics was on hold, while I pursued the much more day-to-day life of a lawyer and a New Yorker. While living in Maine in 1996, however, I took several weeks and devoted myself to the task of writing a restatement, as I called it -- a paraphrasing, if you prefer -- of Plato's Republic.

That was undeniably a learning experience. I became familiar with the text to a much greater extent than had been possible in the rushed reading we gave it in my undergraduate classics (or was it political theory?) course at Columbia College. I felt that I had also provided a real service, insofar as my restatement made The Republic much easier to understand than most translations did. A translator was required to stick with the words of the Greek text; I had the freedom to take another sentence or two, when necessary, to clarify a concept. I was not working from the Greek, and it seemed to me that I did not need to. I was not seeking scholarly precision; I was just trying to communicate the basic ideas to new readers of the classic work.

Publishers were generally not interested in the resulting manuscript. One was, but the editor had his own ideas about what Plato was trying to say. Part of me said that I should do it his way and get a publication out of it, but I think the better part of me said that it made more sense to just post it online for free. My experience with Take the Bar had taught me that it could take twice as long to edit and publish a book as it took to write it. I was under no illusions about making money or gaining fame from a restatement of The Republic. Mostly, I just wanted to learn, and to share what I had learned.

I sent out some e-mails to promote the book to people (mostly professors) with an evident interest in The Republic. Some of them took note. For a while, there were a number of sites with links that pointed to my Republic webpage. There are now only a few left. No doubt that would change if I promoted it again. But where a book of this sort needs to be promoted is not to college professors, who I think will generally want their students to read highly accurate (and sometimes hard-to-understand) translations. This is more for students, and I don't presently know of websites (other than something on the Cliff's Notes level) that try to connect students with in-between materials of this type. They're surely out there, but I don't have time to search for them now.

Anyway, my original People's Republic of Plato webpage is still there. The site includes a slightly cleaned-up version of the well-known Jowett translation, in which I discovered some a few problems, and to which I added cross-references and other minor improvements. Please feel free to refer it to college students or others who are interested in a fresh, relatively simple interpretation of what Plato was trying to say.



Correction: the Plato's Republic restatement is now in my ScribD folder: