"Joe Sachs is a national treasure. His brilliant translations from the Greek, spanning works from Homer to Aristotle, have long enriched scholars and students alike. He crowns those achievements with this exquisite rendering of two of Plato’s most beautiful dialogues, with an introduction that evidences his deft ability to drill down to 'the thing itself.'"
—Thomas Sheehan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, Stanford University
The Phaedrus and Symposium are Plato’s two dialogues about Eros—that is, desirous longing. In these new translations by former St. John’s College tutor Joe Sachs, the reader imaginatively becomes a member, if a silent one, of the conversations Socrates has with his companions.
While both dialogues are about love, they differ in intriguing and important ways. The conversation of the Phaedrus takes place in the countryside and that of the Symposium in Athens. In the Phaedrus only Socrates and Phaedrus are present; in the Symposium many participate in the drinking party. But in both, Socrates presents singularly abiding images: The winged horses and chariot in the Phaedrus; the ladder of love in the Symposium. These compelling images attract and move the reader to ask questions of the dialogues, which in their unique ways seem to reply.
The interplay of the two texts may spark an unfolding in the reader’s thinking about love, but for the dialectical motion that must occur between the speeches and between the lines of Plato’s texts, the reader must do the work, provoked, invited, and assisted by what they contain. The context for our thinking includes in one case the subject of tragedy and comedy, in the other the nature of rhetoric and writing, but it is philosophy, and not poetry or politics, that persistently claims the center of attention. The dialogues themselves seem as different as night from day, as urbane wit from rustic charm—but do they point to opposing or converging attitudes toward erotic love?
Joe Sachs taught for thirty years in the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. He has translated Homer's Iliad (Paul Dry Books, 2018) and Odyssey (Paul Dry Books, 2014); Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, On the Soul and On Memory and Recollection, Nicomachean Ethics, Rhetoric, Politics, and Poetics; and Plato’s Theaetetus, Republic, Gorgias, and Socrates and the Sophists. He lives in Annapolis.