Reading Group on Plato’s Charmides

NOTE: This is the 1st of a series of posts and discussions of Plato’s dialogue Charmides. To view later posts, go to the main blog page and scroll down from there. Please feel free to add comments, questions, corrections, etc.

If anyone out there is interested, some friends and I will be gathering to discuss Plato’s dialogue Charmides beginning on June 5th. I will start posting notes, discussion questions and background information this week and next, mostly to get you thinking about the text. Feel free to contribute with questions or comments wherever you are and as you see fit. The dialogue is largely a search for the meaning of the reality behind the Greek word sophrosyne, variously translated as “moderation” or “temperance” or “sound-mindedness”. There is no exact English equivalent, which may actually help us since we will be less prone, as a Greek reader might, to presume that we already know what it is. A problem for the Anglophone reader is that the English translations sound dull, too prosaic to be of interest. But sophrosyne is a foundational virtue, enormously interesting and important, as I hope you will all come to recognize.

Here are a couple of ground rules:

A. Stay focused on just this assigned piece. Please, those of you who have read the entire dialogue, don’t make connections with anything beyond what we are scheduled to discuss. So for Session I, we will only be discussing material in Session I. In Session II, we will be discussing Session II but you can refer back to Session I. Etc.

B. Read slowly. Try to incorporate every physical detail into your experience of the text. Try to see, hear and smell what is going on. There is a dramatic context going on that contributes to the larger meaning, so don’t just take arguments in isolation. Who are these people? What motivations are they operating with?

C. Please comment in order to contribute. Make sure that you check the comments later on, since that is where the life of this forum will be conducted. Feel free to comment in response to other commenters as we go along. Don’t just think you are talking to me. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to give voice to what unsettles you: bad arguments for instance. It could be that reflecting on the badness of a particular argument is precisely what will open up the dialogue for us.

Every day or two, I will give a few notes and observations to help you with your reading. They are not interpretations exactly, just pointers, notes, provocations and hints. Feel free to totally disregard them! In several places, I include questions. You don’t have to answer those either. I have no fixed answer in mind myself — questions just arise for me as I read slowly — as they should for you.

For the Charmides, our provisional discussion schedule is:

Session 1 on June 5th — beginning to 162b
Session 2 on June 12th — 162c to 167a
Session 3 on June 19th — 167b to end

On translations: I have been using both the Grace & Thomas West translation and the Lamb translation in my Loeb Classics edition. Others will be using the Rosemary Kent Sprague translation. All translations have their strengths and defects, so really any translation will do. Here is a link to the online Jowett translation. It is free, which is nice, but lacks the Stephanus numbers we will be using to call out passages. Another online option that does have the Stephanus pagination can be found at the Perseus website. Its defect is that you have to click from page to page. Its virtue is that you can quickly toggle to the Greek if you want to look at it.

I will start posting notes, discussion questions and background information this week and next, mostly to get you thinking about the phenomenal reality behind the Greek word sophrosyne, variously translated as “moderation” or “temperance” or “sound-mindedness”. There is no exact English equivalent, which may actually help us since we will be less prone, as a Greek reader might, to presume that we already know what it is. Our problem as anglophones is that the English translations sound dull, too prosaic to be of interest. But sophrosyne is a foundational virtue, enormously interesting and important, as I hope you will come to recognize.

One final thing. If you are in the Augusta, Georgia area and would like to attend in person, we will be meeting at the Denny’s on Washington Road near the I-20 interchange. We are meeting on the dates indicated at 6:30 am. (Yep — A.M.!)

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Reading Group on Plato’s Charmides

  1. My copy of Laches and Charmides was given to me by Woody Belangia on 12/11/09. It was a Christmas gift for the reading group at the time. That said, it seems I should attempt the discussion. I am deficient in on line responses, but will give it try. Thank you for the gift of sophrosyne. Jackie Are you meeting on the 5th or 7th?

  2. Woody, please send your email to me directly. I have a question. Liz in Portland, Oregon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s