Plato’s Protagoras, a translation is “an attempt at a collaborative translation of Plato’s Protagoras, a beautiful and challenging dialogue. The (lead) author is Dhananjay Jagannathan, a graduate student in ancient philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford.” You can read a little more about it here:

The basic principle is this: every day for a few months, I will post roughly a page of the dialogue on a blog (, side by side in Greek, in my own translation, and in Jowett’s classic 1871 translation that appears commonly online. I’ve invited readers to comment and offer suggestions to improve the translation. My goal is to communicate Plato in English the way readers of his would have interpreted his Greek, aiming to capture his range of styles (colloquial conversation on the street, philosophical debate, rhetorical displays, poetic analysis, and so on) in a contemporary idiom. The nature of the project requires a wide readership for its success, so I hope you will pass this along.

So I am passing it along, with best wishes for its success.


  1. michael farris says:

    Poor topic with no comments yet. Why is that?

  2. Bill Walderman says:

    Thanks for the tip. I plunged in and so did A.J.P. Stephanos.

  3. Yes we did, but I didn’t like to say so because there were no comments.

  4. Well, after looking at episode 315 I found nothing worth saying except the obvious remark that Jowett’s translation is perfectly adequate. The sexy bit in his version is less grating than the News-Of-The-World knowingness of Jagannathan et al.. I’m not talking about faithfulness to the original here, of which I can’t judge. It’s just that even if simpering archness were the oldest journalistic style in the world, that’s no good reason to impose its tiring familiarity on the jaded reader.
    I thought the aim was to freshen the dialogue, not tart it up. The faux-it-all young scholars even get toy-boy wrong.
    Jagannathan et al.:

    … Pausanias from Cerameis, and, with him, a youngster I thought was pretty well-brought up – well, pretty, at any rate. I thought I heard that his name was Agathon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was Pausanias’ boy-toy.


    … with Pausanias was a youth quite young, who is certainly remarkable for his good looks, and, if I am not mistaken, is also of a fair and gentle nature. I thought that I heard him called Agathon, and my suspicion is that he is the beloved of Pausanias.

  5. This is a boy-toy, a desperate and overblown attempt to hijack the original expression.

  6. I meant “overinflated attempt”.

  7. Bill Walderman says:

    The Greek word translated by Jowett as “beloved” and by Jagannathan as “boy-toy” is “paidika.” This starkly un-euphemistic word connotes a crude, unidealized sexual relationship in which a teenage or younger boy serves the pleasure of an older man. As Jagannathan notes in the comments, there is different word, which Socrates doesn’t use, for a teenage boy involved in a physical relationship with an older man that idealizes the relationship, namely, “eromenos.” There is a note of distaste or even contempt in Socrates’ use of “paidika” that Jowett’s high-Victorian “beloved” doesn’t capture. (Of course, Jowett was one of the greatest Greek scholars of all time, and he did more than nearly anyone else to make Plato and others accessible to readers who don’t know Greek, but he simply couldn’t avoid using a euphemistic term, writing when he did.)
    Jagannathan is right to use a word that is stronger than “beloved.” “Boy-toy” seems a little extreme and anachronistic, and to my ear grates a little, but actually it conveys an innuendo in the original that Jowett’s translation misses. I suggested “pleasure boy”; but “plaything” might do.
    Also, Jowett’s translation doesn’t reproduce a snarky little joke in the original. Socrates first says that the boy is “kalon k’agathon,” which literally means “beautiful and good” but is an idiomatic expression for “aristocratic” or “well-bred,” but then corrects himself and says something like “well, at any rate, beautiful.” Jagannathan tries to capture this nuance by a play on the word “pretty,” which one of the commenters astutely suggested.

  8. Stu, I noticed toyboy mix up too, but I wasn’t certain I was right. Anyway, I’ve posted them a correction about it.
    As to the appropriateness — and because finding cultural equivalencies is most of the fun of doing translations, you can’t blame them for trying toyboy (assuming for a moment they’d got it right) — I agree it’s quite likely to look out of date very quickly.

  9. That surprises me, Bill. Plato would then seem to have had a style not unlike mine – stately exaggeration in matters abstract, seasoned with an occasional dash of bitchiness.

  10. Bill Walderman says:

    Plato doesn’t hew to a single style or register–he has an enormous range of registers at his command. The Protagoras is a narrative by Socrates (prompted by an unnamed interlocutor) of Socrates’ encounter with the sophists. The portion of the narrative under discussion is quite colloquial and permeated with Socratic irony, which I wouldn’t describe as “bitchiness.”

  11. Trond Engen says:

    And while you’re at it, could you replace this with a good and informed comment on the subject? One of those Bill Walderman won’t have will do fine.

  12. Socratic irony
    That’s what I’m calling bitchiness. However mild-mannered and self-deprecating, it is sharp dialogical practice with the object of throwing the interlocutor into confusion. That’s why Socrates does it to such an extent: to induce Befremdung and Verfremdung, and so open the pathways for a rethink. When I read (most of) the dialogues many years ago, that is how I read them. It is a commonplace that they have usually been appreciated for the puzzling razzle-dazzle as much as for any hard insights. They have enabled many an academic career.
    I’m not trying to downgrade irony, but rather rehabilitate sharp practice. At least no one in those days complained that they were “uncomfortable” with what Plato arranges for Socrates to say.

  13. I notice that Bill prefers commentator to commenter.

  14. Similarly, perhaps, I am failing to distinguish between irony and nastiness. It’s because I am tired of all the portentous tippy-toeing around the notion of “irony” that I have read over the years.

  15. Bill Walderman says:

    “And while you’re at it, could you replace this with a good and informed comment on the subject? One of those Bill Walderman won’t have will do fine.”
    OK, could you delete my comments altogether?

  16. Trond Engen says:

    Je tæk dom æille sju.
    Bill: It was my own comment I wanted him to replace by one of yours.

  17. Not being Norwegian, I didn’t know the story of Marte Svennerud, but now have it as my disposal.

  18. Bill Walderman says:

    Sorry, Trond, I misunderstood you!
    Is that Nynorsk? Can you tell us what it means? I found something online which I think (using some Danish to interpret what seems to be Norwegian dialect) was a story about seven orphans–one generous woman in the village said she would take in all seven.
    Is this related to your comment?

  19. Bill Walderman says:

    I see MMcM got there first, adding a little context to what I found.
    Anyway, Trond, unnskyldning, med venligst hilsen.

  20. mvh is how you sign off a business letter, Bill. You’d be better off saying something nice in Greek.

  21. “Punk” would be a better translation than “boy toy”. Before punk rock came along that was one of it’s main meanings, the other one being something like “especially annoying teenage boy”.

  22. Bill Walderman says:

    “mvh is how you sign off a business letter, Bill. You’d be better off saying something nice in Greek.”
    Well, I tried. What can I say in Norwegian that is less formal and more sincere?

  23. But “punk” in that sense has now fallen into complete disuse, if it had ever been widely known. That would not recommend it for an updated version of a Platonic dialog. According to the OED it was a slang term for the “catamite” of a tramp or prisoner. The only time I have encountered the term was in The Naked Civil Servant, where it had a mixed sense, if I recall correctly. The last time I encountered the phenomenon was in Germany in the ’70s.

  24. I don’t think that it’s ever fallen out of use, but it never has been used much in elegant speech.

  25. Thanks to all for the comments and criticism (and of course to Mssr Language Hat for advertising).
    As for confusion about ‘toy-boy’ and ‘boy-toy’, let me just say that I’m pretty confident that toy-boy is a British expression, while I, unfortunately, speak American and am trying to translate the Protagoras into (a not too grating for British ears) variety of American. For a long time American readers have had to put up with the frustrations of reading translations that require further translation (even the very good, colloquial 2009 Protagoras done by Tom Griffith in the Cambridge History of Political Thought series brings me up short every once in a while). Adam Beresford’s recent Penguin is a very good American version, but I disagree with some other aspects of his philosophy of translation. And of course, the point is to make something free and available on the Internet.
    As I’ve pointed out in a reply to AJP Crown’s comment referenced above, the term ‘boy-toy’ has made it into the American Heritage Dictionary and the Webster New World dictionary in the sense I require ( Even if the term is recent and originated in a particular cultural context, that’s no reason to think it can only be used in that context. As far as my own idiolect goes, it’s a general term for a primarily physical relationship characterized by age disparity.
    As for the question of too heavily dating the translation, I can only say that I’m not trying to publish it – I want it to be useful now. I think it’ll still be useful in a few years’ time. And if someone wants to update it in 20 years’ time, then I’d be very flattered and the beauty of open access is that they could go and do so themselves.

  26. Bill Walderman says:

    Incidentally, the boy, Agathon, like many of the participants in Plato’s dialogues, was a real individual whom we know about from sources independent of Plato, and who in later life became a prominent playwright. By the time the Protagoras was written, as opposed to the dramatic date of the dialogue, he was well-known for his effeminacy (in addition to his successful plays).
    Effeminacy was a personal characteristic that was not looked upon with favor in Athens. It was considered perfectly natural for men to have erotic interests in teenage boys, but effeminacy was seen as perverted. So the specific identification of him by name in the Protagoras, in addition to the snide remark about his probable relationship to Pausanias, is another detail that contributes to the cumulative irony-laden picture painted by Plato of the gathering of self-important sophists and their followers in Kallias’ house.
    Agathon shows up in another of Plato’s dialogues–the Symposium, which takes place, after a triumph of his on the stage, at his home, where he is living with his companion in what seems to be a gay marriage–a “non-traditional” household in 5th century Athens.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    Je tæk dom æille sju.
    Is that Nynorsk?
    No. It’s dialect from the region north of Oslo, around the lake Mjøsa.
    Can you tell us what it means?
    “I’ll take all seven of them.”
    I found something online which I think (using some Danish to interpret what seems to be Norwegian dialect) was a story about seven orphans–one generous woman in the village said she would take in all seven.
    Yes. A longer version is Ittno knussel. Je tæk dom æille sju.. “I’m not stingy. I’ll take all seven of them.”. The line is from an early 20th century story by (the otherwise largely forgotten) Barbra Ring. It’s been a standing expression in Norwegian ever since.
    Is this related to your comment?
    You were about to abandon something like seven comments. I’d volunteer to put my name to all of them.

  28. hjertelig hilsen or hilsen or hilse så mye are all more informal and less bureaucratic-sounding. But I was hoping for something in Greek.

  29. Mjøsa is the biggest lake in Norway. At the top end of it is Lily-Hammer, where they had the winter Olympics in ’94, the one with the Tonya Harding ice-skating excitement. I shall be driving the length of it and back, later today. I read in Wikipedia that it is cognate with “mere” (bright & shiny), which I know as a name for lakes in Norfolk, in East Anglia (Diss Mere).

  30. Damn. Diss Mere.

  31. I still believe that “irony” is a pigeon-breasted word for the moody, ambiguous reactions of the Socrates character. Thinking of him as resembling Auden or Dame Edna – ugliness combined with brilliance, bitchiness and remorse, depending on the time of day and the venue – might clear the way for a better understanding. As I vaguely remember, there have been several Oxbridge dons whom the modern portraitist could have used in sittings when Socrates was off on business.
    The Socrates character is shown as a man no better than he should be in contemporary Athens. He was definitely partial to a bit of firm fluff (Charmides, Alcibiades), but in the Symposium we are treated to Alcibiades’ complaint that Socrates didn’t fall for his charms. One of the things that I particularly like, whose effectiveness I can vouch for, is that the Socrates character winds the young’uns around his little finger by talking them into the ground – ihnen die Birne matschig reden, as I like to say.
    If anything is needed in a new translation, it is a clearly thought-out, emotionally convincing representation of the personalities across the dialogs and the Symposium. This is not achieved by fretting over individual words, or trying to reduce the phenomenon of Greek “homosexuality” to some modern psychological scheme. Though I say it myself, I find it all rather strange, and think it should be left that way. The translator here needs more worldly wisdom and narrative talent than it takes to settle hoti’s business. That is why I will probably continue to favor Jowett over the present offerings, as far as the sexy bits are concerned.

  32. Oops, I meant “weak-chested”, not “pigeon-breasted”.

  33. Well, Grumbly Stu, I’m afraid this translation isn’t for you. It’s for (American, perhaps not culturally elite) students who might find Jowett difficult to read and for their teachers who might think that he doesn’t always capture the philosophical nuances of the text.

  34. One final point before I pipe down and get back to translating:
    The initial inspiration for ‘boy-toy’ (which I admit I didn’t spend much time thinking about before using it) was the very nice connection made between paidika in the sexual sense and its root adjective paidikos (cf. also paizo, paignion), which can simply mean playful. Paidika are literally (as Bill Walderman suggests) ‘playthings’, but ‘boy-toy’ seemed to preserve both that resonance and the necessary sexual sense that the neuter plural always has and that Jowett avoids in Victorian prudishness.

  35. Bill Walderman says:

    AJP: Tak for det norsk ord, og her har du et graeksk ord, som betyder “hilsen”: khaire!
    That’s bastard Danish, but I think you’ll get the sense if you know Norwegian.
    Maybe hat could supply the Greek characters, which I don’t have at my disposal.
    And Trond: hjertelig hilsen!

  36. Dhananjay: Thanks for showing up and commenting, and you mustn’t mind Grumbly, grumbling is his raisinette (as my inlaws say). As an American, I agree that boy-toy is part of U.S. English and toy-boy isn’t, and I think your use is perfectly appropriate.
    For a long time American readers have had to put up with the frustrations of reading translations that require further translation
    Hear, hear! I have frequently complained about this myself; it’s especially annoying in dictionaries.

  37. Jowett’s translation may or may not get the philosophy right, but literarily it’s horribly Oxonian and stuffy.

  38. “Boy-toy” totally works for this American. I associate it with gossip column descriptions of aging but wealthy actresses who show up at social events with a blonde and muscular “tennis instructor” or “ski instructor”. The female equivalent would be “trophy wife” or “charm on the arm”. This is not the same as a “May-December” romance, which is also characterized by age disparity, but appears to be based on genuine affection.
    I’m not sure if I am having trouble navigating the site or what, but it seems the archives start at chapter 309; also there seems to be no way to view it in three columns as you can in the home page. Perhaps this is an idiosyncrasy of the WordPress theme. I would probably try to follow the blog casually if it was easy to read from beginning to end, or if there was some hope of picking up an introduction to Greek from it, but perhaps the site is more for those who are already Greek or philosophy scholars.

  39. Jeg er imponert over norsken din. Takk for khaire så da har jeg bruk for det.

  40. Bill Walderman says:

    Tak selv!

  41. @Nijma Thanks for your comment.
    It’s been suggested to me that a wiki would offer better functionality than wordpress – separate pages with three columns corresponding to each page of the text instead of an archive. My only concern is losing readers in the transition!

  42. Trond Engen says:

    That’s bastard Danish, but I think you’ll get the sense if you know Norwegian.
    Many a Nynorsk champion would nod eagerly to this.
    hjertelig hilsen
    Hjertelig takk!

  43. Just to update any LanguageHatters who are still following along, I’ve moved the site to a wiki, which should be easier to use and maintain:

  44. Just to update any LanguageHatters who are still following along, I’ve moved the site to a wiki, which should be easier to use and maintain: You can point your RSS reader to this feed to keep track of new pages in the translation: feed://

  45. Dhananjay, you said “I’m pretty confident that toy-boy is a British expression, while I, unfortunately, speak American”, but it was in New York that I first saw the discussion about the difference between “boy toy” and “toy boy”. It was in an article about Madonna and sexism in, very roughly, 1990. Though that doesn’t prove anything about where it was coined, Americans are (I think) as aware of the difference as Brits are.

  46. Nope. I remember the discussion of the two terms back around the time Madonna hit it big; in certain circles that focused on pop/gay culture (like the Village Voice) it was a briefly prominent topic. Then it went away, like most such, leaving the term “boy-toy” behind. Americans (aside, obviously, from those familiar with furrin usages) do not know or use the term “toy-boy.”

  47. Dhananjay Jagannathan: I’ve moved the site to a wiki
    Very nicely done. Thanks for providing the background on the numbering, too, for us Greek neophytes. I had a little trouble subscribing to the feed–here’s what I used to subscribe:

  48. Oh well, you’re probably right. You usually are. It could well have been in the Voice that I read about it. Apparently it was in the mid-eighties. Here’s David Crystal, briefly, speaking in his Liverpool-Welsh accent on the British usage.

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