Searching for Socrates

Adam Kirsch writes about Socrates and the Loeb Library in the Barnes and Noble Review:

Pursuing the figure of Socrates through the Loeb Classical Library leads, then, to troubling conclusions. There’s no reason to think that Xenophon’s dull moralist or Aristophanes’s comic foil is closer to the real Socrates than Plato’s philosopher — rather the contrary, since Plato was the closest to Socrates of any of them. But the three portraits are a reminder that we have no direct access to the real Socrates, whoever he was. We have only interpretations and texts, which both reveal and conceal — just as ancient Athens has exercised such enormous sway on the imagination of the world based solely on the texts and images it left behind. Even so, the Loebs’ promise of completeness is spurious — after all, the Library can only give us what survives from 2,500 years ago, which is a tiny fraction of what the Greeks and Romans wrote. (We have eleven plays by Aristophanes, but we know he wrote forty.) The image of the Loebs on the bookshelf is an emblem of total knowledge, yet the totality is an illusion — even if it’s the kind of illusion that may be more intellectually empowering than truth.

These are clearly the reflections of the literary man Kirsch is. It’s not a philosophers way of writing and speaking, but it’s interesting nonetheless (and probably for some people, because it’s not the philosophical voice!)

For what it isobviously aimed more squarely at selling books than other literary reviewsI’m impressed with the seriousness and quality of the Barnes and Noble Review for what it is, though it’s more .

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