“THE OLDEST EXTANT DOCUMENT OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY”: FIRST ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF PLATO’S APOLOGY AND PHAEDO, 1675
PLATO. Plato His Apology of Socrates and Phaedo or Dialogue Concerning the Immortality of Mans Soul. London: Printed by T.R. & N.T. for James Magnes and Richard Bentley, 1675. Small octavo, late 18th-century full tree calf, red morocco spine label. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
First edition in English of Plato’s defense of Socrates and his record of Socrates’ prison-cell discourse on the immortality of the soul, with engraved frontispiece of Socrates taking the cup.
“That Plato should be the first of all the ancient philosophers to be translated and broadcast by the printing press was inevitable… The germs of all ideas can be found in Plato… By 15th-century standards, Plato was a best-seller” (PMM 27). During Socrates’ imprisonment, Plato came to his defense, attended to him in his cell, and was present for his discussion on the immortality of the soul, which Plato later committed to writing as the Phaedo. This is the first appearance in English of both Plato’s Apology of Socrates and his Phaedo, translated from the original Greek by Walter Charleton, whose original manuscripts, “Socrates Triumphant, or Plato’s Apology for Socrates” (1675) and “Immortality of the Human Soul” (1657) are preserved in the British Library (DNB). The Apology, the oldest extant document of Greek philosophy, is “in the widest sense an example of forensic oratory” (Dunkle) and is “still about the best introduction to Western philosophy that there is” (Ross, Commentary). In Phaedo, Plato records Socrates’ suggestion that the cognitive soul may enter the world intact and that the life principle of the soul cannot wear out. Plato remained relatively unread in England until the 17th century, so that John Brinsley in 1612 could complain that there was no English translation of any of Plato’s works in print for students to use in translation exercises. The idea of Platonic love became fashionable at the royal court, as evidenced in the plays of Jonson, but it was not until late in the 17th century that Plato gained prominence in scholarly circles such as the Cambridge Platonists. The present first edition of two of Plato’s authentic dialogues is preceded only by the pseudo-Platonic Axiochus translated by Spenser (printed in 1592 and known by a unique copy only) and a selection of Plato’s dialogues printed for school use in 1673. The identity of the translator was revealed when a copy was found in John Evelyn’s library presented to him by the translator, William Charleton. This is the first English translation ever printed of authentic dialogues of Plato (Jayne, 139). Title page printed in red and black. Wing P2405. Harris, 115. Brueggemann, 150. Moss II:448.
Interior fine. Lovely 18th-century tree calf with joint and spine ends expertly restored. A fine copy.