16 October 2006

For Want of a (Finger)Nail

"If you are puzzled about the meaning of what Aristotle says, yet what he says is followed by a gar clause, then look to the gar clause, because usually in the gar clause he will tell you what he means." Thus the very sensible advice that John Ackrill once gave to me.

"But what if you are relying upon a translation, and the translation actually omits crucial words from the gar clause?"-- Then I suppose you are in a fix.

Such is the issue we confront in today's instance, of the use of texts in Jennifer Whiting's essay on Aristotelian philia in the Kraut anthology. Today I'll give you her discussion of a passage from Aristotle and give the Greek also. I see three difficulties in her discussion; I wonder if you can spot these or more.

You will see that in the passage from Aristotle which she quotes there is an ellipsis (...). Now you might think that words have been omitted at this point for editorial reasons, because otherwise the passage would be too long; or that a digression or otherwise irrelevant passage has been left out, as a service to the reader.

But if you consult the Greek you will find that only six, small words are omitted (so passage length could not have been the reason), and that these words, far from being irrelevant, are Aristotle's concrete illustration of what he means.

Strange to say, these words also conflict with the interpretation that Whiting wishes to give to the passage!

Here is the passage as Whiting translates it in her essay, followed by her remarks upon it:

Parents are fond of their children as being something of themselves [hōs heautōn ti onta], and children [are fond of] their parents as [themselves] being something form them [i.e., the parents]. But parents know the things coming from themselves more than their offspring know that they are from them [i.e., the parents]; and the one from which is more familiar with [sunōkeiōtai] the one generated than the one coming to be is with its producer. For what comes from oneself is oikeion to the one from which it comes ... but the one from which [the latter comes] is in now way [oikeion] to it, or less so. And [these phenomena vary] with the length of time [involved]. For [parents] are fond of [their children] immediately upon their coming to be, while children [are fond of] their parents only after some time, when they have acquired comprehension [sunesis] or perception. From these things it is clear why mothers love [their children] more [than their children love them]. Parents, then, love their children as themselves [hōs heautous] (for the ones coming to be from them are like other selves [hoion heteroi autoi], by being separated [from them]) (1161b18-29).
Note the role played here not just by what is oikeion to a subject, but also by the subject's recognition of it as such: this is supposed to help explain the kind of affection people tend as a matter of fact to have. Note especially my rendering of sunōkeiōtai as "familiar with". Ross (1980) has "attached to," which is good insofar as it suggests some sort of emotional bond; Irwin (1999) has "regards ... as more his own," which is less good insofar as it suggests something primarily cognitive. I prefer "familiar with" both because it preserves the etymological connection with sun- (meaning "with") and oikos (whose focal referent is the family), and because it has both cognitive and affective aspects; it suggest not only recognizing that something is oikeion to one, but also the sort of emotional affiliation people tend to have with those with whom they have lived. It suggests a bond requiring a certain kind of perception or understanding, which is why it takes time for children to achieve it (p. 289).

And here is the Greek. I'll highlight the omitted words.

oi9 gonei=j me\n ga_r ste/rgousi ta_ te/kna w(j e9autw~n ti o1nta, ta_ de\ te/kna tou_j gonei=j w(j a)p' e0kei/nwn ti o1nta. ma~llon d' i1sasin oi9 gonei=j ta_ e0c au(tw~n h2 ta_ gennhqe/nta o3ti e0k tou&twn, kai\ ma~llon sunw|kei/wtai to_ a)f' ou{ tw|~ gennhqe/nti h2 to_ geno&menon tw|~ poih&santi: to_ ga_r e0c au)tou~ oi0kei=on tw|~ a)f' ou{, oi[on o)dou_j qri\c o(tiou~n tw|~ e1xonti: e0kei/nw| d' ou)de\n to_ a)f' ou{, h2 h{tton. kai\ tw|~ plh&qei de\ tou~ xro&nou: oi4 me\n ga_r eu)qu_j geno&mena ste/rgousin, ta_ de\ proelqo&ntoj xro&nou tou_j gonei=j, su&nesin h2 ai1sqhsin labo&nta. e0k tou&twn de\ dh~lon kai\ di' a4 filou~si ma~llon ai9 mhte/rej. gonei=j me\n ou}n te/kna filou~sin w(j e9autou&j (ta_ ga_r e0c au)tw~n oi[on e3teroi au)toi\ tw|~ kexwri/sqai),