05 March 2008

A Greek Idol, part II

Our continuing 'contest' of translation. Here first the Greek:

οὐ κακῶς δ' ἔοικε μετενηνέχθαι· κεκολάσθαι γὰρ δεῖ τὸ τῶν αἰσχρῶν ὀρεγόμενον καὶ πολλὴν αὔξησιν ἔχον, τοιοῦτον δὲ μάλιστα ἡ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ὁ παῖς· κατ' ἐπιθυμίαν γὰρ ζῶσι καὶ τὰ παιδία, καὶ μάλιστα ἐν τούτοις ἡ τοῦ ἡδέος ὄρεξις.

And now the offerings:

(Senn) And [the word] seems not to have been badly transferred [to the case of adults]; for what longs for the shameful things and can increase much needs to be restrained, and the appetite and the child are most [of all] of that sort. For children too live according to appetite, and in them most [of all] is the longing for what's pleasant.

(Beresford) And the transfer of the term seems to makes good sense, because what’s [“unruly,” i.e.,] in need of discipline [in both cases] is something that (a) wants shameful things and (b) tends to grow rapidly. That very nicely describes both desire and a child. (Children live by their desires, and wanting pleasure is a typically childish thing.)

(Pakaluk) It’s not such a bad thing that the term has been transferred. Why? Because a thing that both (i) goes after disgraceful things and (ii) has the potential for tremendous growth needs to be restrained; and both sensual desire and a child are very much like that. (Children are like that because they too live to gratify their senses; in fact, they want pleasure more than anyone.)

(Rowe) Nor does the transfer of usage seem inappropriate; for least to be indulged is the part of us that not only desires shameful things but can become big, and this characteristic belongs to appetite, and to the child, above all--since children too live according to appetite, and the desire for the pleasant is strongest in them.

(Taylor) The transferred application seems not a bad one; for something which has an appetite for shameful things and a capacity for considerable growth requires to be disciplined, and bodily desire on the one hand and children on the other seem particularly to be things of that kind. Children live in accordance with bodily desire, and the appetite for pleasure is particularly strong in them;

(Ross/Urmson) The transferrence of the name seems not a bad one; for that which desires what is base and which develops quickly ought to be kept in a chastened condition, and these characteristics belong above all to appetite and to the child, since children in fact live at the beck and call of appetite, and it is in them that the desire for what is pleasant is strongest.


  1. Curiously, only Ross/Urmson among the published translations gets it right that it’s the name (ὄνομα) that has been transferred, not the usage.
  2. ‘goes after’ – one needs a broad term for orexis (Latin: inclinatio), and the choice of an English equivalent will depend upon context. ‘Desire’ or ‘appetite’ are less preferable, because they suggest some element of purposeful intention (of getting or doing shameful things), whereas what Aristotle is claiming, I think, is that the inclinatio of such a thing does not rule such things out. Senn’s ‘longs for’ strikes me as misleading, since in English we tend to use ‘longs for’ for what Aristotle calls psychikai epithumiai (except metaphorically, e.g. “I long for an ice-cream sundae”).
  3. ‘sensual desire’—I would use this phrase as a quasi-technical term in English, which is justifiable, because by this point in Aristotle’s exposition, epithumia has become a quasi-technical term for ‘the faculty which goes after the pleasures that come through the sense of touch and, secondarily, taste’.
  4. ‘they live to gratify their senses’—a contextual (i.e. not matching word-for-word) rendering of κατ' ἐπιθυμίαν ζῶσι, which I think captures the meaning. Often one might use ‘sense gratification’ for epithumia, taking the activity to stand for the part of the soul which the activity gratifies. Or perhaps instead: ‘they do whatever gratifies their senses’.
  5. Notice ‘they too’ (καὶ τὰ παιδία)– almost a Freudian point about the importance of the pleasure principle in apparently innocent children. Senn and Rowe caught this; I think Ross/Urmson’s ‘in fact’, although certainly possible, misses the point.
  6. ‘has the capacity for tremendous growth’ is preferable to Beresford’s ‘tends to grow rapidly’, because it’s not the child’s inevitable physical development (as Beresford seems to presume in his notes) but rather his psychical development that Aristotle is concerned with in the comparison.