04 March 2008

A Greek Idol, part I

It's not too late for you to get in this game. If you wish to propose a translation yourself, to be put side-by-side by the others, give it a try, write it up, and position it as the next Diminishing Flea. Or else simply cast a 'vote' or suggest a friendly amendment to your favorite version below.

Meanwhile, I begin with my own attempt, and some remarks by way of comparison. Consider this part I of this 'Greek Idol' contest.

τὸ δ' ὄνομα τῆς ἀκολασίας καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς παιδικὰς ἁμαρτίας φέρομεν· ἔχουσι γάρ τινα ὁμοιότητα. πότερον δ' ἀπὸ ποτέρου καλεῖται, οὐθὲν πρὸς τὰ νῦν διαφέρει, δῆλον δ' ὅτι τὸ ὕστερον ἀπὸ τοῦ προτέρου.

(Senn) The word "lack of restraint" we apply also to childlike errings; for they have some similarity [to adult errings]. (Now which is named after which makes no difference regarding the things now [at hand]; but it's clear that the later [is named] after the earlier.)

(Beresford) We also use the term “unruliness” of bad behavior in little children, because that’s a somewhat similar thing. It doesn’t matter for our purposes which use of the term comes from which, although it’s clear that the later one comes from the earlier one.

(Pakaluk) The term for unrestraint we apply also to bad behavior in children, since these are alike in a certain respect. (Not that it makes any difference for present purposes which is named after which, but clearly the later is named after the earlier.)

(Rowe) The term 'indulgence' is one we also apply to the ways children go wrong, for these have a certain resemblance to self-indulgence. Which is called after which makes no difference for present purposes, but clearly the later is called after the earlier.

(Taylor) Now we also apply the term akolasia to the naughtinesses of children, as they have a certain resemblance. It makes no difference for the present purpose which is called after the other, but it is clear that the posterior is called after the prior.

(Ross/Urmson) The name self-indulgence is applied also to childish faults; for they bear a certain resemblance to what we have been considering. Which is called after which, makes no difference to our present purpose; plainly, however, the later is called after the earlier.

  1. I suspect Aristotle uses the phrase τὸ δ' ὄνομα τῆς ἀκολασίας (rather than something like ἀκόλαστοι λέγονται) because he wants to have ἀκολασία available as a subject for the next clause. If so, the implicit subject of ἔχουσι would be the compound, 'unrestraint and bad behavior in children' and not simply 'bad behavior in children'. (Cp. below: ἡ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ὁ παῖς .)
  2. ‘Being undisciplined’ would work better and be more accurate in this context than ‘unrestraint’ (or, when it sounds better, ‘lack of restraint’, as Senn thinks here); but in English the former can’t mean the vice of ἀκολασία, whereas ‘unrestraint’ just barely can. Beresford's 'unruliness' is idiomatic but doesn't make the proper connections, either with the etymology of ἀκολασία or with the intended vice.
  3. ‘Not that it makes any difference’—this idiom in English prepares the way for an assertion nonetheless, as does Ar.’s corresponding Greek.
That's all for today. More tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Adam says:

I liked “unruly” and “unruliness” because (i) “unruly” is not bad (?) for the adult version of akolastos, and (ii) etymologically it maps quite well to akolastos because it implies “unruled” i.e., “not ruled over” or “not controlled” which is fairly close to “not kekolasmenon”. The etymological connections aren’t perfect, but I don’t think we sould aim for that here. It would be an amazing fluke if connections like that mapped exactly from one language to another. If they come out nicely, that’s a bonus, but secondary. (Would we try to expose, in English, Aristotle’s etymological claims about asotia and arete and sophrosune?) Also (iii) Aristotle himself switches from using the verb kolazein to using archein, saying that adult desires, and kids, have to be “under the ruling bit”, which he treats as an elaboration of being kekolasmenon. Also (iv) it so happens that we do speak — that is, naturally speak — of “unruly kids”, just as Aristotle reports that Greeks naturally talk of children being akolastoi. Try Googling “unruly kids”. “Unrestrained children” by contrast, seems only to refer to children not wearing seat-belts (!)

Maybe the weakest claim here is that “unruly” is OK for adult akolastos. That may well be wrong. OK, but then what exactly do we take adult akolasia to refer to? It’s important to note that Aristotle’s detailed claims about akolasia don’t have to be taken as telling us the meaning of the term. He can also be analyzing the term — and other Greeks might want to disagree with his analysis. We shouldn’t say that akolasia simply means “having desires for specifically physical pleasures that are excessive and uncontrolled.” That might just be what Aristotle thinks is going on in people who are akolastoi — i.e., as the case may be, in people who are unruly. We need to look to wider and more general usues of the time to get the basic meaning. What do you think Euripides and Herodotus mean when they speak of the akolastos ochlos? What is the best way of saying that in English?

Michael Pakaluk said...


You may be right, and I like 'unruliness'.

It seems in English we have no word that covers excess in eating and in sex. Maybe 'out of control'? Someone might say that such a term assimilates virtue to engkrateia, yet it seems to me that the present passage requires a subtler understanding of engkrateia than usually given.

I'm not sure about your distinction in the last paragraph. Aristotle develops his account of akolasia almost solely by considering the grounds on which people would, and would not, apply the terms akolastos and swphrwn to someone. That looks like, I suppose, an analysis of the term or concept, as others make use of it. On the other hand I'm pretty sure he didn't think most people understand 'what's going on' when they want the pleasures of food or sex.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that's quite right. If he's making claims about how the term is applied, then he is talking about the meaning of the term. And it's clear that "unruly" won't work all the time. Sexual unruliness? That sounds silly.


Michael Pakaluk said...


Consider these interesting sentences from On Virtues and Vices. On the usual understanding of engkrateia, one would suppose that a peripatetic would never make such a mistake as to consider engkrateia a virtue alongside swphronsune. And yet this is not entirely inconsistent, I think, with Nic Eth's idea of to epithumetikon as a faculty which (therefore) can presumably be incited or inflamed without fault (at which point virtue would consist in simply resisting it).

That moderation is a compound of (i) not feeling some desires, and (ii) resisting those which we nevertheless feel is, I think, reflected in our finding it not inapt to use 'self-control' for swphrosune and 'out of control' for akolasia.

σωφροσύνη δ' ἐστὶν ἀρετὴ τοῦ ἐπιθυμητικοῦ, καθ' ἣν ἀνόρεκτοι γίνονται περὶ τὰς ἀπολαύσεις τῶν φαύλων ἡδονῶν. ἐγκράτεια δ' ἐστὶν ἀρετὴ τοῦ ἐπιθυμητικοῦ, καθ' ἣν κατέχουσι τῷ λογισμῷ τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ὁρμῶσαν ἐπὶ τὰς φαύλας ἡδονάς.

"Moderation is a virtue of the faculty of sense-desire, by which we tend not to want any of the enjoyment that comes from bad pleasures. Self-control is a virtue of the faculty of sense-desire, by which through rational reflection we keep in check sense-desire when it urges us on toward bad pleasures."