I have a few questions about this passage.

τοῦτο μὲν τοίνυν ἓν ὥσπερ κῦμα φῶμεν διαφεύγειν τοῦ γυναικείου πέρι νόμου λέγοντες, ὥστε μὴ παντάπασι κατακλυσθῆναι τιθέντας ὡς δεῖ κοινῇ πάντα ἐπιτηδεύειν τούς τε φύλακας ἡμῖν καὶ τὰς φυλακίδας, ἀλλά πῃ τὸν λόγον αὐτὸν αὑτῷ ὁμολογεῖσθαι ὡς δυνατά τε καὶ ὠφέλιμα λέγει;

Plato's Republic, Book 5, section 457b-457c

Here's my take:

Then, what might we say to escape this one wave of criticism, concerning the law having to do with women, so that we are not wholly overwhelmed making a claim that it is necessary for the male guardians and the female guardians to pursue everything in common, but that in some way the very argument agrees with itself, as what it proposes is both possible and useful.

I am a little baffled by the participle λέγοντες. What's it doing here? It's not necessary for introducing the subsequent result clause.

I'm equally perplexed by the inclusion of ἡμῖν, in the phrase, τούς τε φύλακας ἡμῖν καὶ τὰς φυλακίδας. I don't understand the function of ἡμῖν. Could anyone explain?


1 Answer 1

  1. λέγοντες

    It makes sense to construe as one unit the following phrase:

    τοῦ γυναικείου πέρι νόμου λέγοντες

    [We who are] speaking about the law concerning women

    This is the subject of the sentence: I construe φῶμεν as a hortatory subjunctive and ὥσπερ as a way to "apologize" for the image of a wave. We thus get:

    τοῦτο μὲν τοίνυν ἓν ὥσπερ κῦμα φῶμεν διαφεύγειν τοῦ γυναικείου πέρι νόμου λέγοντες..

    Speaking about the law concerning women, let us therefore say that we escape this one wave, as it were...

    Interesting note from Adams: the present διαφεύγειν ("that we escape") is "less presumptuous" than the aorist διαφυγεῖν ("that we escaped")

  2. ἡμῖν

    It appears that this ἡμῖν is just the dative of possession, i.e. φύλακας ἡμετέρας. In fact, a nearly identical construction occurs earlier in the same book:

    οἰησόμεθα δεῖν τὰ αὐτὰ ἐπιτηδεύειν τούς τε φύλακας ἡμῖν καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας αὐτῶν. (454ε)

    Further search reveals that this appears to be a kind of stock phrase, "guards to us," as you can see by doing a Google exact text search. Here's another example from Lucian of Samosata:

    ταῦτ᾽ ἔστιν, ὦ Ἀνάχαρσι, ἃ τοὺς νέους ἡμεῖς ἀσκοῦμεν οἰόμενοι φύλακας ἡμῖν τῆς πόλεως ἀγαθοὺς γενέσθαι (Luc. Anach. 30)

    These are the things, O Anacharsis, in which we train our young people, intending that they become good guardians of the city for us.

My translation of the whole passage:

Speaking about the law concerning women, let us therefore say that we escape this one wave, as it were, since we have not been wholly overwhelmed when we made the claim that all our male and female guardians should pursue everything in common, but somehow the argument's internal consistency declares that these things are possible and helpful.

  • That answers both my questions. Thanks. One point I should make: I neglected to turn the passage into a question, as it ends with a semi-colon. According to my textbook, φῶμεν is a deliberative subjunctive, and I think this makes more sense in a question.
    – ktm5124
    Feb 23, 2017 at 17:36
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    @ktm5124 You're right about it being a question: I noticed it after starting the translation and then forgot to make adjustments. It probably is as simple as switching "let us say" to "might we say...?" As for the dative of possession, I suppose it's possible to construe some kind of understood ὄντας...perhaps someone more experienced than me can comment on that. The dative strikes me as strange here--but I think it's the only explanation.
    – brianpck
    Feb 23, 2017 at 18:05
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    Another possibility is to take ἡμῖν as an ethical dative and translate "for us" (as in the Lucian). Its placement inside the τε-καί structure would be a little unusual, but such unstressed pronouns tend to float around the sentence.
    – TKR
    Feb 23, 2017 at 18:34
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    @TKR—Is that another name for dativus commodi or are they different? Feb 23, 2017 at 19:57
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    @SimpliciterChristianus, dativus commodi is known in English as dative of advantage, but frankly I'm not sure there's a clear difference between that and the ethical dative (and in this case you could just as well say ἡμῖν is a dative of advantage).
    – TKR
    Feb 23, 2017 at 20:27

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