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PREFACE. - Aristotle, The Politics vol. 1 [320 BC]
The Politics of Aristotle, trans. into English with introduction, marginal analysis, essays, notes and indices by B. Jowett. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1885. 2 vols. Vol. 1.
Part of: The Politics 2 vols.
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to the REV. WILLIAM ROGERS, RECTOR OF BISHOPSGATE, who by the kindness of his heart, and the force of his character, has given a new life to education in the city of london, this work is affectionately inscribed.
The translation of the Politics which is now given to the public was commenced about fifteen years since, with the intention of illustrating the Laws of Plato. A rough draft was made by the translator, which he had the advantage of reading over with Mr. Alfred Robinson, of New College. But finding the work more difficult than he had anticipated, he determined to begin again and rewrite the whole. He was insensibly led on to the preparation of a commentary and an analysis. Other subjects of a more general character, which arose out of the study of Aristotle’s Politics, naturally took the form of essays1 . These will be published shortly and will complete Vol. II. The translation was printed more than two years ago, and before the appearance of Mr. Welldon’s excellent book. The editor has availed himself of the opportunity which the delay afforded to add in the Notes his second thoughts on some doubtful passages.
He has to acknowledge the great assistance which he has received from several friends, especially from Mr. David Ritchie in the composition of the Notes, and from Mr. Evelyn Abbott in the criticism of them. He has also to express his gratitude to his friend and secretary, Mr. Matthew Knight, for the excellent Indices he has prepared both of the Text and Notes, and for many valuable suggestions which occur in different parts of the book. He wishes that Mr. Knight could be induced to bestow on some work of his own the knowledge and thought which he devotes to the writings of another.
The Editor has to apologize for a delay in the fulfilment of his task, which has arisen necessarily out of the pressure of other avocations. He had hoped that his work would have been completed some years ago. An author generally finds that his literary undertakings exceed the measure of time which he has assigned to them; they grow under his hand; the years which he has spent upon them quickly pass, and at last he too often fails of satisfying either himself or the public. When he has nearly finished, if ever, he feels that he is beginning to have a greater command of his subject; but he is obliged to make an end. He may perhaps claim to know better than any one else the deficiencies of his own performance; but he knows also that he cannot expect to be heard if he attempts to excuse them.
It is a ‘regrettable accident’ that this book will probably appear about the same time with another edition of the Politics of Aristotle, also to be published at the Clarendon Press, the long expected work of an old friend and pupil, Mr. Newman, Fellow and formerly Tutor of Balliol College, which would not have been delayed until now, if the ‘bridle of Theages’ (Plato, Rep. vi. 496 b) had not retarded the progress of the author. Those who remember the enthusiasm which was aroused by his brilliant lectures on this and other subjects a quarter of a century ago will take a great interest in the result of his labours. I gladly welcome the ὀψίγονον τέκος and offer hearty wishes for the success of the work.
The editor of a Greek or Latin classic generally owes a large debt to his predecessors. In some one of them he will probably find the collation of the text ready to his hand, or at least carried to such an extent that to pursue the enquiry further would lead to no adequate result. The difficult passages have already been translated by them many times over, and the use of words and idioms has been minutely analyzed by them. There are innumerable parallels and illustrations, relevant and also irrelevant, which have been collected by their industry. The new Editor freely appropriates the materials which they have accumulated; nor can he greatly add to them. He is no longer the pioneer; he enters into the labours of others, and is responsible for the use which he makes of them. The field in which he has to work is limited; the least of the kingdoms into which physical science is subdivided is greater and more extended. It is an ancient branch of knowledge on which he is employed; a mine out of which, with care, some good pieces of ore may still be extracted, but which does not yield the same rich profits as formerly. And he is in danger of finding that ‘what is new is not true, and that what is true is not new.’ He knows how often conjectures which cannot be disproved have taken the place of real knowledge. He can only hope that the constant study of his author, the interpretation of him from his own writings, the dismissal of all prejudices and preconceptions may throw some fresh light upon the page. It will not always be easy for him to determine what he has thought out for himself and what he has derived from others, and still less to distinguish what in former editors is their own and what they in turn have derived from their predecessors. No one who has spent many years in the study of an author can remember whether a thought occurred to him spontaneously or was suggested by the remark of another. There is therefore the more reason that he should make his acknowledgments to those who have preceded him.
The writer of these volumes is under great obligations to Schlosser, whose good sense and manly criticism are of great value in the interpretation of the Politics; he is also much indebted to Schneider, who is a sound scholar and a distinguished critic both of Aristotle and Plato; as well as to A. Stahr and Bernays who have made accurate and finished translations, Stahr of the whole work, Bernays of the three first books; above all to the learning of Susemihl, who is not only the author of a new translation, but has also made a fuller collection of all the materials necessary either for the study of the text or the illustration of the subject than any previous editor; lastly to Immanuel Bekker, the father of modern textual criticism, who has not left much to be improved in the text of Aristotle. The commentary of Goettling has likewise a good deal of merit. I am indebted for a few references to Mr. Eaton’s edition of the Politics, and to Mr. Congreve for several excellent English expressions, and still more for his full and valuable indices.
The editor, like many of his predecessors, has been led to the conclusion that the Politics of Aristotle exist only in a questionable and imperfect shape. He cannot say that the work is well arranged or free from confusion of thought or irregularities of style and language. To assume a perfection or completeness which does not exist would contradict facts which are obvious on the surface. The worst kind of inaccuracy is pretended accuracy. No progress can be made in the study of Aristotle by an art of interpretation which aims only at reconciling an author with himself. Neither is there any use in seeking to reconstruct the Politics in another form; no analysis of them will enable us to arrive at the secret of their composition. We cannot rehabilitate them by a transposition of sentences, or by a change in the order of the books; we must take them as they are. Real uncertainties are better than imaginary certainties. Yet the uncertainty in this instance is one of which the human mind is peculiarly impatient. For amid so much repetition and confusion great truths are constantly appearing which reflect the mind of the master. But to separate these by any precise line, to say ‘here are the genuine words of Aristotle,’ ‘this the later addition,’ is beyond the art of the critic. The student of Aristotle will do better to fix his mind on the thoughts which have had so vast an influence, and have so greatly contributed to the progress of mankind, and not to enquire too curiously into the form of the writing which contains them.
Balliol College, Oxford:
Sept. 8, 1885.
[1 ]The subjects of the Essays will be as follows:—