Plato: Five Dialogues

Plato: Five Dialogues  (Cratylus, Phaedo, Parmenides, Timaeus and Critias)  Translated by Thomas Taylor

Plato: Five Dialogues

(Cratylus, Phaedo, Parmenides, Timaeus and Critias)

Translated by Thomas Taylor

“If we are designed to know any thing purely, we must be liberated from the body and behold things with the soul itself.”

We were first attracted to Thomas Taylor when we learned that his translations of Plato were the ones Emerson relied on most – and Emerson read Plato in numerous translations and returned to him repeatedly throughout his life. What we discovered in Thomas Taylor was another genius in his own right and a unique source of insight to Greek philosophy, one that has been prized above all others by many great thinkers and writers.

Thomas Taylor (1758-1835) was an independent scholar, a devotee of Plato, and the first to translate into English the complete works of Plato and of Aristotle. His other many works include translations of Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, and The Life of Pythagoras. Taylor was in fact such an enthusiast for Greek philosophy, language and culture, his home held the distinction of being the only one in London in which the owner and his wife spoke with one another only in Ancient Greek.

As Emerson said, “Beware when the Great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.” Taylor was brutally criticized during his lifetime, first because of his independence from the sanctions of academia, and perhaps most importantly, because of his independence from the Church of England and established Christianity. Taylor dared to recognize in the Ancient Greeks the deeply spiritual ideas that were very much alive centuries before Christ was born. He showed how these ideas found great illumination in the philosophical treatises of Plato and his followers. Today Taylor is acknowledged for his unparalleled insight to Plato and Greek thought and for his influence on Emerson, Thoreau and the New England Transcendentalists, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth and Helena Blavatsky.

Plato’s Dialogues are, for most of us, something to which we can devote ourselves only once in a lifetime. And yet for those who seek “the benefits of elevated thoughts,” as Taylor put it, who recognize the pursuit of wisdom as “the greatest good in which man can participate,” Taylor’s 1793 Dialogues of Plato (Cratylus, Phaedo, Parmenides, Timaeus and Critias – the five thought to be the most revealing of Plato’s mysticism) make Plato’s Dialogues well worth revisiting.

In his introduction Taylor openly answers the critics of his day by describing in detail the unyielding prerequisites for a faithful understanding and translation of Plato. In so doing he also seduces his readers into the world of thought that was the passion of his life.

“By a legitimate student of the Platonic philosophy, I mean one who . . . has made the acquisition of the Platonic philosophy the great business of his life, without regarding the honors of the multitude or the accumulation of wealth . . . who is inflamed with an ardent desire for the acquisition of wisdom and truth . . . and has for many years with anabated ardour strenuously laboured through the works of Plato and his disciples; who, besides this has spent whole days, and frequently the greater part of the night, in profound meditation . . . in short, who has never considered wisdom as a thing of trifling estimation and easy access, but as that for which everything is to be endured, and for which everything is to be sacrificed.”

The Gleam of Light Team

Plato: Five Dialogues
Translated by Thomas Taylor

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