The Son Of Apollo
IN December, Dean Frederick J. E. Woodbridge contributed to the Bookshelf the leading review of Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals. Now there has come to us Dean Woodbridge’s own long-nourished volume. The Son of Apollo, which can — according to Lucien Price — be trusted to give a mellow satisfaction to classicists whether profound or casual.
The Son of Apollo, by F. J. E. Woodbridge
[Houghton Mifflin, $4.00]
THIS study of Plato by Mr. Woodbridge is contrived a triple debt to pay. If one already knows his Plato, this volume becomes a spirited interchange between author and reader, a comparing of notes beside a study fire: agreement, disagreement, lively discussion. If one has never read Plato, he could, in these pages, glean an idea of what it is all about and why Plato goes on being important to the European races. And finally, books about the classics are mainly valuable if they can succeed in making us read those classics, or reread them—if not in their original tongues, then, let us say, in Jowett’s excellent English translation of Plato; and this, I think, will be the effect of Mr. Woodbridge’s work on many readers.
It is excellently planned. Instead of wearying the uninitiated with laborious digests of the dialogues, it treats their main themes broadly in four succinct chapters: Politics, Education, Love, and Death. For prologue there are two chapters, one on Plato’s life and one on the historic vicissitudes of his writings. For epilogue there is a stirring chapter on Socrates. The thought material for each chapter is assembled from the whole body of Plato’s work, set forth tersely without technical jargon, and when passages from the dialogues do appear they are so pat to the argument as to be easily readable for their own sakes and are charmingly translated. Critical comment has been so subtly interwoven with the texture of the expository passages as never to obtrude the writer’s personality. Indeed, so far has the dyer’s hand been subdued to the hue it works in that Mr. Woodbridge’s style, like that of many another lover of the Greeks, repeatedly achieves the directness, simplicity, and suppleness of Greek itself — that kind of ‘Greek English’ which the Oxford and Cambridge Hellenists write so well.
As the book proceeds it gains momentum from one’s realization that everything conceivable is under discussion, and under discussion in that peculiarly forcible way which comes from our hearing ourselves talked about by one who is not speaking of our age but of his own. From such a speaker we take home truths to ourselves much more readily than when they are aimed at us directly.
Thus the chapter on education contains pages on the difference bet ween the teach-ability of the debatable and the undebatable which make thoughtful rending for the advocates of the Socratic method in modern education. The chapter on Love is probably more candid than it could have been even as recently as twenty years ago. A comparison of it with Jewett’s introductions to the dialogues on love will indicate the difference. It is here that classical scholars generally use the tongs. Mr. Woodbridge uses them also, but he uses them less, and the tongs are not as long as they were once. The whole book mounts in a steady climax to the two concluding chapters on Death and on Socrates. These, I think, would lay hold on even the reader who cared nothing for the general body of Platonic thought, if only as a corrective and a steadier against an age when so many seem to have relegated ideal values to the discard. In these pages of Mr. Woodbridge (and of Plato) we are reminded that, despite gasoline engines and high-powered salesmanship, certain finer values do continue to exist.