Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Steadman's Labor of Love

Here's a labor of love: a new edition of Plato's Symposium for intermediate students, with facing-pages vocab and commentary.  I say "labor of love" in the sense that I expect no edition of a Greek text is going to yield enough to cover the cost of paper.  More, the author (well--editor) has produced it himself as print-on-demand, with the side offer of an e-file under a Creative Commons license.  And if "print on demand" suggests "vanity press"--the author/editor tells us exactly nothing about himself in the book, unless you count a couple of email addresses and  the sidenote "Ph.D."  A bit of Googling suggests that he--the name is "Geoffrey Steadman"--is a high school teacher in Tennessee, and surely to prepare a work of this sort for an audience of high school students is to learn a lot about humility.

The most obvious appeal of the book is the facing-pages vocabulary with running same-page commentary.  This kind of layout is so obviously helpful you can't imagine why editors haven't always done it this way.  I suppose you could say the model is the Loeb Classical Library, with its facing-pages English and Greek (or Latin, as the case might be)--or whoever it is from whom Loeb got its idea.  You get a version of it in the superb teaching materials from the Joint Association of Classsical Teachers, published by Cambridge University Press.  There are others: I have at hand a lovely edition of Longus' Daphnis and Chloe with the same facing-pages presentation. And here's a presentation of Plato's Apology; it has running commentary with vocab in the back, but the commentary is so thorough that you won't need much vocab.

For the basic text, Steadman has done what any sensible presenter ought to do--he's taken an old out-of-copyright edition and just photocopied.  He's added some helpful general commentary and intro but the guts of it is in what must have been the appallingly tedious labor of assembling all the vocab and the meticulous commentary notes--I get a headache just thinking about it.

I wish I could say the notes answered all my questions, but notes like this never do: it's a mug's game, trying to anticipate what every reader will want and need and somebody--everybody--is bound to come up disappointed.  Still, as I work my way through Steadman, I do find myself keeping handy a copy of the 1980 Cambridge Edition by Kenneth Dover.  Some of Dover's comments are gems in themselves and they certainly are prodigies of patient scholarship.

But Dover doesn't do facing pages.   And Steadman's comments are all you have any reason to expect.  I see he's done at least three more editions of this sort (link, link, link).  And did I mention that the top price is $14.95?  I see the new third volume of Hornblower's Commentary on Thucydides is retailing at $350.  For that price you could by 23 Steadmans, with money left  over for a latte.  If somebody gives this guy a MacArthur Grant, they won't have any complaints from me.

No comments: