Joe Sachs’ Translations of Aristotle and Plato

One of the important considerations in doing ancient philosophy, especially if one is not proficient in ancient Greek, is the selection of trustworthy and accurate translations of the texts one will encounter. Thankfully, we are seeing today another surge in excellent translations of Plato and Aristotle by various translators. I want here to recommend five texts translated by Joe Sachs of St. John’s College (Annapolis). All the texts strive for understandability while also being faithful to the linguistics of the original. Sachs’ own genius is his ability to bypass the accumulated Aristotelian technical vocabulary which we in the West have inherited through Latin (e. g., substance, actuality, virtue, etc.), and get back to the sort of common everyday words that Aristotle himself used. So, for energeia, translated traditionally into English via Latin as “actuality,” or “activity,” Sachs translates as “being-at-work.” This is a cumbersome rendering, to be sure, but it more carefully articulates Aristotle’s actual meaning. (So, too, for entelecheia, which Sachs translates as an unwieldy, but clearer “being-at-work-staying-itself.”) My only quibble, and it’s Sachs’ own quibble, is his translation of ousia, as “thinghood.” For Sachs, ugly as he admits this is, it is the best translation he can think of. And he’s being doing this for thirty years.

So, here are the seminal Sachs translations of Aristotle’s major works:

Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery)

Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Sachs’ introduction to his translation of the Metaphysics, is here.)

Aristotle’s On the Soul and On Memory and Recollection

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Last year Sachs jumped into Platonic territory. Although I’ve not read the translation, and Plato’s vocabularly is significantly different than Aristotle’s, still I’m excited to read this Platonic text on knowing and knowledge.

Plato: Theaetetus

2 thoughts on “Joe Sachs’ Translations of Aristotle and Plato

  1. I agree, Sach’s translations are very good, however I do advise reading them along with some that have the Latin flair to it, solely for the communicative ability with the majority of readers. Most people are not able to refer to “Great-Souledness” which is what Sachs uses in the Ethics in place of the more common “Mangiminity”. I agree the Sachs translation is more accurate and in many places presents better understanding. I soon hope people will leave behind the latin flavor and embrace the true greek translations of these texts.

    Nick.

    P.S. If you know a good translation of Aristotle’s Politics please let me know. I have read Carnes Lord’s, which I find as very good, but always looking for others.

  2. Nick:

    Yes, you’re right, one needs to have familiarity with the tradition (including the latinate one) to be able to work with Aristotle. And on that score, I cut my Aristotelian teeth on the Barnes’ edited two volume edition of Aristotle’s complete works, which I also recommend.

    Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 1
    Complete Works of Aristotle, Volume 2

    By the same token, if someone is just starting out, I’d much rather they be inculcated in the Sachs’ translations and then add versatility in the tradition. It’s so much easier to add the ability to speak the language of one’s discipline than it is to reconstruct one’s Aristotle-mental-maps.

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