Plato, Father of Slapstick Comedy: A Translation of Laches 183c8 - 184b1

Hapax Legomenon

Plato, Father of Slapstick Comedy:
A Translation of Laches 183c8 - 184b1

Andrew Herrmann, '08

One of the most comical scenes from Plato's Laches is undoubtedly the story of Stesileos on the ship. The absurd, slapstick comedy makes it an unforgettable scene which appeals not only to the ancient Greeks but also to the modern reader. Thus, my goal with this translation is to capture the conversational tone of this passage and convey Plato's great sense of humor.

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...Because even that Stesileos guy, the big shot showing off and saying such great things about himself, whom you watched with me in that huge crowd, I have seen him put on a better show elsewhere in real life, since that time he was not showing off willingly for once. So get this, the ship he was serving on hit some transport vessel and he was fighting with this contraption I can only describe as a spear with a sickle shaped point attached to the top, lets call it a spythe - a "special" kind of weapon for a "special" kind of guy, if you catch my drift. I'll leave out all the boring stuff and get straight to what I know you're dying to hear about, how the spear/scythe thingy fared. So while he's fighting he somehow managed to get it all caught up and tangled in the rigging of the enemy ship. So then Stesileos pulled on it, hoping to get it free. But he was not able to free it and this other ship starts passing his own. So for quite some time the guy ran along his ship clutching the "spear". When at last the enemy ship passed by his own, it dragged him, still holding onto that "spear", as he begrudgingly let it slip through his hands, until he was holding onto merely the very end of the shaft. As you can well imagine, uproarious laughter could be heard from the enemy ship at this scene, and when someone (to this day no one is sure whether it was friend or foe) threw a rock at his feet our hero was so startled that he actually let go of the "spear"! Well after that not even his comrades on the warship could hold in their laughter, watching the famed "spythe" hang from the enemy ship. So then perhaps there might be something as Nicias was saying, but in the cases I have come across it was just like that.