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Plato’s “Deuteronomy”

April 12, 2014

Deutronomye for Wycliffe was just a strange English word.

Likewise, Deuteronomy for the Douay-Rheims Bible translators was just such a strange English word too.

Similarly, Deuteronomium for Jerome and for Pagnini translating both (what we call) Deuteronomy 17:18 and Joshua 8:32 is really odd and just strange Latin.

Of course, this all comes from the Septuagint for (what we call) Deuteronomy 17:18 and Joshua 8:32 (or Joshua B [Codex Vaticanus] 9:2c), and the not strange at all Greek phrase δευτερονόμιον, only found these two places in the LXX.

Plato used δευτερονόμιον in his treatise (which we call) “Laws.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

Now that we have reached this point in regard to our regulation, [840d] but have fallen into a strait because of the cowardice of the many, I maintain that our regulation on this head must go forward and proclaim that our citizens must not be worse than fowls and many other animals which are produced in large broods, and which live chaste and celibate lives without sexual intercourse until they arrive at the age for breeding; and when they reach this age they pair off, as instinct moves them, male with female and female with male; and thereafter [840e] they live in a way that is holy and just, remaining constant to their first contracts of love: surely our citizens should at least be better than these animals. If, however, they become corrupted by most of the other Hellenes or barbarians, through seeing and hearing that among them the “lawless Love” (as it is called) is of very great power, and thus become unable to overcome it, then the Law-wardens, acting as lawgivers, must devise for them a second law. [δεύτερον νόμον]


What is becoming, what unbecoming a gentleman it is not easy to fix by law; it shall, however, be decided by those persons who have achieved public distinction for their aversion to the one and their devotion to the other. If any citizen in any craft engages in ungentlemanly peddling, whoso will shall indict him for shaming his family before a bench of those adjudged to be the first in virtue, and if it be held that he is sullying his paternal hearth by an unworthy calling, he shall be imprisoned for a year and so restrained therefrom; [920a] if he repeats the offence, he shall get two years’ imprisonment, and for each subsequent conviction the period of imprisonment shall go on being doubled. Now comes a second law [δεύτερος … νόμος]:—Whosoever intends to engage in retail trade must be a resident alien or a foreigner. And thirdly, this third law:


These two English translations are from Robert Gregg Bury. 

Benjamin Jowett translates Plato’s Greek phrase δεύτερον νόμον with the very same English phrase.

So does George Burges.

These are the only English translations of Plato’s Greek I can find.

I haven’t been able to find any Latin translations of Plato’s Greek.

But wouldn’t it be strange if Pagnini or Jerome chose to translate Plato’s “Leges” here with Deuteronomium?

And wouldn’t it have been strange to read Wycliffe and those at Douai and then at Rheims rendering Plato’s Athenian as writing (with the capital letters) the following?

then the Law-wardens, acting as lawgivers, must devise for them a Deutronomye 


Now comes a Deuteronomy 

So what is it about Bible translation that has to be so strange? What we have is some sort of Altera Lex. And if that’s not strange enough, then let’s just keep it as our Deuteronomium.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Dana Ames permalink
    April 13, 2014 6:56 pm

    Don’t know why, but this reminds me of “Old Deuteronomy” from the musical “Cats.” Rhyme scheme extremely creative, for an elegaic number that made me cry…


  2. April 13, 2014 7:34 pm

    LOL, Dana:

    There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
    Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
    Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
    But all of them sensible everyday names.
    But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
    A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
    Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
    Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

    . . . .

    Old Deuteronomy‘s lived a long time;
    He’s a Cat who has lived many lives in succession.
    He was famous in proverb and famous in rhyme
    A long while before Queen Victoria’s accession.

  3. April 15, 2014 5:29 pm

    Great detective work, Kurk, and a vindication of the influence of the LLX!

  4. April 16, 2014 12:30 am

    The Anglish Bible just calls it “The Other Book of the Law.” Not sure which is more awkward…

  5. April 17, 2014 5:35 pm

    Thanks, Suzanne! It does seem pretty obvious that the Latin translators relied on the Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible. And the former, rather than getting what the latter were doing, simply resorted to transliterating the Greek in this particular case.

    J.D., You make a good point. However, Plato in Anglish might be as awkward as the Anglish Bible name. So, I’m not sure there needs to be only the choice between simply just merely either the transliteration of the Hellene or the rendering with some stilted puristic attempt at a now-idealized Roots English.

  6. April 18, 2014 10:49 pm


    Perhaps I have conceded too much. Yes, Jerome was probably first acquainted with the Bible by reading a older Latin version, a translation of the LXX. He then could read the LXX, and finally studied Hebrew. But he did study Hebrew and I do think that his translation was independent of, although influenced by the Greek.

    Here is an article by Jane Barr where there are specific examples of how his translation differs from the Old Latin and the LXX.

    Click to access The-Vulgate-Genesis.pdf

  7. April 20, 2014 7:59 am


    Thanks for Jane Barr’s article! Wow, what an observation she makes:

    “It is my observation that whenever Jerome approached a passage [in Genesis] where women were involved his usual objectivity deserted him, and his translation [of the Hebrew] became less precise, and, not infrequently, biased.”

    Does this argue for his independence of the Greek? Does the LXX in front of him give him more ammunition for his “anti-feminist” positions?

  8. April 20, 2014 12:16 pm

    If you look at some of the examples, they are much closer to the Hebrew, and not all examples are negative.

  9. April 21, 2014 1:40 am

    Another interesting article on the Vulgate and women is Vincent Skemp, “Learning by Example: Exempla in Jerome’s Translations and Revisions of Biblical Books” in Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011) 257-284. I get the impression there is very little scholarship on the Vulgate as a translation. If Septuagint studies are now becoming hot, Vulgate studies have yet to see their day.

  10. April 22, 2014 11:50 pm

    Good point! I don’t know whether it is just that I am not aware of the studies or if they don’t exist yet in English.

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