Republic By Plato Summary and Analysis Book II: Section III

Summary

We have agreed, says Socrates, that the Guardians must be warlike and fierce in their defense against the enemies of the state. But we do not want them to turn against their fellow citizens. So we may liken their training to that of the family dog, who is trained to befriend his master and the familial circle, but who will courageously attack any threat to the family or, indeed, the neighborhood. So the dog may be said to possess a kind of knowledge; he does not, like a wild dog, attack at random from ignorance (amathia). The family dog may be said to be moral in the rude sense.

Thus, Socrates says, the future Guardians of the state must be educated morally; they must be instilled with good morals. We must therefore teach them stories of the heroes and the gods, much as our fathers did for us. But some of these stories must be modified, because Homer and the other poets and storytellers often tell us stories in which the gods commit bad acts, crimes, duplicitous homicides. Since the gods can do no wrong, these old stories must be false and, since children often identify with the figures of fiction, they may be liable to emulate the crimes of the gods as related in these false stories. And, besides, this attribution of crimes and sins and lies and schemes committed by the gods or God is wrong, since it is a given that God is truly good and given wholly to good; thus the attribution of things of evil to God is a lie and the poets who perpetuate such stories are liars.

In other words, whatever evils beset mankind, they are to be attributed to causes other than God, because God is the seat of good things only. And because God is omniscient and omnipotent, God would not be troubled by enemies or plots or the host of things that storytellers have invented. And God, being the fountainhead of all good, is also perfect. God has no need of magic, has no need of shape-shifting or any of that subterfuge that we read about in some stories, in which he might appear as a stranger at the door, and so we are to grant strangers hospice (hospitality) because the stranger might be a god in disguise. This is unnecessary and deceitful and, however entertaining it may be, is misleading and might be bad for children who are being trained to be Guardians of the state. Such misleading stories contain crucial lies about God, who is the truth.

Because a man's soul is God immanent (God within him), in perpetuating such stories as we frequently do, we allow these stories to do harm to a man's soul, the very essence of his being, and he cannot be led to goodness through portrayals of badness. So we may see that attributing evil acts or thoughts to any form of the god-head is a lie, kind of a mortally generated supreme lie (we do not here mean lies that we may employ against our enemies or lies that we may tell a crazy man in order to placate him, or lies told in the myths of antiquity that we may rewrite to make them serve the truth). The supreme lie is a lie against God; the lying poet has no place in our concept of God. Thus it is that the stories we tell our children must be morally uplifting, and some of the myths are not. Therefore we must winnow the myths, editing them, and, in some cases, censoring aspects of them.

Analysis

We cannot overestimate the importance of the myths of the gods and heroes for the ancient Greeks; this whole body of work comprised for them their nursery rhymes and the entirety of their children's literature. As the Greeks matured, their myths embodied their religion and a great deal of their literary entertainment, and they drew morals from the myths just as later peoples drew morals and draw morals from their reading of scripture in the Bible. This question of the place of morality in literature, and in the arts generally, will be considered as the Republic is advanced, and the continued discussion of these questions permeates our own century.

In Plato's time Greek students of metaphysics and theology, and the Greek people generally, had already begun to abandon their polytheistic (many gods) ideas and had begun to move towards a monotheistic (one god) concept of the deity, or the godhead. This explains Plato's references to the idea(s) of the god-head as "the gods" or "God" as being interchangeable; it clarifies also Plato's making distinctions among the Greek myths (stories) about the gods/God.

The last summary noted the distinctions Plato draws between the stories he regards to be morally uplifting and those that are not. The children of the state, we are reminded, are to be taught only those myths that are morally uplifting; mothers, nurses, teachers are to teach only stories that exhibit a moral impact, and censors of literature are to be appointed by the leaders of the state to ensure that only "good" stories are taught to the children. This idea of the censorship of the arts is continued in Book III. Plato acknowledges that many of the arts exhibit both figurative (allegorical) and literal meanings, but he argues that young children cannot always make distinctions between things literal and figurative. We must guarantee that the themes advanced in the fictive arts be morally uplifting.

Glossary

gymnastic physical exercise or education.

Uranus, Cronus (Ouranos, Kronos) in Greek mythology (told in Hesiod's Theogony), Cronus was a Titan who, with his brothers and sisters, was imprisoned in Tartarus (the part of the Underworld where guilty souls are punished) by his father Uranus (the Heavens). Cronos escaped and castrated his father, with the help of his mother Ge (the Earth), to become the ruler of the Titans; this is the "retaliation" Socrates refers to.

mystery in ancient Greece, a religious ceremony or doctrine revealed only to the initiated.

Hephaestus in Greek mythology, the god of fire and metalworking, the lame blacksmith god, son of Hera (alone, according to Hesiod; other versions call him the son of Zeus and Hera).

Hera the queen of heaven and the gods, the sister and wife of Zeus, and goddess of women and marriage.

Zeus chief deity of the Olympian gods, son of Cronus, brother and husband of Hera.

lots objects used in deciding a matter by chance.

Pandarus a character in Homer's Iliad: a leader of the Lycians in the Trojan War.

Proteus a minor sea-god in Greek mythology: he can change his form or appearance at will. In the Odyssey, he appears as a seer who changes shape to avoid answering questions.

Thetis one of the Nereids (sea-goddesses or sea-nymphs) and the mother of Achilles (whose father was a human man, Peleus); Thetis dipped the infant Achilles in the River Styx in order to make him immortal like the gods, but the heel by which she held him was not affected and so became the site of his mortal wound.

Agamemnon in myth, a son of Atreus and brother of Menelaus; he was king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War.

Apollo an Olympian god, son of Zeus, brother of Artemis; he was a god of light, prophecy, healing, music, and archery, and a protector of herds. The shrine at Delphi was sacred to Apollo, and the oracle there was his.

Phoebus originally a sun-god, Phoebus became another name (as here) for Apollo.

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