Summary and Analysis Book III: Section I



Socrates continues: We have agreed, then, that the tales we teach the young will teach them to honor the gods and their parents and to value friendship with one another. Furthermore, we must teach the future Guardians tales that will praise courage and that show fear and cowardice in a bad light. The Guardians certainly must not fear combat; they must not fear death in the service of the state; and they certainly must not be schooled in stories or aspects of stories that might cause them to fear awful sufferings in a life after this mortal life; else they will fear death itself.

Thus we must expunge from the myths all those passages that relate the sufferings of the dead in Hades. We must also expunge any references to the pleasures of drunkenness or any sort of intemperate behavior. However interesting hearing about various sufferings in hell might be, such descriptions might lead to a lack of courage in the face of death, and any sort of exercise in sensuality (like drunkenness) does damage to the function of a Guardian of the state, or any citizen for that matter. So, too, the tales told to maturing young Guardians must extol obedience to commanders and leaders, since it follows logically that honor and obedience to one's parents leads to obedience to future wise leaders, obedience to those more experienced than ourselves being a form of temperance. (Socrates argues a series of examples of stories and parts of stories that ought or ought not to be taught to the future Guardians.)

And, further, Socrates argues that stories which reflect any sort of injustice triumphing over justice, in whatever way, must be expunged from the ideal state. After all, we have not even defined what Justice is, so it is unreasonable that we should fabricate tales about it and certainly wrong to teach the theme of injustice conquering justice.

So much, then, for the discussion of the content of stories admissible to the ideal state; what of the forms the stories may take? Some stories are simple narratives (the storyteller tells the story from one point of view), but some stories are representational, for example, plays and dramas, in which the characters imitate the speeches and actions of both good and bad men and women; this imitation is said to be mimesis. These mimetic forms of stories also must be expunged from the state. Our Guardians are to be trained in temperance and to imitate the good at all times, and sometimes we see children copying the bad words and actions they have observed on stage, and it follows that this, too, does no good for the state. Some children who adopt bad roles and role-playing mature into adults who continue to play "bad actors" throughout their lives, whether wittingly or not. Even a pretense of the bad is too close to a lack of virtue itself; besides, however entertaining it may be, it serves no useful function. So dramatic and representational literature ought to be banned from the state.

At this juncture in the conversation, Socrates considers the forms of music, with its aspects of melody, harmony, verse, rhythm, and so on, to which the Guardians might be exposed. These various forms of ancient Greek music, he argues, elicit various emotional reactions from the audience, and some of them may be said to encourage intemperance. Some forms of song, for example, seem to be concerned with the pains of unrequited love; others seem to celebrate the pleasures of drunkenness and to encourage drunkenness. Since these and other examples seem to encourage intemperance, surely they should be banned because they encourage "relaxation" when most of all we require our Guardians to be vigilant. But if there are types of music that are warlike and that encourage endurance in the face of adversity, or are prayerful and function as praise to God in the preservation of the state, they should be retained for their useful function for the state. And, Socrates continues, just as certain harmonies should be banned and others retained, so should the musical instruments that produce them be allowed or disallowed under our superintendence.

So it is, Socrates argues, that the future Guardians of the state will be trained in the beautiful and the good in their childhood, and, as they mature, they will recognize and value these qualities and thus retain their virtue.


Socrates' argument here is essentially that, since children in their innocence may be unable to discriminate between the good and the bad in artistic portrayals of these qualities, there is no good reason to permit children a choice in their formative years insofar as their training in the beauties of "music" is concerned (Plato and the Greeks generally classified literature as a form of music). Permitting the children and maturing young adults a choice in the matter of good and bad in their taste for the arts simply introduces an exercise in liberty that does nothing to advance the cause of the state.

We have in our own time witnessed a continuum of this debate of morality vis-à-vis the arts and whether the state is obliged to support artistic enterprises of questionable moral worth.


"the world below . . . " i.e., the Underworld, Hades.

"I would rather be a serf . . . " Odyssey, IX, 489.

Pluto god of the Underworld, king of Hades.

Tiresias a legendary blind soothsayer of Thebes; much respected, he figures in many mythical stories.

Persephone the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, abducted by Hades (Pluto) to be his wife in the Underworld; she spends half of each year in Hades, half above ground; out of respect for Tiresias' wisdom, she granted that he should retain his mind after death, while the rest of the souls in Hades are merely "flitting shades."

Cocytus the river of wailing, a tributary of the Acheron in Hades.

Styx the river encircling Hades over which Charon ferries the souls of the dead (the third river is Lethe).

Achilles the son of the human Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, and a Greek warrior and leader in the Trojan War; he is the great hero of Homer's Iliad. Achilles was angry at Agamemnon as the Trojan War began and required gifts to stop pouting and come out into battle; later he became maddened at the death in battle of his dear friend Patroclus and behaved wildly and dishonorably. These are the actions that Socrates wants the young Guardians to be prevented from reading or hearing.

Priam the last king of Troy, who reigned during the Trojan War; he was the father of Paris, Hector, Troilus, and Cassandra, among the rest of his hundred children by several wives—according to Greek myth.

"Alas my misery! . . . " Iliad, XVIII, 54; Thetis is lamenting the death of her son Achilles. (This and the quotations and references that follow, up to Cheiron, are illustrative of the kinds of incidents that Socrates believes the young Guardians ought not to be exposed to, because they show the mythical figures and legendary heroes in various kinds of bad light. Many translators, to save space, do not include this section of Book III in their translations. We have taken the list of sources in this series, all but one from the Iliad or Odyssey, from Scott Buchanan, ed., The Portable Plato [Viking], whose edition uses the Benjamin Jowett translation.)

"O heavens! With my eyes . . . ." Iliad XXII, 168.

"Woe is me . . . ." Iliad, XVI, 433.

Patroclus son of Menoetius and the dear friend of Achilles, he is a Greek hero in the Iliad.

"Inextinguishable laughter . . . ." Iliad I, 599.

"Any of the craftsmen, whether he be priest or physician or carpenter . . . ." Odyssey XVII, 383.

Diomede (also Diomedes) one of the great Greek heroes in the Trojan War.

"Friend, sit still and obey my word . . . ." Iliad IV, 412.

"The Greeks marched breathing prowess, . . . . in silent awe of their leaders . . . ." Odyssey III, 8; IV, 431.

"O heavy with wine . . . heart of a stag . . . ." Odyssey I, 225.

"the wisest of men" i.e., Odysseus.

"When the tables are full . . . into the cups" Odyssey IX, 8.

"The saddest of fates . . . ." Odyssey XII, 342.

"Without the knowledge of their parents" Iliad XIV, 281.

"Ares and Aphrodite . . . ." Odyssey VIII, 266.

"He smote his breast . . . ." Odyssey XX, 17.

"Gifts persuading gods . . . ." attributed to Hesiod.

Achilles counseled to help the Greeks if they gave him gifts Iliad IX, 515.

Achilles unwilling to restore Hector's dead body Iliad XXIV, 175.

"Thou has wronged me, O far-darter . . . ." Iliad XXII, 15 and following lines.

Achilles' insubordination to the river god Iliad XXI, 130, 223 and following lines.

Achilles' offering to the dead Patroclus of his own hair Iliad XXIII, 151.

Achilles' dragging of Hector's body round the tomb of Patroclus Iliad XXII, 394.

Achilles' slaughter of the captives Iliad XXIII, 175.

Cheiron Achilles' teacher.

Peleus a king of the Myrmidons, father of Achilles.

Theseus, son of Poseidon legendary Greek hero, sometimes said to be the son of the sea god Poseidon; he is supposed to have killed the Minotaur and conquered the Amazons, among other feats.

"The kindred of the gods, the relatives of Zeus . . . ." Aeschylus, from The Niobe.

Chryses in the Iliad, a priest of Apollo and the father of Chryseis, a young woman taken captive by the Greeks; he comes to ransom her, but Agamemnon refuses to give her up, so Apollo sends a pestilence upon the Greek army.

Achaeans in the Iliad, the followers of Achilles or the entire Greek army; another name for the Greeks. (Historically, the Achaeans were one of the first Hellenic tribes to invade Greece, probably during the third millennium B.C.)

Argos ancient city-state in the northeastern Peloponnesus: It dominated the Peloponnesus from the seventh century B.C. until the rise of Sparta.

tragedy here, a collective term for the plays of tragedians such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, etc.

dithyramb in ancient Greece, an impassioned choric hymn in honor of Dionysus; here it refers to a short poem or chant, usually irregular in meter, with a wild, inspired rhythm.

dicast in ancient Athens, any of a large group of citizens chosen annually to serve as a court hearing cases; here, an Athenian who performs the function of both judge and juryman at a trial.

Lydian, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian ancient Greek musical scales; according to W. J. Baltzell's A Complete History of Music, these were all diatonic scales, all like the "natural minor" scales in modern Western music.

"Apollo and his instruments . . . Marsyas and his instruments" In Greek mythology, Marsyas was a satyr (a minor forest god, part man and part goat) who played the flute so well that he entered a contest with Apollo and lost; Apollo, as his prize, was allowed to do whatever he liked to Marsyas so he flayed the satyr alive. (In the following section of the dialogue, Socrates refers to various contemporary theories of music which held that certain kinds of harmony, rhythm, etc., are conducive to certain states of mind, emotions, etc. Socrates wants the future Guardians exposed only to those kinds of music that will prepare them to be courageous in battle; however, he here affects not to know much about the technical details of these musical theories.)