Republic Outline XII, Book III
Prof. Bill Long 9/10/05
The Stories the Guardians Will be Taught, 386a-392c
As we get into Book III, I think it important to stress patience for us as we read as well as to try to describe the "big flow" of the argument that Plato is making. Once we have done these two things, I will bullet-point seven important features of these pages that keep the argument moving.
First, patience is needed to appreciate the Republic. Remember that Plato is building a city from scratch. His interest is to be as comprehensive as he can when presenting the education of the guardians--the class that interests him most. Only when this is complete can he try to find where justice is in the kallipolis. We will learn in Book IV that justice is both an external and internal virtue--something resident in the society as well as a charactertic of the soul. But he lays the groundwork for the "inner definition" of justice in Book III. Thus, he is not wasting our time. By telling us about the education of the guardians he is preparing us for his (seemingly anticlimatic) definition of justice in the next book.
Second, we should review where the argument is at the opening of Book III. In 376d-e (Book II) S mentions that looking into the education and nurture of the guardians will bring him closer to the goal of his inquiry--"to discover the origins of justice and injustice in a city." The guardians need both physical training and training in "music and poetry for the soul" (376e). S turns to this latter training in the rest of Book II and much of Book III. We saw in the previous essays that storytellers must be supervised and stories of gods harming people or changing their shapes must be suppressed. Book III continues that discussion of the education in "music and poetry" needed for the guardian.
Catching the Drift of Book III
The best way to understand Book III is to emphasize a number of points that S makes.
1. Guardians must be told stories that will make them courageous and unafraid of death (386b). These stories, therefore, must not make Hades look bad, else "our guardians will be made softer and more malleable by such shudders" (387c). In other words, S is interested in making the guardians more fearful of slavery than of death. If they are greatly afraid of death, something whose contours no one really knows, they might be more easily manipulable by others. Hence, several passages in Homer must be deleted that make the life in Hades seem onerous or painful. In a line that must appear shocking to us in 2005, he says that since a "decent" person is most self-sufficient, such a person has least need of anyone else and therefore will suffer less when deprived of "his son, brother, possessions, or any other such things" (387e).
2. Stories that depict heroes lamenting their fate must also be deleted (387e). I like the story of Priam "Rolling around in dung/ Calling each man by name," a story which, obviously, Plato doesn't like. The reason for this is that if young people hear these stories without ridiculing them, they will hardly think it wrong to utter the same sorts of lamentation when they are similarly afflicted (388d).
3. Plato doesn't want any stories that show people/gods to be lovers of laughter, "for whenever anyone induges in violent laughter, a violent change of mood is likely to follow" (388e). Homer's famous example of the divine company laughing at the limping Hephaestus in heaven at the end of Iliad Book I must therefore be excised. What's wrong with a violent change of mood?
4. For the second time in the Republic (also 382) Plato stresses the positive uses of falsehood. He is preparing us for his myth of the metals at the end of Book III but here falsehood is extolled as something "useful to people as a form of drug" (389b) which can only be used by the guardians for the good of the city. When we see the nature of the guardians and their education throughout the book, however, this may not be as objectionable as it may sound at first. The guardians are trained to love truth and justice and not to do things for their own advantage. Therefore whatever lies they tell are for the good of the city.
5. S/Plato stress the importance of moderation for people. The most important aspects of it are "to obey the rulers and to rule the pleasures of drink, sex, and food" (389e). Commended are statements from Homer where people are quietly listening or marching in silence, while other statements which stress copious banquets are to be suppressed. Especially to be deleted are those stories which tell about Zeus' sexual passions even for his wife Hera. Yet, on the other hand, stories where famous people show endurance in the face of everything are praiseworthy, as when Odysseus strikes his chest and tells his heart to endure the pain he faces (390d).
6. The guardians cannot be people who are money lovers or bribable with gifts (390e). Achilles, for example, cannot be portrayed as such a money-lover that he would accept the gifts of Agamemnon or relase the corpse of Hector for a ransom but not otherwise (391a).
7. Miscellaneous actions of heroes and gods that show them either diseased in soul (such as Achilles being tormented by love of money on the one hand and arrogance towards the gods on the other) or acting immorally (such as when they engage in kidnappings) must be deleted. Since gods cannot do bad things, and it is impious for heroes to be no better than humans, these stories must drop away.
By now Plato's reason for expurgation of epic accounts of gods and heroes should be clear. "We must put a stop to such stories, lest they produce in the youth a strong inclination to do bad things" (392a). But, is that the way that stories work in the mind of young people? Should they be expurgated? Plato certainly thinks they should. Behind all of this is Plato's desire to shape a certain kind of person--a person who will be utterly committed to the city and will rule justly. Let's continue to read and probe this argument.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long