Republic Outline XIII, Book III*
Prof. Bill Long 9/11/05
*Outlining an Unassigned Section, 392c-400d
After arguing that the stories told about gods and heroes must be expurgated so that the minds of the youthful guardians aren't corrupted and taken away from their ultimate loyalty to the city, Plato turns to the style in which the stories are to be told (392c). Since this discussion turns on some complex and irrelevant (for readers in 2005) considerations, I didn't assign it for reading. Plato's manner of argument even seems strange to us. That may, however, be a good reason for reading it, just to remind ourselves that we are dealing with a book and author who emerges out of a very different era than we inhabit.
Getting into the Flow--on Imitation and Narrative
S has just said that it isn't yet clear how authors should speak of normal humans (i.e., neither divine or heroic), and a discussion of this will not be proper until they discover "what sort of thing justice is and how by nature it profits the one who has it" (392c). He won't pick up on this until Book X, and so in the meantime they decide to investigate the style of the stories whose content they have just discussed (392c). At first S tries to explain that he wants to talks about stories of past, present and future events through narrative and imiatation, but his hearer is confused (392d), and so he says he will, as one "incompetent in speaking," take up his topic by using an example from Iliad 1. He wants to show that there are three kinds of style, narrative, imitation and a combination of the two. Narrative is where the author "doesn't attempt to get us to think that the speaker is someone other than himself" (393a) while imitation is "when he makes a speech as if he were someone else" (393c).
In order to clarify this distinction, Plato retells the first story in the Iliad, where Chryseis, priest of Apollo, approaches Agamemnon for the release of his daughter Chryses, who was taken as a "prize" of war. If Homer had been writing pure narrative, he would have told the story without direct quotation of Chryseis. As it is, the story has both elements of narrative and "imitation" (where Chryseis implores Agamemnon in the first person--393d-394b). Having made this distinction, S then goes on to say that tragedy and comedy employ only imitation, while dithyramb uses narrative and a third kind, epic poetry (as in the Iliad), uses both. The ethical issue is framed by S as follows: "We need to come to an agreement about whether we'll allow poets to narrate through imitation, and, if so, whether they are to imitate some things and not others.." (394d).
S's point is as follows: when you "imitate" something, by using the first person, you as it were become the other person. By so doing, you open up yourself and your hearers to confusion about your identity. And, to make things worse for imitators, since S is committed to the philosophy that each person only has one function to perform, the same person can't really do two kinds of imitation--that of his normal life (as guardian) and that as some kind of actor imitating someone else. Then he says, "Indeed, not even the same actors are used for tragedy and comedy" (395b), meaning that even within the catefory of imitation, people get confused if you take on two many roles. I wonder what he would have said had he known about Shakespeare's work and actors! S's conclusion follows:
"Our guardians must be kept away from all other crafts so as to be the craftsmen of the city's freedom, and be exclusively that, and do nothing at all except what contributes to it, they must neither do nor imitate anything else. If they do imitate, they must imitate from childhood what is appropriate for them, namely, people who are courageous, self-controlled, pious, and free..." (395b-c).
As if to put an exclamation mark after this statement, S goes on to say that the city cannot allow the guardians to imitate "either a young woman or an older one, or one abusing her husband, quarreling with the gods, or bragging..." (395d-e). Even though guardians know that there are madmen in the world and they must know about them, "they must neither do nor imitate anything they do" (396a).
Now, we have Plato's theory of imitation. The guardians may use imitation when the person they are mimicking is acting in a "faultless and intelligent manner" (396d), but not when the same person is upset by "disease, sexual passion, drunkenness, or some other misfortune" (Id.). Poets/writers are free to use the "mixed" style, of narrative and imitation, as well as the style of pure narrative. Then, with a distinctively Platonic/Socratic twist, S says "If a man, who through clever training can become anything and imitate anything, shoud arrive in our city, wanting to give a performance of his poems, we should bow down before hm as someone holy, wonderful, and pleasing, but we should tell him that there is no one like him in our city and that it isn't lawful for there to be.." (398a).
Words, Harmonic Modes and Rhythm
S doesn't stop here. He points out that a song consists of the three elements of "words, harmonic mode, and rhythm" (398d), and these, too must "fit the words." The lamenting modes, such as the "mixo-Lydian, the syntono-Lydian" and some others are not to be used (398e). After talking about a few other modes, S concludes, "I don't know all the musical modes. Just leave me the mode that would suitably imitate the tone and rhythm of a courageous person who is active in battle or doing other violent deeds" (399b). He also wants another mode: "that of someone engaged in a peaceful, unforced, voluntary action, persuading someone or asking a favor of a god in prayer or of a human being through teaching and exhortation..." (399b). All of these approved modes lead to moderation and courage (399c).
Finally, S turns to the musical instruments that may be permissible to use and the regulation of meter (399e). After discussing various metrical forms, S says that "we'll leave these things to Damon [an important 5th century writer on music and meter], since "to mark off the different kinds would require a long argument" (400c). The object, however, is clear: literature/music must reflect "fine words, harmony, grace and rhythm," which all follow simplicity of character (400e).
We should see from this what Plato is trying to do--to create "simple" characters as guardians, who will instinctively think of and act for the betterment of the city. Such a simple character, he believes, is best cultivated by clear and strong rhythms, narrative style (or imitation if it is of good things) and stories about noble deeds of gods and heroes.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long