Plato's Republic by Plato

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Book 3 Summary and Analysis

1. Educating the Guardians: Failings of Poetry (386–392c)

Socrates adds that, because bravery in war is necessary, children must not be taught to be afraid of death. Stories that portray “Hades’ domain” as “full of terror” will be banned, as well as laments by heroes (386b). Socrates cites many passages from the Iliad and the Odyssey that would not be permitted. Further constraints will be put on literature to discourage laughter and lying and encourage self-restraint.

Socrates’ critique of Homer as a bad influence becomes even clearer in this book, which provides numerous quotes that show (to Plato) how Homer has misguided Greek’s beliefs. While Plato’s heretical implications can be dismissed today, his censorship would do much to ruin the very aspects that have made Homer’s works timeless literary works.

Later in the Republic, Socrates will replace this foundation of Greek society with a new myth, one that unifies rather than divides society.

2. Proper Forms of Music and Poetry (392c–403c)

While constraints on the representation of heroes and gods are easily produced, it is more difficult to define how the poets should deal with men, given that justice has not yet been defined. At present, poets use descriptions of justice similar to those presented by Glaucon, Adeimantus, and Thrasymachus. Socrates says that poets must instead praise justice.

In order to describe what type of poetry is permissible for the Guardians to read aloud, Socrates distinguishes between imitation [alternate translation representation], which is the direct address of a character, and simple narrative, which is when the poet speaks as himself. Because the Guardians are only to aim at one kind of excellence, they will not be allowed to read the words of any person or thing that is unlike themselves—especially if it is a person who is unheroic. For this reason, only poetry that is primarily narrative will be allowed, and any poet or actor who specializes in representation will be banned from the city.

For music, only the kinds that are suitable for the depiction of “moderate and courageous men” wil be allowed (399c). This will result in a reduction of permissible musical instruments and rythms. Other arts and crafts will be similarly limited to the depiction of what is good. Ultimately, this state of education will teach a man to love beauty and hate ugliness instinctively, which will in later life lead him to love reason.

In loving relations between older and younger men, only the affection appropriate to a son may be expressed. Sexual desires must be controlled.

Socrates’ prior assertion that a man should only practice one trade forms a weak base for his desire to keep the Guardians from reciting the words of characters who do not behave in a Guardian-like fashion. Socrates supports his elimination of the representation of nonideal types by saying that a man can only represent one kind of character well. This argument is a poor one, since a good actor is known for his range, and both Plato and Socrates must have seen actors who performed varied roles well.

A stronger argument, which parallels modern ones used against violence in entertainment, is that having the Guardians recite these speeches will constitute their modeling themselves after these bad characters. Socrates further claims (at 401c) that living among representations of bad things has a cumulative negative effect on the soul. These arguments, like modern ones, are based on logic, not on empirical evidence.

Socrates’ remarks on the proper nature of loving relations between men should not be ignored. Homosexual relations between men were celebrated in Greek society. The most common form was one in which an older man served as a mentor to a younger man; it is referred to in asides throughout the Republic. The older man was often besotted with the charms of the youth, while the younger man was more emotionally reserved.

Plato did not approve of the...

(The entire section is 1,771 words.)