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The Republic

by Plato of Athens
The original, squashed down to read in about 40 minutes


Portrait of Plato after Cilanion (c370BCE) and fragmant of a 4th Century edition

(Greece, c355BCE)



Socrates, the belligerent street-corner philosopher of the city of Athens, refused to write anything down, so that it was left to his pupil Plato to record his many discussions, of which The Republic is one. While its conclusions may seem, with two-and-a-half thousand years of hindsight, either silly or dangerous, the step-by-step ('dialectic') process of searching for answers which are thought to be waiting for us 'out there' is considered to be the foundation of the Western way of thinking, in contrast to the harmonious certainties of the East.
Based on the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett. Abridged: GH. Numbers in [SQUARE] brackets are page numbers of the 1578 Stephanus edition, commonly used as a reference.



Plato's Republic


[327] YESTERDAY I went down with my friends to the harbour at Piraeus to see the festival of the Goddess. It was the first time it has been held here in Athens, the processions really were wonderful, especially the new type of race where runners passed batons to each other.

Afterwards we went to Polemarchus' house and found his old father Cephalus, garlanded as if for a glorification, who said to me, "You don't visit us as often as you should, Socrates. I may be too old for physical pleasures, but I enjoy intelligent conversation all the more." "Actually," I said, "I enjoy talking to old men, for you have already trod the long road. Tell me, is old age a difficult time of life, or not?"

"You know, Socrates, when we old men get together, most of them just grumble. They complain that they don't make love or go to parties, and that their families don't respect them. But I remember someone asking the old poet Sophocles whether he still enjoyed sex, he replied that he was glad to have left that frenzy behind him. A good reply I thought, for it is not age that matters but character. For a sensible, good-tempered man, old age is easy- otherwise youth as well as age is a burden."

[330] "I am afraid," I said, "that people will say you are content because you are rich."

"Riches won't make a bad man happy, though wealth has its uses. It makes it easier to avoid cheating and lying, or the fear that one has left some sacrifice to God or debt to man unpaid.

"But surely, goodness is more than just..."

"You can continue this discussion with Polemarchus, I must go to the sacrifice."

"Well then Polemarchus," said I, "what do you think it is to do right."

"Simonides the poet says 'to give every man his due', so I think goodness, or justice, is helping your friends and harming your enemies."

"Tell me, if we harm a horse or a dog, do we make the creature better or worse?"

"Worse, certainly."

"So that cannot be justice?"

[337] Eventually Thrasymachus exploded at us; "Childish nonsense Socrates! Justice, or 'right', is nothing more nor less than what is in the interest of those in power. What our rulers call 'justice' is simply making a profit from the people. Who comes off best in business? Always the unjust man, and he'll pay less tax too."

"But don't we agree," I said, "that justice is an excellence of the mind, and injustice a defect?"

"I admit that."

"Then, my blessed Thrasymachus, injustice can never be more profitable than justice."

Glaucon did not seem satisfied. "Men make laws to protect themselves from each other, and they call these laws 'right'. Imagine how a man would behave with no laws to restrain him. You know the story of the Lydian shepherd who found a magic ring which made him invisible?"

"Yes."

[361] "Could anyone have the iron will to resist using the ring to take whatever he wanted? I think not, no man is just of his own will, but only from fear of the law. The unjust man, if he is skilled, will always appear to be in the right, while what will happen to the just man? He'll end up being blamed for others crimes, and like as not end up being scourged and crucified. What we need from you, Socrates, is a proof that justice is better than injustice, irrespective of what Gods or men may think.

I was delighted, "How can I refuse? But we are short-sighted creatures, perhaps we might easier see the answer in a bigger thing, like a whole community."

"I dare say."

"So, let us invent a community. Society originates because individuals can't supply all their own needs. We need food and clothing and shelter, so, at least, we need a farmer, a weaver and a builder. And should each work at just one job, or should they split the work between them?

"Stick to one specialised skill, they'll be better at it."

"We'll need more citizens then, and we'll need imports, so ships and sailors and merchants. And retailers, labourers, a market and a currency. Will that do? They'll produce wheat and barley, wine, clothes, shoes and houses. They will serve fine cakes on leaves and relax on beds of myrtle."

"No luxuries?"

"I forgot; they'll have cheese and figs, and nuts to roast by the fire."

[373] "Really!" said Glaucon, "that might do for pigs; we need things like furniture, sweets and prostitutes."

"That'll need more people; painters, musicians, seamstresses and such. And that'll mean more land, and trying to get it from our neighbours will mean war, so we'll need an army."

"Can't the citizens fight for themselves?"

"Haven't we already agreed that people work best if they stick to one trade? The Guardians of our city must be professionals."

"They'll need to be like well-bred dogs; strong, courageous and high-spirited."

"But Glaucon," I said "Won't that make them aggressive? Don't you think that they also need the spirit of a philosopher?"

"What?"

"A dog knows friend from foe by using knowledge, and is not philosophy the love of knowledge?"

"So we must give our Guardians a philosophical spirit."

"Quite so, and that means we must educate them, beginning when they are very young and every impression makes its mark."

"How?"

[380] "We'll persuade their mothers and nurses to tell them stories. But none of those traditional tales that portray Gods and heroes as dishonest. God must always be represented as perfect in goodness and beauty, so that our Guardians can grow up pious and honest. And we absolutely can't permit them to take part in any plays and readings other than those which present good and noble people. We'll only allow brave and noble music: Lydian music is too miserable, even for women. Then, with simple arts we will get honest, natural, beauty and goodness in character.

[403] "Certainly. But such keen understanding of beauty, Socrates, leads to sexual desire, with all its madness."

"So it does. We will make a law that a man may embrace and kiss his boyfriend, but no more."

"I agree."

"Physical education is next, which begins with diet. No drunkenness, of course, and every athlete knows to abstain from spices, so no rich Syracusan cooking. And definitely no Corinthian girlfriends. Elaborate food causes disease, just as elaborate music causes indiscipline. And indiscipline and disease lead to law-courts and surgeries."

"It is bound to happen."

"And when people start to need lawyers and doctors, we have conclusive proof that the education system is worthless. Men in the courts before snoozing juries, trying to get remedies by legal trickery, is a proof positive that they don't have enough education to arrange their own lives properly. Just as disgraceful is going to the doctor, not with any real malady, but because they've filled their bodies with garbage, which the pompous medical profession manages to name as some new-fangled disease."

"I agree."

[411] "So? What next?" I said, "We must decide who among the Guardians is to govern our State. They'll need to be intelligent, capable and willing to devote their lives to the interests of the community. And we'll have to make sure that their high principles can't be spirited away."

"What do you mean by that?"

[414] "If we want to see if a colt is nervous, we expose him to alarming noises. We must do the same with our young Guardians; expose them to pleasure and fear, testing them like gold is tested in the furnace. That is how we will choose which is to be a ruler and which ruled. We'd have to convince the whole community that it was in their interests to be ruled of course. I wonder if we could contrive some sort of 'glorious myth'?"

"What sort of myth."

[415] "We shall tell our citizens this tale; Ye citizens are brothers all, but God fashioned gold to some, silver to others, iron, and bronze to the rest. The Rulers have gold; the Auxiliaries silver, farmers and artisans have iron and bronze. This is as nature has ordered, for prophecy tells that when men of iron or bronze guard the State, it will be destroyed. That is the story. Do you think they will believe it?"

"Not in the first generation," he said, "but the next may."

"That will do, even a rumour can inspire people. But, let us return to earth. Our Guardians will have no private property. They will eat together, and their houses will be open to all. We'll tell them that they have no need of earthly gold or silver because they have gold in their hearts."

"I think not, Socrates." Said Adeimantus; "They're hardly going to be happy, living like that."

[421] "Yes." I replied. "They won't be able to afford holidays abroad or fancy women. But I am trying to promote the happiness of the whole community. You know, wealth makes men careless; poverty makes them slovenly."

"I agree," he replied, "but how will a community with no wealth fight a war if they need to?"

"Adeimantus," I said, "don't you think our well-trained soldiers will be a match for any number of podgy conscripts?" But there is one further matter."

"What is that?"

"How we should order our places of worship, our rites for the dead and our prayers to the powers of the otherworld, that is something we can leave to tradition. So, with that, Adeimantus, I think we have a city founded for you, and I think you will see that it surely must contain the four virtues of wisdom, courage, self-discipline and justice. The Guardians will have wisdom, so even if they are the smallest class, their rule will make the whole State wise. Courage will come because they will have knowledge of what is worth fearing. Self-discipline, or 'mastering yourself', as people say, is a bit of a puzzle as if you are master of yourself, then, presumably, you must also be subject to yourself, which is ridiculous. I think what is meant is that there is good and bad in everyone and the good part should control of the bad, so in our State the mean desires of children, slaves, women and the lower classes will be controlled by the wisdom of the superior rulers."

"So where is justice hiding?"

[432] "Oh, our quarry is right in front of us. Justice is keeping what is properly one's own, and didn't we agree that in our State each person was to stick to their own job?"

"True."

[435] "And just as our State had populace, auxiliaries and rulers working in harmony, doesn't it begin to look as if the mind has three similar elements; desire, reason, and spirit."

"I think so."

"Good." I said. "And can we agree that injustice is like war between the parts of the mind, a sort of disease?"

"So our citizens must all work together."

"Absolutely. And that means something I dare hardly mention."

Glaucon laughed. "We absolve you, do go on."

[452] "I am going to suggest that we educate and train women the same as men, even as soldiers. Does that seem ridiculous?

"People would think it absurd."

"This is not a joke. Women bear children, of course, and are generally better at cooking and weaving, but don't some men cook and weave? The sort of skills needed for administering a State are found as often in women as in men. Just as the Guardians will be the best citizens, the women Guardians will be the best women. Even if we might have to give women lighter duties, they can still play a full part."

"A singular idea!"

"Wait until you hear the next one! As the Guardians, men and women, are allowed them to mix freely, what will happen?"

"Sex- it is a bigger inspiration than any logic."

[459] "Now, Glaucon, I know that you keep pet dogs and birds. How do you breed from them?"

"Are you going to suggest that we breed people just as I breed dogs, by selecting the finest to mate?"

"Indeed. We need a real pedigree herd of Guardians, so we will have an annual festival to bring our brides and grooms together. There will be ceremonies and songs and a cunning lottery, fixed by the Rulers, to decide who is fit to mate. In this way, the inferior Guardians will blame the lottery instead of the Rulers. The children can be taken away to be educated, and any inferior, or deformed, ones can be quietly disposed of. They'll have to be in the prime of life to breed, say from twenty-five to fifty-five for men and twenty to forty for woman. Past those ages they can have sex with whoever they want, unless they're closely related, but they had better take precautions to avoid children."

"But they won't know who they are related to."

"They should be able to work it out from their ages, or something. Our State will have no 'yours' and 'mine'. It will have rulers and subjects, not as master and slave, but like brothers. There will be no reason for anyone to think of their own success or failure, only that of the State. And, most of all, everyone will feel they are one family because they have wives and children in common. Any little arguments can be settled with fists, there and then."

"Good. It will help our men keep fit."

"Children will go, carefully protected, to watch battles, so that they'll learn about warfare, and their parents will fight all the harder."

[468] "What about the actual fighting?"

"War should be conducted decently; no stripping of corpses, no burning of houses, our enemies should be treated with respect and no Greek should ever be taken into slavery. Any soldier who deserts should be demoted, but the brave should be honoured with feasts and crowns, and, you may not agree with this, given something extra."

"What?"

"Be allowed to kiss whichever boy or girl they fancy- that would encourage bravery! Those who die in battle will, we will say, become holy spirits to guard the earth, but we won't dirty our temples by dedicating weapons in them."

"This is all fine, Socrates," said Glaucon, "but you still haven't shown that such a State would be possible in practice."

[472] "We've been painting a word-picture of an ideal state. Is our portrait any the worse if that state can't be found? Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never have rest from their evils, nor humanity itself I believe. Only then will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day."

"Explain."

"Some people are naturally fitted for philosophy and leadership. Let me explain. If a man loves something, he must feel affection for all of it, not love one part to the exclusion of the rest."

"I'm not quite with you."

"Really Glaucon!" I said, "Whenever you fancy a pretty boy you call a small nose charming and a big one noble, a dark complexion manly and a fair one divine. You always manage to find beauty in the whole."

"Its true."

"So, the Philosopher's passion is for wisdom of every kind- he's ready to learn and never satisfied. If philosophers understand the eternal and immutable, while non-philosophers are lost in multiplicity and change, which of the two should be Guardians of the State, able to guard its laws and customs?"

[485] "It would be absurd not to choose the philosophers. But what other characteristics should he have?"

"Truthfulness. And hatred of untruth. Is there anything closer to wisdom than truth? And if a man has greatness of mind and breadth of vision to contemplate all reality, can he regard human life as anything of any great consequence?"

"No."

"So he won't think death anything to be afraid of."

"No."

Adeimantus interrupted, "Socrates! Your arguments are like a game of draughts where the expert hems in the ordinary player. You know that people who study philosophy too long become both weird and useless to society."

[488] "There is some truth in that, but let me give you an illustration. Imagine the master of a ship- larger and stronger than his crewmen, but a bit deaf and short-sighted and no great seaman. The crew quarrel as to who is to control the ship, the factions attack each other and even attack the master. They don't know that there is an art of navigation, they've never learned it and don't even consider it something that can be taught. They don't know that a true navigator must study the seasons, the sky and the winds. So they fight for who should take control, and call the true navigator a useless star gazer. I'm trying to show the attitude of society towards the true philosopher, and you won't be wrong if you compare our politicians with the sailors."

"Yes, I understand."

[492] "There are many influences which destroy the best of natures. Some people say our youngsters are corrupted by learning speech-making from the Sophist lawyers, but isn't it really public opinion which ruins them?

[493] "How."

"Like the person who feeds a wild beast every day and becomes familiar with its noises and actions, those Sophist talkers teach nothing but popular opinion, they learn how to recognise what the crowd like, and they pander to it. They call what annoys the beast 'bad', and what pleases it 'good', but they've no knowledge of the beast's real nature. [496] Abused as it is, philosophy still has a high reputation- so that stunted minds crave it. Like the bald tinker who has got out of prison and come into money. True philosophers survive only if circumstances keep them away from politics and public, like our disabled friend Theages. Perhaps I shouldn't mention it, because it is so odd, but my own saviour is an inner voice1 that tells me what not to do. And, nowadays philosophy is taught too young. The better way is to learn a little philosophy in youth, then in later life, when they've done with politics and war, they can devote their energies to it. The philosophers eyes should be turned away from the petty quarrels of men, to the realm of fixed realities, where all is order and justice. Like an artist, our philosopher must begin by wiping the slate of human habits and society clean."

"That sounds impossible."

[502] "Difficult, I admit, but if just one individual achieved it in the whole of time, might that not be good enough?"

"So, what is 'good'?"

"Do you really want a blind, halting display from me when you can have nice clear accounts from other people?"

"Now, don't give up Socrates!"

"I shall try, but I fear it is beyond me. But I will tell you, if you like, about something which seems to me to be like a child of the Good."

[507] "Go on..."

"Have you noticed that sight and visible objects need something?"

"What is that?"

"It is light. And which of the heavenly bodies is responsible for that?"

"You mean the sun."

[509] "Yes. The sun is not itself sight, it is the cause of sight. And the sun, you will agree, also causes the process of generation, growth and nourishment, without itself being such a process. Let me sketch out this diagram.



The vertical line divides what we know of from how we know it. In the Visible Realm are the things we can observe, the lowest of which are mere shadows or reflections which we know to be illusions. Physical things we comprehend through belief or opinion. In the higher Realm of the Intelligible, we have knowledge of the true essences, the 'Forms' of reality, which are not built on opinion, but are necessary."

"I see."

[515] "I want to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of the human condition as follows: Imagine an underground chamber in which are prisoners who have been chained since childhood with their legs and necks fastened so that they can only look straight ahead. Behind them is a road along which all sorts of men pass, and behind that a fire so that the prisoners see in front of them the shadows cast by the passers-by and the things they carry. "

"An odd sort of prisoners."

"They are like us. Wouldn't they assume that the shadows were the real thing and that any voices they hear belonged to the shadows?"

"Inevitably."

[516] "Suppose one of them were let loose and was dragged up, probably unwillingly, into the sunlight. He would be so dazzled by the glare that he wouldn't be able to see a thing. But he would grow accustomed to the light and come to see shadows, then reflections, and at last objects themselves and finally the sun. And if he then went back to the cave, wouldn't he be blinded by the darkness? And if he told of what he had seen, wouldn't the other prisoners think him mad?

"They certainly would."

"Now, my dear Glaucon, you won't go wrong if you connect the upper world of sight with the upward progress of the mind into the reason.

"I agree, so far as I can understand you."

"You see, people can be blinded by light as much as by darkness. We must dismiss the idea of some teachers that they can put into the mind knowledge that wasn't already there- as if they could put sight into blind eyes. There could be a better skill- to make the mind turn away from the world of change and look straight at reality, at the brightest of all realities which we call the Good. Isn't that so?"

"Yes."

"Most societies today are shadow battles and struggles for power, as if it were some great prize. The better is quite different; the State is best ruled and most tranquil when leaders come to their duties with least enthusiasm. We ought now to consider how such men should be trained, how they can be led up to the light. And it's not something we can toss an oyster-shell to decide."

[522] "Haven't we already decided on physical training, music and such?"

"Yes, but they'll need the ability to count and calculate. Few people see how it can draw men towards reality."

"By measuring distances?"

"No, you don't understand. Look at my three fingers here. Each one is just a finger. But as soon as we ask 'is it fat or thin' or 'pale or dark' we are confronted by opposites, like soft or hard, light or heavy, and we have to decide between them, and arithmetic is useful there. Not that our students will be concerned with accountancy or commerce, they are above that, but arithmetic will fit them for war.

"That's true."

"The next subject is geometry."

"That is certainly useful in war, for pitching camp and organising manoeuvres."

"True, but that is the mere geometry of everyday life. We are concerned with the squares and other shapes which pure geometry contemplates as perfect and eternal."

"I see."

"The third subject should be astronomy, do you agree?"

"Certainly, knowledge of the seasons is valuable to the farmer, sailor and soldier alike."

[528] "Really, Glaucon! You want to seem practical. How amusing!"

"Even I can see that astronomy makes the mind look upwards."

"You haven't understood. Do you think that staring at the ceiling develops the mind? The beautiful stars are the finest visible things. But they are far inferior to the true reality of the heavens which is found in the mathematics of their motion."

"Explain."

"I'm afraid, Glaucon, that you won't be able to follow. All I can talk about is an image of the truth, not the reality, only dialectic can reveal that- and only to someone already experienced. Dialectic begins by grinding down assumptions to the first basic principles they are founded on. Dialectic is the very coping-stone that tops-off our education system."

"I agree, as far as I can understand you."

[535] "Good. Do you remember the kind of people we picked to rule? We want the bravest, toughest, most honest and, if possible, the best-looking."

"Undoubtedly."

"Arithmetic and other studies can begin in childhood, but we mustn't use compulsion."

"Why not?"

"Compulsory learning never sticks in the mind. Instead, we'll let children learn through play. We'll have compulsory schooling for, say, five years. After that they can be sent down to the Cave to hold some minor public office until they are fifty. Then they will be ready to become full-time philosophers, and, when their turn comes, act, reluctantly, as Rulers."

"They will be fine men indeed."

"And women. Don't forget the women."

"Of course."

"Well, that is our society, with political power in the hands of philosophers."

[544] "That may be our perfect society, but what about the real societies we have now. What of them?"

"There are four types: timarchy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. There are hereditary monarchies and other types, but they are all really crosses between these. But, you know, societies aren't made of timber and stone, but out of men whose characters determine the direction of the whole, so we need to look at men as well."

"That would be logical."

"Our ideal state turns into timarchy when the ruling class become disunited, usually when the lower classes begin to crave profit and land and while upper classes urge traditional values. Society becomes envious, greedy, competitive and frightened of having intelligent people in office. The Timarchic man will be harsh to his slaves and crave power, not through intelligent discussion, but by showing might."

"What's next?"

"Oligarchy, where power belongs to those with wealth. And when men get richer, they get less honourable and they keep the populace down by force. Let me ask you, what would happen if we chose the richest man as captain of a ship?"

"We would be shipwrecked."

"Exactly. Worse, the wealthy live on investments, without trade or skill, worthless to their city."

"True."

"Next, I suppose, we have democracy. It rises when oligarchy reduces to poverty men born for better things; they grow angry and crave a revolution. The money makers themselves fuel such desire with poisoned loans and exorbitant interest rates. I suppose many people would think democracy the best of societies, there's no compulsion, so there's a profusion of opinions. But its diversity of ideas is only like a decorated cloak, the sort of thing that women and children crave. But that means that the best aren't forced to rule, so democracies get worthless politicians who just pretend to be the people's friends. The excessive desire for liberty is the downfall of democracies into the most powerful society and man; tyranny and the tyrant."

"How?"

[566] "A leader arises with the mob at his disposal, he brings false accusations and is not afraid of murder, he hints at debts cancelled and land redistributed. He begins a class-war against property owners. If he is exiled, he returns all the stronger. Then he demands bodyguards and uses then to grasp the reigns of state. At first he smiles and makes grand promises. He stirs up war to show that people need a leader, and taxes them to pay for it. He seeks out men of courage and purges his state of them."

"An odd kind of purge."

"True, a doctor gives a purgative to remove poison while the tyrant does the opposite."

"And yet supporters will flock to him."

[569] "Certainly. Then, when the people discover what a beast they've created, he'll be too strong to depose."

"Exactly."

[572] "You know, I think that inside even the best of us have a terrible bestial and lawless side."

"I agree."

"Would you say that the people of a tyrannical state are miserable slaves?"

"Certainly. Only the tyrant himself has any happiness."

"You think so? Consider this; does a wealthy slave-owner live in fear of his slaves?"

"No, because society protects his way of life."

[579] "Now, imagine he was surrounded by neighbours who considered slave-owning a crime."

"He would be in constant fear."

"Exactly the predicament of the tyrant. His life is haunted by fear, he's a source of misery to himself as well as others."

"I see."

[582] "So we can't compare these lives on the amount of pleasure each one gives, for each takes its own pleasure in knowledge, success or gain. We must look to the goodness or badness in them. True pleasure is only known to the true philosopher, who, through reason, knows the highest, but can also see the lowest. Do you know how many times happier a philosopher is?"

"No, tell me."

"There are three types of pleasure, and there are five types of man, from the tyrant to the democrat, to the oligarch, to the timarch to the philosopher-king. So that's 3x3x3x3x3x3, which is 729. The philosopher is 729 times happier than the tyrant. It is quite obvious."

[588] "Obvious to you perhaps."

"The human personality is like a creature in the old stories. A beast with dozens of heads, some wild, some tame, which it can change at will, all wrapped up inside a human's skin."

"So I doubt if our perfect society could ever exist on this earth."

"Perhaps you are right. But perhaps it already exists in some supposed otherworld of the mind. Maybe it is already now there, so that any man with a heart fit for justice can become one of its citizens."

"That may be right."

[595] "You know, I've been brought up to respect writers, especially Homer, but of all the things in our State, I do think the most important might be to reject imitative art."

"Explain."

"You agree that there are many beds and tables, but only one idea, one absolute form, of a bed, or a table. The craftsman follows the form to make a bed, but he can't make the idea itself. Yet an artist can make the mere appearance of a bed, or of anything he wants, and artists and poets listen to advice from no one."

"Apparently not."

"The decent man always hides his emotions, but poets and artists are always representing these unreasonable shows. They appeal to the ignorant multitude, and worse, the poet indulges our lowest desires. They don't realise how these infect our reasoning. Theatre is full of dirty jokes, anger, erotic passion, pleasure and pain, when such things should be allowed to perish."

"I can't deny it."

[607] "So, Glaucon, all the poetry we can allow in our State is hymns of praise to good men. Anyway, we haven't mentioned the greatest prize that awaits a good man."

"It must be something very big."

"Don't you realise, " I asked, "that the soul is immortal and imperishable?"

"Can you really believe that?"

"It is easy to demonstrate. You agree that each thing has its own specific evil which can destroy it, like ophthalmia to the eyes, mildew to grain, rust to iron?"

"True."

"So what is the specific evil of the soul?"

"What we've discussed; injustice, indiscipline, cowardice, ignorance and so on."

"But do they actually destroy the soul?"

"Far from it, wickedness tends to destroy other people and protect the soul that has it."

"So if even its own evil cannot destroy the soul, surely it cannot die, and if souls exist forever, there must always be the same number of them."

"I suppose so."

[613] "You will grant that the Gods see a man's true character."

"Yes."

"So we may assume that a man receives just rewards from the Gods?"

"But what are they?"

[614] "Let me tell you the story of Er of Pamphylia. He was killed in battle, and on the tenth day, on his funeral pyre, he came to life again and told this story of what he'd seen in the other world.

He travelled a strange journey and arrived with many others in great lawn, where two great chasms lead towards the inner earth and the sky, and another two lead back. In the centre sat stern judges who fixed a sign to each arriving soul telling of what it had done in its time on earth before sending it off to the heavens or the inner earth as was its merit.[618] Those who have caused deaths or slavery gain the same treatment themselves, just as those who have been good and just and god-fearing are treated in that way. He did explain what happened to those who died in infancy, but it was not very interesting. After seven days in the meadow, he set out with souls who had served their times below, by the great Spindle of Necessity, where Lachesis of the Fates scattered lots upon the ground, saying "Souls, it is time to choose your life for tomorrow". And the lots were of every kind of life; poverty, riches, exile, tyranny of both men and animals.

This is the moment, my dear Glaucon, when knowledge of good and ill is all. An iron will is needed to choose the honest course.

The first soul chose the life of a tyrant. He had come from a life in a peaceful state, and did not understand the horrors that awaited him. Er was filled with pity and laughter and wonder to see so many choose evil when they thought it good. Thamyris the singer chose to be a nightingale, Ajax the warrior picked a lion's life. The jester Thersites put on the form of a monkey. Odysseus, remembering his trials, searched for the uneventful life of an ordinary man, and found it lying neglected, and chose it with great joy as the greatest prize of all.[621] Lachesis allotted to each a guardian spirit, and the souls walked to rest by the river of Lethe-the-ever-forgetting. They drank the waters and slept, and as they slept, a great storm arose and each soul, like a shooting star, was swept away to their birth. Er awoke at dawn lying upon his funeral pyre.

So, Glaucon, this tale is preserved, and if we remember it well it will preserve us. If we keep peace with ourselves and the Gods and seek forever wisdom and justice, then, like victors at the Olympiad, we will receive our prize in this life and in our next journey of a thousand years all will be well."





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● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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