Thursday, October 12, 2006


Love and war in Plato's Republic, Book V

'Then what about anyone who has distinguished himself for bravery? Do you agree that he should first be duly crowned, while the army is still in the field, by his fellow-campaigners, by young men and children in turn?'


'And that they should shake his hand?'

'I agree again.'

'But I'm afraid you won't agree to what I'm going to say next.'

'What is it?'

'That he should exchange kisses with them.'

'I think it's the best idea of all,' said Glaucon. 'And what is more, I should add to your law a clause that would forbid anyone to refuse his kisses for the rest of the campaign, as an encouragement to those in love with a boy or girl to be all the keener to win an award for bravery.'


Definite hint of Monty Python, methinks.

Silly indeed, but by no means the silliest passage in the work.
Well I'm only coming to the end of the philosopher-king bit. I notice that Socrates felt the need to deal with the question "why are most philosophers rogues?"

Does that premise square with your personal experiences? I'm trying to think of really rouge-ish philosophers. Louis Althuser comes to mind and I think many would mention Sartre and Russell. Heidegger also. Antonio Negri perhaps, if he counts as a philosopher.
Among ancient philosophers, Diogenes the Cynic must surely rank high. Read Diogenes Laertius's biography of him for a laugh. Schopenhauer wasn't exactly an upstanding fellow. He didn't pretend to be, however. I think he once pointed out that we don't expect saints to be philosophers so there's no reason to expect philosophers to be saints. That's a totally stupid thing to say, but also sort of funny.
I just love the bit in the Republic about how much more pleasure the philosopher gets compared to the tyrannt. To make the general point is ok, but Socrates actually wants to fix a number on it. I've never been able to figure out whether that's a joke or not.

You're not a philosophy student are you?
No, I did philosophy in my first year but then dropped it. (One had to drop one of three subjects - I stuck with politics and history). So now that I'm out of college I'm reading some of the classics I bought but didn't actually read at the time.

I did read up to the end of the education bits of the Republic at the time, and I'm sure I sat an exam on it, so presumably that was enough for my purposes at that time.

Actually I just remembered that I went back to the Republic when I was about to start off on Aristotle's Politics but felt I should have read the former before the latter, in the same way that I feel I can't have a crack at Ulysses until I've read the Odyssey.
"You're not a philosophy student are you?"

Hold on, that could be interpreted as me having betrayed my ignorance of matters philosophical, rather than as an enquiry.

Touchy, touchy! I'm just curious when people read Plato.

If you wanna read something absolutely fantastic by Plato, read the Gorgias (in the Zeyl translation preferrably - it's cheap too.) I just finished teaching it for the forth time - always such a treat. The Symposium and the Theaetetus are also pretty awesome.
Already read the Symposium. Yeah some cool stuff there. Must go back to it. Not heard of the other two. Unless the Gorgias is the chapter/book in "The Last Days of Socrates" whose name always escapes me?
No, that's not it. The Gorgias isn't included in that collection.

If you liked the Socrates/Thrasymachus confrontation in the Republic, you'll love the Gorgias. (That last sentence was my attempt to mimic advertising language.) A lot of people think it's Plato's most artistically successful work, and I'm inclined to agree. The Republic is, sadly, not an artistic success, for all its brilliance. The Gorgias, on the other hand, is utterly perfect.

As for the Symposium, Alcibaides's speech is just one the best things ever written.
If you liked the Socrates/Thrasymachus confrontation in the Republic, you'll love the Gorgias. And we'll even throw in this exclusive set of steaknives! Platonic infomercials, I love them.

Is the Alcibiades speech the one about men and women once being single beings?
No. That's Aristophanes. Alcibaides crashes the party drunk and makes a speech praising Socrates.
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