Book Ten has the appearance of an appendix, written to justify, against anticipated or actual criticism, the attack on poets in Books Two and Three. It has been suggested that it should not be taken too seriously, and should be read as an attack on the extravagant claims made for the poets by Greek opinion, rather than as a serious attempt to state a philosophy of art. It is true that the Greeks treated the works of Homer as their Bible, and also, as we see from Plato's Ion, where Homer is claimed as a teacher of everything from carpentry to morals and generalship, that extravagant claims were made for them. But there is nothing to suggest that Plato is not being serious, though he is often characteristically ironical; and the general contention in Section A below that poetry is illusion fits well into the scheme of the Divided Line in Book Six.


The Greek word mimesis, 'representation', used in Book III to describe dramatic as opposed to narrative poetry, is now used to describe artistic creation as a whole, and interpreted to mean a rather unintelligent imitation. The productions both of the painter and of the poet are imitations of a life which has itself only secondary reality, and neither painter nor poet have any knowledge of what they imitate. Pictures and poems are second-hand, unreal, and tell us nothing about life. 

(595) (a) (I)  "And yet," I said, "I realise many other things about it, for instance that we established the state (lit. city) without doubt (lit. more than anything) correctly, and I mean (this) thinking especially (lit. not least) about poetry." 
"What sort of thing (are you thinking of)?" he said.
"In no way to admit that so much of it (is) dramatic representation; for that it particularly (lit. more than anything) ought not to be admitted appears, I think (lit. as it seems to me), even clearer now, since each part of the soul has been separately distinguished."

(b)  "How do you mean?"

"Between ourselves (lit. to address myself to you) - for you will not denounce me to the tragic poets and all the other dramatists - all such things appear to be a corruption of the intelligence of all those listeners who do not possess the knowledge of what they really are (as) an antidote."

"With what in mind, are you speaking?"

"I must (lit. It is necessary [for me] to) speak out," I said; "yet a certain love and reverence about Homer possessing me from boyhood holds me back (me) from speaking. (c)  For he appears to have been the first teacher and initiator of all those tragedies. Yet a man ought not to be honoured beyond the truth, but, as I say, we must speak our minds."

"By all means," he said.

"Listen then, or rather answer (my question)."

"Ask (it)."

"Can you tell me, in general terms, what on earth representation is? For indeed I do not myself understand at all exactly what it means (lit. wishes to be)."

"So doubtless, I suppose, I shall understand (it)," he said.

"(It would) not (be) at all surprising," said I, (596) (a)  "since indeed on many occasions those seeing (things) more short-sightedly see earlier than those seeing more sharply."

"(That) is so," he said; "but, if you are (lit. with you being) present, I should not be keen to speak, if anything becomes clear to me, but do you yourself consider (it)."

"So do you want us to begin from here (by) investigating by our usual method? For we are accustomed, I think, to posit in some way each single form, in respect of each of the multiplicities (viz. collections of objects) to which we attribute the same name, or do you not understand?"

"I do understand."

"Then let us now take whatever multiplicities you wish. (b)  For example, if you will, there are, I think, many couches and tables."

"Of course (lit. How [are there] not)?"

"But with regard to these articles of furniture (there are), I think, two forms, one of a couch, and one of a table."


"And are we not in the habit of saying that the craftsman of each of these articles, (while) fixing his eyes on the form, thus makes, on the one hand, the couches, and, on the other hand, the tables, of which we make use, and other things in accordance with the same (process). For surely no one among the craftsmen produces the form itself; for how (could he)?"

"In no way."

"But consider now what you would call the following craftsman."

(c)  "Which one?"

"(He) who makes all the things, which each one of the workmen makes."

"You are speaking of a certain clever and wondrous man."

"Not just yet, but soon you will say (it even) more. For this same workman (is) able not only to make all implements, but also makes all the things growing in the earth and produces all the animals, both (all) the other things and even himself, and in addition to this he produces earth and heaven and the gods and all things in heaven and in Hades under the earth."

(d)  "You speak of a man (who is) marvellously clever in every way."

"Do you not believe (me)?" I said. "Tell me, do you not think (lit. does it not seem to you) that such a craftsman exists at all, or (do you believe) in some sense that there could be a maker of all these things, and in another sense not? or do you not perceive that you would be able to make all these things yourself in some way?"

"And what way (is) this?" he said.

"(It is) not difficult," said I, "but the producer (could make it) in many places and quickly, and, I suppose, very quickly, if, taking a mirror, you choose to carry (it) around everywhere. (e)  You will speedily make the sun and (all) the things in the sky, and speedily (make) the earth and speedily (make) yourself and all the other animals and implements and plants and all those things of which there was mention just now."

"Yes," he said, "things apparent (to the senses), but not, I think, being the truth."

"Excellently (said)," said I, "and you come at an opportune moment for the argument. For I take it that the painter is one of these producers too. For surely (he is, isn't he)?"

"Of course."

"But you will say, I imagine, that he does not make what he makes real. And yet, in a certain sense, the painter makes a couch also; or (does he) not?"

"Yes," he said, "he also (makes) the appearance (of one)."

(597) (a) (II)  "What of the couch-maker? Were you not saying just now that he does not make the form, which we say is the real couch (lit. what the couch really is), but (only) some particular couch?"

"Yes, I was saying (that)."  

"Then if he does not make what really exists, he cannot be making something that is reality, but something which resembles (lit. is of such a kind as) what is real, but which is not real; but, if anyone should say that the work of the couch-maker or of any other handicraftsman is reality in the complete sense, he would be likely to say what is not true."

"Then," he said, "(it would be) as it would indeed seem to be to those well versed with regard to arguments of such a nature." 

"So we should not be at all surprised if this too is actually something dim by contrast with reality."

(b)  "No, (we shouldn't)."

"So, if you wish," he said, "shall we look for whatever representation is in the light of these things?"

"If you wish," said he.

"Then there are these three kinds of couch: one being in the nature (of things is) the one which we would say, I take it, that God produces. Or who else (could)?"

"No one, I think."

"Then (there was) one which the carpenter (made)."

"Yes," he said.

"And one which the painter (made). For (that is so), surely, (isn't it)?"

"Yes" (lit. [So] be it)."

"The painter then, the couch-maker (and) God, (there are) these three responsible for (lit. the superintendents of) three types of couch."

"Yes, (there are) three."

(c)  "Now God, whether he was unwilling, or whether there was some compulsion (upon him) that he should not make more than one couch in the nature (of things), so made only that one thing, which is the (real) couch; and two or more such things were neither created by God nor will come into being."

"How so?" he said.

"Because," said I, "(even) if he should make no more than two, there would still come to light the one of which they both would again possess the form, and that would be that couch which really is, but not those two."

"Right (lit. [You speak] correctly)," he said.

(d)  "God then, I take it, knowing this (and) wishing to be the real maker of what is the real couch, and not of a particular couch, nor yet a particular couch-maker, produced it unique by nature."

"(So) it seems."

"So shall we call him, if you will, its true creator, or some such thing?"

"(That would) certainly (be) just," he said, "since he has made both this and all other things."

"And surely (we should call) the painter the creator and maker of that kind of thing, (shouldn't we)?"

"Not at all."

(e)  "But what will you say he is in relation to the couch?"

"This," said he, "seems to me the most reasonable (name for him) to be called, (namely) the imitator (of those things) of which those others are the craftsmen."

"Very well," said I; "do you call the (maker) of what is produced at three removes (lit. of the third production) from reality an imitator?"

"Absolutely," he said.

"Then the tragic dramatist will be this also, if he is an imitator, someone three removes (lit. third in descent) from the throne of truth (lit. from the king and the truth), and all the other imitators too."

"It seems so."

"Then we are in agreement about the representational artist. (598) (a)  But now tell me this about the painter: do you think (lit. does it seem to you) that he tries to imitate in each case that thing itself in the nature (of things) or the works of the craftsman?"

"The (works) of the craftsmen," he said.

"Such things as really are or such things as appear (to be)? Define this (point) further."

"How do you mean," he said.

"(I mean it) in this way: does a couch itself differ in any way from itself, if you behold it from the side, if (you are) looking straight at it, or from any other angle, or does it not differ at all, while it appears different? And other things (are) the same, (are they not)?"

"(It is) so," he said. "It appears (to be different), but is not different at all."

(b)  "Consider then this very thing: to what is painting concerned with in relation to every (case)? To be directed towards what is, as it is really, or to what appears (to be), as it appears, being a representation of a phantom or of the truth?"

"A phantom," he said.

"Then representational (art) is, presumably, far removed from the truth, and, it seems, it manufactures everything for this reason, because it claims but a small (part) of each (object), and even this (is) a spectre. For example, a painter, we say, will paint us a cobbler, a carpenter, (and) other craftsmen, (c) although he is not knowledgeable about the arts of anyone of them; but, nevertheless, if he were a good painter, and, if he were to paint a carpenter and exhibit (him) from afar off, he would deceive children and foolish men into believing in this, that it really was a carpenter."

"And why not?"

"But I take it, my friend, we need (lit. it is necessary [for us]) to bear this in mind in relation to all such things: when anyone tells us about someone, that he has met a man knowledgeable in all the crafts and everything else that each man knows (individually), (d) (and) that there is nothing that he does not know more exactly than anybody else, we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) reply to such a person that he (is) a simple-minded man, and, it seems, that, (in) meeting some magician and imitator, he has been deceived into believing him to be omniscient, on account of the fact that he cannot distinguish between knowledge, ignorance and imitation."

"Very true," he said.

(III)  "Then," said I, "it is necessary to investigate next (lit. after this) tragedy and its leader Homer, (e)  since we hear from some that these (poets) know all the arts, and all human things relating to virtue and vice, and divine things; for, if he is going to compose well about (the things) of which he writes, the good poet must (lit. [it is] a necessity for the good poet to) compose with knowledge (lit. knowing), or not be able to compose. So we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) investigate whether these men, having met with these imitators, have been deceived (by them), and, (when) looking upon their works, (599) (a)  do not perceive that these are three stages removed from reality and that (it is) easy (for a man, even if) he has no knowledge of the truth, to produce - for they are producing phantoms and not the realities -, or whether (there is) even something (in what) they say, and good poets really do know about (those things) which they seem to the multitude to speak of well."

"We must certainly examine (the matter) (lit. [It is] certainly necessary [for the matter] to be examined [by us])," he said.

"Do you imagine, then, that, if a man could produce both the copy and the phantom, that he would be eager to abandon himself to the manufacture of the phantoms, and value this above his own means of livelihood as his most important possession?"

(b)  "(No), I (do) not."

"But, I take it, if he was genuinely knowledgeable concerning those things which he imitates, he would much rather devote himself to those works rather than to imitations and endeavour to leave behind (him) many noble deeds (as) memorials of himself, and would be eager to be the one being praised rather than the one giving the praise."

"I think (so)," he said. "For honour and benefit (are) not (regarded) equally."

"Then, let us not demand from Homer or from any other of the poets an account of other matters, (by) asking (them), (c)  if any one of them was a physician and not merely an imitator of medical talk, what men any poet, among the old or among the new, is said to have made healthy, just as Asclepius (did), or what disciples of the medical (art) he left behind (him), as he (did) his descendants, and again let us not ask them about the other arts, but let them off. But about the greatest and finest things of which Homer undertakes to speak, about wars and generalship, and the government of cities, and (d)  about the education of men, (it is) surely fair (for us) to question him (by) inquiring (thus): 'My dear Homer, if you are not at the third (remove) from reality with regard to (human) virtue (as) that creator of phantoms which we identified as the imitator, but (if you are) even in the second (place) and could judge what sort of activities make men better or worse in private and in public (life), tell us what city was better governed on account of you, just as Lacedaemon was through Lycurgus and many (other cities), great and small, because of other (law-givers)? (e)  What city claims you as having been a good law-giver and as having benefited them? Italy and Sicily (claim) Charondas and we Solon; but who (claims) you?' Will  he be able to mention any?"

"I don't think (so)," said Glaucon; "at any rate it is not mentioned even by the Homerids themselves."

(600) (a)  "Well, then, is any war in the time of Homer recorded (as) having been well conducted under his command or counsel?"


"Well, then, are several ingenious inventions in relation to the arts or any other practical activities reported (of him) with regard to such actions as are the mark of a wise man, just as (they are) of Thales of Miletus and of Anacharsis the Scythian successively."

"(He did) nothing of the sort at all."

"Well, then, if (he did not do anything) in public (service), is Homer himself reported, (while) living, to have been in private a guide in education to men (b)  who took pleasure in associating with him and handed down to posterity a certain Homeric way of life, just as Pythagoras was especially admired himself for this, and his successors, calling (it) a Pythagorean way of life even now, seem to be conspicuous in some way among other people?"

"Again, nothing of this kind is reported," he said. "For, Socrates, Creophilus, the companion of Homer, would perhaps look even more ridiculous in relation to education than his name, if the things said about Homer (are) true. For it is said that there was some considerable neglect of him by that (friend) of his, when he was alive."

(c) (IV)  "Yes, so it is reported," said I. "But do you suppose, Glaucon, that, if Homer was really able to educate men and make (them) better (men), inasmuch as he was able, not to imitate, but to know of these things, he would not have acquired many companions, and have been honoured and admired by them, but then Protagoras of Abdera and Prodicus of Ceos and very many others are able (when) lecturing in private to those (placed) with them, to suggest (d)  that they will not be able to manage either their own homes or their own city, unless they have been put in charge of their education, and for this wisdom they are so deeply loved that their companions all but carry them around on their shoulders; and, after all, if he had been able to help men in relation to virtue, would his contemporaries have allowed Homer or Hesiod to rhapsodise (while) roaming around, and would they not have held on to them rather than to their gold and compelled (them) to remain with themselves at home, (e)  or if they did not persuade (them), they would have escorted (them) wheresoever they went, until they had acquired a sufficient share of their culture?"

"I think (lit. It seems to me) that you are speaking the truth in every way."

"Shall we lay it down, then, that all the poets, starting from Homer, are imitators of images of virtue and the other things which they make, and do not get hold of the truth, but, as we were saying just now, the painter, not being knowledgeable about the cobbler's art, will construct what appears to be a cobbler (to him), (601) (a)  and likewise to those not knowing (anything), and judging by colours and shapes?"


"In this way indeed we shall say, I suppose, that the poet also, not knowing anything save how to imitate, lays down, by words and phrases, certain colours on each of the arts, so that it appears to other such people,who judge (things only) by words, that he seems to speak very well indeed, whether he speaks in meter and music about cobbling or about generalship or about anything else whatever. (b)  Thus these very things possess such a great attraction by their very nature. When stripped of the colours of music these sayings of the poets, the things in themselves, I think you know what sort of things they show. For you have observed (them), I presume."

"I have indeed," he said.

"Are they not," I said like the faces of those who have had the bloom of youth, but not of the (really) beautiful, such as they are to behold whenever the bloom abandons them?"

"Absolutely," said he.

"Come then, consider this: the creator of the phantom, the imitator, we say, knows nothing of reality, but (only) of appearance. (Is that) not so?"

(c)  "Yes."

"Then let us not leave it half-said, but consider it properly."

"Speak (on)," said he.

"The painter, we say, will paint both reins and bit, (won't he)?"


"But the cobbler and the blacksmith will make (them), (won't they)?"


"So does the painter know what sort of things the reins and the bit must (lit. it is necessary for the reins and bit to) consist of? Or (does) not even the maker, both the blacksmith and the leather-worker (know that), but only the man who knows (how) to use them, (that is) the horseman."

"Very true."

"Then shall we not say it is thus about everything (else)?"

"How (do you mean)?"

(d)  "That there are some three arts, that of the user, that of the maker, (and) that of the imitator."


"Then is not the excellence and beauty and correctness of each article, living thing and action (judged) in relation to nothing other than the use for which each thing has been made or fashioned by nature?"

"(That is) so."

"Then the user of each (article) must be (lit. [it is] a strong necessity that the user of each [article] is) the most experienced (person in relation to it) and is a messenger to the maker as to the good and bad things he is effecting in the employment of what he is using; (e)  for example, the flute-player presumably reports to the flute-maker about the flute which may do service in flute-playing, and specifies which kind it is necessary to make, and the (other) will oblige (him)." 

"Of course."

"So, the one with the knowledge reports about the good and bad flutes, and the other man, trusting (him), will make them, (won't he)?"


"Then, in respect of the same article, the maker will have a correct belief about its excellent (qualities) and its defects, (by) associating with the man who has the knowledge and (from) being compelled to listen at the side of the man with the knowledge, (602a)  but the user (will have) true knowledge."


"And will the imitator have either the knowledge from experience about what he portrays as to whether these things are beautiful and right or not, or (will he have) correct opinion through association by compulsion with the man who knows and (through) being given instructions as to what he must (lit. it is necessary [for him] to) portray?"


"Then the imitator will neither know nor will have correct opinions about what he may represent with regard to their beauty or their defects."

"It seems not."

"(Quite) charming would be the dramatic artist in poetry with regard to true wisdom about what he may compose."

"Absolutely not."

(b)  "But he will nevertheless continue to imitate, (although) not knowing with regard to each (case) in what way (it is) bad or good; but, as it seems, he will imitate that thing which appears to be beautiful to the multitude who know nothing."

"Yes, what else (could he do)?"

"This, it seems, is agreed pretty well between us, that the imitator knows nothing worthy of mention concerning what things he imitates, but that this imitation is a form of play, and not a serious (matter), and that those engaging in tragic poetry, in iambics and in epic verse, are all imitators as much as it is possible (to be)."

"(I) entirely (agree)."


Art and poetry appeal to, and represent, the lower, less rational part of our nature. 

(c) (V)  "In the name of Zeus," said I, "is this business of imitation not about something three removes from reality? Surely (it is, isn't it)?


"With regard to what human characteristics (lit. what sort of the (elements) of a man) does it have the power which it possesses?"

"Concerning what sort of thing do you mean?"

"Something of this sort: the same size (of thing), I suppose, in accordance with our vision from nearby and from a distance does not appear the same size to us."

"No, (it doesn't.)"

"The same things (appear) both curved and straight to those who view (them) in water and out (of it), and indeed both concave and convex in turn owing to errors in our vision about colours, and (it is) clear that there is every sort of confusion here in our mind; (d)  through this weakness of our nature, this imposed scene-painting falls nothing short of witchcraft, and (so) also conjuring and many other contrivances."

"(That's) true."

"Then, have not measuring and counting and weighing shone forth (as) most favourable aids in relation to these very things, so that the apparently greater or lesser or more (numerous) or heavier thing does not rule among us, but what is counted and measured or even weighed?"


(e)  "But surely this would be the function of the reasoning faculty in the mind?"

"Yes, (it is) its (function)."

"And often, with this (faculty) having made measurements and (then) declaring that certain things are larger or some things (are) smaller than the others or equal (to them), there is an appearance of the contradictory (lit. contradictory things appear) about the same things at the one time."


"And we said, did we not, that is impossible for the same (faculty) to hold contradictory opinions about identical things at the same time?"

"And we spoke quite correctly."

(603) (a)  "The (faculty) of the mind, then, which judges contrary to measurements cannot be the same as the (faculty which judges) in accordance with measurements."

"Certainly not."

"But surely the (faculty) which trusts in measurement and reckoning must be the best (part) of the mind."

"Why certainly."

"Then the (faculty) which contradicts it must (belong) in some way to the inferior (elements) within us."

"Undoubtedly (lit. [It is] a necessity)."

"Wishing, then, that this be firmly agreed, I said that poetry and the mimetic (art) in general produces work of its own which is again far removed from the truth, and associates with the (faculty) within us which is again far removed from intelligence, (b)  and is its companion and friend for no sound and true (reason) at all."

"(That's) absolutely (right)," he said.

"Mimetic (art), then, (is) inferior, (and) associating with (something) inferior, begets inferior (offspring)."

"(So) it seems."

"(Is that)," I said, "(art) only in accordance with vision, or in accordance also with hearing, what in fact we call poetry?"

"(In all) probability," he said, (in accordance with) that also."

"Then," said I, "let us not trust solely to the analogy from painting, but let us also go in turn to that (faculty) of the mind (c)  with which the mimetic (art) of poetry is associated, and let us see (whether) it is an inferior or important (one)." 

"Indeed we must (lit. it is necessary)."

"Then let us put (the question) in this way: mimetic (poetry), we say, imitates men performing actions under compulsion or voluntarily, and from their actions supposing that they have fared either well or badly, and in all these (matters) feeling either grief or joy. Perhaps there is something else besides these (points)."

"(There is) nothing."

"So then is a man consistently disposed in all these (experiences)?" (d)  or just as he was suffering from inner dissension on account of his sight and held contradictory opinions at the same time about the same things, so also in his actions (a man) is at variance with himself and is himself at war with himself, (is he not)? But I recall that we do not now need to (lit. it is now in no way necessary that we) reach agreement on this (point); for in our earlier discussions we were sufficiently agreed in relation to all these (matters) that our mind is full of countless contradictions of this sort occurring at any one moment."

"Rightly," he said.

"Yes, rightly," said I; "but what we then omitted, I now think (lit. it now seems to me) we should (lit. that it is necessary to) discuss."

(e)  "What('s that)?" he said.

"(When) a decent man," I said, "who experiences such (a stroke) of fortune (as) losing his son or anything else about which he cares very greatly, we said then too, I believe, that he will bear (it) more easily than others."

"Quite right."

"But now let us consider this, will he not feel any sorrow at all, or, (as) this (is) impossible,  will he, in some way, be moderate in his grief?"

"The truth (is) more in the latter direction (lit. thus)."

(604) (a)  "Now tell me this about him: do you think that he (will be) more (likely) to fight against and resist his grief, whenever he can be seen by his fellows or whenever he may himself be alone in solitude by himself?"

"Presumably, he will," he said, "be much more restrained whenever he is on view."

"But when he is left alone, I suppose, he will venture to say many things which, if someone were to hear him, he would feel ashamed, and he will do things which he would not allow anyone to see (him) doing."

"So it is," he said.

(VI)  "Is it not reason and precept which encourages his restraint, (b)  and (is it not) the sorrow itself which draws (him) to (succumb to) his feelings of grief?"


"There being opposing impulses in a man about the same thing at the same time, we say that there must be  (lit. that it is a necessity that there are) two (things in him)."

"Of course."

"And (is) not the one ready to obey the precept which custom directs?"


"The precept states, I believe, that (it is) best to keep quiet as much as possible amid misfortunes and not to lament, as, with the good and the evil in such things not being clear, and no advantage being gained at all (lit. no step forward being taken in any way) by bearing (things) hardly, (c)  and there being nothing in the fortunes of man worthy of great concern, our grief gets in the way of that (very) thing which should support us in these (matters) as quickly as possible."

"What thing do you mean?" he said.

"To reflect," I said, "on what has happened and, as it were, in the fall of the dice to arrange one's affairs in relation to the outcome, in the way that reason directs would be the best, but not, like stumbling children clutching what has been hurt, to waste time in screaming out, (d)  but always to accustom the mind to turn as quickly as possible to healing (ourselves) and to restore what has fallen and has been sick, banishing lamentation by medical (science)."

"(This) would certainly (be) the best way for a man to deal with misfortune," he said.

"Then, we say, the best (part of us) is willing to follow this reasoning."

"(That's) clear."

"Then shall we not say that the (part of us) leading (us) towards the recollection of our suffering and towards lamentation, and being insatiable for these things, is irrational and lazy and the associate of cowardice?" 

"(Yes), we shall say so."

(e)  "And then this, the fretful (part of us), admits of many and varied (occasions for) dramatic representation, and the thoughtful and tranquil disposition, itself being always consistent (lit. closely similar to itself), (is) neither easy to portray, nor, having been imitated, (is it) easy to understand, especially by a motley (group of) men assembled in a theatre for a public festival; for the representation is, I suppose, of a condition alien to them." 

(605) (a)  "Absolutely."

"Is it (not) clear that the mimetic poet does not naturally turn towards this (faculty) of the mind, and that his expertise is (not) framed to please it, if he is going to have a good reputation among the multitude, but is (devoted) to the the fretful and unstable disposition, because it is something which is easy to imitate."

"(Yes, it's) obvious."

"Then, we can now justly lay hold of him and set him down (as) a counterpart of the painter; for he resembles him in making things (which are) inferior to reality, and, (b)  by associating with this other (part) of the mind and not with the best (part), he is like (him) in this (way) also. And so now we should rightly not admit (him) into a future well-ordered state, because he arouses and fosters this (part) of the mind, and (by) making (it) strong he destroys the rational (faculty), just as in a state, whenever one, (by) making corrupt men powerful, betrays the state and ruins the better (elements); in the same (manner) also we shall say that the mimetic poet implants privately in the mind of each person an evil constitution, (c)  (by) gratifying the mindless (part) of it, and (the part) which distinguishes neither the greater nor the less, but which thinks the same thing now large and now small, (and by) producing phantoms very far removed from reality."


Poetry, dramatic poetry in particular, has a bad moral effect on its audiences, who learn to admire and imitate the faults it represents. We cannot, therefore, allow poetry in our ideal state.  


(VII)  "But we have not yet brought our charge against it. For the fact that it is able to corrupt even those who are decent, apart from a very few cases, (is) surely very shocking."

"It certainly is (lit. How is it not going [to be so]), if it can really do that?"

"Reflect as you listen. For you know, I think, that the best of us, when we hear that Homer or some other of the makers of tragedy imitating (d)  one of the heroes who is delivering a long speech amidst his lamentations or even chanting and beating his breast, enjoy (it) and, surrendering ourselves, we follow (it) with sympathy and with enthusiasm, (and) praise as an excellent poet (the one) who can affect us as much as possible in this way."

"I know (it), of course."

"But, whenever a particular affliction befalls something of ours, you are again aware that we pride ourselves on the opposite (emotion), that we should be able to remain calm and endure (it), (e)  (in the belief) that this is characteristic of a man, and that which we were praising before (is) characteristic of a woman."

"(Yes,) I am aware of (that)," he said.

"So then," said I, "is this praise rightly (bestowed), when, contemplating a man such as one not deemed to be worthy in relation to ourself but (one of whom) we should be ashamed, we do not feel disgust (at this) but take pleasure (in it) and approve of (it)?" 

"No, by Zeus," he said, "it does not seem reasonable."

(606) (a)

"(Oh,) yes (it might do), if you were to look at it in this way."

"In what way?"

"If you were to reflect that the (part) of the mind which has formerly been forcibly restrained amidst our personal misfortunes and has been hungry to cry and to shed enough tears and to be thoroughly satisfied, because it is by nature such as to desire these things, is that (part) which is then satisfied and entertained by the poets; and (that) the best (element) in our nature, inasmuch as it has not been properly educated by reason or even by habit, relaxes its guard over that querulous element (b)  because it is contemplating someone else's sorrows and it is in no way shameful to it, if another man, who says (he is) good, is extravagant in his grief, to praise and pity this man, but it thinks that this pleasure is gain, and would not consent to be deprived of it (by) disdaining the whole poem. For it is, I think, available to a certain few to calculate that we are bound (lit. that [is is] a necessity) to enjoy the fruits reaped from the (lives) of other people in relation to our own (lives); for, having fostered a strong feeling of pity on them, (it is) not easy to withhold (it) amidst our own sufferings." 

(c)  "(That's) very true," he said.

"Then, does not the same principle (apply) also with regard to the ridiculous, (namely) that (in relation to those things) which you would be ashamed of yourself, if you were to do (them) for a laugh, (but which) if you were to hear (them) in comic representation or even in private (conversation), you would be pleased and not detest as base, you are doing the same thing as in the cases of the pitiable? For again, what you restrained in yourself by reason, fearing the reputation of a buffoon, when you were wishing to raise a laugh, you then in turn relax there (i.e. in the theatre), acting in an impudent manner, and you are often carried away at home without being aware of it, so that you become a comedian."

"Most certainly," he said.

(d)  "Then with regard to the loves and disputes and with regard to all the (feelings of) desire and of pain and of pleasure in the mind, which we say accompany our every action, (this is) what produces poetic imitation; for it lubricates and fosters these (emotions) when we ought (lit. it being necessary) to dry (them) up, and it establishes (them as) our rulers, when we ought (lit. it being necessary) to rule them, in order that we may become better and happier men instead of worse and more miserable (ones)."

"I cannot say otherwise," he said.

(e)  "Then, Glaucon," said I, "whenever you meet admirers of Homer, who tell (us) that this poet has educated Greece and that, with regard to the conduct and guidance of human affairs, (he is) worthy of study by taking (him) up repeatedly, and of us living our entire life organised in accordance with this poet, (607) (a) we should (lit. it is necessary to) love and salute (them) as being the best men they can (be), and agree that Homer is the most poetic and the first of the tragic dramatists, but (we must) know that we should admit no poetry into our state but hymns to the gods and the praises of good men; and, if you admit the honeyed Muse in lyric or epic (verse), pleasure and pain will be the rulers in your state, instead of law and the principal (of reason) which has, by common (consent) always been deemed to be the best."

"(How) very true," he said. 

(b) (VIII)  "Now," I said, "let this be our defence as we have been reminded about poetry, (namely) that we justifiably dismissed her from our state, since such was (her character); for reason constrained us. And let us say further to her, lest she accuses us of harshness and rudeness, that (there is) of old a particular quarrel between philosophy and poetry. For that 'yelping hound barking at her master' and 'mighty in the babbling of fools', (c)  and 'the mob that rules the learned', and 'those subtly working out' that 'they are poor', and countless other (expressions are) marks of the ancient opposition between these things. But, nevertheless, let it be said that, if the poetic (art) for the purpose of pleasure and dramatic representation can expound any argument that she should exist in a well-governed state, we should gladly admit (her), as we are conscious ourselves that we are charmed by her; but yet (it would) not (be) rightful to betray what we believe to be the truth. For surely, my dear (fellow), are you not enchanted by her also, (d)  and especially whenever you may be observing her by means of Homer?" 

"Very much (so)."

"Then is it not just that she should thus return from exile, having pleaded her defence in lyric or in any other metre?"


"We should, I suppose, allow her advocates, who (may) not (be) poets but lovers of poetry, to plead the case on her behalf without metre, as she is not only delightful but also helpful to governments and human life; and we shall listen benevolently. (e)  For we shall surely gain if she appears not only pleasing but also useful."

"We are certainly going to gain, "he said.

"But if not, my dear (friend), just like those who have fallen in love with something at sometime, if they think that the thing they desire is not helpful, they nevertheless refrain (from it) forcibly, so we also, owing to the love of this kind of poetry implanted (in us) by our diet of fine city states, will be delighted that she appears as very good and very true, but so long as she is unable to make good her defence we shall listen to her (while) chanting to ourselves this argument which we recite, and that charm, as we fear to slip back into the childish passion of the multitude. So we have come to see that we must (lit. it is necessary [for us]) not be enthusiastic about such poetry as a serious (thing) that lays hold on truth, but the man who is (lit. it being necessary  for the man) listening to her to be on his guard, fearing for the polity within himself, and he must (lit. [it being] necessary  [for him] to) believe what we have said about poetry."

"I agree entirely," he said.

("Yes,") I said, "for great (is) the issue (at stake), my dear Glaucon, (whether) to be good or bad, (is a) great (issue) and not as small as it appears, so that, induced neither by honour, nor by wealth, nor by any powerful office, nor even by the poetic (art), (is it) worth neglecting justice and (every) other virtue."

"I agree with you," he said, "on the basis of what we have gone through in detail; and I think that anyone else (would do so) too."



The soul is immortal because its own specific fault, moral wickedness, cannot destroy it. 

(c) (IX)  "And yet," said I, "we have not discussed the very great recompense and prizes proposed for virtue."

"You speak," he said, "of a quite inconceivable magnitude, if there are any other things greater than the things we have been talking of."

"What," said I, "could (ever) be great in a short (space of) time? For all that time from (being) a boy until (being) an old man would surely be but a short (time) compared with the whole (of time)."

"Indeed, (it would be) nothing at all," he said.

"What then? Do you think that one should (lit. it is necessary [for one] to) be concerned about an immortal object for so short a (space of) time, (d)  but not for the whole (of time)?"

 "(Yes,) I think (so)," he said; "but why do you ask this?"

"Do you not realise," said I, "that our soul is immortal and never dies?"

And looking at me straight in the face, he said in amazement: "By Zeus, I (do) not; are you (really) able to say this?"

"(Yes, I can,) unless I am making a mistake," I said. "And I think you (can) too; for (it is) not a difficult thing at all."

" (It) certainly (is) for me," he said; "but I should gladly hear from you about this thing which (is) not difficult."

"(Then) you should listen," said I.

"Just speak," he said.

"Do you speak of something good and something evil?"

" I (do) indeed."

"So, do you think of them as I (do)."

"What (is) that)?"

"The thing which destroys and corrupts is evil in every case, and the thing which saves and benefits is the good thing."

"(Yes,) I (agree)."

"What (about this) then? Do you say that for each thing (there is) something evil and (something) good? (609) (a)  For example, (there is, is there not,) ophthalmia for the eyes, disease for the whole body, mildew for corn, rotting for wood, and rust for bronze and iron, and, as I say, in almost everything else its inherent evil and disease?"

"(Yes,) I (agree)," he said.

"Then, whenever anything is affected by any of these (evils), does it not make (the thing) which it has affected bad, and in the end dissolve and destroy the whole (of it)?"


"So, the evil and the vice inherent in each destroys each thing, or, if it is not going to destroy (it), absolutely nothing else can destroy it. (b)  For obviously the good will never destroy anything, nor yet again (will) that (which is) neither evil nor good."

"How could (it)?" he said

"So, if we discover any of these things, which has (lit. to which there is) an evil which makes it wretched, but (is) not able to dissolve and destroy itself, shall we not then know that there is no destruction of the thing thus constituted?"

"(It's) likely (to be) so," he said.

"Why then," he said, "does the soul not have (anything) which makes it evil?"

"Certainly," he said; (there are) all the things which we have been going through: wrongdoing and intemperance and cowardice and ignorance."

(c)  "So, does any one of these things dissolve and destroy (itself)? And reflect, lest we are deceived (by) supposing that an unjust and foolish man, whenever he is caught doing wrong, is then destroyed by the wickedness which is the vice of his soul. But look at (it) in this way: just as the vice of the body, which is disease, weakens and then utterly destroys the body and leads (it) to being a body no longer, likewise (it leads) all the things, (d)  of which we were speaking just now, to come to annihilation through their own corruption which utterly destroys (them) by settling in and dwelling (in them) - (is) this not so?"


"Come then, and consider the soul in the same way. Do injustice and the other evils dwelling within it corrupt and reduce it by their living in and settling in (it), until they can bring (it) to death and separate (it) from the body?"

"They certainly do not do this in any way," he said.

"But yet it (is) surely illogical," said I, "that the vice of something else destroys a thing, but its own (vice) does not."

"(Yes, it is) illogical."

(e)  " So consider, Glaucon," said I, "that we do not imagine that the food should (lit. it is proper for the food to) be destroyed by the badness of the food, which may be within the thing itself, whether it is staleness or rottenness or whatever else; but, if the badness of the food itself implants in the body the defect of the body, we shall say that it has been destroyed owing to that food by its own device, which is disease; (610) (a)  but, the body being one thing (and the food) being something else, we shall never expect (the body) to be destroyed by the badness of the food, (that is) by an alien evil which has not implanted (within it) its natural evil."

"You speak most correctly."

(X)  "Then, in accordance with the same principle," said I, "if the badness of the body may not implant within the soul the badness of the soul, let us never claim that the soul is destroyed by an alien evil separate from its own particular badness, (namely) one thing (being destroyed) by the evil of another."

"Yes, that's reasonable," he said.

"Either then let us refute this (by showing) that we are mistaken (lit. we do not speak well), or, (b)  so long as it may remain unrefuted, let us never say that by fever or again by any other disease or again by violent death or, if anyone cuts up the whole body into the smallest possible pieces, (there is) any more likelihood that the soul will be destroyed because of these things, until anyone can prove that, owing to these weaknesses of the body, the soul itself becomes more unjust and more unholy; but with the evil of an alien thing occurring in something else, and an internal evil not being inherent within it, (c)  we should not suffer it to be said that either the soul or anything else is (so) destroyed."

"But yet, said he, "no one will ever prove this, that the the souls of the dying become more wicked through their death."

"But, if anyone," said I, "dares to come to grips with the argument and say, in order to avoid being compelled to admit that souls (are) immortal, that a dying man becomes more wicked and unjust, we shall claim, I suppose, if the speaker says these things truly, that injustice, like disease, is fatal to its possessor, (d)  and that those catching it die on account of it by its own nature, those (having it) the most more quickly, and those (having it) less more slowly, and not as (happens) now that the unjust die because of this, (that is) by the agency of others inflicting the penalty."

"By Zeus," he said, "that injustice will not seem a very terrible thing, if it is going to be fatal to the man possessing (it) - for it would be a release from his troubles - but I rather think that it will be shown (to be) entirely the opposite, killing others, if it can, and actually making the man possessing (it) very lively, and further (making him) alert in addition to this liveliness; so far, it seems, is it encamped from anything which is fatal."

"You are correct (lit. You speak well)," I said. " For since enough of its own particular vice and its own particular evil cannot kill and destroy the soul, the evil designed for the destruction of another thing will scarcely (be able to) destroy the soul or anything else, except the thing for which it has been designed."

"Scarcely at all, in all probability (lit. as the probability [is])," he said.

"Then, since it cannot be destroyed by a single evil, (611) (a)   whether inherent or external, (it is) clear that it must (lit. the necessity is that it will) exist forever; and, if it exists forever, (it must be) immortal."

"(Yes,) it must (lit. [it is] a necessity)," he said.

(XI)  "Then let this be so," I said; "but, if it is, you will reflect that (these souls) must always be the same. For, if none (of them) perishes, they could not, I presume, become fewer, nor yet more numerous; for, if any (group) of immortal beings becomes more numerous, you are aware that it would come from the mortal, and that everything would, in the end, be immortal."

"You are speaking the truth."

"But," said I, "we should not suppose this - for reason will not suffer (it) - (b)  nor yet (should we suppose) that the soul in its truest nature is the sort of thing that is full of great variety and irregularity and disagreement in itself (and) with itself."

"How do you mean?" he said.

"(It's) not easy," I said, "for a thing to be immortal, as the soul now appears to us, that is composed of many elements and not to be in need of the best composition."

"Indeed, (it's) not likely."

"Well then, that the soul (is) immortal, both our recent argument and our other dialogues (viz. the 'Meno' and the 'Phaedo') would compel (us to admit); (c)  but we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) view it as it is in reality, not marred by association with the body and other evils, as we now behold (it), but it must be examined thoroughly by reason, such as it is in its original purity (lit. when created pure), and you will find it to be a far more beautiful thing, and it will distinguish between (different examples of) justice and injustice more clearly, and likewise all the things which we have discussed in detail. And now we have stated the truth about it as it appears at present; however, we have viewed it in this condition (lit. being disposed), just as those looking at the sea-god Glaucus cannot easily see his original nature for this reason, that the old parts of his body have been broken off and crushed and marred by the waves in every way, and other things, including shells and seaweed and rocks have stuck to him, so that he is more like every wild beast than what he was by nature, (and) so we see the soul affected likewise by countless evils. But we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) look in that direction, Glaucon."

"Where?" he said.

"To its love of wisdom, and to be aware of (the thing) which it grasps and the associations for which it yearns, as being closely related to the divine and the immortal and eternal being, and (to consider) what it might be if it followed such (principles) whole-heartedly, and if it were drawn by this impulse out of the open sea, in which it now is, and were scraped free of the rocks and the barnacles (612) (a)  which, earthy and rock-like, have sprung up in wild profusion around it, inasmuch as it feeds on earth, by reason of these banquets which are termed happy. And then one could see its true nature, whether complex or simple, or where it is and how; but, for the present, we have, I think, described well enough its sufferings and forms in this human life (of ours)."

"(We have done) so in every way," he said.


The purpose of this whole argument has been to show that goodness is its own reward, irrespective of consequences. But, now that this has been proved, we may add that in fact the good man is rewarded by society in this life.

(XII)  "Then," said I, "did we not refute in our discourse the other (imputations) (b)  and abstain from approving (lit. not approve) the rewards and reputes of justice, as you say Hesiod and Homer (do), but have we (not) proved that justice in itself (is) the best thing for the soul itself, and that it must (lit. is necessary for it to) do justice, whether it has the ring of Gyges, or not, and even, in addition to such a ring, the helmet of Hades?"

"You speak very truly," he said.

"So then, Glaucon," said I, "it is no longer open to objection, (is it,) (lit. now already unexceptionable [is it not,]) to assign to justice and to any other virtue, in addition to those (blessings which justice itself provides), the rewards, (c)  however many and however great (they are), as are provided (lit. it provides) to the soul both by men and by gods, both while the man is still living and whenever he may die?"

"It most certainly is (not)," he said. 

"Then will you give back to me (the points) which you borrowed in the argument?"

"What in particular?"

"I granted to you that the just man should seem to be unjust, and the unjust man just; for you claimed that even if it was not possible to conceal these things from both gods and men, nevertheless it must be conceded for the sake of the argument, in order that pure justice (lit. justice in itself) could be distinguished in relation to pure injustice (lit. injustice in itself). (d) Or don't you remember?"

"I should indeed be to blame, if I (did) not," he said.

"Then, since," said I, "they have been (so) distinguished, I demand back (from you) on behalf of justice the reputation that she has both with gods and with men, (and I ask) that we too admit that it should be so deemed with regard to her, so that she may win the prizes which she gets from the appearance (of upright living) (and) which she bestows upon those possessing her, since she has been shown to bestow the blessings (which she gets) from the actuality (of upright living) and not to deceive those who truly possess her."

(e)  "You are demanding just things," he said.

"Then," said I, "will not the first thing you give up (be) that the nature of what each of these two is is not hidden from the gods?"

"We shall give (that) back," he said.

"And if they are not concealed, the one will be beloved of the gods, (and) the other hateful (to them), just as we agreed at the beginning."

"That is (so)."

"And shall we not agree that all things which come from the gods (613) (a)  work out for the best for him who is beloved of the gods, except that some necessary evil from sin in a former life was his from birth?"


"So we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) suppose thus about the just man, whether he falls into poverty or into illness or any other supposed evil, that these things will end in something good for him, when he is living or, at any rate, when he is dead. For he is never neglected by the gods who is willing to be righteous and (by) practising virtue to be likened to a god,(b)  in so far as (that is) possible for a man."

"Is it proper," he said, that such a man is not neglected by his like?"

"And must we not (lit. is it not necessary [for us] to) think the opposite of these things with regard to the just man?"


"Such things then are the prizes (given) by the gods to the just man."

"(That is) certainly in accordance with my opinion," he said.

"And what," said I, "(is given) by men? Is it not as follows, if we should (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) present what is real? Do not your clever rogues fare like those runners (do), who run well at the start but not at the turn? They sprint nimbly away from the start, (c)  but in the end they become ridiculous, running away ungarlanded, with their tails between their legs (lit. having their ears on their shoulders); but the true experts at running, when they have come to the finish, take the prizes and receive the garlands. Does it not usually happen like this: that towards the end of every action and association and of this life (in general) they bear away the honours and win the prizes (given) by men?"

"Yes indeed."

"So, will you bear with me if I say of them what you yourself have said of the unjust? (d)  For I am going to say that the just, when they become older, control whatever offices they choose in their own state, and marry someone from whatever (family) they want, and give (their children) in marriage to whomever they wish; and everything which you said about the former (i.e. the unjust) I now say about them. And, again, (I shall say) of the unjust that the majority of them, even if they escape when they are young, at the end of their course they are caught and are (made to look) ridiculous, and (as) miserable old men they are abused by both strangers and fellow-citizens, (e)  being flogged and (suffering all the things) which you, speaking truthfully, said were savage - after that they were racked and branded. Imagine that you have in fact heard from me that they suffer all those things. But consider whether you will bear with what I am saying."

"Certainly," he said, "for you are speaking justly."


This section tells of the Good Man's rewards in the life after death, of the responsibility of the individual and the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. The concluding part of the dialogue is cast in the form of a myth, as is Plato's habit when he wishes to convey religious or moral truths for which plain prose is inadequate. Much of the detail is borrowed from contemporary sources, probably Orphic. 

(XIII)  "Such then," said I, (614) (a)  "are the prizes, the wages and the gifts which come from both gods and men to the just man, in addition to those blessings which justice herself has bestowed."

"Yes, indeed," he said, "(these are) fair and lasting (rewards)."

"Well, these," said I, "are nothing in number and magnitude compared with those which await both (i.e. the just and the unjust) after death; for we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) hear about these, in order that each of them may receive in full what is due to be heard (of him) by our argument."

(b)  "You may tell (me)," he said, "as there are not many things which I would hear more gladly."

"But I shall not, however, tell you the (sort of) story (told) to Alcinous, but of a valiant man all the same, (namely) of Er, the (son) of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth; once upon a time, he, having been slain in battle, with the already decomposing corpses having been collected, was taken up (still) intact after ten days, and, when he had been brought home with the intention of being buried, and, as he was lying on the pyre, on the twelfth day he came back to life, and, having returned to life, he told (them) what he had seen in the other world. He said that, when his soul went forth from his (body), he journeyed with a multitude (of souls), (c) and that they came to some mysterious place where there were two openings in the earth adjoining one another and again (two) others opposite (and) above (them) in the sky. (He said) that judges were sitting between these (openings), who, when they had given their judgements, bade the just proceed to the right and upwards, hanging tokens of the judgment passed (upon them) in front (of them), and (bade) the unjust (proceed) to the left and downwards, with them also holding behind (them) tokens of all the things which they had done. (d)  And, when he had drawn near, they told (him) that he must be the messenger to men of that other world, and they directed (him) to listen to and observe everything in that place. Then (he said) that he saw in this way the souls departing at each opening of the heavens and of the earth when judgement was passed on them, while at the other (pair of openings) there came up out of the one in the earth (souls) full of dirt and dust, and from the second one there came down from the heavens other pure (ones). And (he said) that those which were arriving from time to time appeared to have come, as it were, from a long journey, and, departing gladly to the meadow, they encamped as at a religious festival, and those (who were) acquaintances greeted one another, and those which had come from the earth inquired from the others about affairs in the other world and those from the heavens (inquired) from those which had come from beneath about their affairs. And they recounted their stories to one another, (615) (a)  some weeping and wailing as they remembered how many and what kind of things they had suffered and seen in their journey beneath the earth - and the journey was a thousand years long - while, in turn, those from heaven recounted their glorious experiences and sights of unimaginable beauty. To recount these many things, Glaucon, would be a long business (lit. is [a matter] of a long time); but he said that the nub of it was this, that, as many things as they had ever done wrong and as many people (as they had ever wronged), they had each paid the penalty for everything in turn tenfold for each one - and this was in accordance with (the measure) of a hundred years for each, (b)  as such was the length of the life of a man - so that the penalty could be exacted (at a level) ten times greater than the crime, for example, if anyone was responsible for many deaths or had betrayed cities or armies and had thrown (them) into slavery or (had been) party to any other iniquity, they might receive requital pains for each wrong (at a level) ten times as great as all of these (crimes), and, again, (so that) if those dutifully performing any good deeds had been just and pious men, they should receive their reward in accordance with the same (measure). And of those who (had died) as soon as they were born and those living for a short time, he said no other things worthy of record. But he gave accounts of still greater requitals for impiety towards both gods and parents and of murder by one's own hand.

"For he said that he was standing by as one man was asked by another where Ardiaeus the Great was. Now this Ardiaeus had been tyrant of a certain city of Pamphilia just a thousand years before that time, having put to death his old father and his elder brother, and having performed many other unholy deeds, (d)  as it was reported. So he said that the man questioned replied: 'He has not come nor is he likely to come here. (XIV) For indeed this (was one) of the dreadful sights we beheld: when we were near the mouth (of the opening and) about to go up (through it), and after we had suffered all our other (experiences), we suddenly saw him and others - the majority of them almost (being) tyrants; but there were some private individuals among those (e) who had sinned very greatly, whom, as they were thinking that they were about to go up, the mouth would not admit, but bellowed whenever anyone among those so incurably inclining towards wickedness, or not having paid a sufficient penalty, tried to go up. At this point,' he said, 'men (who were) wild and fiery to look at, who were standing by and taking note of the sound, seized hold of them and led (them) off, and, (616) (a)  binding Ardiaeus and others hand and foot and by the head (i.e. gagging them), (and) throwing (them) down and flaying (them), they dragged (them) along the road outside, carding (them) on thorns, and indicating to those passing by from time to time for what reason they were been led off and that they were about to be hurled into Tartarus.' Then," he said, "many dread things of every description having happened to them, this fear was the greatest, lest the sound should befall each one when it sought to go up, and each went up most gladly if it were silent. And the penalties and punishments were rather of this kind, (b)  and in turn the blessings were their counterparts.

(N.B. The paragraph which follows gives, in brief and allusive form, a picture of the universe, in which the rings on the spindle-whorl are the orbits of the planets and the sphere of the fixed stars. A brief note on the details is given in the the appendix at the bottom of this translation.)

"When eight days had been passed by each in the meadow, on the eighth (day) they had (lit. it was necessary [for them]) to arise and journey on from there, and they arrived on the fourth day (at a spot) where they looked down on a straight light, like a pillar, stretched from above through all the heaven and the earth, especially resembling the rainbow, but brighter and purer. To this they came after going forward a day's journey, and there they saw (c)  at the middle of the light the ends of its fastenings stretched from heaven - for this light was the girdle of the heavens, thus holding together the entire circumference (of the universe) like the braces (i.e. the undergirding) of a trireme - and from its ends stretched the spindle of Necessity, through which it turned all the orbits; its shaft and its hook were (made) of the hardest metal, and the whorl (was) mixed from this and other kinds (of material). (d)  Now the nature of the whorl was as follows: its shape (was) like the one in our world, but, from what he said, we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) conceive it to be such as, if in one big whorl, hollow and scooped out, there lies enclosed all the way through a second one, similar (but) smaller, fitting (into it) like boxes fitting into one another, and so indeed another third one and a fourth one and four others. For there were eight whorls altogether, fitting in one another, showing their rims (e)  (as) circles from above, (and) forming the continuous back of a single whorl about the shaft; and this was driven home right through the middle of the eighth. The first and outermost whorl had the broadest circle for its rim, and the next (broadest was) that of the sixth and that of the fourth (was) third, and that of the eighth fourth, fifth that of the seventh, sixth that of the fifth, seventh that of the third, and eighth that of the second.  Now the (whorl) of the greatest (was) multi-coloured, that of the seventh the brightest, (617) (a) that of the eighth took its colour from the seventh illuminating (it), that of the second and of the fifth (were) very similar to one another and yellower than the preceding ones, the third had the whitest colour, the fourth (was) rather red, and the sixth (was) second in whiteness. The whole spindle turned in a circle as it revolved in one and the same direction, but within the whole as it turned the seven inner circles revolved gently as a whole in the opposite (direction), and of these themselves the eighth revolved the swiftest, and second (in speed), and (all moving) together with one another, (were) (b)  the seventh, the sixth and the fifth; third in speed revolved the fourth, and fourth (was) the third, and fifth (was) the second. And it (i.e. the spindle) turned on the knees of Necessity. And up above its circles a Siren is perched on each (of them), being carried around (with it and) giving out a single sound, a single musical note; and they sang in harmony, there being a single scale from all eight (of them). (c)  And (there were) three others sitting round about at equal intervals, each on her throne, the Fates, the daughters of Necessity, clothed in white (and) having garlands on their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, (who) sang in accordance with the scale of the Sirens, Lachesis (about) the past, Clotho (about) the present, and Atropos (about) the future. Clotho, grasping (it) with her right hand helped to revolve the outer circle of the spindle, pausing for a time (lit. leaving a period in between), and Atropos with her left (hand) in turn (helped to revolve) the inner (circle) in a similar manner; (d)  and Lachesis with each hand helped to revolve each one (of these) in turn. (XV)  Now, when they arrived, they were supposed (lit. it was necessary for them) to go at once before Lachesis. Then a certain prophet first put them in order, then, taking from Lachesis' lap (lit. knees) (a number of) lots and patterns of lives (and) mounting a rather lofty platform, said -

" '(This is) the word of the maiden Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity: "Souls that live for a day, (here is) the beginning of another cycle of mortal birth which leads to death. (e)  No attendant spirit will cast lots for you, but you will choose your own attendant spirit. Let him who draws the first lot choose first a life to which he will cleave of necessity. But virtue is without a master, (and) every man who honours or dishonours her will have more or less of her. The responsibility (is) with the chooser: God (is) not responsible.'

"Having said this, he (i.e. the prophet) threw the lots out among (them) all, and each one took up the one which fell beside him, except him (i.e. Er), and he did not permit him (to do so). (618) (a)  And after this, he again placed the patterns of lives on the ground before them, far more than those present. They were of every kind: for (there were) lives of all (types of) animal, and moreover of all sorts of human being. For there were tyrannies among them, some lasting (throughout life), others destroyed midway and ending in poverty, and banishment, and in beggary; and there were also lives of men distinguished for their appearance and in respect of their beauty and their bodily strength (b)  and gymnastic fitness, and for their birth and for the virtues of their ancestors, and (lives) of those undistinguished in respect of these things, and likewise of women also. But there was not any fixed pattern of character in (them), because (the soul), (when) choosing another life, must necessarily become different; but (all) other things (i.e. things other than a fixed pattern of character) were mingled with one another, wealth with poverty and sickness with health, and intermediate conditions (lit. things which were in the middle of these) also. There indeed, my dear Glaucon, it seems, (is) the supreme (lit. the whole) hazard for a man, and especially for these reasons (c)  we must (lit. it is necessary [for us] to) take care that each of us, neglecting (all) our other studies, should be a student and pupil of this (subject of) study, if he should be able, from some source, to learn and discover who will make him able and wise (enough) to distinguish between a good and a bad life, (and) always and everywhere to choose the better (life) from what is available (to him); taking into account how all the things which have just now been mentioned, having been both combined together with one another and separated, bear upon the goodness of life, he should know what (effect) beauty (has when) combined with poverty or wealth, (d)  and with what sort of disposition of the soul it produces a bad or a good (result), and what (effects) noble and humble birth, and private citizens and public office, and strength and weakness, and quickness of mind and dullness, and all those qualities of the things which are there in the soul by nature and of the things (which are) acquired produce (when) blended with one another, so that, having taken thorough account of all those things, he will be able, (when) turning his attention to the nature of his soul, to distinguish between the worse and the better life, (e)  calling the worse (that) which will lead him in the direction of being more unjust, and the better (that) which (will lead him) towards (being) more just. And all other considerations he will renounce (lit. let go); for we have seen that the same choice (is) best both for the man who is alive and for the man who is dead. (619) (a)  He must (lit. It is necessary [for him] to) go to Hades possessing this conviction inflexibly, so that even there he may be unshaken by riches and any such evils, and not, (by) falling into tyrannies and other similar doings, work incurable ills and suffer still greater (ones) himself, but (so that) he may know how always to choose the middle (course) between such things in life, as far as possible, and to shun the extremes in both directions, both in this life and in all of (the life) hereafter; (b)  for man becomes happiest in this way.

(XVI)  "And also at that time the messenger from the other world (i.e. Er) reported that the prophet spoke thus: 'Even for him who comes forward last, if he chooses wisely (and) if he lives earnestly, a desirable life lies in store, not a bad (one). Let not the foremost in the choice be careless, and let not the last be discouraged.'

"When the prophet had spoken these (words), he said that the man who drew the first lot came forward at once and chose the greatest tyranny, and through his own folly and greed he chose (it) without examining everything sufficiently, (c)  and it escaped his notice what his fate was, (namely) eating his own children and other horrors; and, when he inspected (it) at his leisure, he beat his breast and lamented his choice, not remembering the prior warning by the prophet; for he did not blame himself for his woes, but fortune and the gods and everything rather than himself. He was (one) of those who had come from heaven (and) who had lived in a well-ordered republic in his previous life, (d)  (and) who had got his share of virtue by habit and not by (lit. without) philosophy. A greater (lit. Not a smaller) (number), as one might say, of those who were caught in such (ways) were those who had come (down) from heaven, inasmuch as they were untrained in suffering; but the majority of those (who had come) from the earth, inasmuch as they had suffered themselves and had seen others (suffer), did not make their choice in a rush. For this reason also there was an interchange of good and evil for the majority of souls, as well as by the fortune of the lot; since, if a man, whenever he reaches the life of this world, always pursues wisdom soundly,(e)  and the lot of his choice does not fall to him amongst the last, it is likely from the things reported from the other world that he might not only be happy here, but also that he may not travel a journey from here to there and back here again (which is) underground and rough but (which is) both smooth and through the heavens.

"For he said that this sight was worth seeing, (620) (a)  (that is) how each soul choses their lives; for to see (it) was pitiful and ridiculous and amazing. For they chose for the most part in accordance with the habit of their former life. For he said that he saw the soul that had once been that of Orpheus choosing the life of a swan, (as) it hates the tribe of women because of his death at their hands, (and) it is not willing to be conceived by being born of a woman; and he saw the (soul) of Thamyras choosing (that) of a nightingale; and he also saw a swan changing to the choice of the life of a man, and other musical animals similarly. (b)The soul drawing the twentieth lot chose the life of a lion: it was the (soul) of Ajax, the (son) of Telamon, avoiding becoming a man because he remembered the judgment of the arms (of Achilles). And for this reason (too came) the (soul) of Agamemnon: also through hatred of the human race, because of his sufferings, his (soul) took in exchange the life of an eagle. And, drawing (one of) the lots in the middle, the soul of Atalanta, spotting the great honours belonging to a male athlete, could not go past (them) but snatched (them) up.(c)  After her, he saw the (soul) of Epeus, the (son) of Panopeus, entering into the nature of an artistic woman; and, afar off in the rear, he saw the (soul) of the buffoon Thersites, clothed (as) a monkey. Then, in accordance with chance, the (soul) of Odysseus, drawing the last lot of all, came to make his choice, and, forsaking ambition in memory of his former tribulations, went about seeking the life of a detached private citizen,  and found (it) lying in some spot, disregarded by the others, and, (when) seeing (it), he said that he would have done the same even if he had drawn the first lot, and he chose (it) gladly. And in the same way (some) of the other beasts entered into men and into one another, the unjust being transformed into wild (creatures) and the just into tame ones, and they were mixed together in every (sort of) combination.

"But, when all the souls had chosen their lives, they came before Lachesis in the order in which they had drawn lots; and she sent to each one that attendant spirit which it had chosen (as) the guardian of its life and the executor of the things which it had chosen, and this led it to Clotho to ratify by her hand and the revolving of the whirling of the spindle the destiny which it had chosen (when) drawing lots; and, after greeting (lit. making contact with) her, it led (them) again to the spinning of Atropos to make unalterable the (threads) which had been spun; and then it passed, without turning, under the throne of Necessity, and, having passed through that, when the others had passed through also, they all journeyed to the Plain of Lethe (i.e. Oblivion) through a terrible and stifling heat (lit. through a terrible heat and suffocation); for it was bare of trees and vegetation (lit. such things as grow in the earth). And then towards evening (lit. with evening coming on) they encamped by the River of Unmindfulness, whose water no pitcher can hold. And all were compelled (lit. it was required of all) to drink a certain measure of its water, and those who were not saved by their good sense drank more than the measure; and as soon as each one drank it forgot everything. And, when they had fallen asleep and it was the middle of the night, there was thunder and an earthquake, and then suddenly they were borne upwards, one (in this direction), (one) in another, to their birth, like shooting stars. But he himself was prevented from drinking the water; but in what (way) and how he reached his body he did not know, but, suddenly opening his eyes, he saw himself at dawn lying on the pyre.

"And so, Glaucon, his tale was preserved and not lost, (c)  and it can save us, should we believe it, and we shall safely cross the river of Lethe and not be defiled in respect of our souls. But, if we should follow my guidance, and think that the soul (is) immortal and capable of enduring all evil and all good, we shall always hold to the upward path and pursue justice with wisdom in every way, in order that we may be dear both to ourselves and to the gods, (while) remaining here in this world, and (d)  when we receive our rewards like the victors (in the games) going around collecting (their prizes), and both in this world and in that thousand year journey, which we have been describing, we shall do well."



This passage (see paragraphs 616b - 617d above) has been much discussed but the following points are generally agreed. 

(1)  The 'Spindle of Necessity' is intended, however imperfectly, to give a picture of the working of the Universe. 

(2)  Plato thought that the Universe was geocentric, with the fixed stars on a sphere or band at the outside, the earth at the centre, and the orbits of the sun, moon, and planets between earth and stars. 

(3)  The rims of the whorl are intended to represent these orbits and have the following equivalences;  
1.  The fixed stars
2.  Saturn
3.  Jupiter
4.  Mars
5.  Mercury
6.  Venus
7.  Sun
8.  Moon.

Thus, for example, we are told that 'the fourth (Mars) was reddish', and 'the eighth (Moon) was illuminated by the seventh (Sun)'. 

(4)  The breadth and relative motion of the rims represent the distances and relative speeds of the planets, though it is difficult to be certain about details. 

(5)  The singing Sirens are Plato's version of the Pythagorean doctrine of the 'harmony of the spheres', which Aristotle describes in his 'De Caelo', II, 9.
Last modified onTuesday, 30 December 2014 19:33
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