translated by Benjamin Jowett
Book X - The Recompense of Life
SOCRATES - GLAUCON
OF THE many excellences which I perceive in the order of our
State, there is none which upon reflection pleases me better than
the rule about poetry.
To what do you refer?
To the rejection of imitative poetry, which certainly ought
not to be received; as I see far more clearly now that the parts
of the soul have been distinguished.
What do you mean?
Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words
repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe --but
I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are
ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the
knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them.
Explain the purport of your remark.
Well, I will tell you, although I have always from my earliest
youth had an awe and love of Homer, which even now makes the
words falter on my lips, for he is the great captain and teacher
of the whole of that charming tragic company; but a man is not to
be reverenced more than the truth, and therefore I will speak out.
Very good, he said.
Listen to me then, or rather, answer me.
Put your question.
Can you tell me what imitation is? for I really do not know.
A likely thing, then, that I should know.
Why not? for the duller eye may often see a thing sooner than
Very true, he said; but in your presence, even if I had any
faint notion, I could not muster courage to utter it. Will you
Well then, shall we begin the enquiry in our usual manner:
Whenever a number of individuals have a common name, we assume
them to have also a corresponding idea or form. Do you understand
Let us take any common instance; there are beds and tables in
the world --plenty of them, are there not?
But there are only two ideas or forms of them --one the idea
of a bed, the other of a table.
And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a
table for our use, in accordance with the idea --that is our way
of speaking in this and similar instances --but no artificer
makes the ideas themselves: how could he?
And there is another artist, --I should like to know what you
would say of him.
Who is he?
One who is the maker of all the works of all other workmen.
What an extraordinary man!
Wait a little, and there will be more reason for your saying
so. For this is he who is able to make not only vessels of every
kind, but plants and animals, himself and all other things --the
earth and heaven, and the things which are in heaven or under the
earth; he makes the gods also.
He must be a wizard and no mistake.
Oh! you are incredulous, are you? Do you mean that there is no
such maker or creator, or that in one sense there might be a
maker of all these things but in another not? Do you see that
there is a way in which you could make them all yourself?
An easy way enough; or rather, there are many ways in which
the feat might be quickly and easily accomplished, none quicker
than that of turning a mirror round and round --you would soon
enough make the sun and the heavens, and the earth and yourself,
and other animals and plants, and all the, other things of which
we were just now speaking, in the mirror.
Yes, he said; but they would be appearances only.
Very good, I said, you are coming to the point now. And the
painter too is, as I conceive, just such another --a creator of
appearances, is he not?
But then I suppose you will say that what he creates is untrue.
And yet there is a sense in which the painter also creates a bed?
Yes, he said, but not a real bed.
And what of the maker of the bed? Were you not saying that he
too makes, not the idea which, according to our view, is the
essence of the bed, but only a particular bed?
Yes, I did.
Then if he does not make that which exists he cannot make true
existence, but only some semblance of existence; and if any one
were to say that the work of the maker of the bed, or of any
other workman, has real existence, he could hardly be supposed to
be speaking the truth.
At any rate, he replied, philosophers would say that he was
not speaking the truth.
No wonder, then, that his work too is an indistinct expression
Suppose now that by the light of the examples just offered we
enquire who this imitator is?
If you please.
Well then, here are three beds: one existing in nature, which
is made by God, as I think that we may say --for no one else can
be the maker?
There is another which is the work of the carpenter?
And the work of the painter is a third?
Beds, then, are of three kinds, and there are three artists
who superintend them: God, the maker of the bed, and the painter?
Yes, there are three of them.
God, whether from choice or from necessity, made one bed in
nature and one only; two or more such ideal beds neither ever
have been nor ever will be made by God.
Why is that?
Because even if He had made but two, a third would still
appear behind them which both of them would have for their idea,
and that would be the ideal bed and the two others.
Very true, he said.
God knew this, and He desired to be the real maker of a real
bed, not a particular maker of a particular bed, and therefore He
created a bed which is essentially and by nature one only.
So we believe.
Shall we, then, speak of Him as the natural author or maker of
Yes, he replied; inasmuch as by the natural process of
creation He is the author of this and of all other things.
And what shall we say of the carpenter --is not he also the
maker of the bed?
But would you call the painter a creator and maker?
Yet if he is not the maker, what is he in relation to the bed?
I think, he said, that we may fairly designate him as the
imitator of that which the others make.
Good, I said; then you call him who is third in the descent
from nature an imitator?
Certainly, he said.
And the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all
other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the
That appears to be so.
Then about the imitator we are agreed. And what about the
painter? --I would like to know whether he may be thought to
imitate that which originally exists in nature, or only the
creations of artists?
As they are or as they appear? You have still to determine
What do you mean?
I mean, that you may look at a bed from different points of
view, obliquely or directly or from any other point of view, and
the bed will appear different, but there is no difference in
reality. And the same of all things.
Yes, he said, the difference is only apparent.
Now let me ask you another question: Which is the art of
painting designed to be --an imitation of things as they are, or
as they appear --of appearance or of reality?
Then the imitator, I said, is a long way off the truth, and
can do all things because he lightly touches on a small part of
them, and that part an image. For example: A painter will paint a
cobbler, carpenter, or any other artist, though he knows nothing
of their arts; and, if he is a good artist, he may deceive
children or simple persons, when he shows them his picture of a
carpenter from a distance, and they will fancy that they are
looking at a real carpenter.
And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man knows
all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every
single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man
--whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a
simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some
wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing,
because he himself was unable to analyse the nature of knowledge
and ignorance and imitation.
And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians, and
Homer, who is at their head, know all the arts and all things
human, virtue as well as vice, and divine things too, for that
the good poet cannot compose well unless he knows his subject,
and that he who has not this knowledge can never be a poet, we
ought to consider whether here also there may not be a similar
illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imitators and been
deceived by them; they may not have remembered when they saw
their works that these were but imitations thrice removed from
the truth, and could easily be made without any knowledge of the
truth, because they are appearances only and not realities? Or,
after all, they may be in the right, and poets do really know the
things about which they seem to the many to speak so well?
The question, he said, should by all means be considered.
Now do you suppose that if a person were able to make the
original as well as the image, he would seriously devote himself
to the image-making branch? Would he allow imitation to be the
ruling principle of his life, as if he had nothing higher in him?
I should say not.
The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be
interested in realities and not in imitations; and would desire
to leave as memorials of himself works many and fair; and,
instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be
the theme of them.
Yes, he said, that would be to him a source of much greater
honour and profit.
Then, I said, we must put a question to Homer; not about
medicine, or any of the arts to which his poems only incidentally
refer: we are not going to ask him, or any other poet, whether he
has cured patients like Asclepius, or left behind him a school of
medicine such as the Asclepiads were, or whether he only talks
about medicine and other arts at second hand; but we have a right
to know respecting military tactics, politics, education, which
are the chiefest and noblest subjects of his poems, and we may
fairly ask him about them. 'Friend Homer,' then we say to him,
'if you are only in the second remove from truth in what you say
of virtue, and not in the third --not an image maker or imitator
--and if you are able to discern what pursuits make men better or
worse in private or public life, tell us what State was ever
better governed by your help? The good order of Lacedaemon is due
to Lycurgus, and many other cities great and small have been
similarly benefited by others; but who says that you have been a
good legislator to them and have done them any good? Italy and
Sicily boast of Charondas, and there is Solon who is renowned
among us; but what city has anything to say about you?' Is there
any city which he might name?
I think not, said Glaucon; not even the Homerids themselves
pretend that he was a legislator.
Well, but is there any war on record which was carried on
successfully by him, or aided by his counsels, when he was alive?
There is not.
Or is there any invention of his, applicable to the arts or to
human life, such as Thales the Milesian or Anacharsis the
Scythian, and other ingenious men have conceived, which is
attributed to him?
There is absolutely nothing of the kind.
But, if Homer never did any public service, was he privately a
guide or teacher of any? Had he in his lifetime friends who loved
to associate with him, and who handed down to posterity an
Homeric way of life, such as was established by Pythagoras who
was so greatly beloved for his wisdom, and whose followers are to
this day quite celebrated for the order which was named after
Nothing of the kind is recorded of him. For surely, Socrates,
Creophylus, the companion of Homer, that child of flesh, whose
name always makes us laugh, might be more justly ridiculed for
his stupidity, if, as is said, Homer was greatly neglected by him
and others in his own day when he was alive?
Yes, I replied, that is the tradition. But can you imagine,
Glaucon, that if Homer had really been able to educate and
improve mankind --if he had possessed knowledge and not been a
mere imitator --can you imagine, I say, that he would not have
had many followers, and been honoured and loved by them?
Protagoras of Abdera, and Prodicus of Ceos, and a host of others,
have only to whisper to their contemporaries: 'You will never be
able to manage either your own house or your own State until you
appoint us to be your ministers of education' --and this
ingenious device of theirs has such an effect in making them love
them that their companions all but carry them about on their
shoulders. And is it conceivable that the contemporaries of
Homer, or again of Hesiod, would have allowed either of them to
go about as rhapsodists, if they had really been able to make
mankind virtuous? Would they not have been as unwilling to part
with them as with gold, and have compelled them to stay at home
with them? Or, if the master would not stay, then the disciples
would have followed him about everywhere, until they had got
Yes, Socrates, that, I think, is quite true.
Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals,
beginning with Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of
virtue and the like, but the truth they never reach? The poet is
like a painter who, as we have already observed, will make a
likeness of a cobbler though he understands nothing of cobbling;
and his picture is good enough for those who know no more than he
does, and judge only by colours and figures.
In like manner the poet with his words and phrases may be said
to lay on the colours of the several arts, himself understanding
their nature only enough to imitate them; and other people, who
are as ignorant as he is, and judge only from his words, imagine
that if he speaks of cobbling, or of military tactics, or of
anything else, in metre and harmony and rhythm, he speaks very
well --such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by
nature have. And I think that you must have observed again and
again what a poor appearance the tales of poets make when
stripped of the colours which music puts upon them, and recited
in simple prose.
Yes, he said.
They are like faces which were never really beautiful, but
only blooming; and now the bloom of youth has passed away from
Here is another point: The imitator or maker of the image
knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearances only. Am I
Then let us have a clear understanding, and not be satisfied
with half an explanation.
Of the painter we say that he will paint reins, and he will
paint a bit?
And the worker in leather and brass will make them?
But does the painter know the right form of the bit and reins?
Nay, hardly even the workers in brass and leather who make them;
only the horseman who knows how to use them --he knows their
And may we not say the same of all things?
That there are three arts which are concerned with all things:
one which uses, another which makes, a third which imitates them?
And the excellence or beauty or truth of every structure,
animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to
the use for which nature or the artist has intended them.
Then the user of them must have the greatest experience of
them, and he must indicate to the maker the good or bad qualities
which develop themselves in use; for example, the flute-player
will tell the flute-maker which of his flutes is satisfactory to
the performer; he will tell him how he ought to make them, and
the other will attend to his instructions?
The one knows and therefore speaks with authority about the
goodness and badness of flutes, while the other, confiding in
him, will do what he is told by him?
The instrument is the same, but about the excellence or
badness of it the maker will only attain to a correct belief; and
this he will gain from him who knows, by talking to him and being
compelled to hear what he has to say, whereas the user will have
But will the imitator have either? Will he know from use
whether or no his drawing is correct or beautiful? Or will he
have right opinion from being compelled to associate with another
who knows and gives him instructions about what he should draw?
Then he will no more have true opinion than he will have
knowledge about the goodness or badness of his imitations?
I suppose not.
The imitative artist will be in a brilliant state of
intelligence about his own creations?
Nay, very much the reverse.
And still he will go on imitating without knowing what makes a
thing good or bad, and may be expected therefore to imitate only
that which appears to be good to the ignorant multitude?
Thus far then we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has
no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is
only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they
write in iambic or in Heroic verse, are imitators in the highest
And now tell me, I conjure you, has not imitation been shown
by us to be concerned with that which is thrice removed from the
And what is the faculty in man to which imitation is
What do you mean?
I will explain: The body which is large when seen near,
appears small when seen at a distance?
And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the
water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes
convex, owing to the illusion about colours to which the sight is
liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and
this is that weakness of the human mind on which the art of
conjuring and of deceiving by light and shadow and other
ingenious devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic.
And the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to
the rescue of the human understanding-there is the beauty of them
--and the apparent greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer
have the mastery over us, but give way before calculation and
measure and weight?
And this, surely, must be the work of the calculating and
rational principle in the soul
To be sure.
And when this principle measures and certifies that some
things are equal, or that some are greater or less than others,
there occurs an apparent contradiction?
But were we not saying that such a contradiction is the same
faculty cannot have contrary opinions at the same time about the
Then that part of the soul which has an opinion contrary to
measure is not the same with that which has an opinion in
accordance with measure?
And the better part of the soul is likely to be that which
trusts to measure and calculation?
And that which is opposed to them is one of the inferior
principles of the soul?
This was the conclusion at which I was seeking to arrive when
I said that painting or drawing, and imitation in general, when
doing their own proper work, are far removed from truth, and the
companions and friends and associates of a principle within us
which is equally removed from reason, and that they have no true
or healthy aim.
The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and
has inferior offspring.
And is this confined to the sight only, or does it extend to
the hearing also, relating in fact to what we term poetry?
Probably the same would be true of poetry.
Do not rely, I said, on a probability derived from the analogy
of painting; but let us examine further and see whether the
faculty with which poetical imitation is concerned is good or bad.
By all means.
We may state the question thus: --Imitation imitates the
actions of men, whether voluntary or involuntary, on which, as
they imagine, a good or bad result has ensued, and they rejoice
or sorrow accordingly. Is there anything more?
No, there is nothing else.
But in all this variety of circumstances is the man at unity
with himself --or rather, as in the instance of sight there was
confusion and opposition in his opinions about the same things,
so here also is there not strife and inconsistency in his life?
Though I need hardly raise the question again, for I remember
that all this has been already admitted; and the soul has been
acknowledged by us to be full of these and ten thousand similar
oppositions occurring at the same moment?
And we were right, he said.
Yes, I said, thus far we were right; but there was an omission
which must now be supplied.
What was the omission?
Were we not saying that a good man, who has the misfortune to
lose his son or anything else which is most dear to him, will
bear the loss with more equanimity than another?
But will he have no sorrow, or shall we say that although he
cannot help sorrowing, he will moderate his sorrow?
The latter, he said, is the truer statement.
Tell me: will he be more likely to struggle and hold out
against his sorrow when he is seen by his equals, or when he is
It will make a great difference whether he is seen or not.
When he is by himself he will not mind saying or doing many
things which he would be ashamed of any one hearing or seeing him
There is a principle of law and reason in him which bids him
resist, as well as a feeling of his misfortune which is forcing
him to indulge his sorrow?
But when a man is drawn in two opposite directions, to and
from the same object, this, as we affirm, necessarily implies two
distinct principles in him?
One of them is ready to follow the guidance of the law?
How do you mean?
The law would say that to be patient under suffering is best,
and that we should not give way to impatience, as there is no
knowing whether such things are good or evil; and nothing is
gained by impatience; also, because no human thing is of serious
importance, and grief stands in the way of that which at the
moment is most required.
What is most required? he asked.
That we should take counsel about what has happened, and when
the dice have been thrown order our affairs in the way which
reason deems best; not, like children who have had a fall,
keeping hold of the part struck and wasting time in setting up a
howl, but always accustoming the soul forthwith to apply a
remedy, raising up that which is sickly and fallen, banishing the
cry of sorrow by the healing art.
Yes, he said, that is the true way of meeting the attacks of
Yes, I said; and the higher principle is ready to follow this
suggestion of reason?
And the other principle, which inclines us to recollection of
our troubles and to lamentation, and can never have enough of
them, we may call irrational, useless, and cowardly?
Indeed, we may.
And does not the latter --I mean the rebellious principle --furnish
a great variety of materials for imitation? Whereas the wise and
calm temperament, being always nearly equable, is not easy to
imitate or to appreciate when imitated, especially at a public
festival when a promiscuous crowd is assembled in a theatre. For
the feeling represented is one to which they are strangers.
Then the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by
nature made, nor is his art intended, to please or to affect the
principle in the soul; but he will prefer the passionate and
fitful temper, which is easily imitated?
And now we may fairly take him and place him by the side of
the painter, for he is like him in two ways: first, inasmuch as
his creations have an inferior degree of truth --in this, I say,
he is like him; and he is also like him in being concerned with
an inferior part of the soul; and therefore we shall be right in
refusing to admit him into a well-ordered State, because he
awakens and nourishes and strengthens the feelings and impairs
the reason. As in a city when the evil are permitted to have
authority and the good are put out of the way, so in the soul of
man, as we maintain, the imitative poet implants an evil
constitution, for he indulges the irrational nature which has no
discernment of greater and less, but thinks the same thing at one
time great and at another small-he is a manufacturer of images
and is very far removed from the truth.
But we have not yet brought forward the heaviest count in our
accusation: --the power which poetry has of harming even the good
(and there are very few who are not harmed), is surely an awful
Yes, certainly, if the effect is what you say.
Hear and judge: The best of us, as I conceive, when we listen
to a passage of Homer, or one of the tragedians, in which he
represents some pitiful hero who is drawling out his sorrows in a
long oration, or weeping, and smiting his breast --the best of
us, you know, delight in giving way to sympathy, and are in
raptures at the excellence of the poet who stirs our feelings
Yes, of course I know.
But when any sorrow of our own happens to us, then you may
observe that we pride ourselves on the opposite quality --we
would fain be quiet and patient; this is the manly part, and the
other which delighted us in the recitation is now deemed to be
the part of a woman.
Very true, he said.
Now can we be right in praising and admiring another who is
doing that which any one of us would abominate and be ashamed of
in his own person?
No, he said, that is certainly not reasonable.
Nay, I said, quite reasonable from one point of view.
What point of view?
If you consider, I said, that when in misfortune we feel a
natural hunger and desire to relieve our sorrow by weeping and
lamentation, and that this feeling which is kept under control in
our own calamities is satisfied and delighted by the poets;-the
better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained
by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose
because the sorrow is another's; and the spectator fancies that
there can be no disgrace to himself in praising and pitying any
one who comes telling him what a good man he is, and making a
fuss about his troubles; he thinks that the pleasure is a gain,
and why should he be supercilious and lose this and the poem too?
Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that from the evil
of other men something of evil is communicated to themselves. And
so the feeling of sorrow which has gathered strength at the sight
of the misfortunes of others is with difficulty repressed in our
How very true!
And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are
jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the
comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are
greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their
unseemliness; --the case of pity is repeated; --there is a
principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and
this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid
of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having
stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed
unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home.
Quite true, he said.
And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other
affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be
inseparable from every action ---in all of them poetry feeds and
waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them
rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever
to increase in happiness and virtue.
I cannot deny it.
Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the
eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of
Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the
ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again
and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life
according to him, we may love and honour those who say these
things --they are excellent people, as far as their lights
extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the
greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must
remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises
of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into
our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse
to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason
of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best,
but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State.
That is most true, he said.
And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let
this our defence serve to show the reasonableness of our former
judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the
tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us.
But that she may impute to us any harshness or want of
politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel
between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs,
such as the saying of 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,' or
of one 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,' and 'the mob of sages
circumventing Zeus,' and the 'subtle thinkers who are beggars
after all'; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient
enmity between them. Notwithstanding this, let us assure our
sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation that if she will
only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be
delighted to receive her --we are very conscious of her charms;
but we may not on that account betray the truth. I dare say,
Glaucon, that you are as much charmed by her as I am, especially
when she appears in Homer?
Yes, indeed, I am greatly charmed.
Shall I propose, then, that she be allowed to return from
exile, but upon this condition only --that she make a defence of
herself in lyrical or some other metre?
And we may further grant to those of her defenders who are
lovers of poetry and yet not poets the permission to speak in
prose on her behalf: let them show not only that she is pleasant
but also useful to States and to human life, and we will listen
in a kindly spirit; for if this can be proved we shall surely be
the gainers --I mean, if there is a use in poetry as well as a
Certainly, he said, we shall the gainers.
If her defence fails, then, my dear friend, like other persons
who are enamoured of something, but put a restraint upon
themselves when they think their desires are opposed to their
interests, so too must we after the manner of lovers give her up,
though not without a struggle. We too are inspired by that love
of poetry which the education of noble States has implanted in
us, and therefore we would have her appear at her best and
truest; but so long as she is unable to make good her defence,
this argument of ours shall be a charm to us, which we will
repeat to ourselves while we listen to her strains; that we may
not fall away into the childish love of her which captivates the
many. At all events we are well aware that poetry being such as
we have described is not to be regarded seriously as attaining to
the truth; and he who listens to her, fearing for the safety of
the city which is within him, should be on his guard against her
seductions and make our words his law.
Yes, he said, I quite agree with you.
Yes, I said, my dear Glaucon, for great is the issue at stake,
greater than appears, whether a man is to be good or bad. And
what will any one be profited if under the influence of honour or
money or power, aye, or under the excitement of poetry, he
neglect justice and virtue?
Yes, he said; I have been convinced by the argument, as I
believe that any one else would have been.
And yet no mention has been made of the greatest prizes and
rewards which await virtue.
What, are there any greater still? If there are, they must be
of an inconceivable greatness.
Why, I said, what was ever great in a short time? The whole
period of threescore years and ten is surely but a little thing
in comparison with eternity?
Say rather 'nothing,' he replied.
And should an immortal being seriously think of this little
space rather than of the whole?
Of the whole, certainly. But why do you ask?
Are you not aware, I said, that the soul of man is immortal
He looked at me in astonishment, and said: No, by heaven: And
are you really prepared to maintain this?
Yes, I said, I ought to be, and you too --there is no
difficulty in proving it.
I see a great difficulty; but I should like to hear you state
this argument of which you make so light.
I am attending.
There is a thing which you call good and another which you
Yes, he replied.
Would you agree with me in thinking that the corrupting and
destroying element is the evil, and the saving and improving
element the good?
And you admit that every thing has a good and also an evil; as
ophthalmia is the evil of the eyes and disease of the whole body;
as mildew is of corn, and rot of timber, or rust of copper and
iron: in everything, or in almost everything, there is an
inherent evil and disease?
Yes, he said.
And anything which is infected by any of these evils is made
evil, and at last wholly dissolves and dies?
The vice and evil which is inherent in each is the destruction
of each; and if this does not destroy them there is nothing else
that will; for good certainly will not destroy them, nor again,
that which is neither good nor evil.
If, then, we find any nature which having this inherent
corruption cannot be dissolved or destroyed, we may be certain
that of such a nature there is no destruction?
That may be assumed.
Well, I said, and is there no evil which corrupts the soul?
Yes, he said, there are all the evils which we were just now
passing in review: unrighteousness, intemperance, cowardice,
But does any of these dissolve or destroy her? --and here do
not let us fall into the error of supposing that the unjust and
foolish man, when he is detected, perishes through his own
injustice, which is an evil of the soul. Take the analogy of the
body: The evil of the body is a disease which wastes and reduces
and annihilates the body; and all the things of which we were
just now speaking come to annihilation through their own
corruption attaching to them and inhering in them and so
destroying them. Is not this true?
Consider the soul in like manner. Does the injustice or other
evil which exists in the soul waste and consume her? Do they by
attaching to the soul and inhering in her at last bring her to
death, and so separate her from the body ?
And yet, I said, it is unreasonable to suppose that anything
can perish from without through affection of external evil which
could not be destroyed from within by a corruption of its own?
It is, he replied.
Consider, I said, Glaucon, that even the badness of food,
whether staleness, decomposition, or any other bad quality, when
confined to the actual food, is not supposed to destroy the body;
although, if the badness of food communicates corruption to the
body, then we should say that the body has been destroyed by a
corruption of itself, which is disease, brought on by this; but
that the body, being one thing, can be destroyed by the badness
of food, which is another, and which does not engender any
natural infection --this we shall absolutely deny?
And, on the same principle, unless some bodily evil can
produce an evil of the soul, we must not suppose that the soul,
which is one thing, can be dissolved by any merely external evil
which belongs to another?
Yes, he said, there is reason in that.
Either then, let us refute this conclusion, or, while it
remains unrefuted, let us never say that fever, or any other
disease, or the knife put to the throat, or even the cutting up
of the whole body into the minutest pieces, can destroy the soul,
until she herself is proved to become more unholy or unrighteous
in consequence of these things being done to the body; but that
the soul, or anything else if not destroyed by an internal evil,
can be destroyed by an external one, is not to. be affirmed by
And surely, he replied, no one will ever prove that the souls
of men become more unjust in consequence of death.
But if some one who would rather not admit the immortality of
the soul boldly denies this, and says that the dying do really
become more evil and unrighteous, then, if the speaker is right,
I suppose that injustice, like disease, must be assumed to be
fatal to the unjust, and that those who take this disorder die by
the natural inherent power of destruction which evil has, and
which kills them sooner or later, but in quite another way from
that in which, at present, the wicked receive death at the hands
of others as the penalty of their deeds?
Nay, he said, in that case injustice, if fatal to the unjust,
will not be so very terrible to him, for he will be delivered
from evil. But I rather suspect the opposite to be the truth, and
that injustice which, if it have the power, will murder others,
keeps the murderer alive --aye, and well awake too; so far
removed is her dwelling-place from being a house of death.
True, I said; if the inherent natural vice or evil of the soul
is unable to kill or destroy her, hardly will that which is
appointed to be the destruction of some other body, destroy a
soul or anything else except that of which it was appointed to be
Yes, that can hardly be.
But the soul which cannot be destroyed by an evil, whether
inherent or external, must exist for ever, and if existing for
ever, must be immortal?
That is the conclusion, I said; and, if a true conclusion,
then the souls must always be the same, for if none be destroyed
they will not diminish in number. Neither will they increase, for
the increase of the immortal natures must come from something
mortal, and all things would thus end in immortality.
But this we cannot believe --reason will not allow us --any
more than we can believe the soul, in her truest nature, to be
full of variety and difference and dissimilarity.
What do you mean? he said.
The soul, I said, being, as is now proven, immortal, must be
the fairest of compositions and cannot be compounded of many
Her immortality is demonstrated by the previous argument, and
there are many other proofs; but to see her as she really is, not
as we now behold her, marred by communion with the body and other
miseries, you must contemplate her with the eye of reason, in her
original purity; and then her beauty will be revealed, and
justice and injustice and all the things which we have described
will be manifested more clearly. Thus far, we have spoken the
truth concerning her as she appears at present, but we must
remember also that we have seen her only in a condition which may
be compared to that of the sea-god Glaucus, whose original image
can hardly be discerned because his natural members are broken
off and crushed and damaged by the waves in all sorts of ways,
and incrustations have grown over them of seaweed and shells and
stones, so that he is more like some monster than he is to his
own natural form. And the soul which we behold is in a similar
condition, disfigured by ten thousand ills. But not there,
Glaucon, not there must we look.
At her love of wisdom. Let us see whom she affects, and what
society and converse she seeks in virtue of her near kindred with
the immortal and eternal and divine; also how different she would
become if wholly following this superior principle, and borne by
a divine impulse out of the ocean in which she now is, and
disengaged from the stones and shells and things of earth and
rock which in wild variety spring up around her because she feeds
upon earth, and is overgrown by the good things of this life as
they are termed: then you would see her as she is, and know
whether she has one shape only or many, or what her nature is. Of
her affections and of the forms which she takes in this present
life I think that we have now said enough.
True, he replied.
And thus, I said, we have fulfilled the conditions of the
argument; we have not introduced the rewards and glories of
justice, which, as you were saying, are to be found in Homer and
Hesiod; but justice in her own nature has been shown to be best
for the soul in her own nature. Let a man do what is just,
whether he have the ring of Gyges or not, and even if in addition
to the ring of Gyges he put on the helmet of Hades.
And now, Glaucon, there will be no harm in further enumerating
how many and how great are the rewards which justice and the
other virtues procure to the soul from gods and men, both in life
and after death.
Certainly not, he said.
Will you repay me, then, what you borrowed in the argument?
What did I borrow?
The assumption that the just man should appear unjust and the
unjust just: for you were of opinion that even if the true state
of the case could not possibly escape the eyes of gods and men,
still this admission ought to be made for the sake of the
argument, in order that pure justice might be weighed against
pure injustice. Do you remember?
I should be much to blame if I had forgotten.
Then, as the cause is decided, I demand on behalf of justice
that the estimation in which she is held by gods and men and
which we acknowledge to be her due should now be restored to her
by us; since she has been shown to confer reality, and not to
deceive those who truly possess her, let what has been taken from
her be given back, that so she may win that palm of appearance
which is hers also, and which she gives to her own.
The demand, he said, is just.
In the first place, I said --and this is the first thing which
you will have to give back --the nature both of the just and
unjust is truly known to the gods.
And if they are both known to them, one must be the friend and
the other the enemy of the gods, as we admitted from the
And the friend of the gods may be supposed to receive from
them all things at their best, excepting only such evil as is the
necessary consequence of former sins?
Then this must be our notion of the just man, that even when
he is in poverty or sickness, or any other seeming misfortune,
all things will in the end work together for good to him in life
and death: for the gods have a care of any one whose desire is to
become just and to be like God, as far as man can attain the
divine likeness, by the pursuit of virtue?
Yes, he said; if he is like God he will surely not be
neglected by him.
And of the unjust may not the opposite be supposed?
Such, then, are the palms of victory which the gods give the
That is my conviction.
And what do they receive of men? Look at things as they really
are, and you will see that the clever unjust are in the case of
runners, who run well from the starting-place to the goal but not
back again from the goal: they go off at a great pace, but in the
end only look foolish, slinking away with their ears draggling on
their shoulders, and without a crown; but the true runner comes
to the finish and receives the prize and is crowned. And this is
the way with the just; he who endures to the end of every action
and occasion of his entire life has a good report and carries off
the prize which men have to bestow.
And now you must allow me to repeat of the just the blessings
which you were attributing to the fortunate unjust. I shall say
of them, what you were saying of the others, that as they grow
older, they become rulers in their own city if they care to be;
they marry whom they like and give in marriage to whom they will;
all that you said of the others I now say of these. And, on the
other hand, of the unjust I say that the greater number, even
though they escape in their youth, are found out at last and look
foolish at the end of their course, and when they come to be old
and miserable are flouted alike by stranger and citizen; they are
beaten and then come those things unfit for ears polite, as you
truly term them; they will be racked and have their eyes burned
out, as you were saying. And you may suppose that I have repeated
the remainder of your tale of horrors. But will you let me
assume, without reciting them, that these things are true?
Certainly, he said, what you say is true.
These, then, are the prizes and rewards and gifts which are
bestowed upon the just by gods and men in this present life, in
addition to the other good things which justice of herself
Yes, he said; and they are fair and lasting.
And yet, I said, all these are as nothing, either in number or
greatness in comparison with those other recompenses which await
both just and unjust after death. And you ought to hear them, and
then both just and unjust will have received from us a full
payment of the debt which the argument owes to them.
Speak, he said; there are few things which I would more gladly
Well, I said, I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales
which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale
of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was
slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the
dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was
found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried.
And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he
returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other
world. He said that when his soul left the body he went on a
journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious
place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were
near together, and over against them were two other openings in
the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges
seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on
them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by
the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust
were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand;
these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their
backs. He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the
messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men,
and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen
in that place. Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls
departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had
been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls,
some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some
descending out of heaven clean and bright. And arriving ever and
anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went
forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a
festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed,
the souls which came from earth curiously enquiring about the
things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the
things beneath. And they told one another of what had happened by
the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the
remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in
their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a
thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly
delights and visions of inconceivable beauty. The Story, Glaucon,
would take too long to tell; but the sum was this: --He said that
for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered
tenfold; or once in a hundred years --such being reckoned to be
the length of man's life, and the penalty being thus paid ten
times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who
had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved
cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behaviour, for
each and all of their offences they received punishment ten times
over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness
were in the same proportion. I need hardly repeat what he said
concerning young children dying almost as soon as they were born.
Of piety and impiety to gods and parents, and of murderers, there
were retributions other and greater far which he described. He
mentioned that he was present when one of the spirits asked
another, 'Where is Ardiaeus the Great?' (Now this Ardiaeus lived
a thousand years before the time of Er: he had been the tyrant of
some city of Pamphylia, and had murdered his aged father and his
elder brother, and was said to have committed many other
abominable crimes.) The answer of the other spirit was: 'He comes
not hither and will never come. And this,' said he, 'was one of
the dreadful sights which we ourselves witnessed. We were at the
mouth of the cavern, and, having completed all our experiences,
were about to reascend, when of a sudden Ardiaeus appeared and
several others, most of whom were tyrants; and there were also
besides the tyrants private individuals who had been great
criminals: they were just, as they fancied, about to return into
the upper world, but the mouth, instead of admitting them, gave a
roar, whenever any of these incurable sinners or some one who had
not been sufficiently punished tried to ascend; and then wild men
of fiery aspect, who were standing by and heard the sound, seized
and carried them off; and Ardiaeus and others they bound head and
foot and hand, and threw them down and flayed them with scourges,
and dragged them along the road at the side, carding them on
thorns like wool, and declaring to the passers-by what were their
crimes, and that they were being taken away to be cast into hell.'
And of all the many terrors which they had endured, he said that
there was none like the terror which each of them felt at that
moment, lest they should hear the voice; and when there was
silence, one by one they ascended with exceeding joy. These, said
Er, were the penalties and retributions, and there were blessings
Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried
seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their
journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to
a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight
as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through
the earth, in colour resembling the rainbow, only brighter and
purer; another day's journey brought them to the place, and
there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains
of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of
heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe, like the
under-girders of a trireme. From these ends is extended the
spindle of Necessity, on which all the revolutions turn. The
shaft and hook of this spindle are made of steel, and the whorl
is made partly of steel and also partly of other materials. Now
the whorl is in form like the whorl used on earth; and the
description of it implied that there is one large hollow whorl
which is quite scooped out, and into this is fitted another
lesser one, and another, and another, and four others, making
eight in all, like vessels which fit into one another; the whorls
show their edges on the upper side, and on their lower side all
together form one continuous whorl. This is pierced by the
spindle, which is driven home through the centre of the eighth.
The first and outermost whorl has the rim broadest, and the seven
inner whorls are narrower, in the following proportions --the
sixth is next to the first in size, the fourth next to the sixth;
then comes the eighth; the seventh is fifth, the fifth is sixth,
the third is seventh, last and eighth comes the second. The
largest (of fixed stars) is spangled, and the seventh (or sun) is
brightest; the eighth (or moon) coloured by the reflected light
of the seventh; the second and fifth (Saturn and Mercury) are in
colour like one another, and yellower than the preceding; the
third (Venus) has the whitest light; the fourth (Mars) is
reddish; the sixth (Jupiter) is in whiteness second. Now the
whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in
one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other,
and of these the swiftest is the eighth; next in swiftness are
the seventh, sixth, and fifth, which move together; third in
swiftness appeared to move according to the law of this reversed
motion the fourth; the third appeared fourth and the second fifth.
The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper
surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them,
hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one
harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another
band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are
the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes
and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and
Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the
sirens --Lachesis singing of the past, Clotho of the present,
Atropos of the future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a
touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the
whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and
guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in
turn, first with one hand and then with the other.
When Er and the spirits arrived, their duty was to go at once
to Lachesis; but first of all there came a prophet who arranged
them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis lots and
samples of lives, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as
follows: 'Hear the word of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity.
Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your
genius will not be allotted to you, but you choose your genius;
and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and
the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free,
and as a man honours or dishonours her he will have more or less
of her; the responsibility is with the chooser --God is justified.'
When the Interpreter had thus spoken he scattered lots
indifferently among them all, and each of them took up the lot
which fell near him, all but Er himself (he was not allowed), and
each as he took his lot perceived the number which he had
obtained. Then the Interpreter placed on the ground before them
the samples of lives; and there were many more lives than the
souls present, and they were of all sorts. There were lives of
every animal and of man in every condition. And there were
tyrannies among them, some lasting out the tyrant's life, others
which broke off in the middle and came to an end in poverty and
exile and beggary; and there were lives of famous men, some who
were famous for their form and beauty as well as for their
strength and success in games, or, again, for their birth and the
qualities of their ancestors; and some who were the reverse of
famous for the opposite qualities. And of women likewise; there
was not, however, any definite character them, because the soul,
when choosing a new life, must of necessity become different. But
there was every other quality, and the all mingled with one
another, and also with elements of wealth and poverty, and
disease and health; and there were mean states also. And here, my
dear Glaucon, is the supreme peril of our human state; and
therefore the utmost care should be taken. Let each one of us
leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing
only, if peradventure he may be able to learn and may find some
one who will make him able to learn and discern between good and
evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as
he has opportunity. He should consider the bearing of all these
things which have been mentioned severally and collectively upon
virtue; he should know what the effect of beauty is when combined
with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the
good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private
and public station, of strength and weakness, of cleverness and
dullness, and of all the soul, and the operation of them when
conjoined; he will then look at the nature of the soul, and from
the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to
determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he
will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make
his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his
soul more just; all else he will disregard. For we have seen and
know that this is the best choice both in life and after death. A
man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith
in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the
desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming
upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs
to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to
choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as
possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come.
For this is the way of happiness.
And according to the report of the messenger from the other
world this was what the prophet said at the time: 'Even for the
last comer, if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there
is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence. Let not him
who chooses first be careless, and let not the last despair.' And
when he had spoken, he who had the first choice came forward and
in a moment chose the greatest tyranny; his mind having been
darkened by folly and sensuality, he had not thought out the
whole matter before he chose, and did not at first sight perceive
that he was fated, among other evils, to devour his own children.
But when he had time to reflect, and saw what was in the lot, he
began to beat his breast and lament over his choice, forgetting
the proclamation of the prophet; for, instead of throwing the
blame of his misfortune on himself, he accused chance and the
gods, and everything rather than himself. Now he was one of those
who came from heaven, and in a former life had dwelt in a well-ordered
State, but his virtue was a matter of habit only, and he had no
philosophy. And it was true of others who were similarly
overtaken, that the greater number of them came from heaven and
therefore they had never been schooled by trial, whereas the
pilgrims who came from earth, having themselves suffered and seen
others suffer, were not in a hurry to choose. And owing to this
inexperience of theirs, and also because the lot was a chance,
many of the souls exchanged a good destiny for an evil or an evil
for a good. For if a man had always on his arrival in this world
dedicated himself from the first to sound philosophy, and had
been moderately fortunate in the number of the lot, he might, as
the messenger reported, be happy here, and also his journey to
another life and return to this, instead of being rough and
underground, would be smooth and heavenly. Most curious, he said,
was the spectacle --sad and laughable and strange; for the choice
of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a
previous life. There he saw the soul which had once been Orpheus
choosing the life of a swan out of enmity to the race of women,
hating to be born of a woman because they had been his murderers;
he beheld also the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a
nightingale; birds, on the other hand, like the swan and other
musicians, wanting to be men. The soul which obtained the
twentieth lot chose the life of a lion, and this was the soul of
Ajax the son of Telamon, who would not be a man, remembering the
injustice which was done him the judgment about the arms. The
next was Agamemnon, who took the life of an eagle, because, like
Ajax, he hated human nature by reason of his sufferings. About
the middle came the lot of Atalanta; she, seeing the great fame
of an athlete, was unable to resist the temptation: and after her
there followed the soul of Epeus the son of Panopeus passing into
the nature of a woman cunning in the arts; and far away among the
last who chose, the soul of the jester Thersites was putting on
the form of a monkey. There came also the soul of Odysseus having
yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them
all. Now the recollection of former tolls had disenchanted him of
ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of
the life of a private man who had no cares; he had some
difficulty in finding this, which was lying about and had been
neglected by everybody else; and when he saw it, he said that he
would have done the had his lot been first instead of last, and
that he was delighted to have it. And not only did men pass into
animals, but I must also mention that there were animals tame and
wild who changed into one another and into corresponding human
natures --the good into the gentle and the evil into the savage,
in all sorts of combinations.
All the souls had now chosen their lives, and they went in the
order of their choice to Lachesis, who sent with them the genius
whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives
and the fulfiller of the choice: this genius led the souls first
to Clotho, and drew them within the revolution of the spindle
impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each; and
then, when they were fastened to this, carried them to Atropos,
who spun the threads and made them irreversible, whence without
turning round they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and
when they had all passed, they marched on in a scorching heat to
the plain of Forgetfulness, which was a barren waste destitute of
trees and verdure; and then towards evening they encamped by the
river of Unmindfulness, whose water no vessel can hold; of this
they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who
were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each
one as he drank forgot all things. Now after they had gone to
rest, about the middle of the night there was a thunderstorm and
earthquake, and then in an instant they were driven upwards in
all manner of ways to their birth, like stars shooting. He
himself was hindered from drinking the water. But in what manner
or by what means he returned to the body he could not say; only,
in the morning, awaking suddenly, he found himself lying on the
And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not
perished, and will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken;
and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and our
soul will not be defiled. Wherefore my counsel is that we hold
fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue
always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure
every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live
dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here
and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather
gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both
in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we
have been describing.
- THE END -
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