Study Guide

The Republic Literature and Writing

By Plato

Literature and Writing

"With one tongue, [all poets] chant that moderation and justice are fair, but hard and full of drudgery, while intemperance and injustice are sweet and easy to acquire, and shameful only by opinion and law." (364a)

Even before Socrates gets going on the poets, Adeimantus voices some concerns about what kinds of morals poetry communicates. Why do poets make justice seem so hard? Now no one wants to do it. So Adeimantus says, anyway. Is that how you relate to poetry and literature?

“Don't you know that first we tell tales to children? And surely they are, as a whole, false..." (377a)

It's early on in the discussion of literature, but things are not looking good for the status of storytelling. Here, Socrates is specifically attacking fairy tales and myths that children are told because they are so blatantly false. There goes Little Red Riding Hood...

"First, as it seems, we must supervise the makers of tales; and if they make a fine tale, it must be approved, but if it's not, it must be rejected." (377b-c)

Sounds like these guardians are going to have a lot of things to regulate. Who knew storytelling was a political issue? Does that seem reasonable to you? Also, what criteria are these dudes going to use?

"Above all... it mustn't be said that gods make war on gods, and plot against them and have battles with them—for it isn't even true—provided that those who are going to guard the city for us must consider it most shameful." (378c)

Gods fighting with gods? That sounds like pretty much every Greek myth ever. Guess there are going to be a lot of stories banned in this city. Is Socrates right that people end up emulating stories all the time? Is that too simplistic of an idea about how we experience art?

“Then... we mustn't accept Homer—or any other poets—foolishly making this mistake about the gods..." (379c-d)

You might be noticing a pattern here, since Socrates is particularly worried about how poetry represents the divine. He doesn't like the idea that gods might be considered foolish. Does representing them that way make them so? Do these stories confuse people? Is it better not to have the stories at all?

"Do you suppose anyone who believes Hades' domain exists and is full of terror will be fearless in the face of death and choose death in battles above defeat and slavery?" (386b)

Socrates thinks bravery in his soldiers is super important... so he's not too happy that so many stories about the afterlife are all doom and gloom. How will people be brave if they hear these kinds of stories?

"We'll beg Homer and the other poets not to be harsh if we strike out these and all similar things. It's not that they are not poetic and sweet for the many to hear, but the more poetic they are, the less should they be heard by boys and men who must be free and accustomed to fearing slavery more than death." (387b)

Socrates says that his desire to censor most of Greek poetry is completely reasonable. He worries that the power of poetry, particularly beautiful poetry, totally overwhelms people and makes them unable to make the right choices.

"From Homer too... one learns things very much of this sort. For you know that, during the campaign... he doesn't feast them on fish... but only roasted [meats], which would be especially easy for soldiers to come by..." (404b-c)

All right, sometimes Socrates thinks Homer has good things to say. In this case, Socrates is down with Homer's depiction of the diets of soldiers. Fish is too complicated, but meat makes sense. Well... okay, that's one thing to read for, we guess. But let's just say we wouldn't advise taking the Socrates approach when writing your next term paper on The Great Gatsby.

"Therefore... because the tragic poets are wise they pardon us, and all those who have regimes resembling ours, for not admitting them into the regime on the ground that they make hymns to tyranny." (568b)

Socrates is 100% against tyranny, so goodbye to tragedy, which is a genre that tends to depict a lot of bad rulers. If Socrates's new city is going to start out right, there can't be any of that going on, even on the stage.

"It must be told... and yet, a certain friendship for Homer, and shame before him, which has possessed me since childhood, prevents me from speaking. For he seems to have been the first teacher and leader of all these fine tragic things. Still and all, a man must not be honored before the truth." (595c-b)

Even though Socrates ultimately finds much to blame in Homer's poetry, we can't help but notice that this moment might be one of the most touching in the entire Republic. Socrates admits that Homer has been a meaningful and moving part of his childhood—and he seems very human here. Sniff.

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