Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2 Plato’s Seventh Letter and his Republic

Concerning his first journey to Sicily (hote prȏton aphikomên), Plato says in the Seventh Letter:  ‘When I came I was in no wise pleased at all with “the blissful life,” as it is there termed (ho tautêi legomenos au bios eudaimȏn), replete as it is with Italian and Syracusan banquetings’ (326b6-8, tr. Bury). Bury remarks: ‘Cf. Rep. 404 D.’

In the Republic, at 404 b Socrates begins to discuss with Glaucon a diet appropriate for the soldiers-guardians of the city; at 404 c he says that Homer never mentions seasonings (hêdusmata, i.e. additives that are designed to make food more pleasurable; hêdu: ‘pleasant to the taste’): ‘All professional athletes are well aware that a man who is to be in good condition should take nothing of the kind.’ – Glaucon: ‘Yes, and knowing this, they are quite right in not taking them.’ – Socrates: ‘Then you would not approve of Syracusan dinners, and the refinements of Sicilian cookery?’ Glaucon: ‘I think not.’ (404c7-d4, tr. Jowett)

From this brief reflection on Syracusan dinners and Sicilian cookery one could hardly contemplate the influence that Plato’s first Sicilian journey had on his conception of the Republic, on the austere life-style of the guardians of the city in particular. Concerning this, the Seventh Letter gives us a valuable insight into the Republic; in the letter Plato goes on to say: ‘for thus one’s existence is spent in gorging food twice a day (dis de tês hêmeras empimplamenon zên) and never sleeping alone at night (kai mêdepote koimȏmenon monon nuktȏr), and all the practices which accompany this mode of living (kai hosa toutȏi epitêdeumata sunepetai tȏi biȏi). For not a single man of all who live beneath the heavens could ever become wise if these were his practices from his youth (ek gar toutȏn tȏn ethȏn out’ an phronimos oudeis pote genesthai tȏn hupo ton ouranon anthrȏpȏn ek neou epitêdeuȏn dunaito), since none will be found to possess a nature so admirably compounded (ouch houtȏs thaumastêi phusei krathêsetai); nor would he ever be likely to become temperate (sȏphrȏn de oud’ an mellêsai pote genesthai); and the same may truly be said of all other forms of virtue (kai peri tês allês arêtes ho autos logos an eiê). And no state would remain stable under laws of any kind (polis de oudemia an êremêsai kata nomous houstinasoun), if its citizens (andrȏn), while supposing that they ought to spend everywhere to excess (oiomenȏn analiskein men dein panta eis huperbolas), yet believed that they ought to cease from all exertion (argȏn de eis hapanta hêgoumenȏn au dein gignesthai) except feastings and drinkings and the vigorous pursuit of their amours (plên es euȏchias kai potous kai aphrodisiȏn spoudas diaponoumenas). Of necessity these States never cease changing into tyrannies, oligarchies, and democracies (anankaion de einai tautas tas poleis turannidas te kai oligarchias kai dêmokratias metaballousas mêdepote lêgein), and the men who hold power in them cannot endure so much as the name of a just government with equal laws (dikaiou de kai isonomou politeias tous en autais dunasteuontas mêd’ onoma akouontas anechesthai).’ (326b8-d6, tr. Bury)

When Plato speaks here of ‘these States’ in which ‘the men who hold power in them cannot endure so much as the name of a just government with equal laws’, we may presume he refers to Dionysius I in the first place, for he goes on to say concerning Dion, who wholeheartedly embraced his teachings, that ‘his way of life was in ill-odour with those who were conforming to the customary practices of the tyranny, until the death of Dionysius occurred [in 367 B.C.].’ (327b4-6, tr. Bury) Concerning Plato’s view of Dionysius I, we must supplement his Seventh Letter, viewed as his autobiography, by turning to the Republic.

In Republic IX Socrates opens his description of the tyrant as follows: ‘I should have a judge (axiȏn krinein peri autȏn ekeinon) whose mind can enter into and see through human nature (hos dunatai têi dianoiai eis andros ethos endus diidein) … May I suppose that the judgment is given in the hearing of us all by one who is able to judge (ei oun oioimên dein ekeinou pantas hêmas akouein, tou dunatou men krinai), and has dwelt in the same place with him (sunȏikêkotos de en tȏi autȏi), and been present (kai paragegonotos) at his domestic life (en te tais kat’ oikian praxesin) and known him in his family relations (hȏs pros hekastous tous oikeious echei), where he may best be seen stripped of his tragedy attire (en hois malista gumnos an ophtheiê tês tragikês skeuês), and again in the hour of public danger  (kai en au tois dêmosiois kindunois)– he shall tell us about the happiness and misery of the tyrant when compared with other men (kai tauta panta idonta keleuoimen exangellein pȏs echei eudaimonias kai athliotêtos ho turannos pros tous allous)?’ (577a1-b4, tr. Jowett)

Adam remarks: ‘We are all to be silent and listen to Plato himself … he had lived under the same roof with Dionysius I of Syracuse.’

Socrates resumes his tale, asking Glaucon: ‘Do you permit me, then (Boulei oun), to assume (prospoiêsȏmetha) that we ourselves are able and experienced judges (hêmeis einai tȏn dunatȏn krinai) who have before now met with such persons (kai êdê entuxhontȏn toioutois)? We shall then have some one who will answer our inquiries (hina echȏmen hostis apokeineitai ha erȏtȏmen).’ – Glaucon: ‘By all means.’ (577b6-9, tr. Jowett)

Adam notes: ‘Plato cannot appear in propria persona, so that it is necessary for Socrates and Glaucon to pretend that they also belong to the number of those “who would be able to judge” and have met with turannoi and turannikoi.’ [I am quoting Adam from my notes on the margins of my Oxford edition of Plato, notes made some thirty years ago when I was reading the Republic with Adam’s Commentary in the Bodleian Library.]

Socrates ends his detailed analysis of the tyrant’s soul by asking Glaucon: ’Come then (Ithi dê moi), and as a final judge in a competition proclaims the result (nun êdê hȏsper ho dia pantȏn kritês apophainetai – Adam notes: ‘The comparison is borrowed from the Athenian method of judging in musical and dramatical competitions.’), do you also decide who in your opinion is first in the scale of happiness, and who second, and in what order the others follow: there are five of them in all -  they are the royal, timocratical, oligarchical, democratical, tyrannical.’ – Glaucon: ‘The decision will be easily given; the order of the entrance of these choruses upon the stage is also their order of merit in respect of virtue and vice, happiness and misery.’ – Socrates: ‘Need we hire a herald (Misthȏsȏmetha oun kêruka), or shall I announce (ê autos aneipȏ), that the son of Ariston (hoti ho Aristȏnos huos) has decided that the best and justest is also the happiest ton (ariston te kai dikaiotaton eudaimonestaton ekrine), and that this is he who is the most royal man (touton einai ton basilikȏtaton) and king over himself (kai basileuonta hautou); and that the worst and most unjust man is also the most miserable (ton de kakiston te kai adikȏtaton athliȏtaton), and that this is he (touton de au tunchanein onta) who being the greatest tyrant of himself (hos an turannikȏtatos ȏn hautou te hoti malista) is also the greatest tyrant of the State (turannêi te kai tês poleȏs)? – The son of Ariston: ‘You may make that proclamation’ (Aneirêsthȏ soi). (580a9-c5, tr. Jowett)

Plato was, as well as Glaucon, ‘the son of Ariston’. Note that ariston is the superlative of agathon ‘good’, i.e. ‘the best’.

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