Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Plato’s Seventh Letter and his Republic

In the Republic, in defence of his statement that States will not cease to be governed badly until philosophers become rulers or rulers philosophers (473c11-e5), Socrates depicted the personality traits of a true philosopher: he has great intellect and has all moral virtuous (489e-491b). But then he pointed out that in States governed badly young people thus endowed are prone to corruption (491b-c): ‘Will not such a one from his early childhood be in all things first among all (Oukoun euthus en paisin ho toioutos prȏtos estai en hapasin), especially if his bodily endowments are like his mental ones (allȏs te kai ean to sȏma phuêi prospherês têi psuchêi, 494b5-6)? … And his friends and fellow citizens (hoi te oikeioi kai hoi politai) will want to use him, I think (boulêsontai dê oimai autȏi chrêsthai), as he gets older (epeidan presbuteros gignêtai), for their own purposes (epi ta hautȏn pragmata, 494b8-10) … And what will a man such as he is be likely to do under such circumstances (Ti oun oiei ton toiouton en tois toioutois poiêsein), especially if he be a citizen of a great city (allȏs te kai ean tuchêi megalês poleȏs ȏn), rich and noble (kai en tautêi plousios te kai gennaios), and a tall proper youth (kai eti eueidês te kai megas)? Will he not be full of boundless aspirations (ar’ ou plêrothêsesthai amêchanou elpidos), and fancy himself able to manage the affairs of Hellenes and of barbarians (hêgoumenon kai ta tȏn Hellênȏn kai ta tȏn barbarȏn hikanon esesthai prattein), and having got such notions into his head will he not dilate and elevate himself (kai epi toutois hupsêlon exairein hauton) in the fullness of vain pomp and senseless pride (schêmatismou kai phronêmatos kenou aneu nou empimplamenon, 494c4-d2)? … And even if there be someone who through inherent goodness (Ean d’ oun dia to eu pephukenai) and natural reasonableness (kai to sungenes tȏn logȏn) has had his eyes opened a little (eisaisthanêtai te pêi) and is humbled (kai kamptêtai) and drawn towards philosophy (kai helkêtai pros philosophian), how will his friends behave when they think that they are likely to lose the advantage which they were hoping to reap from his companionship (ti oiometha drasein ekeinous tous hêgoumenous apollunai autou tên chreian te kai hetairian)? Will they not do and say anything to prevent him from yielding to his better nature and to render his teacher powerless (ou pan men ergon, pan d’ epos legontas te kai prattontas kai peri auton, hopȏs an mê peisthêi, kai peri ton peithonta), using to this end private intrigues as well as public prosecutions (kai idiai epibouleuontas kai dêmosiai eis agȏnas kathistantas, 494d9-e7)? … And how can one who is thus circumstanced ever become a philosopher (Estin oun hopȏs ho toioutos philosophêsei, 495a2)?’ (Tr. Jowett)

Yet Plato believed that there was an exception; during his first journey to Sicily he associated with Dion, who was then a youth, instructing him in what he believed was best for mankind (ta dokounta emoi beltista anthrȏpois einai mênuȏn): ‘Dion (Diȏn men gar dê) being quick-witted (eumathês ȏn), both in other respects (pros te t’alla) and in grasping the arguments I then put forward (kai pros tous tote hup’ emou logous genomenous), hearkened to me with a keenness and ardour (houtȏs oxeȏs hupêkouse kai sphodra) that I have never found in any of the youth whom I have met (hȏs oudeis pȏpote hȏn egȏ prosetuchon neȏn); and he determined to live the rest of his life (kai ton epiloipon bion zên êthelêsen) in a different manner from the majority of the Italians and Sicilians (diapherontȏs tȏn pollȏn Italiȏtȏn te kai Sikeliȏtȏn), counting virtue worthy of more devotion than pleasure and all other kinds of luxury (aretên peri pleionos hêdonês tês te allês truphês êgapêkȏs).’ (Seventh Letter 327a1-b4, tr. Bury)

Dion appears to have been well acquainted with Plato’s Republic, as it transpires from his entreaty addressed to Plato after the death of Dionysius the Elder. Plato says that Dion ‘came to the belief (meta de touto dienoêthê) that this belief [i.e. the belief that only a State ruled by philosophers can be governed well], which he himself had acquired through right instruction, would not always be confined to himself (mê monon en hautȏi pot’ an genesthai tatên tên dianoian, hên autos hupo tȏn orthȏn logȏn eschen); and in fact he saw it being implanted in others also (engignomenên de autên kai en allois horȏn katenoei) – not in many, it is true (pollois men ou), but yet implanted in some (gignomenên d’ oun en tisin); and of these he thought that Dionysius (with Heaven’s help) might become one (hȏn kai Dionusion hêgêsato hena genesthai tach’ an sumballontȏn tȏn theȏn), and that, if he did become a man of this mind (genomenou d’ au tou toioutou), both his own life (ton te autou bion) and that of all the rest of the Syracusans (kai ton tȏn allȏn Surakousiȏn) would, in consequence, be a life of immeasurable felicity (amêchanon an makariotêti sumbênai genomenon). Moreover (pros dê toutois), Dion considered that I ought, by all means, to come to Syracuse with all speed (ȏiêthê dein ek pantos tropou eis Surakousas hoti tachista elthein eme) to be a partner in this task (koinȏnon toutȏn), since he bore in mind our intercourse with one another (memnêmenos tên te hautou kai emên sunousian) and how happily it had wrought on him to acquire a longing (hȏs eupetȏs exêrgasato eis epithumian elthein auton) for the noblest and the best life (tou kallistou te kai aristou biou); and if now, in like manner, he could effect this result in Dionysius (ho dê kai nun ei diapraxaito en Dionusiȏi), as he was trying to do (hȏs epecheirêse), he had great hopes (megalas elpidas eichen) of establishing the blissful and true life throughout all the land (bion an eudaimona kai alêthinon en pasêi têi chȏrai kataskeuasai) (Seventh Letter 327b7-d6) … And he dwelt in detail on the extent of the empire in Italy and Sicily and his own power therein (katalegȏn de tên archên tês Italias kai Sikelias kai tên hautou dunamin en hautêi), and the youth of Dionysius, mentioning also how great a desire he had for philosophy and education (kai tên neotêta kai tên epithumian tên Dionusiou, philosophias te kai paideias hȏs echoi sphodra legȏn), and he spoke of his own nephews and connexions (tous te hautou adelphidous kai tous oikeious), and how they would be not only easily converted themselves to the doctrines and the life I always taught (hȏs eu paraklêtoi eien pros ton hup’ emou legomenon aei logon kai bion), but also most useful in helping to influence Dionysius (hikanȏtatoi te Dionusion sumparakalein); so that now, if ever (hȏste eiper pote kai nun), all our hopes will be fulfilled (elpis pasa apotelesthêsetai) of seeing the same persons at once philosophers and rulers of mighty States (tou tous autous philosophous te kai poleȏn archontas megalȏn sumbênai genomenous, Seventh Letter 327e5-328b1).’ (Tr. Bury)

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