In the preamble to the Symposium we learn that Glaucon saw Apollodorus, the narrator, as he walked from Phalerum [an Athenian harbour] to the city. He addressed him with the words: ‘I was looking for you, only just now (kai mên kai enanchos se ezêtoun), that I might ask you (boulomenos diaputhesthai) about the speeches in praise of love (peri tȏn erȏtikȏn logȏn, tines êsan), which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon’s supper. Phoenix, the son of Philip, told another person who told me of them; his narrative was very indistinct, but he said that you knew, and I wish that you would give me an account of them. Who, if not you, should be the reporter of the words of your friend? And first tell me, were you present at this meeting?’ Apollodorus tells him that the event took place when they were children: ‘Are you ignorant that for many years Agathon has not resided in Athens; and not three have elapsed (oudepȏ tria etê estin) since I became acquainted with Socrates (aph’ hou dê Sȏkratei sundiatribȏ), and have made it my daily business to know all that he says and does (kai epimeles pepoiêmai hekastês hêmeras eidenai hoti an legêi ê prattêi). There was a time when I was running about the world (pro tou de peritrechȏn hopêi tuchoimi), fancying myself to be well employed (kai oiomenos ti poein), but I was really a most wretched being (athliȏteros ê hotououn), no better than you are now (ouch hêtton ê su nuni). I thought I ought to do anything rather (oiomenos dein panta mallon prattein) than be a philosopher (ê philosophein).’ – Glaucon: ‘Well, jesting apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.’ – Apollodorus: ‘In your boyhood, when Agathon won the prize with his first tragedy.’ – Glaucon: ‘Then it must have been a long while ago, and who told you – did Socrates?’ Apollodorus: ‘No, indeed, but the same person who told Phoenix; – he was a little fellow, who never wore any shoes, Aristodemus … He had been at Agathon’s feast; and I think that in those days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates. Moreover, I have asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his narrative, and he confirmed them.’ – Glaucon: ‘Then, let us have the tale over again; is not the road to Athens just made for the conversation?’ – Apollodorus: ‘And so we walked and talked of the discourses on love.’ (172a1-173b9, tr. Jowett)
The following points are worth noticing: It does not even occur to Glaucon to approach Socrates with his request; Apollodorus was an acquaintance of his (gnȏrimȏn tis, 172a3), of the same age. He thought he ought to do anything rather (oiomenos dein panta mallon pratteint) than pursue philosophy (ê philosophein). What he wanted to hear (boulomenos diaputhesthai), were the erotic speeches (peri tȏn erȏtikȏn logȏn, tines êsan) that were told at the meeting of Agathon, Socrates, Alcibiades, and others.
Socrates opens the Republic with the words: ‘I went down yesterday to the Piraeus [a promontory 4 miles from Athens; it had three harbours] with Glaucon the son of Ariston … When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city’ (327a1-b1, tr. Jowett). Clearly, Socrates spent with Glaucon the whole day in Piraeus, just the two of them. It was on their way back that they were stopped by a servant of Polemarchus (327b4-5). Adeimantus: ‘Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening 328a1-2)?’ Polemarchus: ‘A festival will be celebrated lasting throughout the night, which you certainly ought to see … Stay then, and do not be perverse.’ – Glaucon: ‘I suppose, since you insist, that we must.’ – Socrates: ‘Let us do so if you wish.’ – It is at Glaucon’s decision that Socrates and Glaucon join Adeimantus, Glaucon’s brother (ho tou Glaukȏnos adelphos, 327c2), Niceratus the son of Nicias (a famous Athenian politician and general), and Polemarchus, to whose house they go (oikade eis tou Polemarchou, 328b4), where the subsequent narrative of the Republic is going to take place.
In the first book of the Republic Socrates defends justice against the sophist Thrasymachus, who claimed that the key to happiness was the ultimate injustice, which the tyrants exercise. Referring to his defeat of Thrasymachus, he says in the opening paragraph of the second book: ‘With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion (Egȏ men oun tauta eipȏn ȏimên logou apêllachthai); but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning (to d’ ên ara, hȏs eoike, prooimion). For Glaucon (ho gar Glaukȏn), who is always the most pugnacious of men (aei te dê andreiotatos ȏn tunchanei pros hapanta), would not submit quietly to the retirement of Thrasymachus (kai dê kai tote tou Thrasumachou tên aporrêsin ouk apedexato). So he said to me (all’ ephê): “Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us (poteron hêmas boulei dokein pepeikenai ê hȏs alêthȏs peisai), that to be just is in every way better than to be unjust (hoti panti tropȏi ameinon estin dikaion einai ê adikon)?” – I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could (hȏs alêthȏs, eipon, egȏg’ an heloimên, ei ep’ emoi eiê). – “Then you certainly have not succeeded (Ou toinun poieis ho boulei, 357a1-b4) … to my mind the nature of justice and injustice has not yet been made clear (emoi de oupȏ kata noun hê apodeixis gegonen peri hekaterou). Setting aside their rewards and results, I want to know what they are in themselves, and how they inwardly work in the soul (epithumȏ gar akousai ti t’ estin hekateron kai tina echei dunamin auto kath’ hauto enon en têi psuchêi, tous te misthous kai ta gignomena ap’ autȏn easai chairein). If you please, then, I will revive the argument of Thrasymachus (houtȏsi oun poiêsȏ, ean soi dokêi, epananeȏsomai ton Thrasumachou logon). And first I will speak of the nature and origin of justice according to the common view of them (kai prȏton men erȏ dikaiosunên hoion einai phasin kai hothen gegonenai). Secondly (deuteron de), I will show that all men who praise justice do so against their will (hoti pantes auto hoi epitêdeuontes akontes epitêdeuousin), of necessity (hȏs anankaion), but not as a good (all’ ouch hȏs agathon). And thirdly (triton de), I will argue that there is reason in this view (hoti eikotȏs touto drȏsi), for the life of the unjust is after all better far than life of the just (polu gar ameinȏn ara ho tou adikou ê ho tou dikaiou bios) – if what they say is true (hȏs legousi), Socrates, since I myself am not of their opinion (epei emoige, ȏ Sȏkrates, out ti dokei houtȏs). But still I acknowledge that I am perplexed when I hear voices of Thrasymachus and myriads of others dinning in my ears (aporȏ mentoi diatethrulêmenos ta ȏta akouȏn Thrasumachou kai muriȏn allȏn); and, on the other hand, I have never yet heard the superiority of justice to injustice maintained by anyone in a satisfactory way (ton de huper dikaiosunês logon, hȏs ameinon adikias, oudenos pȏ akêkoa hȏs boulomai). I want to hear justice praised in respect of itself; then I shall be satisfied (boulomai de auto kath’ hauto enkȏmiazomenon akousai), and you are the person from whom I think that I am most likely to hear this (malista d’ oimai an sou puthesthai); and therefore I will praise the unjust life to the utmost of my power (dio katateinas erȏ ton adikon bion epainȏn), and my manner of speaking will indicate (eipȏn de endeixomai soi) the manner in which I desire (hon tropon au boulomai) to hear you too praising justice and censuring injustice (kai sou akouein adikian men psegontos, dikaiosunên de epainountos). Will you say whether you approve of my proposal (all’ hora ei soi boulomenȏi ha legȏ)?” – Indeed I do (Pantȏn malista, ên d’ egȏ); nor can I imagine any theme about which a man of sense would oftener wish to converse.’ (peri gar tinos an mallon pollakis tis noun echȏn chairoi legȏn kai akouȏn, 358b3-d8, tr. Jowett)
Glaucon begins his encomium on injustice by defining what justice is and what is its origin (ti on te kai hothen gegone dikaiosunê): ‘They say that to do injustice is, by nature (Pephukenai gar dê phasin to men adikein), good (agathon); to suffer injustice (to de adikeisthai), evil (kakon); but that there is more evil in the latter (pleoni de kakȏi huperballein to adikeisthai) than good in the former (ê agathȏi to adikein). And so when men have both done and suffered injustice (hȏst’ epeidan allêlous adikȏsi te kai adikȏntai) and have had experience of both (kai amphoterȏn geuȏntai), any who are not able to avoid the one and obtain the other (tois mê dunamenois to men ekpheugein to de hairein), think that they had better agree among themselves (dokei lusitelein sunthesthai allêlois) to have neither (mêt’ adikein mêt’ adikeisthai); hence they began to establish laws (kai enteuthen dê arxasthai nomous tithesthai) and mutual covenants (kai sunthêkas hautȏn); and that which was ordained by law was termed by them lawful and just (kai onomasai to hupo tou nomou hupotagma nomimon te kai dikaion). This, it is claimed, is the origin and nature of justice (kai einai dê tautên genesin te kai ousian dikaiosunês); – it is a mean or compromise (metaxu ousan), between the best of all (tou men aristou ontos), which is to do injustice and not to be punished (ean adikȏn mê didȏi dikên), and the worst of all (tou de kakistou), which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation (ean adikoumenos timȏreisthai adunatos êi); and justice (to de dikaion), being at a middle point between the two (en mesȏi on toutȏn amphoterȏn), is tolerated not as a good (agapasthai ouch hȏs agathon), but as the lesser evil, and honoured where men are too feeble to do injustice (all’ hȏs arrȏstiai tou adikein timȏmenon). For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement with another if he had the power to be unjust (epei ton dunamenon auto poiein kai hȏs alêthȏs andra oud’ an heni pote sunthesthai to mête adikein mête adikeisthai); he would be mad if he did (mainesthai gar an).’ (358e3-359b3, tr. Jowett)
Glaucon then says that people will argue that if a just man had a ‘Gyges-ring’ of invisibility, ‘then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust (houtȏ de drȏn ouden an diaphoron tou heterou poioi); they would both tend to the same goal (all’ epi t’aut’ an ioien amphoteroi) … for all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice’ (lusitelein gar oietai pas anêr polu mallon idiai tên adikian tês diakiosunês, 360c3-d1). He argues that if the lives of a just man and the unjust man are to be properly judged, we must set apart the extremes of justice and injustice: ‘The height of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not (eschatê gar adikia dokein dikaion einai mê onta); in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice (doteon oun tȏi teleȏs adikȏi tên teleȏtatên adikian) … we must allow him (eateon), while doing the most unjust acts (ta megista adikounta), to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice (tên megistên doxan hautȏi pareskeuakenai eis dikaiosunên, 361a4-b1) … And at his side let us place the just man (ton dikaion au par’ auton histȏmen tȏi logȏi) in his nobleness and simplicity (andra haploun kai gennaion) … let him be the best of men, and let him be reputed the worst (mêden gar adikȏn doxan echetȏ tên megistên adikias) … and let him continue thus to the hour of death (alla itȏ ametastatos mechri thanatou); being just and seeming to be unjust (dokȏn de einai adikos dia biou, ȏn de dikaios, 361b6-d1) … the just man who is thought unjust (houtȏ diakeimenos ho dikaios) will be scourged (mastigȏsetai), racked (streblȏsetai), bound (dedêsetai) – will have his eyes burnt out (ekkauthêsetai t’ȏphtalmȏi); and, at last (teleutȏn), after suffering every kind of evil (panta kaka pathȏn), he will be impaled (anaschinduleuthêsetai): then he will understand (kai gnȏsetai) that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just (hoti ouk einai dikaion alla dokein dei ethelein, 361e3-362a3) … For the unjust, they will say (phêsousi ton adikon) … is thought just (dokounti dikaiȏi einai), and therefore bears rule in the city (archein en têi polei) … he can trade and deal where he likes (sumballein, koinȏnein hois an ethelêi), and always to his own advantage (kai para tauta panta ȏpheleisthai kerdainonta), because he has no misgivings about injustice (tȏi mê duscherainein to adikein); and at every contest (eis agȏnas toinun ionta), whether in public or in private (kai idiai kai dêmosiai), he gets the better of his antagonists, and gains at their expense (perigignesthai kai pleonektein tȏn echthrȏn), and is rich, and out of his gains he can benefit his friends (pleonektounta de ploutein kai tous te philous eu poiein), and harm his enemies (kai tous echthrous blaptein); moreover, he can offer sacrifices, and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently (kai theois thusias kai anathêmata hikanȏs kai megaloprepȏs thuein te kai anatithenai), and can honour the gods or any man whom he wants to honour in a far better style than the just (kai therapeuein tou dikaiou polu ameinon tous theous kai tȏn anthrȏpȏn hous an boulêtai), and therefore is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods (hȏste kai theophilesteron auton einai mallon prosêkein ek tȏn eoikotȏn ê ton dikaion). And thus, Socrates, they say (houtȏ phasi, ȏ Sȏkrates) that a better life is provided, by gods and men alike, for the unjust than for the just’ (para theȏn kai par’ anthrȏpȏn tȏi adikȏi pareskeuasthai ton bion ameinon ê tȏi dikaiȏi, 362a4c8, tr. Jowett).
Adeimantus then adds his voice to that of his younger brother (362d2-367e5). While Glaucon relied on imaginative argument, Adeimantus drew more on experience: ‘On what principle, then (Kata tina oun eti logon), shall we any longer choose justice rather than the worst injustice (dikaiosunên an pro megistês adikias hairoimeth’ an)? when, if we only unite the latter with a deceitful regard to appearances (hên ean met’ euschêmosunês kibdêlou ktêsȏmetha), we shall fare to our mind both with gods and men (kai para theois kai par’ anthrȏpois praxometha kata noun), in life and after death (zȏntes te kai teleutêsantes), as the most numerous and the highest authorities tell us (hȏs ho tȏn pollȏn te kai akrȏn legomenos logos, 366b3-7) … But I speak to you in this vehement manner, as I must frankly confess to you, because I want to hear from you the opposite side (all’ egȏ, ouden gar se deomai apokruptesthai, sou epithumȏn akousai t’anantia, hȏs dunamai katateinas legȏ); and I would ask you to show not only (mê oun hêmin monon endeixêi tȏi logȏi) the superiority which justice has over injustice (hoti dikaiosunê adikias kreitton), but what effect, inseparable from their nature, they have on the possessor of them which makes the one good and the other an evil to him’ (alla ti poiousa hekatera ton echonta autê di hautên hê men kakon, hê de agathon estin, 367a8-b5).
When Adeimantus ended his contribution to Glaucon’s challenge and request, Socrates reflected on what they both said: ‘I had always admired the genius of Glaucon and Adeimantus, but on hearing these words I was quite delighted, and said (Kai egȏ akousas, aei men dê tên phusin tou te Glaukȏnos kai tou Adeimantou êgamên, atar oun kai tote panu ge hêsthên kai eipon): ‘Sons of an illustrious father, that was not a bad beginning of the elegiac verses which the admirer of Glaucon made in honour of you (Ou kakȏs eis humas, ȏ paides ekeinou tou andros, tên archên tȏn elegeiȏn epoiêsen ho Glaukȏnos erastês) after you had distinguished yourself at the battle of Megara (eudokimêsantas peri tên Megaroi machên): - “Sons of Ariston (paides Aristȏnos),” he sang (eipȏn), “divine offspring of an illustrious hero (kleinou theion genos andros).” The epithet is very appropriate (touto moi, ȏ philoi, eu dokei echein), for there is something truly divine (panu gar theion peponthate) in being able to argue as you have done for the superiority of injustice, and remaining unconvinced by your own arguments (ei mê pepeisthe adikian dikaiosunês ameinon einai, houtȏ dunamenoi eipein huper autou). And I do believe that you are unconvinced (dokeite dê moi hȏs alêthȏs ou pepeisthai) – this I infer from your general character (tekmairomai de ek tou allou tou humeterou tropou), for had I judged only from your speeches (epei kata ge autous tous logous) I should have mistrusted you’ (êpistoun an humin, 367e6-368b3, tr. Jowett)
Dramatically, we cannot imagine that Plato could present Glaucon as he is presented in the Symposium – a man who thought he ought to do anything rather than pursue philosophy – after his performance in the Republic. Dramatically, Glaucon’s listening to the speeches on love in the Symposium aroused his interest in philosophy, and thus he became Socrates’ interlocutor in the Republic.