Plato?s REPUBLIC is one of THE great books. Plato is often relegated as a mere philosopher. This simply categorization is wrong and misleading. He stands as one of the great literary figures. His texts are not like modern philosophical essays. He deserves exaltation, but that and his ?philosophical? status scare away the average reader. For example, modern American English uses the word ?symposium? to mean a meeting of intellects and academics. Plato?s SYMPOSIUM is that and more. It is a meeting and a discussion of ideas, but not without some raucous drinking and partying. A ?symposium? is a drinking dinner party. Indeed, Socrates is revered for among many other things, being able to drink a lot without getting drunk (or appearing so). This is all meant to show that Plato can be highly intellectual but also entertaining. The REPUBLIC is a dialogue and a story with a philosophical theme.
Plato uses his teacher, Socrates, as the main character in the REPUBLIC. He and his following are on their way home to Athens from the nearby city of Pireaus (Athens port city if you take the view that Athens controlled an Empire of its fellow Greek city-states). He is stopped and invited to dinner by a friend. From here we get a discussion of words (logos in Greek) and force/action (ergon in Greek). This eventually leads the diners to a discussion of justice.
In discussing justice they decide to relate it to a city-state. They are laboring towards the defintion of justice be relating it to the parts (citizens) that make up a city-state. In Greek, the title of the REPUBLIC is politea. This is not exactly the same as our ?republic.? It actually comes from the title of Latin translations. The word is more akin, as I understand from my amateur study of Greek and Latin, to ?community.? In this it comes to mean that a city-state, especially the ideal one they work up in discussion, is a unit of many people with the whole as its main concern. It is a difficult concept for modern American readers. Here the view is that of individualism.
Modern Americans may be appalled at the utopia Socrates and his interlocutors (discussion-mates) fabricate. It is often related to Athens? rival city-state, Sparta, and her militaristic lifestyle. I think that Orwell and Huxley may have even had many of the kallipolis? traits in mind when they wrote their satires. (the name Socrates et all give to their ideal city. It literally means Beautiful City).
In the end, the REPUBLIC is not scary. It is not too philosophical for the average reader. It is not a ?boring? or tedious essay to study. It is a wonderful story that can be entertaining even for those who want fiction and drama. Its ideas are the seeds of our modern world. By reading the REPUBLIC one learns about his or her own world.
- The Republic
- Why Socrates Take Poison
- The Lost Continent