The Republic HTML version
Introduction and Analysis. Part II
Leaving the characters we may now analyse the contents of the Republic, and then
proceed to consider (1) The general aspects of this Hellenic ideal of the State, (2) The
modern lights in which the thoughts of Plato may be read.
BOOK I. The Republic opens with a truly Greek scene--a festival in honour of the
goddess Bendis which is held in the Piraeus; to this is added the promise of an equestrian
torch-race in the evening. The whole work is supposed to be recited by Socrates on the
day after the festival to a small party, consisting of Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and
another; this we learn from the first words of the Timaeus.
When the rhetorical advantage of reciting the Dialogue has been gained, the attention is
not distracted by any reference to the audience; nor is the reader further reminded of the
extraordinary length of the narrative. Of the numerous company, three only take any
serious part in the discussion; nor are we informed whether in the evening they went to
the torch-race, or talked, as in the Symposium, through the night. The manner in which
the conversation has arisen is described as follows:--Socrates and his companion Glaucon
are about to leave the festival when they are detained by a message from Polemarchus,
who speedily appears accompanied by Adeimantus, the brother of Glaucon, and with
playful violence compels them to remain, promising them not only the torch-race, but the
pleasure of conversation with the young, which to Socrates is a far greater attraction.
They return to the house of Cephalus, Polemarchus' father, now in extreme old age, who
is found sitting upon a cushioned seat crowned for a sacrifice. 'You should come to me
oftener, Socrates, for I am too old to go to you; and at my time of life, having lost other
pleasures, I care the more for conversation.' Socrates asks him what he thinks of age, to
which the old man replies, that the sorrows and discontents of age are to be attributed to
the tempers of men, and that age is a time of peace in which the tyranny of the passions is
no longer felt. Yes, replies Socrates, but the world will say, Cephalus, that you are happy
in old age because you are rich. 'And there is something in what they say, Socrates, but
not so much as they imagine--as Themistocles replied to the Seriphian, "Neither you, if
you had been an Athenian, nor I, if I had been a Seriphian, would ever have been
famous," I might in like manner reply to you, Neither a good poor man can be happy in
age, nor yet a bad rich man.' Socrates remarks that Cephalus appears not to care about
riches, a quality which he ascribes to his having inherited, not acquired them, and would
like to know what he considers to be the chief advantage of them. Cephalus answers that
when you are old the belief in the world below grows upon you, and then to have done
justice and never to have been compelled to do injustice through poverty, and never to
have deceived anyone, are felt to be unspeakable blessings. Socrates, who is evidently
preparing for an argument, next asks, What is the meaning of the word justice? To tell the
truth and pay your debts? No more than this? Or must we admit exceptions? Ought I, for
example, to put back into the hands of my friend, who has gone mad, the sword which I
borrowed of him when he was in his right mind? 'There must be exceptions.' 'And yet,'
says Polemarchus, 'the definition which has been given has the authority of Simonides.'
Here Cephalus retires to look after the sacrifices, and bequeaths, as Socrates facetiously
remarks, the possession of the argument to his heir, Polemarchus...