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Appendices to book 3

III 389 B—D. The section on truth offers some serious difficulties. Throughout the whole of this division of the Republic (377 A—392 A) Plato is laying down precepts to which the μῦθοι of poets are to conform (cf. 377 B and 392 A), and in each case it is pointed out how the precept in question has been violated by Homer and other poets. Here, however, nothing is said to shew that we are prescribing for the poets, and no illustrations, either of our precept or of its violation, are cited from them. Schneider, indeed, attempts to extort this meaning from the section; but his theory, strictly understood, would require us to suppose that ἰατροῖς δοτέον, ἰδιώταις οὐχ ἁπτέον, προσήκει ψεύδεσθαι, οὐχ ἁπτέον τοῦ τοιούτου in B, ψεύσασθαι, ψευδόμενον in C, and κολάσει in D refer not to Plato's own city, but to poetical representations; that τῆς πόλεως in B is not Plato's city, but any city figuring in poetry; and that τοὺς τοιούτους ἄρχοντας in C are not Plato's rulers, but others. Such a supposition is hardly possible, if τοιούτους in C is genuine (see note ad loc.), and in any case it is neither natural nor obvious. It may with safety be asserted that if the section had occurred in any other context no one would have supposed it to contain rules for poetical fables: in itself it merely lays down the duty of the lower classes to speak the truth, with the conditions under which the rulers may lie. Cf. Rettig Proleg. pp. 62, 63 and notes on 389 D. Rettig, following up a hint of Schleiermacher's, thinks the section was introduced to prepare the way for the rulers' ‘lie’ about the origin of the State; while Susemihl (Genet. Entw. II p. 120) in some mysterious way appears to connect it with the theory of Ideas “as the true and higher Measure of the correct representation of Gods, Daemons, Heroes and the lower world.” The latter view is altogether fanciful; and neither of these explanations justifies Plato for having inserted the passage in this particular connexion, where he is discussing poetical legend, however much Rettig may extol the “art” with which he has concealed his art. The following seems to me a more probable explanation. We are professedly dealing with poetical representations of the gods and heroes, and we should expect Plato to require the poets to represent them as truthful and to enforce his remarks by poetical illustrations. He does not do so, because it has already been done in II 382—383. Instead of this, he reverts to 382 C (τότε ἀποτροπῆς ἕνεκα ὡς φάρμακον χρήσιμον γίγνεται SC. τὸ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ψεῦδος), and emphasizes, more than he has hitherto done, the reason why truthfulness must be ascribed to the gods, viz. in order to encourage the virtue among men. That Plato laid the greatest stress upon the virtue of Truth appears from the fine passage in Laws 730 B, C, beginning Ἀλήθεια δὴ πάντων μὲν ἀγαθῶν θεοῖς ἡγεῖται, πάντων δὲ ἀνθρώποις: thus it is not unnatural that he should recur to the subject here. The section should be taken as a kind of afterthought to 382—383, which it is intended partly to explain and partly to supplement. The whole section on Truth is for this and other reasons possibly later than the context in which it appears: see also on τοὺς τοιούτους ἄρχοντας, 389 C.

A further question has been raised as to what Plato intended by the virtue of ἀλήθεια. Rettig (l.c. pp. 61 and 65 ff.) and Stallbaum, anxious to find in all this a preliminary sketch of the cardinal virtues, interpret it as a sort of wisdom; but in that case, why did not Plato call it by its name? He is content to use the names of two other cardinal virtues, ἀνδρεία and σωφροσύνη, although they have not yet been defined. Nor does this account of ἀλήθεια contain any of the distinctive features of Wisdom, either in its popular sense or in the sense which it bears in Book IV. There is no reason to suppose that Plato means anything but what he says, and he himself describes the virtue as ‘speaking the truth.’ The whole attempt to see in this division of the dialogue a foreshadowing of the psychological theory of the virtues is, I believe, a mistake: only two of the virtues are named at all, ἀνδρεία and σωφροσύνη, and these quite without any ulterior meaning or motive. Plato is simply describing in a somewhat desultory way (ὅπῃ ἂν λόγος ὥσπερ πνεῦμα φέρῃ)—since a rigid plan is not necessary here—the kind of character which Poetry should endeavour to foster: a character which shall honour gods and parents, set value on reciprocal friendship (386 A), be courageous, truthful, and distinguished for self-control. To force this description into the strait-jacket of the cardinal virtues would be pedantic. As it is, no essential feature of the καλὸς κἀγαθός is omitted.

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