previous next
[493a] in the present condition of society and government, in saying that the providence of God1 preserves it you will not be speaking ill.” “Neither do I think otherwise,” he said. “Then,” said I, “think this also in addition.” “What?” “Each of these private teachers who work for pay, whom the politicians call sophists and regard as their rivals,2 inculcates nothing else than these opinions of the multitude which they opine when they are assembled and calls this knowledge wisdom. It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast3 which he had in his keeping, [493b] how it is to be approached and touched, and when and by what things it is made most savage or gentle, yes, and the several sounds it is wont to utter on the occasion of each, and again what sounds uttered by another make it tame or fierce, and after mastering this knowledge by living with the creature and by lapse of time should call it wisdom, and should construct thereof a system and art and turn to the teaching of it, knowing nothing in reality about which of these opinions and desires is honorable or base, good or evil, just or unjust, [493c] but should apply all these terms to the judgements of the great beast, calling the things that pleased it good, and the things that vexed it bad, having no other account to render of them, but should call what is necessary just and honorable,4 never having observed how great is the real difference between the necessary and the good, and being incapable of explaining it to another. Do you not think, by heaven, that such a one would be a strange educator?” “I do,” he said. “Do you suppose that there is any difference between such a one and the man who thinks [493d] that it is wisdom to have learned to know the moods and the pleasures of the motley multitude in their assembly, whether about painting or music or, for that matter, politics? For if a man associates with these and offers and exhibits to them his poetry5 or any other product of his craft or any political. service,6 and grants the mob authority over himself more than is unavoidable,7 the proverbial necessity of Diomede8 will compel him to give the public what it likes, but that what it likes is really good and honorable, have you ever heard an attempted proof of this that is not simply ridiculous9?” [493e] “No,” he said, “and I fancy I never shall hear it either.”

“Bearing all this in mind, recall our former question. Can the multitude possibly tolerate or believe in the reality of the beautiful in itself as opposed to the multiplicity of beautiful things, or can they believe in anything conceived in its essence as opposed to the many particulars?” “Not in the least,” he said. “Philosophy, then, the love of wisdom,

1 Cf. on 492 A, Apol. 33, Phaedo 58 E, Protag. 328 E, Meno 99 E, Phaedr. 244 C, Laws 642 C, 875 C, Ion 534 C.

2 Cf. Arnold, Preface to Essays in Criticism; Phaedo 60 D, Laws 817 B, On Virtue 376 D.

3 Cf. Epist. v. 321 Dἔστιν γὰρ δή τις φωνὴ τῶν πολιτειῶν ἑκάστης καθάπερεί τινων ζῴων, “each form of government has a sort of voice, as if it were a kind of animal” (tr. L.A. Post). Hackforth says this is a clumsy imitation of the Republic which proves the letter spurious. Cf. Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, ii. 1 “If there be any among those common objects of hatred I do contemn and laugh at, it is that great enemy of reason, virtue, and religion, the multitude . . . one great beast and a monstrosity more prodigious than Hydra,” Horace, Epist. i. 1. 76 “belua multorum es capitum.” Also Hamilton's “Sir, your people is a great beast,” Sidney, Arcadia, bk. ii. “Many-headed multitude,” Wallas, Human Nature in Politics, p. 172 “ . . . like Plato's sophist is learning what the public is and is beginning to understand ‘the passions and desires’ of that ‘huge and powerful brute,'” Shakes.Coriolanus iv. i. 2 “The beast with many heads Butts me away,”ibid. ii. iii. 18 “The many-headed multitude.” For the idea cf. also Gorg. 501 B-C ff., Phaedr. 260 C 260 C,δόξας δὲ πλήθους μεμελετηκώς, “having studied the opinions of the multitude,” Isoc. ii. 49-50.

4 Cf. Class. Phil. ix. (1914) p. 353, n. 1, ibid. xxiii. (1928) p. 361 (Tim. 75 D), What Plato Said, p. 616 on Tim. 47 E, Aristot.Eth. 1120 b 1οὐχ ὡς καλὸν ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἀναγκαῖον, Emerson, Circle,“Accept the actual for the necessary,” Eurip, I. A. 724καλῶς ἀναγκαίως τε. Mill iv. 299 and Grote iv. 221 miss the meaning. Cf. Bk I. on 347 C, Newman, Aristot.Pol. i. pp. 113-114, Iamblichus, Protrept.Teubner 148 K.ἀγνοοῦντος . . . ὅσον διέστηκεν ἐξ ἀρχῆς τὰ ἀγαθὰ καὶ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα, “not knowing how divergent have always been the good and the necessary.”

5 Cf. Laws 659 B, 701 A, Gorg. 502 B.

6 Cf. 371 C, Gorg. 517 B, 518 B.

7 Plato likes to qualify sweeping statements and allow something to necessity and the weakness of human nature. Cf. Phaedo 64 Eκαθ᾽ ὅσον μὴ πολλὴ ἀνάγκη, 558 D-E, 500 D, 383 C.

8 The scholiast derives this expression from Diomedes' binding Odysseus and driving him back to camp after the latter had attempted to kill him. The schol. on Aristoph.Eccl. 1029 gives a more ingenious explanation. See Frazer, Pausanias, ii. p. 264.

9 καταγέλαστον is a strong word. “Make the very jack-asses laugh” would give the tone. Cf. Carlyle, Past and Present, iv. “impartial persons have to say with a sigh that . . . they have heard no argument advanced for it but such as might make the angels and almost the very jack-asses weep. Cf. also Isoc.Panegyr. 14, Phil. 84, 101, Antid. 247, Peace 36, and καταγέλαστος in Plato passim, e.g.Symp. 189 B.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1903)
hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1928 AD (1)
1914 AD (1)
1120 AD (1)
1029 AD (1)
hide References (1 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: