previous next
[515a] and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.” “A strange image you speak of,” he said, “and strange prisoners.” “Like to us,” I said; “for, to begin with, tell me do you think that these men would have seen anything of themselves or of one another except the shadows cast from the fire on the wall of the cave that fronted them?” “How could they,” he said, “if they were compelled [515b] to hold their heads unmoved through life?” “And again, would not the same be true of the objects carried past them?” “Surely.” “If then they were able to talk to one another, do you not think that they would suppose that in naming the things that they saw1 they were naming the passing objects?” “Necessarily.” “And if their prison had an echo2 from the wall opposite them, when one of the passersby uttered a sound, do you think that they would suppose anything else than the passing shadow to be the speaker?” “By Zeus, I do not,” said he. “Then in every way [515c] such prisoners would deem reality to be nothing else than the shadows of the artificial objects.” “Quite inevitably,” he said. “Consider, then, what would be the manner of the release3 and healing from these bonds and this folly if in the course of nature4 something of this sort should happen to them: When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light, and in doing all this felt pain and, because of the dazzle and glitter of the light, was unable to discern the objects whose shadows he formerly saw, [515d] what do you suppose would be his answer if someone told him that what he had seen before was all a cheat and an illusion, but that now, being nearer to reality and turned toward more real things, he saw more truly? And if also one should point out to him each of the passing objects and constrain him by questions to say what it is, do you not think that he would be at a loss5 and that he would regard what he formerly saw as more real than the things now pointed out to him?” “Far more real,” he said.

“And if he were compelled to look at the light itself, [515e] would not that pain his eyes, and would he not turn away and flee to those things which he is able to discern and regard them as in very deed more clear and exact than the objects pointed out?” “It is so,” he said. “And if,” said I, “someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent6 which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, do you not think that he would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it, and when

1 Cf. Parmen. 130 c, Tim. 51 B, 52 A, and my De Platonis Idearum doctrina, pp. 24-25; also E. Hoffmann in Wochenschrift f. klass. Phil. xxxvi. (1919) pp. 196-197. As we use the word tree of the trees we see, though the reality (αὐτὸ ἔστι) is the idea of a tree, so they would speak of the shadows as the world, though the real reference unknown to them would be to the objects that cause the shadows, and back of the objects to the things of the “real” world of which they are copies. The general meaning, which is quite certain, is that they wold suppose the shadows to be the realities. The text and the precise turn of expression are doubtful. See crit. note.παριόντα is intentionally ambiguous in its application to the shadows or to the objects which cast them. They suppose that the names refer to the passing shadows, but (as we know) they really apply to the objects. Ideas and particulars are homonymous. Assuming a slight illogicality we can get somewhat the same meaning from the text ταὐτά. “Do you not think that they would identify the passing objects (which strictly speaking they do not know) with what they saw?” Cf. also P. Corssen, Philologische Wochenschrift, 1913, p. 286. He prefers οὐκ αὐτά and renders: “Sie würden in dem, was sie sähen, das Vorübergehende selbst zu benennen glauben.”

2 The echo and the voices (515 A) merely complete the picture.

3 Phaedo 67 Dλύειν, and 82 Dλύσει τε καὶ καθαρμῷ. λύσις became technical in Neoplatonism.

4 Lit. “by nature.” φύσις in Plato often suggests reality and truth.

5 The entire passage is an obvious allegory of the painful experience of one whose false conceit of knowledge is tested by the Socratic elenchus. Cf. Soph. 230 B-D, and for ἀπορεῖνMeno 80 A, 84 B-C, Theaet. 149 A, Apol. 23 D. Cf. also What Plato Said, p. 5123 on Meno 80 A, Eurip.Hippol. 247τὸ γὰρ ὀρθοῦσθαι γνώμαν ὀδυνᾷ, “it is painful to have one's opinions set right,” and 517 A, 494 D.

6 Cf. Theaet. 175 B, Boethius, Cons. iii. 12 “quicunque in superum diem mentem ducere quaeritis”; 529 A, 521 C, and the Neoplatonists' use of ἀνάγειν and their “anagogical” virtue and interpretation. Cf. Leibniz, ed. Gerhardt, vii. 270.

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)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

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.
1919 AD (1)
1913 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: