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By Plato, Benjamin Jowett
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I WENT DOWN YESTERDAY to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess (Bendis, the Thracian Artemis.); and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarchus the son of Cephalus chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said: Polemarchus desires you to wait.
I turned round, and asked him where his master was.
There he is, said the youth, coming after you, if you will only wait.
Certainly we will, said Glaucon; and in a few minutes Polemarchus appeared, and with him Adeimantus, Glaucon's brother, Niceratus the son of Nicias, and several others who had been at the procession.
Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and your companion are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will be celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied.
Accordingly we went with Polemarchus to his house; and there we found his brothers Lysias and Euthydemus, and with them Thrasymachus the Chalcedonian, Charmantides the Paeanian, and Cleitophon the son of Aristonymus. There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus, whom I had not seen for a long time, and I thought him very much aged. He was seated on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head, for he had been sacrificing in the court; and there were some other chairs in the room arranged in a semicircle, upon which we sat down by him. He saluted me eagerly, and then he said:—
You don't come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought: If I were still able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city, and therefore you should come oftener to the Piraeus. For let me tell you, that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation. Do not then deny my request, but make our house your resort and keep company with these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.
I replied: There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult. And this is a question which I should like to ask of you who have arrived at that time which the poets call the 'threshold of old age'—Is life harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it?
I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is—I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life. Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause. But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault. For if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known. How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles,—are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men's characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.
I listened in admiration, and wanting to draw him out, that he might go on—Yes, Cephalus, I said: but I rather suspect that people in general are not convinced by you when you speak thus; they think that old age sits lightly upon you, not because of your happy disposition, but because you are rich, and wealth is well known to be a great comforter.
You are right, he replied; they are not convinced: and there is something in what they say; not, however, so much as they imagine. I might answer them as Themistocles answered the Seriphian who was abusing him and saying that he was famous, not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian: 'If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous.' And to those who are not rich and are impatient of old age, the same reply may be made; for to the good poor man old age cannot be a light burden, nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself.
May I ask, Cephalus, whether your fortune was for the most part inherited or acquired by you?
Acquired! Socrates; do you want to know how much I acquired? In the art of making money I have been midway between my father and grandfather: for my grandfather, whose name I bear, doubled and trebled the value of his patrimony, that which he inherited being much what I possess now; but my father Lysanias reduced the property below what it is at present: and I shall be satisfied if I leave to these my sons not less but a little more than I received.
That was why I asked you the question, I replied, because I see that you are indifferent about money, which is a characteristic rather of those who have inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them; the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.
That is true, he said.
Yes, that is very true, but may I ask another question?—What do you consider to be the greatest blessing which you have reaped from your wealth?
One, he said, of which I could not expect easily to convince others. For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true: either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings. But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age:
'Hope,' he says, 'cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness, and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey;—hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.'
How admirable are his words! And the great blessing of riches, I do not say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men. Now to this peace of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes; and therefore I say, that, setting one thing against another, of the many advantages which wealth has to give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest.
Well said, Cephalus, I replied; but as concerning justice, what is it?—to speak the truth and to pay your debts—no more than this? And even to this are there not exceptions? Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition.
You are quite right, he replied.
But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice.
Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed, said Polemarchus interposing.
I fear, said Cephalus, that I must go now, for I have to look after the sacrifices, and I hand over the argument to Polemarchus and the company.
Is not Polemarchus your heir? I said.
To be sure, he answered, and went away laughing to the sacrifices.
Tell me then, O thou heir of the argument, what did Simonides say, and according to you truly say, about justice?
He said that the repayment of a debt is just, and in saying so he appears to me to be right.
I should be sorry to doubt the word of such a wise and inspired man, but his meaning, though probably clear to you, is the reverse of clear to me. For he certainly does not mean, as we were just now saying, that I ought to return a deposit of arms or of anything else to one who asks for it when he is not in his right senses; and yet a deposit cannot be denied to be a debt.
Then when the person who asks me is not in his right mind I am by no means to make the return?
When Simonides said that the repayment of a debt was justice, he did not mean to include that case?
Certainly not; for he thinks that a friend ought always to do good to a friend and never evil.
You mean that the return of a deposit of gold which is to the injury of the receiver, if the two parties are friends, is not the repayment of a debt,—that is what you would imagine him to say?
And are enemies also to receive what we owe to them?
To be sure, he said, they are to receive what we owe them, and an enemy, as I take it, owes to an enemy that which is due or proper to him—that is to say, evil.
Simonides, then, after the manner of poets, would seem to have spoken darkly of the nature of justice; for he really meant to say that justice is the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a debt.
That must have been his meaning, he said.
By heaven! I replied; and if we asked him what due or proper thing is given by medicine, and to whom, what answer do you think that he would make to us?
He would surely reply that medicine gives drugs and meat and drink to human bodies.
And what due or proper thing is given by cookery, and to what?
Seasoning to food.
And what is that which justice gives, and to whom?
If, Socrates, we are to be guided at all by the analogy of the preceding instances, then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies.
That is his meaning then?
I think so.
And who is best able to do good to his friends and evil to his enemies in time of sickness?
Or when they are on a voyage, amid the perils of the sea?
And in what sort of actions or with a view to what result is the just man most able to do harm to his enemy and good to his friend?
In going to war against the one and in making alliances with the other.
But when a man is well, my dear Polemarchus, there is no need of a physician?
And he who is not on a voyage has no need of a pilot?
Then in time of peace justice will be of no use?
I am very far from thinking so.
You think that justice may be of use in peace as well as in war?
Like husbandry for the acquisition of corn?
Or like shoemaking for the acquisition of shoes,—that is what you mean?
And what similar use or power of acquisition has justice in time of peace?
In contracts, Socrates, justice is of use.
And by contracts you mean partnerships?
But is the just man or the skilful player a more useful and better partner at a game of draughts?
The skilful player.
And in the laying of bricks and stones is the just man a more useful or better partner than the builder?
Quite the reverse.
Then in what sort of partnership is the just man a better partner than the harp-player, as in playing the harp the harp-player is certainly a better partner than the just man?
In a money partnership.
Yes, Polemarchus, but surely not in the use of money; for you do not want a just man to be your counsellor in the purchase or sale of a horse; a man who is knowing about horses would be better for that, would he not?
And when you want to buy a ship, the shipwright or the pilot would be better?
Then what is that joint use of silver or gold in which the just man is to be preferred?
When you want a deposit to be kept safely.
You mean when money is not wanted, but allowed to lie?
That is to say, justice is useful when money is useless?
That is the inference.
And when you want to keep a pruning-hook safe, then justice is useful to the individual and to the state; but when you want to use it, then the art of the vine-dresser?
And when you want to keep a shield or a lyre, and not to use them, you would say that justice is useful; but when you want to use them, then the art of the soldier or of the musician?
And so of all other things;—justice is useful when they are useless, and useless when they are useful?
That is the inference.
Then justice is not good for much. But let us consider this further point: Is not he who can best strike a blow in a boxing match or in any kind of fighting best able to ward off a blow?
And he who is most skilful in preventing or escaping from a disease is best able to create one?
And he is the best guard of a camp who is best able to steal a march upon the enemy?
Then he who is a good keeper of anything is also a good thief?
That, I suppose, is to be inferred.
Then if the just man is good at keeping money, he is good at stealing it.
That is implied in the argument.
Then after all the just man has turned out to be a thief. And this is a lesson which I suspect you must have learnt out of Homer; for he, speaking of Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, who is a favourite of his, affirms that
'He was excellent above all men in theft and perjury.'
And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of theft; to be practised however 'for the good of friends and for the harm of enemies,'—that was what you were saying?
No, certainly not that, though I do not now know what I did say; but I still stand by the latter words.
Excerpted from The Republic by Plato, Benjamin Jowett. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of ContentsChapter 1 Introduction Part 2 Book I Chapter 3 Study Questions Part 4 Book II Chapter 5 Study Questions Part 6 Book III Chapter 7 Study Questions Part 8 Book IV Chapter 9 Study Questions Part 10 Book V Chapter 11 Study Questions Part 12 Book VI Chapter 13 Study Questions Part 14 Book VII Chapter 15 Study Questions Part 16 Book VIII Chapter 17 Study Questions Part 18 Book IX Chapter 19 Study Questions Part 20 Book X Chapter 21 Study Questions Part 22 Appendix 1: Cephalus and Polemarchus (Lysias, Against Eratosthenes) Part 23 Appendix 2: Athenian Imperialism (Thucydides, "The Melian Dialogue") Part 24 Appendix 3: The Ring of Gyges (Herodotus, Histories, Book I) Part 25 Appendix 4: The Status of Women (Xenophon, Oeconomicus) Part 26 Appendix 5: Athenian Constitutional History
Joe Sachs's translation of Plato's Republic is for students studying philosophy at the college level, as well as for the general reader interested in the major works of western civilization.