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After paying close attention to and considering what can be said about the gods, Hades, and heroes, the Republic has yet to consider speeches made about human beings. Socrates explains in Book III that “speeches must be made about human beings when we find out what sort of a thing justice is and how by nature profits the man who possesses it” (392c). However, it is while reading Book IV that we discover that justice was in front of us the entire time. Our new definition of justice turns out to be Socrates’s original opinion which was to keep one man to one art. What we understand more fully now is that each man in the city must mind his business and should not practice any other functions in the city besides his own. This definition of justice extends to all parts of the city and includes every craftsman, auxiliary, and guardian. Now that we know what justice is and where it appears in the city, we can establish what can be said about human beings and how it must be said.

Knowing that tales about human beings are critical to the rearing and education of the city, we have to conclude that they will be discussed sometime in the future or have possibly already been considered. However, so far it appears The Republic never formally reconsiders speeches made about human beings. Even Socrates seems to postpone and put an “end of what has to do with speeches” until justice is established (392c). Yet Socrates clearly talks about narratives, comedies, tragedies, epic poetry, and more specifically the Myth of the Metals. What are comedies and tragedies besides stories about human beings? Through these forms of literature, Socrates covertly talks about justice and its implications even before the others have a chance to discover justice for themselves. This must mean that Adeimantus mistakenly believes Socrates is literally discussing “whether we’ll admit tragedy and comedy into the city or not”, but as Socrates points out there is “perhaps something still more than this” they are considering (394d). It appears that Socrates is not just considering style but  more importantly he is secretly considering the kinds of speeches about human beings.

As Socrates considers every type of speech made about human beings, he must be sure they adhere to every parameter justice puts in place. Since justice stresses that each man should only be responsible for one art, it appears that the only allowable speeches about human beings must also stress this point. For instance, Socrates points out that the guardians should only hear stories that are “appropriate to them from childhood” and are about “men who are courageous, moderate, holy free, and everything of the sort” (395c). Other speeches for the different levels of the city must surely be similar in this respect. It will follow that tradesmen will only hear honorable stories of tradesmen, and never will a shoemaker hear about a shoemaker who was also a tradesman. Since each man should only practice one thing, he will only hear speeches like the Myth of the Metals which reinforce that each man should mind his own business. This is the one unbreakable theme that speeches about human beings will have to follow if they are to be allowed into the city.

As Socrates puts it, “after this, I suppose, style must be considered, and then we’ll have made a complete consideration of what must be said and how it must be said” (392c). Style is the difference between imitation and narration. Socrates uses the Illiad as an example of their differences. When Homer uses his own voice to “give all the speeches and also what comes between the speeches”, this is when he is narrating events (393b). When Homer “speaks as though he himself were Chryses and tries as hard as he can to make is seem to us that it’s not Homer speaking”, this is when he is imitating (393a). Because imitation leads farther and farther from the truth, at what point does it spell disaster for those imitating? After consideration, imitation begins to look dangerous to Socrates, and he is worried whether to allow poets to use imitation, let them imitate only certain things, or whether to let them imitate at all.

To tackle this issue, Socrates first determines that poets should only stick to writing either comedy or tragedy because “the same men aren’t capable of producing good imitations in both at the same time” (395a). Even the actors are unable to perform in both types of plays for the same reason. According to our definition of justice, each man can only be the best at one thing, and it’s when he believes he can do many things that injustice occurs. With this to consider, guardians are held to even stricter guidelines than normal craftsmen since they are responsible for the whole city, and Socrates does not want them to imitate anything shameful “so that they won’t get a taste for the being from its imitation” (395c). This means they could not perform in either tragedies or comedies since neither attain attributes suitable for guardianship. Tragedies are full of mourning and weeping, and earlier in Book III, Socrates established that the “wailing of renowned men” would be given to women; “thus the men we say we are rearing for guardianship of the country won’t be able to stand doing things similar to those such people do” (387e-388a). Furthermore, guardians could not participate in comedies especially since they “shouldn’t be lovers of laughter either” (388e). It can be determined that any combination of narration and imitation is not strictly forbidden; however, there are still limitations. First, poets and actors should only stick to one genre of imitation, and second, the guardians cannot imitate anyone whom they should not emulate.

From Socrates’s own words, we see how speeches about human beings were discreetly addressed, and it was right under our noses this whole time. After finding justice, we were able to go back and see how justice affected what was allowed to be said and how it could be said. Through our readings, we often forget that the Republic is also a speech, and that we too should be focusing on what it is saying and how it is said. The character of Socrates is Homeric in his dialogue in the sense that he is narrating the story while also imitating the other characters. However, Plato is the real author of the Republic, and it seems like he is imitating the Socrates he once knew in order to tell his story and get his own point across. The relationship between Plato and the character Socrates is similar to that of Socrates and the poets within the city: the author controls who is talking, what he is saying, and how he says it.

 

20 Responses to “Speeches About Human Beings”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    There are several quite interesting points raised here. I think you are right to point out that the Republic is a narrated speech. In fact, it is the Republic–rather than the Apology–which is as a result the longest speech of Socrates in the Platonic corpus. So the whole thing is a speech about human beings, perhaps.

    The problems with tragedies and comedies are key, I think. I think your point about tragedy is complicated by the fact that women can be guardians. Regarding comedy, I think you are largely right, and it is interesting to note (unless I am mistaken) that Socrates never laughs in the Republic. I am not sure he ever laughs in Plato anywhere. But Glaucon often laughs in the Republic (e.g., 451b), and perhaps that says something about either his limitation or his potential. I also think you are right to suggest that Socrates is up to something more than tragedies and comedies in the literal sense at 394d; what that is remains to be seen, perhaps.

    Imitation will rear its head with a vengeance in Book 10, so I’ll table my comments on it for now.

    KH

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