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Plato’s metaphor of the sailor and the ship paints the metaphor of what happens when the wrong type of people try to break free from their pre-determined mold. The sailors, representing the craftsman, try to mutiny and take control of the ship, the city, not realizing that the navigator, the guardian, should really be running the ship. Their appetites overcome them and their souls become contaminated with their greed and lust for power.
“Though the shipowner surpasses everyone on board in height and strength, he is rather deaf and likewise somewhat shortsighted, and his knowledge of seamanship is pretty much on the same level” (p. 168). The ship is rightfully his yet he possesses flaws that make his less than able to perform his duty properly. His lack makes him the target of his sailors’ bitterness.
“The sailors are quarreling with one another about the piloting, each supposing he ought to pilot, although he has never learned the art and can’t produce his teacher or prove there was a time when he was learning it.” The sailors argue bitterly over who they think would be the best pilot—each one thinking it should be himself. Each sailor is so selfish and proud to think that they should pilot the ship. Each sailor breaks the “one man, one art” rule by desiring to pilot.
“Besides this, they claim it isn’t even teachable and are ready to cut to pieces the man who says it is teachable.” The sailors have no knowledge of proper navigation and feel so threatened by those who claim that such a skill must be taught and honed. Those who would go against their selfish desires challenge the sailors.
“And they are always crowded around the shipowner himself, begging and doing everything so that he’ll turn the rudder over to them.” They are so desperate a turn at the rudder they go to such ridiculous lengths. These men go to such lengths to so fill their appetites.
“And sometimes, if they fail at persuasion and other men succeed at it, they either kill the others or throw them out of the ship.” These men are so overcome with desire that they lose all rational thought. Their desire is so poisonous that they go to such inhuman lengths. Their desire of that thing which they do not possess tears the ship apart.
“They praise and call ‘skilled sailor,’ ‘pilot,’ and ‘knower of the ships business’ the man who is clever at figuring out how they will get the rule, either by persuading or by forcing the shipowner, while the man who is not of this sort they blame as useless.” Not only are the sailors are inept at discerning who is the best sailor but they are also enchanted by the “skills” of the man who is the most sly or forceful in his coercion. Yet with as selfish and self-indulgent as these sailors are, it is a wonder at how long this “skilled sailor” will last as leader.
“They don’t realize that for the true pilot it is necessary to pay careful attention to year, seasons, heaven, stars, winds, and everything that’s proper to the art, if he is really going to be skilled a ruling a ship. And they don’t suppose it’s possible to acquire the art and practice of how one can get hold of the helm whether the others wish it or not, and at the same time to acquire the pilot’s skill.” The sailors are so corrupt with greed and desire that they do not even see the man who does posses the skill to lead is the one they least suspect. The true “guardian” of the ship is the one who exhibits the skills needed to lead. He is able to “pay careful attention to year, seasons, heaven, stars, winds, and everything that’s proper to the art”—he has the skills needed and required of his post, position, and art. The pure “stargazer” is truly the one to rule the ship because his skills place in that position. The sailor’s greed takes them over and blinds them to the idea that they job is to only be a sailor.

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