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Throughout The Republic, the idea of philosophers being the supremely knowledgeable members of society is presented by Homer and further supported by Socrates. There is no doubt about the intellectual power that philosophers in the ideal city possess. However, in Book X, Glaucon asks Socrates to explain the idea of imitation and how it so negatively affects them as well as the lives of the people in their city. Not only does Socrates explain to Glaucon in full what imitation is and how it impacts knowledge, he also uses the example of poets in their society to support his thesis. Socrates goes so far as to ban poetry from their city because of his distrust for poets and his disbelief of their claim to knowledge of the truth and physical reality.

Socrates is irked by the fact that poets do not see reality as all other beings are able. He claims that poets see only ideas and phantom figures, not what actually exists in the physical world. They only are able to see limited figures and shapes because they are said to not possess the adequate level of knowledge to see beyond what little they do know. “For it is necessary that the good poet, if he is going to make fair poems about the things his poetry concerns, be in possession of knowledge when he makes his poems or not be able to make them. Hence, we must consider whether those who tell us this have encountered these imitators and have been deceived […]” (X, 598e). Poetry should rightfully be banished according to Socrates because no poet should be allowed to write on subjects or ideas of which he has no knowledge or experience. Fictional writing, in this case, is blasphemous and would corrupt the people of the city to their core. Because of this internal corruption, Socrates also discusses the idea of the soul and the negativity such produced poetry would have on the mind and soul. Not only would it fill the minds of the innocent with idea of gluttony, envy, greed, and passion, it would completely destroy the morality of a man, beginning within the very core of his being- the soul. “However, we haven’t yet made the greatest accusation against imitation. For the fact that it succeeds in maiming even the decent men, except for the certain rare few, is surely quite terrible,” (X, 605c). Socrates also maintains that the imitative poet ruins the soul of the man by putting ideas and thoughts into his head that he cannot reach or obtain, at the very least in a reasonable manner. It is the poets’ lack of knowledge that ruins the decent man, and only very few are left unaffected by the foolishness of poets; these men are the philosophers.

The idea of justice, which has been argued throughout the majority of The Republic, returns once more in Book X. Socrates proves that there is justice in banning poets from their city and explains why it is necessary for the intellectual health and mental state of the men. “And thus we should at last be justified in not admitting him [the poet] into a city that is going to be under good laws […]  Similarly, we shall say the imitative poet produces a bad regime in the soul of each private man by making phantoms that are very far removed from the truth and by gratifying the soul’s foolish part […]” (X, 605b). Glaucon and Socrates are willing to admit the foolishness of the soul and the ease and ability for the soul to become swayed and corrupt in a somewhat elementary manner. And it is because of this that they are so untrusting of the fantastical ideas and visions of the unknowledgeable poets. Men are imperfect beings, but this means that the temptations of the world must be kept at an even greater distance so as to not ruin the purity and status of the great and ideal city. Any man or art, which could potentially destroy the souls of the citizens, must not enter the city or be made available to the men. “And as for sex and spiritedness too, and for all the desires, pains, and pleasures in the soul that we say follow all our action, poetic imitation produces similar results in us,” (X, 606d). The ideas that poetry produces cause certain mental and physical reactions in the men that are very similar to that of breaking a limb, having sex, or eating a large meal. While none of these things are banned from the city, they are very regulated by the government and there are stipulations put in place so that the emotions and desires felt during such activities is limited and repressed. With poetry and words on paper, there are no limits and no regulations to hamper the emotions and feelings surging through their audience, even though these words are nothing but decorated ideas and imagery, which is non-existent and lacking in truth.

Socrates and Glaucon did an excellent job of breaking down poetry, thoroughly discussing the idea of imitation, and how it so negatively affects their new city, as well as maintaining their reasons for not indulging in poems or the act of creating poetry as an ‘art’. There is temptation everywhere for the men of the ideal city and they must try to avoid what they can. “[…] so we mustn’t be tempted by honor or money or any ruling office, or for that matter, poetry, into thinking it it’s worthwhile to neglect justice and the rest of virtue,” (X, 608b). Nothing in the ideal city is worth risking justice and virtue, two of the most steadfast and important qualities of the ideal city and its people. There is nothing virtuous about poetry, and justice which Socrates argued in favor of throughout the entire Republic, can only exist in a city where poets are not. Philosophers are the men who hold real knowledge, not just ideas. The poets are incapable of knowing the difference between what is real and physical, and what is fake and an imitation of the physical. Because of their stunted knowledge and lack of truth, there is not a place for them in the ideal city.

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