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In Book Ten of the Republic, the argument seems to be that the perfect city would be better off without poetry. Socrates and Glaucon discuss the concept of the decent man and how poetry, emotion, and calculation affect his soul. The ideas expressed in this discussion could very easily be mapped onto the experiences that Odysseus had while on Circe’s island. At this point in the Odyssey, he seems to be at his most vulnerable and is easily corrupted by the goddess. Here, Circe who could be seen as an imitative poet based on the description given in the Republic of being one who sways the soul of the decent man. The point that Glaucon and Socrates argue is whether or not the decent man will allow his emotions to rule or if he will be calculating in the face of adversity instead.
Based on the premise that the decent man “gets as his share some such chance as losing a son or something else for which he cares particularly” (Plato, 603e), Odysseus could be seen as a decent man. In the first part of the Odyssey, when Athena is pleading for Zeus to help Odysseus, Zeus explains that each man is given his share, and then “they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share” (Homer, 78, 39-40). It seems as though Socrates’ discussion of the decent man has to do with how the man would handle his share of chance; whether or not he would be able to look at the big picture correctly and react accordingly. When Odysseus’ voyage leads him to Circe’s island, the encounter seems to be testing his calculating nature. He starts objective, not taking part in the emotions of his crew since he sees no point in grief. Then, as he stays longer with Circe, his emotions and desires rule his judgment until his men plead for him to find a way home. Odysseus struggles to become objective once again, ending his encounter with Circe by not allowing the grief of others to affect himself.
This section of the Odyssey also goes on to talk about how Odysseus has ended up trapped on Circe’s island, “on a wave-washed island rising at the center of the seas…a dark wooded island” (Homer, 79, 60-61). Similarly in the Republic, Socrates poses the argument that the decent man would be more inclined to hold himself together in the presence of “his peers, or when he is alone by himself in a deserted place” (Plato, 604a). The deserted place for Odysseus would be Circe’s island, since it is absent of men. While on her island, he does prove Glaucon and Socrates’ point correct, that the decent man would “fight the pain” with his peers and would “do many things he would not choose to have anyone see him do” in private. For Odysseus, his encounter with Circe could be analogous with the decent man’s encounter with an imitative poet. Circe inspires him to give into his desires to stay with her, to escape his pain, and he ultimately feels safe enough to express his pain with her rather than publicly to his men.
Circe falls into the role of an imitative poet almost perfectly as it is described in the Republic, “because he awakens this part of the soul and nourishes it, and, by making it strong, destroys the calculating part” (Plato, 605b). This is what she does to Odysseus as she convinces him to remain with her for what is assumed to be over a year’s time. Circe is known for her witchcraft, and the power that she seems to hold over men. However, in order to convince Odysseus as an imitative poet, since she does not transform into a beast she has to imitate another form, which in this case could be interpreted as nature. On the other hand, she could be acting in a similar way as the puppeteers in the image of the cave. Since her power over the men is primarily through witchcraft, Circe could be tied to Socrates’ argument that “shadow painting, and puppeteering, and many other tricks of the kind fall nothing short of wizardry” (Plato, 602d). If Circe were to be viewed as a kind of puppeteer, then the world that she has created for Odysseus and his men could be seen as a type of cave. She has controlled what they eat, wear, and how they are cared for, and it is only once Odysseus’ men plead him to leave that Odysseus becomes aware of the situation and becomes compelled to leave the cave, as if they were dragging him to the light outside.
As a leader, Odysseus has to be concerned with the concept of public actions versus private actions. He has to be strong for his men, so that that they continue to push on with him. Therefore, he has the option to act differently in private than he does in public with his men. When his men beg him to take them home, Odysseus narrates, “once I’d had my fill of tears and writhing there, at last I found the words” (Homer, 246, 549-550). He is able to completely fall apart in the presence of Circe, who manipulates his emotions, finally gain control of his heart again, and pull himself together for his men. After this private emotional response, Odysseus goes to his men and tells them that Circe has told him their journey is not yet over. Their reaction evokes disapproval with Odysseus, “they sank down on the ground, moaning, tore their hair.” Odysseus, having regained his clear headed and calculating manner continues, “but it gained us nothing—what good can come of grief?” (Homer, 248, 624-625).
Odysseus seems to have gone through the process that Socrates describes in the Republic as “deliberation.” He is able to “turn as quickly as possible to curing and setting aright what has fallen and is sick, doing away with lament by medicine” (Plato, 604d). It seems as though going into the encounter with Circe, Odysseus was clear headed and rational, not affected by the public emotions of his men. He says, “they burst into cries, wailing, streaming live tears that gained us nothing—what good can come of grief?” (Homer, 236, 220-221). However, it is not clear whether Odysseus wished to remain with Circe or was compelled. Since Hermes tells Odysseus, “she’ll be powerless to bewitch you, even so—this magic herb I give will fight her spells” (Homer, 239, 322-323), it is possible that Odysseus chose to stay with Circe. His conscience decision to stay would explain his reasoning to generally only react emotionally while in the private presence of Circe. Only a few times does he allow his emotions to consume him, by joining his men in tears. On the other hand, if he were compelled to remain with Circe this would also explain his need to only express emotion with her, as she would be the one influencing him to only feel safe with her.
While on Circe’s island there are multiple forces affecting Odysseus’ judgment. He brings up his sadness to Circe, but more often falls into the moment with her and forgets the consequences of his actions while with her. This could be related to Socrates’ point that the man in conflict over public versus private actions could be said to have “two things in him” (Plato, 603b). These two things for Odysseus would be his desire to return home and his desire to stay with Circe. It seems as though there has to be a balance between the two forces. Perhaps a public influence is needed to keep him going, to force him to continue, and to focus on the end goal of returning home no matter what challenge is put in front of him. The other force would therefore be the emotional challenge itself, his temptation to give into his feelings of anguish, heartache, sickness, and grief. In a sense, his travels could mimic his battle with these two forces. Showing how he is eventually able to conquer his heart and allow calculation and reason to rule in the presence of the suitors when he does eventually return home.
In the beginning of Chapter 20 in the Odyssey, Odysseus is depicted planning the death of the suitors who have wronged him. “The master’s anger rose inside his chest, torn in thought, debating, head and heart—should he up and rush them, kill them one and all or let them rut with their lovers one last time?” (Homer, 410, 11-14). Homer illustrates the conflict between the calculating and desiring parts of the soul by illustrating Odysseus, an epic hero, in turmoil. Odysseus, often called wise, calms his heart and continues to calculate the best way to make the suitors pay for what they have done. He is able to remedy the sickness through the “deliberation” process again here. When the Republic brings up the concept of self-control in moderation of the desiring part of the soul, this passage of the Homeric text is referenced twice.
The first reference of Odysseus, and his calculating nature, appears in the Republic on page 68, Book Three, section 390d. Here, Socrates and Adeimantus are discussing moderation and what would best serve as examples to young men on how to proceed with a moderate soul. In 390c, Socrates discusses what examples would not be beneficial to the youth, even from the example of the wisest men, he instructs that they still need to be careful in which examples they choose. The story of how Odysseus was able to control his heart when all he desired was to harm the suitors, seems to be the first that Socrates finds suitable to use as an appropriate example. “Smiting his breast, he reproached his heart with word. Endure, heart; you have endured worse before” (Plato, 390d). Here Odysseus is being used to exemplify how a man should act in the face of so much adversity. He is able to calm his desire to rashly slaughter the suitors and instead calculates and formulates a plan in order to regain his authority strategically. It is interesting to note that the example of Odysseus also comes after the pair has established that even some examples from the gods, such as Zeus’ seemingly uncontrollable lust and Hephaestus’ rage towards Ares, are not suitable to teach young men.
The second time the passage from the Odyssey is mentioned in the Republic is on page 120, Book Four, section 441b. Here Socrates and Glaucon are mapping out the different parts of the soul into a calculating, desiring, and potentially spirited part. Socrates uses the passage from the Odyssey to reinforce the idea that there must be a spirited part because Odysseus is able to turn away from his own spirited nature for a mind of reason. “He smote his breast and reproached his heart with word…” (Plato, 441b). Socrates asserts the argument that the calculating, desiring, and spirited parts of the soul are most easily seen in beasts before he turns to the Homeric passage. This is an interesting point to note considering that the passage also talks about beasts in relation to Odysseus.
At this point in the Odyssey, Odysseus has just returned home and finds his former home in disarray because of the suitors’ actions. Homer depicts this internal conflict with bestial references that accurately convey to the audience the forces that are fighting within Odysseus. “The heart inside him growled low with rage, as a bitch mounting over her weak, defenseless puppies growls, facing a stranger, bristling for a showdown—so he growled from his depths” (Homer, 411, 15-18). The animal reference here not only serves to support the argument Socrates is making about the basic nature of the soul, but it also brings up the dog references that were previously made in the Republic. In Book Two of the Republic, Socrates and Glaucon are discussing the levels of the people in the city. When discussing the guardian class, Socrates and Glaucon bring up the idea of noble dogs, who are gentle to those they know and aggressive towards those that they do not know. “You know, of course, that by nature the disposition of noble dogs is to be as gentle as can be with their familiars and people they know and the opposite with those they don’t know” (Plato, 375e). Comparing the idea of how a dog reacts with how a proper guardian should react seems to be making the idea of the well-ordered soul completely bestial. Then, Socrates adds that the proper guardian not only needs these qualities, but also the nature of the philosopher. Therefore, his argument here is that the perfect guardian would have the instinctual nature of a loyal dog with the calculating and reasoning nature of the philosopher. A person in this position should therefore be able to compartmentalize emotion and rule the “desires, pains, and pleasures in the soul” (Plato, 606d) that should be controlled and not allowed to rule in the self.
Odysseus falls into this model by being known throughout ancient works as a wise man and one of the wisest men in epics. Homer’s example is used to assert that Odysseus’ nature was similar to that of a “bitch mounting over her weak, defenseless puppies” (Homer, 411, 16). The student then assumes that both an intuitive nature of knowing your friends and your enemies and a ruling reasoning and calculating part of your soul are needed in order to become a better person. Odysseus then becomes the model, showing students the perfect nature of reason and calculation ruling over desire and impulse. His example allows the students to learn what is considered the most perfect soul, and how to conduct ones self according to these standards.
Socrates’ use of Odysseus’ soul as a model in these specific sections of the Republic accurately depicts for the audience what is seen as achieving a well ordered soul. These sections are vital, since they discuss both moderation and calculating natures of the person so that desires and irrational decisions do not rule. Similarly, the inference that Plato is conveying with the use of Odysseus in book ten implies that Odysseus is the example whom the young men of the perfect city should follow in order to be considered close to a “decent man.” Therefore, one could conclude that poetry and poetic example should not be expelled from the city but rather used in moderation for the betterment of the soul.

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