The Main Event
In my classics course that I am required to take, I was asked to write a paper based on the following question.
In the Republic Socrates (Plato) is severely critical of Greek literature and mythology and proposes a system of censorship in the ideal city.
Choose ONE of the following works and write an essay in which you set forth the specific ways in which Socrates (Plato) would have criticized it and the specific ways in which the author would have defended his poem or play.
You may present the arguments in the form of a dialogue between Sokrates/Plato and the poets.
I chose Homer...here goes.
Homer vs. Socrates: The Main Event
Socrates: My dear Homer, let me begin thusly: I myself have an esteem for your canon of poetry that amounts to a love that outshines the heavens. Please do not mistake our request for your presence as an intimation of anything less than our highest regard for you and your work.
Homer: You have allayed my fears, Socrates. For when men such as ourselves are brought before an audience, it can scarcely be divined at first glance whether he is to be lauded or condemned.
Socrates: Have no fear. However, we have made it our duty lately to discuss the planning of a great new city. One that will be long remembered after Athens has gone with the Siroccan wind. To that end we must create a new people to inhabit our new city, and this new people must be educated as to their roles and place in such a society. The topic we have recently hit upon is the education of the children. It is our opinion that the literature that we expose to budding new minds is of the utmost importance and must be controlled most rigidly. Now, what literature are most children exposed to at an early age, do you think?
Homer: Why, the tales of great feats of men and gods, Socrates. For fear of being called immodest, my friend, I must say tales like mine.
Socrates: My thoughts exactly. But the problem that we face is simple. Such tales, while well understood by adults as allegorical, cannot be so easily understood by children, and therefore they come under the misapprehension that gods, as well as men, are a quarrelsome lot, and are quick to temper, as well as to blows. Apart from the stories of The Titans and the Olympians, where son kills father, there is your tale of Ilium. Of Paris and Helen in their adulterous affair that begins a war. Of Achilles, who forsakes duty because of a pride that eventually kills the mighty Patroklos. The gods plot one against the other, sometimes fighting openly amongst themselves in Olympus and on earth, then other times fighting through their manipulation of human men and women. Do you not see how the youth of our new city would be so wholly corrupted by the ease with which gods and men come to conflict and treachery?
Homer: Socrates, I am surprised at you! Do you honestly mean to tell me that my tales of gods and men are the only way that the youth of your new most excellent city might be exposed to the inner workings of human nature? Do these themes of betrayal and redemption begin and end with me? Surely not, if these children do not hear such things from my work, they will sure see them in the hearts and minds, as well as the actions of those around them. For however you plan to guard them from such things, they will surely find them out, for they are made as all men are, with frailties and follies, wants and needs. At the very least they receive from my tales a sense that while such events and states exist, they serve a purpose higher than what they receive or lose in the moment. They will, in their later years, witness such behavior among men of their own kind, and, having been exposed to it first from my tales, remember the nobility that railed against such pettiness and immorality. And remember, my dear Socrates, How does one know noble men if he cannot compare them to ignoble men?
Socrates: As a poet, you are a marvel, but as an educator and a judge of men, I fear that you lack a great deal. Men are as you claim them to be because they are corrupted. Would you not say that it is natural for men to live in a society?
Homer: Of course I would.
Socrates: Would you not also say that nature, in itself, is inherently good?
Homer: Again, I would agree with you most wholeheartedly.
Socrates: Then perpend, if you will. If nature is good, and cannot be evil, and it is natural for men to live in a society, then this society must not include evil. Your logic is thus shattered, my dear poet. We can easily instruct a new generation of people to understand that quarrel and conflict among one another is not to be taken lightly, but to be avoided at all costs, then we will become as nature intended us.
Homer: By your logic, my dear Socrates, I must indeed bow to your decree.
Socrates: Do not think, my poet, that there will be no place for you in the new world that we seek to create. That is quite far from the truth. Tales and legends such as yours, as well as such drama that has come from men such as Sophocles, Euripedes and others their ilk will become available, but only under the auspices of the mystery cult. These will become available only to a select few and at a very high cost of sacrifice. There is much to learn from them, but I am afraid we cannot afford the cost of such works becoming available to our people under the wrong circumstances.