Of the many excellences which I perceive in the order of our State, there
is none which upon reflection pleases me better than the rule about poetry.
To what do you refer?
To the rejection of imitative poetry, which certainly ought not to be
received; as I see far more clearly now that the parts of the soul have
What do you mean?
Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to
the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe--but I do not mind
saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the
understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature
is the only antidote to them.
Explain the purport of your remark.
Well, I will tell you, although I have always from my earliest youth had an
awe and love of Homer, which even now makes the words falter on my lips,
for he is the great captain and teacher of the whole of that charming
tragic company; but a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth, and
therefore I will speak out.
Very good, he said.
Listen to me then, or rather, answer me.
Put your question.
Can you tell me what imitation is? for I really do not know.
A likely thing, then, that I should know.
Why not? for the duller eye may often see a thing sooner than the keener.
Very true, he said; but in your presence, even if I had any faint notion, I
could not muster courage to utter it. Will you enquire yourself?
Well then, shall we begin the enquiry in our usual manner: Whenever a
number of individuals have a common name, we assume them to have also a
corresponding idea or form:--do you understand me?
Let us take any common instance; there are beds and tables in the world--
plenty of them, are there not?
But there are only two ideas or forms of them--one the idea of a bed, the
other of a table.
And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a table for our
use, in accordance with the idea--that is our way of speaking in this and
similar instances--but no artificer makes the ideas themselves: how could
And there is another artist,--I should like to know what you would say of
Who is he?
One who is the maker of all the works of all other workmen.
What an extraordinary man!
Wait a little, and there will be more reason for your saying so. For this
is he who is able to make not only vessels of every kind, but plants and
animals, himself and all other things--the earth and heaven, and the things
which are in heaven or under the earth; he makes the gods also.
He must be a wizard and no mistake.
Oh! you are incredulous, are you? Do you mean that there is no such maker
or creator, or that in one sense there might be a maker of all these things
but in another not? Do you see that there is a way in which you could make
them all yourself?
An easy way enough; or rather, there are many ways in which the feat might
be quickly and easily accomplished, none quicker than that of turning a
mirror round and round--you would soon enough make the sun and the heavens,
and the earth and yourself, and other animals and plants, and all the other
things of which we were just now speaking, in the mirror.
Yes, he said; but they would be appearances only.
Very good, I said, you are coming to the point now. And the painter too
is, as I conceive, just such another--a creator of appearances, is he not?
But then I suppose you will say that what he creates is untrue. And yet
there is a sense in which the painter also creates a bed?
Yes, he said, but not a real bed.
And what of the maker of the bed? were you not saying that he too makes,
not the idea which, according to our view, is the essence of the bed, but
only a particular bed?
Yes, I did.
Then if he does not make that which exists he cannot make true existence,
but only some semblance of existence; and if any one were to say that the
work of the maker of the bed, or of any other workman, has real existence,
he could hardly be supposed to be speaking the truth.
At any rate, he replied, philosophers would say that he was not speaking
No wonder, then, that his work too is an indistinct expression of truth.
Suppose now that by the light of the examples just offered we enquire who
this imitator is?
If you please.
Well then, here are three beds: one existing in nature, which is made by
God, as I think that we may say--for no one else can be the maker?
There is another which is the work of the carpenter?
And the work of the painter is a third?
Beds, then, are of three kinds, and there are three artists who superintend
them: God, the maker of the bed, and the painter?
Yes, there are three of them.
God, whether from choice or from necessity, made one bed in nature and one
only; two or more such ideal beds neither ever have been nor ever will be
made by God.
Why is that?
Because even if He had made but two, a third would still appear behind them
which both of them would have for their idea, and that would be the ideal
bed and not the two others.
Very true, he said.
God knew this, and He desired to be the real maker of a real bed, not a
particular maker of a particular bed, and therefore He created a bed which
is essentially and by nature one only.
So we believe.
Shall we, then, speak of Him as the natural author or maker of the bed?
Yes, he replied; inasmuch as by the natural process of creation He is the
author of this and of all other things.
And what shall we say of the carpenter--is not he also the maker of the
But would you call the painter a creator and maker?
Yet if he is not the maker, what is he in relation to the bed?
I think, he said, that we may fairly designate him as the imitator of that
which the others make.
Good, I said; then you call him who is third in the descent from nature an
Certainly, he said.
And the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other
imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth?
That appears to be so.
Then about the imitator we are agreed. And what about the painter?--I
would like to know whether he may be thought to imitate that which
originally exists in nature, or only the creations of artists?
As they are or as they appear? you have still to determine this.
What do you mean?
I mean, that you may look at a bed from different points of view, obliquely
or directly or from any other point of view, and the bed will appear
different, but there is no difference in reality. And the same of all
Yes, he said, the difference is only apparent.
Now let me ask you another question: Which is the art of painting designed
to be--an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear--of appearance
or of reality?
Then the imitator, I said, is a long way off the truth, and can do all
things because he lightly touches on a small part of them, and that part an
image. For example: A painter will paint a cobbler, carpenter, or any
other artist, though he knows nothing of their arts; and, if he is a good
artist, he may deceive children or simple persons, when he shows them his
picture of a carpenter from a distance, and they will fancy that they are
looking at a real carpenter.
And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man who knows all the
arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a
higher degree of accuracy than any other man--whoever tells us this, I
think that we can only imagine him to be a simple creature who is likely to
have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought
all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyse the nature of
knowledge and ignorance and imitation.
And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians, and Homer, who is
at their head, know all the arts and all things human, virtue as well as
vice, and divine things too, for that the good poet cannot compose well
unless he knows his subject, and that he who has not this knowledge can
never be a poet, we ought to consider whether here also there may not be a
similar illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imitators and been
deceived by them; they may not have remembered when they saw their works
that these were but imitations thrice removed from the truth, and could
easily be made without any knowledge of the truth, because they are
appearances only and not realities? Or, after all, they may be in the
right, and poets do really know the things about which they seem to the
many to speak so well?
The question, he said, should by all means be considered.
Now do you suppose that if a person were able to make the original as well
as the image, he would seriously devote himself to the image-making branch?
Would he allow imitation to be the ruling principle of his life, as if he
had nothing higher in him?
I should say not.
The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be interested in
realities and not in imitations; and would desire to leave as memorials of
himself works many and fair; and, instead of being the author of encomiums,
he would prefer to be the theme of them.
Yes, he said, that would be to him a source of much greater honour and
Then, I said, we must put a question to Homer; not about medicine, or any
of the arts to which his poems only incidentally refer: we are not going
to ask him, or any other poet, whether he has cured patients like
Asclepius, or left behind him a school of medicine such as the Asclepiads
were, or whether he only talks about medicine and other arts at second-
hand; but we have a right to know respecting military tactics, politics,
education, which are the chiefest and noblest subjects of his poems, and we
may fairly ask him about them. 'Friend Homer,' then we say to him, 'if you
are only in the second remove from truth in what you say of virtue, and not
in the third--not an image maker or imitator--and if you are able to
discern what pursuits make men better or worse in private or public life,
tell us what State was ever better governed by your help? The good order
of Lacedaemon is due to Lycurgus, and many other cities great and small
have been similarly benefited by others; but who says that you have been a
good legislator to them and have done them any good? Italy and Sicily
boast of Charondas, and there is Solon who is renowned among us; but what
city has anything to say about you?' Is there any city which he might
I think not, said Glaucon; not even the Homerids themselves pretend that he
was a legislator.
Well, but is there any war on record which was carried on successfully by
him, or aided by his counsels, when he was alive?
There is not.
Or is there any invention of his, applicable to the arts or to human life,
such as Thales the Milesian or Anacharsis the Scythian, and other ingenious
men have conceived, which is attributed to him?
There is absolutely nothing of the kind.
But, if Homer never did any public service, was he privately a guide or
teacher of any? Had he in his lifetime friends who loved to associate with
him, and who handed down to posterity an Homeric way of life, such as was
established by Pythagoras who was so greatly beloved for his wisdom, and
whose followers are to this day quite celebrated for the order which was
named after him?
Nothing of the kind is recorded of him. For surely, Socrates, Creophylus,
the companion of Homer, that child of flesh, whose name always makes us
laugh, might be more justly ridiculed for his stupidity, if, as is said,
Homer was greatly neglected by him and others in his own day when he was
Yes, I replied, that is the tradition. But can you imagine, Glaucon, that
if Homer had really been able to educate and improve mankind--if he had
possessed knowledge and not been a mere imitator--can you imagine, I say,
that he would not have had many followers, and been honoured and loved by
them? Protagoras of Abdera, and Prodicus of Ceos, and a host of others,
have only to whisper to their contemporaries: 'You will never be able to
manage either your own house or your own State until you appoint us to be
your ministers of education'--and this ingenious device of theirs has such
an effect in making men love them that their companions all but carry them
about on their shoulders. And is it conceivable that the contemporaries of
Homer, or again of Hesiod, would have allowed either of them to go about as
rhapsodists, if they had really been able to make mankind virtuous? Would
they not have been as unwilling to part with them as with gold, and have
compelled them to stay at home with them? Or, if the master would not
stay, then the disciples would have followed him about everywhere, until
they had got education enough?
Yes, Socrates, that, I think, is quite true.
Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals, beginning with
Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of virtue and the like, but the
truth they never reach? The poet is like a painter who, as we have already
observed, will make a likeness of a cobbler though he understands nothing
of cobbling; and his picture is good enough for those who know no more than
he does, and judge only by colours and figures.
In like manner the poet with his words and phrases may be said to lay on
the colours of the several arts, himself understanding their nature only
enough to imitate them; and other people, who are as ignorant as he is, and
judge only from his words, imagine that if he speaks of cobbling, or of
military tactics, or of anything else, in metre and harmony and rhythm, he
speaks very well--such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by
nature have. And I think that you must have observed again and again what
a poor appearance the tales of poets make when stripped of the colours
which music puts upon them, and recited in simple prose.
Yes, he said.
They are like faces which were never really beautiful, but only blooming;
and now the bloom of youth has passed away from them?
Here is another point: The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of
true existence; he knows appearances only. Am I not right?
Then let us have a clear understanding, and not be satisfied with half an
Of the painter we say that he will paint reins, and he will paint a bit?
And the worker in leather and brass will make them?
But does the painter know the right form of the bit and reins? Nay, hardly
even the workers in brass and leather who make them; only the horseman who
knows how to use them--he knows their right form.
And may we not say the same of all things?
That there are three arts which are concerned with all things: one which
uses, another which makes, a third which imitates them?
And the excellence or beauty or truth of every structure, animate or
inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to the use for which
nature or the artist has intended them.
Then the user of them must have the greatest experience of them, and he
must indicate to the maker the good or bad qualities which develop
themselves in use; for example, the flute-player will tell the flute-maker
which of his flutes is satisfactory to the performer; he will tell him how
he ought to make them, and the other will attend to his instructions?
The one knows and therefore speaks with authority about the goodness and
badness of flutes, while the other, confiding in him, will do what he is
told by him?
The instrument is the same, but about the excellence or badness of it the
maker will only attain to a correct belief; and this he will gain from him
who knows, by talking to him and being compelled to hear what he has to
say, whereas the user will have knowledge?
But will the imitator have either? Will he know from use whether or no his
drawing is correct or beautiful? or will he have right opinion from being
compelled to associate with another who knows and gives him instructions
about what he should draw?
Then he will no more have true opinion than he will have knowledge about
the goodness or badness of his imitations?
I suppose not.
The imitative artist will be in a brilliant state of intelligence about his
Nay, very much the reverse.
And still he will go on imitating without knowing what makes a thing good
or bad, and may be expected therefore to imitate only that which appears to
be good to the ignorant multitude?
Thus far then we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge
worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or
sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in Iambic or in Heroic
verse, are imitators in the highest degree?
And now tell me, I conjure you, has not imitation been shown by us to be
concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth?
And what is the faculty in man to which imitation is addressed?
What do you mean?
I will explain: The body which is large when seen near, appears small when
seen at a distance?
And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and
crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the
illusion about colours to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of
confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human
mind on which the art of conjuring and of deceiving by light and shadow and
other ingenious devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic.
And the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to the rescue of
the human understanding--there is the beauty of them--and the apparent
greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer have the mastery over us,
but give way before calculation and measure and weight?
And this, surely, must be the work of the calculating and rational
principle in the soul?
To be sure.
And when this principle measures and certifies that some things are equal,
or that some are greater or less than others, there occurs an apparent
But were we not saying that such a contradiction is impossible--the same
faculty cannot have contrary opinions at the same time about the same
Then that part of the soul which has an opinion contrary to measure is not
the same with that which has an opinion in accordance with measure?
And the better part of the soul is likely to be that which trusts to
measure and calculation?
And that which is opposed to them is one of the inferior principles of the
This was the conclusion at which I was seeking to arrive when I said that
painting or drawing, and imitation in general, when doing their own proper
work, are far removed from truth, and the companions and friends and
associates of a principle within us which is equally removed from reason,
and that they have no true or healthy aim.
The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and has inferior
And is this confined to the sight only, or does it extend to the hearing
also, relating in fact to what we term poetry?
Probably the same would be true of poetry.
Do not rely, I said, on a probability derived from the analogy of painting;
but let us examine further and see whether the faculty with which poetical
imitation is concerned is good or bad.
By all means.
We may state the question thus:--Imitation imitates the actions of men,
whether voluntary or involuntary, on which, as they imagine, a good or bad
result has ensued, and they rejoice or sorrow accordingly. Is there
No, there is nothing else.
But in all this variety of circumstances is the man at unity with himself--
or rather, as in the instance of sight there was confusion and opposition
in his opinions about the same things, so here also is there not strife and
inconsistency in his life? Though I need hardly raise the question again,
for I remember that all this has been already admitted; and the soul has
been acknowledged by us to be full of these and ten thousand similar
oppositions occurring at the same moment?
And we were right, he said.
Yes, I said, thus far we were right; but there was an omission which must
now be supplied.
What was the omission?
Were we not saying that a good man, who has the misfortune to lose his son
or anything else which is most dear to him, will bear the loss with more
equanimity than another?
But will he have no sorrow, or shall we say that although he cannot help
sorrowing, he will moderate his sorrow?
The latter, he said, is the truer statement.
Tell me: will he be more likely to struggle and hold out against his
sorrow when he is seen by his equals, or when he is alone?
It will make a great difference whether he is seen or not.
When he is by himself he will not mind saying or doing many things which he
would be ashamed of any one hearing or seeing him do?
There is a principle of law and reason in him which bids him resist, as
well as a feeling of his misfortune which is forcing him to indulge his
But when a man is drawn in two opposite directions, to and from the same
object, this, as we affirm, necessarily implies two distinct principles in
One of them is ready to follow the guidance of the law?
How do you mean?
The law would say that to be patient under suffering is best, and that we
should not give way to impatience, as there is no knowing whether such
things are good or evil; and nothing is gained by impatience; also, because
no human thing is of serious importance, and grief stands in the way of
that which at the moment is most required.
What is most required? he asked.
That we should take counsel about what has happened, and when the dice have
been thrown order our affairs in the way which reason deems best; not, like
children who have had a fall, keeping hold of the part struck and wasting
time in setting up a howl, but always accustoming the soul forthwith to
apply a remedy, raising up that which is sickly and fallen, banishing the
cry of sorrow by the healing art.
Yes, he said, that is the true way of meeting the attacks of fortune.
Yes, I said; and the higher principle is ready to follow this suggestion of
And the other principle, which inclines us to recollection of our troubles
and to lamentation, and can never have enough of them, we may call
irrational, useless, and cowardly?
Indeed, we may.
And does not the latter--I mean the rebellious principle--furnish a great
variety of materials for imitation? Whereas the wise and calm temperament,
being always nearly equable, is not easy to imitate or to appreciate when
imitated, especially at a public festival when a promiscuous crowd is
assembled in a theatre. For the feeling represented is one to which they
Then the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by nature made,
nor is his art intended, to please or to affect the rational principle in
the soul; but he will prefer the passionate and fitful temper, which is
And now we may fairly take him and place him by the side of the painter,
for he is like him in two ways: first, inasmuch as his creations have an
inferior degree of truth--in this, I say, he is like him; and he is also
like him in being concerned with an inferior part of the soul; and
therefore we shall be right in refusing to admit him into a well-ordered
State, because he awakens and nourishes and strengthens the feelings and
impairs the reason. As in a city when the evil are permitted to have
authority and the good are put out of the way, so in the soul of man, as we
maintain, the imitative poet implants an evil constitution, for he indulges
the irrational nature which has no discernment of greater and less, but
thinks the same thing at one time great and at another small--he is a
manufacturer of images and is very far removed from the truth.
But we have not yet brought forward the heaviest count in our accusation:--
the power which poetry has of harming even the good (and there are very few
who are not harmed), is surely an awful thing?
Yes, certainly, if the effect is what you say.
Hear and judge: The best of us, as I conceive, when we listen to a passage
of Homer, or one of the tragedians, in which he represents some pitiful
hero who is drawling out his sorrows in a long oration, or weeping, and
smiting his breast--the best of us, you know, delight in giving way to
sympathy, and are in raptures at the excellence of the poet who stirs our
Yes, of course I know.
But when any sorrow of our own happens to us, then you may observe that we
pride ourselves on the opposite quality--we would fain be quiet and
patient; this is the manly part, and the other which delighted us in the
recitation is now deemed to be the part of a woman.
Very true, he said.
Now can we be right in praising and admiring another who is doing that
which any one of us would abominate and be ashamed of in his own person?
No, he said, that is certainly not reasonable.
Nay, I said, quite reasonable from one point of view.