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Table of Contents
SOME BASICS ABOUT THE BOOK
The Republic is not a novel; it has no plot. Yet it does share several elements with novels: it has characters, conflict, action, and themes.
Socrates is the main character and the narrator of the action. The action, however, is not action in the usual sense. There are no murders or car chases or torrid love scenes. The dynamic discussions of ideas, in the form of friendly but rigorous arguments, comprise the action. Thus, The Republic is intellectually exciting.
The principle of justice-the principle of the organization of the Good Life-is the central theme of The Republic. Other themes, however, are inextricably interwoven with the theme of justice. There is the theme of knowledge; the well-ordered life must be guided by wisdom. And wisdom, in turn, depends on a particular kind of education. Also, there are the themes of the place of poetry and art in a good society and of the philosopher's relationship to the political community. In sum, The Republic is an examination of the Good Life, that is, of the possibility of harmonizing the various excellences of human souls and societies into a visionary model of the Good Life for all.
The Republic is traditionally divided into ten books. Probably each book represents the amount of material that could be included on a papyrus roll. Hence, as you will discover, some strands of the discussion are interrupted by book divisions. The books do not designate separations of ideas but are simply the accidental beginnings and endings necessitated by ancient book production methods. Nevertheless, because most translations of The Republic follow the traditional divisions, this guide is organized that way.
Also, in the margins of most editions of The Republic you will notice numbers and letters. For example, Book I begins with the number 327, followed by "b," "c," and then the number 328. Book X ends at 621d. These numbers and letters have been the standard way of referring to passages in Plato's dialogues since the Stephanus edition of 1573. In this guide the Stephanus pagination will be used to refer you to the separate arguments within each book of The Republic. The occasional quotations in the guide are from Paul Shorey's English translation of The Republic (Loeb Classical Library, 1930).