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Table of Contents
THE EXCELLENCE AND EDUCATION OF GUARDIANS (374e-383c)
The soldiers of the just city are called "guardians." Their appointed tasks are to make war and to guard the city from intruders. They are a special class of people. Like well-bred watchdogs, they must be savage to enemies and gentle to their own people. In other words, the guardians represent Polemarchus' version of justice; they benefit friends and harm enemies. But they must know to whom to be savage and to whom to be gentle. Thus, they must be able to make distinctions. To make distinctions well is to have a grasp on wisdom, and so the guardians must be endowed with a philosophical nature. To develop fully their innate abilities, they must receive an outstanding education-gymnastics for the body and music for the soul.
NOTE: Under Socrates' plan, the state will control the education of the guardians. State-control of education was a new idea for Athenians. The Athenian family, not the city-state, provided for the education of youth, usually in private day schools. Here boys learned to read and write, to recite poetry and play the lyre, to do calculations and geometry, and to exercise. Gymnastics is the Greek word for physical training. The word music refers to all of the studies over which the Muses (nine sister goddesses) presided: the arts and sciences, including literature, history, philosophy, sculpture, song. Thus, when Socrates is talking about music he is usually referring to much more than harmonious, rhythmic sound.
In large part, Socrates adopts the Athenian educational curriculum for his guardians. Yet he deviates in a major way. He insists that most of the present literature used in schools must be censored. Here he is not concerned with the form of literature, but rather with the content. For example, he is greatly troubled by the poems of Hesiod and Homer that often portray gods and heroes as immoral, murderous, deceptive, vicious, unjust, feuding. To Socrates, these old poems-the staple of Athenian moral education in his time-contain many lies. Worse yet, they show gods and heroes doing things that most people would harshly condemn other people for doing. Children, therefore, should not be exposed to these "false stories." The Olympian gods, as presented by the poets, are not good guides for conduct.
In sum, Socrates argues here that young guardians should only study stories that present good examples of moral conduct. The aims of early education, he implies, are to mold minds and character.
In the next book, the discussion on poetry and on the education of guardians continues.