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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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Schoolboys in Athens not only read the poets, they also attempted to act out the scenes with vigor and expressiveness. They were, in Socrates' words, "to be good mimics." Socrates condemns the practice of asking boys to behave like conceited kings, kowtowed slaves, raving madmen, nagging women, or even blaring trumpets. If the young guardians are to imitate anything, it must be the pious, brave, sober men who they are to become. Mimicking the baser, lesser types of characters can "settle down into habits and second nature in the body, the speech, and the thought." Because most drama concerns troubled souls-unhappy, suffering, ludicrous men and women- it must not be allowed to influence the young.

Besides, in the just city each person performs only one function, and that function is performed for the good of all. The guardians' function is to be courageous, high-spirited, and loyal. Therefore, they must not imitate those types of characters unlike themselves.

Socrates' critique of poetry, then, is not limited to content; he also argues that the forms of poetry (including Homer's epics) are not suitable for moral education. What is needed is a form of literature that will extol the highest excellences of human nature. Could Plato be suggesting that philosophical dialogues- with such heroes as Socrates-are the most appropriate form of literature for young guardians?



In the just city, Adeimantus, an aficionado of the theater, must forgo the pleasures of the dramatic arts. And Glaucon, a musician, will be deprived of the pleasures of popular melodies. At first Glaucon is quite upset. But Socrates persuades him that, like speech, melodies can move the passions in primitive, uncivilized ways. Thus, musical instruments must be of the simplest sort (the lyre and the cithara, a stringed instrument something like a harp) and must imitate only "the rhythms of a life that is orderly and brave."

As you see, Socrates is a severe censor of popular forms of entertainment. He summarizes his reasons for dwelling so long on the need to purge the just state of certain art forms, by saying that "education in music is most sovereign, because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold on it." The just state and the just soul do not contain anything that is not beautiful- no tumultuous emotions and no raucous melodies.

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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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