Many of the citizens, especially the younger men, always looked up to Achilles as a role model. They admired his courage and bravery on the battlefield and longed to be like him. Socrates seems to side with Achilles’s admirers at first, however, things take a turn when he presents himself as the new model for righteousness and virtue. He addresses the nature and problems of justice, while pointing out the problems in Homeric poetry. Based on the claims he has made, Socrates’s criticisms reflect a fair assessment of Homeric poetry, up until the extent of discussing the lifestyle of the Guardians of the city.
There are three ways that justice is beneficial, according to Socrates: it can be solely beneficial, it can be good and a way to get the riches in life, or it is just a way to get the riches. While speaking to Glaucon, Socrates argues that “the just is in the middle between these two, cared for not because it is good but because it is honored due to a want of vigor in doing injustice”.
(Bloom 37). He says that justice is a way to get the riches, and at the same time, is good in and of itself. Justice is also honorable because it prevents one from wanting to commit the injustice in an attempt to get the riches. Glaucon reacts to this by giving an example; he tells the story of the gold ring.
The main character of his story was the leader of Lydia, who approaches a corpse with a gold ring on; he takes this ring and discovers that depending on the way it is twisted, he can be visible or invisible.
He seizes this opportunity to commit adultery with the king’s wife, kill the king, and take over the rule. Then, he mentions what would happen if one just man and one unjust man each got the same ring.
“So the perfectly unjust man must be given the most perfect injustice; he must be allowed to do the greatest injustices… [for the just man] he must be stripped of everything except justice, let him have the greatest reputation for injustice, so that his justice may be put to the test.” (38- 39).
He is saying that the unjust man should be allowed to carry on to committing his injustices and the just man should have everything, but his justice taken away, so that his ‘real’ personality can come out. When Glaucon finishes his story, he ends by arguing how even the most just people will commit injustice if it is beneficial for them to do so. He is treating justice as a problem of his own, and wants to battle this problem out by himself, like Achilles; in Homer’s Iliad, Achilles had to end up becoming self-sufficient, as he realized he had no choice, but to give his life up on the battlefield. While he could’ve decided to go home and live a long, lavish life, he ended up choosing to die young and be remembered forever.
According to Adeimantus, Glaucon feels as though this issue is just him against the world. He calls Glaucon out on this, saying that justice is not merely a problem for one person, but that it is everyone’s problem. He turns to Socrates and asks him how justice is beneficial and what the possible consequences for doing injustice are. Adeimantus begins to mention the Gods, stating that they are the models of goodness and what they say must be set as the law. Socrates argues, “But if we are somehow going to persuade them [the children] that no citizen was ever angry and that is not holy, it’s just such things that must be told right away; and as they get older, the poets must be compelled to make up speeches for them which are close to these.” (56).
Socrates is pointing out that these Gods can’t be used as proper role models of goodness, as they are just representations of stories told by poets like Homer. “We mustn’t accept Homer’s – or any other poet’s – foolishly making this mistake about the gods.”(57). Socrates specifically calls these ‘mistakes’, because to him, this is an over-beautification of justice that must be addressed correctly to the youth. He is pointing out that the cause of anything good happening must be the responsibility of the Gods, but when something bad happens, it’s the humans who are put to blame. This does not make sense to Socrates, because according to the poets, these Gods are capable of every action and it should not be up to the humans to “find a speech for the…and he must say the god’s works were just and good, and that these people profited by being punished.” (58).
This is almost an act of hypocrisy on the Gods’ parts, as they are potentially imperfect beings as well. Socrates is now drawing a controversial conclusion about Homeric and traditional Greek poetry, however, it is not fallible. The only difference between the Gods and the humans is that the Gods can’t receive the blame for anything unjust that occurs.
Socrates says that the humans would be all committing an act of injustice if they were to relay this information about how just the Gods are to the next generation. “It’s not that they are not poetic and sweet for the many to hear, but the more poetic they are, the less should they be heard by boys and men who must be free and accustomed to fearing slavery more than death.” (64). These poets, according to Socrates, can get so creative with their poetry all they like, but whatever is reproduced by them should not be spread as fact to the youth, as it could corrupt them.
He discusses the art of imitation, which is a common theme in poetry. While discussing this with Adeimantus, he agrees that the authors of tragedies and comedies aren’t capable of making imitations of the two simultaneously. Imitation is found in poetry and is very influential to the audience, especially for the guardians. Socrates relates this clause by Adeimantus to the guardians, stating that they must be artisans of the city and must not imitate anything else, if they want to still continue being guardians. If they decide to imitate anyone else, they would not be effective guardians for the citizens.
If Achilles wanted to be the best soldier on the battlefield, he should solely be focusing on how he can improve himself to be the greatest instead of imitating another art. Socrates’s claim on avoiding imitation is a good point, as this imitation can lead to distraction from the focus and in the long run, a poor performance. “Then, won’t he use a narration like the one we described a little while ago, concerning Homer’s verses, and won’t his style participate in both imitation and the other kind of narrative, but there’ll be a little bit of imitation in a great deal of speech?” (73-74).
Socrates is criticizing Homer for his use of imitation in his poetry. While he recognizes that the speech will have some type of imitation in it, he also takes into account that too much imitation can mislead the audience and is an act of injustice on the part of the one giving the speech. Socrates speaks to Glaucon about the art of imitation present in poetry. “Must we, then, supervise only the poets and compel them to impress the image of the good disposition on their poems or not to make them among us?” (80). He goes on to question whether supervising the other craftsmen on the goods they produce for everyone should also be a requirement on the behalf of the citizens.
In the example of music and gymnastics that comes up during Socrates’s conversation with Glaucon, he asks Glaucon if he happens to know why else one pursuing music and gymnastics. “Don’t you notice the turn of mind of those who maintain a lifelong familiarity…savageness and hardness on the one hand, softness and tameness on the other.” (89). According to Socrates, these musicians and gymnasts gain a spiritual and mental connection with music and gymnastics, thus they gain a sense of courageousness and moderation of their talents. Socrates also mentions that this person will be much different if he devotes himself to gymnastics and ignores music.
Relating back to Achilles, Socrates says, “He no longer makes any use of persuasion by means of speech but goes about everything with force and savageness, like a wild beast; and he lives ignorantly and awkwardly without rhythm or grace.” (90). Along with being the best fighter, Achilles loved to use his power of force in order to move up and continue being successful. Socrates says that someone like him could never be a guardian
because his goals are only orientated towards himself and not for the rest of the citizens. “They must get the right education, if they’re going to have what’s most important for being tame with each other and those who are guarded by them.” (95). This is another great point he makes; if these men aren’t educated properly, how would the rest of the city fare with a uneducated being for a guardian? One must have the proper education, according to Socrates, in order to be capable of guiding everyone else towards acting justly and good. He goes onto the extreme for how guardians should live by discussing that they should not have any right to hold private property and should all live commonly.
He feels that this is the best lifestyle for a guardian, as he believes living simply is the key to being a just person. While this is a good point, this is not necessarily true; Socrates is stereotyping those who have many riches, stating that those are the most unjust people. This is a great generalization he has made on his behalf, which is not necessarily true because there are people out there with many riches, but still as virtuous as the poor, just man. Socrates makes this generalization based on the majority of the just and unjust people, not accounting for the minority who don’t fit the necessary ‘requirements’ to be of either type.
Homeric and traditional Greek poetry, according to Socrates, is not completely perfect. While it can be a beautiful piece of literature to read, there are flaws that can prove misleading to its audience and produce corrupt citizens as a result. Socrates criticisms against Homeric poetry are satisfactory enough and he provides great and detailed examples to Glaucon and Adeimantus of why Homeric and traditional Greek poetry should not be taken seriously verbatim.