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The meaning of Republic 606a3–b5

  • Marc Mastrangelo and John Harris (a1)


If you would reflect that the part of the soul that in the former case, in our own misfortunes, was forcibly restrained, and that has hungered for tears and a good cry and satisfaction, because it is its nature to desire these things, is the element in us that the poets satisfy and delight, and that the best element in our nature, since it has never been properly educated by reason or even by habit, then relaxes its guard over the plaintive part, inasmuch as this is contemplating the woes of others and it is no shame to it to praise and pity another who, claiming to be a good man, abandons himself to excess in his grief; but [he] thinks this vicarious pleasure is so much clear gain, and would not consent to forfeit it by disdaining the poem altogether.



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1 References to the text of Plato are to the Oxford Classical Text edition of J. Burnet, vol. iv (Oxford, 1903). The only alteration of the text in this passage is the replacement of a comma after (b3) by a high stop. The translation is by Shorey, P., Plato: The Republic, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA, 1935), vol. II, p. 461. In line 7 Shorey′s translation reads ‘it’ and his Greek text adopts the high stop after as well.

2 Halliwell, , Plato Republic 10 (Warminster, 1988). On p. 67 Halliwell translates the pertinent part of the passage (606a7–b5) as follows: And the part of us which is naturally superior, insofar as it hasn′t been adequately trained by reasoning or even by habit, slackens its control over this grieving capacity, on the grounds that they are other people′s sufferings which it is watching and there is nothing shameful for oneself in approving and pitying when someone who purports to be a good man shows inappropriate grief. On the contrary, it regards that element–pleasure–as the value of the experience, and it would not be prepared to forego it by spurning the entire poem. On p. 148 he comments: The grammar of the sentence, if taken strictly, makes it seem that it is the best part of the soul which is lulled into enjoying the emotional experience of poetry, even though that is clearly not the required sense;... The incongruity is caused by the analytical separation of psychological faculties within the coherent experience of the individual.

3 605a8–b6 explicitly interchanges and . Socrates says that since the products of painting do not appeal to the best part of the soul (, bl), they can destroy it, i.e. the rational part (, b4–b5).

4 The issue of whether the soul′s parts are further divisible still invites vigorous scholarly debate. As is clear from Halliwell′s comment, the position one takes can impinge directly on the translation of 606a3–b5. The assumptions and/or positions found in the work of Jowett, Campbell, Plato′s Republic (Oxford, 1894) vol. iii; Adam, J., The Republic of Plato (Cambridge, 1902; repr. 1929), vol. 2; Shorey, ad loc.; Murphy, N. R., The Interpretation of Plato′s Republic (Oxford, 1951); Penner, T., ‘The doctrine of Eros in Plato′s Symposium’, in Vlastos, G. (ed.), Plato II: A Collection of Critical Essays (Notre Dame, 1978), pp. 96118; Nehamas, A., ‘Plato on Imitation and Poetry in Republic 10’, in Moravcsik, J. and Temko, P. (edd.), Plato on Beauty, Wisdom, and the Arts (Totowa, NJ, 1982), pp. 4778; Halliwell ad loc.; Irwin, T., Plato′s Ethics (Oxford, 1995); and Murray, P., Plato on Poetry: Ion; Republic 376e′398b9; Republic 595′608b10 (Cambridge, 1996) indicate the presence of this problem from the end of the 19th century to the present day.

5 Plato describes what is being ‘restrained’ () as (604d9) or as (604e2). In this section of the Republic Plato seems to be concentrating on a bipartite view of the soul, though in Book 4 he had developed a tripartite scheme. See Halliwell′s note on 602c4 (n. 3), p. 133.

6 On such indirect reflexives see Kuhner–Gerth i.561–562. It is tempting to take the phrase as does Stallbaum, G., Platonis Opera Omnia: Politiae Libri VI-X (London, 1859 2), who, in his comment on says: ‘h.e. etiam ad nominativum absolutum referri debet.... sensus hie est: quippe alienas spectans perturbationes atque sibi nullam afferre turpiditudinem existimans,...’ But whatever way one decides to take the phrase, it makes no difference to our argument, since even in the case of the accusative absolute, the antecedent of the indirect reflexive must be

7 Jowett-Campbell (n. 5), p. 456, comment on ‘Plato passes from the rational part of the soul to the man himself’. Adam (n. 5), p. 414, cites Jowett–Campbell approvingly and then adds: ‘Hence below. The antithesis with makes the meaning clear’. A sudden change of subject is not uncommon in Plato (for parallels, see Jowett–Campbell, Essays, vol. II, pp. 246–247), but in this particular passage Jowett–Campbell have misunderstood where the change takes place.

8 For such rhetorical anacoloutha see Kuhner–Gerth ii.590–591. For anacoloutha in Plato, see Reinhard, L., Die Anakoluthe bei Platon (Berlin, 1920)

9 Halliwell (n. 3) translates this phrase exactly as we do, with the same emphasis on ‘other’. Although Murray (n. S) in her translation of this passage acknowledges that the subject of is the neuter , she adds, ‘ (which suggests a spectator) is nominative’. This is contradictory since, on the one hand, her translation indicates that can in fact watch other people′s sufferings, and on the other, her note agrees with Adam in seeing a change of subject with

10 No textual variants are recorded.

11 The neuter demonstrative, , is the object of , not its subject, acts as an epexegetical appositive to . Kuhner–Gerth, i.658, cite this passage as an example of this construction.

12 After there should be a high stop, as in the text of Shorey (n. 1).

13 We would like to express our gratitude to the editors, the anonymous referee, Professor David Konstan, and Professor William M. Calder III for their perceptive comments and suggestions.


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