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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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PROPER MUSICAL TRAINING (386a-403c)

Previously Socrates spoke against presenting young guardians with gods who kill their parents, fight wars with each other, and assume disguises to deceive humans. We cannot allow children to hear myths that encourage improper conduct toward parents or treachery and deception toward friends, he said.

Now he speaks to the necessity of instilling courage in the young guardians. For this purpose, the stories of the poets are again harmful; they encourage the fear of death. Socrates recites a number of Homer's verses from The Iliad and The Odyssey. These passages describe the horrors of Hades (the Greek afterworld). Homer paints horrible pictures of life after death, where spirits are "wailing their doom," and "gibbering ghosts" are flitting about. Socrates suggests that such verses make the young believe that slavery, and almost everything else, is preferable to death. Thus, Socrates says that we must censor "the entire vocabulary of terror and fear" if we are to have courageous guardians.

What verses, then, are suitable for the youth to hear? Socrates answers-those which praise honesty, loyalty, self-control, moderation of desires, and disparage any form of self- indulgence. The poets must depict gods and heroes as models of good conduct.

The "topic of tales" is concluded. The next topic is that of "diction"; that is, the proper literary forms for the moral education of children.



Socrates categorizes literature into two forms: simple narration and imitation. He is not critical of simple narration, in which storytellers relate events as they heard or saw them. But he insists on purging the state of initiative literature in which storytellers pretend to be something that they are not. He believes that imitative writing-the theatrical works of tragedy and comedy in particular-must not be admitted into the just city. Poets must give up their imitative ways, their flights into fantasy, and stick to the facts. Socrates confesses to Adeimantus, who is a lover of the theater, that by rejecting the imitative arts, we lose enchanting entertainment. Nevertheless, tragedy and comedy must go.

NOTE: If Socrates lived today he would no doubt be opposed to children viewing most television programs and movies, and to attending live theatrical performances. Also, he would probably forbid fairy tales and Mother Goose. What a void this lack of entertainment and fantasy would create in most lives!

Socrates is quite negative about any form of fiction. In fact, fiction to him is altogether taboo. And he makes no suggestions on what other forms of escape and entertainment would be appropriate. Why does he want to ban the theatrical arts from the schools of Athens? What negative effects can such arts have on the characters of the future guardians of the state?

The dramatic arts encourage people to identify with the emotions and experiences of villains and fools, so Socrates says. They show people expressing strong passions and as such cause the audience to experience laughter, tears, or fear. These are precisely the passions to which the guardians must not be susceptible.

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