Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

  • Gratefully adapted from  Internet Classics Archive:

  • Changes may include paragraph divisions, highlights, spelling updates, bracketed annotations, &
    elisions (marked by ellipses . . . )

Selections from

 The Republic

(ca. 380 BCE)

Plato (428-348 BCE)

Translation by Benjamin Jowett

embodying forms and conflicts of utopian fiction and theory

detail of Raphael's School of Athens (1509-11)
depicting Plato

Instructor's notes:

Plato's Socratic dialogue The Republic discusses the nature of justice and describes the ideal state and its citizens. One of Western Civilization's founding texts of philosophy and political science, The Republic may also count as an example of utopian literature.

Formal qualities of utopian fiction in Plato's Republic:

The Republic is usually treated as a theoretical tract or nonfiction, but it features two forms associated with fiction:

Dialogue between characters who may have some historical identity but speak more formally than in real life and may stand for particular types of characters, as in allegory.

Characters meet in an identifiable but characteristic setting that may be historical but which readers can imagine inhabiting.

Socratic dialogue frequently recurs in utopian novels where an inhabitant of the utopian community exchanges questions with a traveler, whereby the traveler is typically converted to utopian belief and commitment.

Compared to most fiction, where dialogue concerns personal decisions or comments on immediate action, content of a Socratic dialogue is theoretical or observational concerning general behavior.

Image result for socratic dialogue
thanks to

Content / Ideological issues for utopian studies in Plato's Republic:

Socrates's just city develops loyalty from citizens that over-ride familiar loyalty to family, friendship, neighborhood, etc.

Socrates's orderly society is composed of three inter-supportive classes:

guardians or rulers

associates or soldiers

craftsmen and farmers

Passages cited below distinguish two competing visions of an ideal social state: the "healthy city" vs. the "feverish city," which previews a perennial dialectic

"healthy city" as spartan, communal, cooperative, egalitarian, close to nature

"feverish city" as multiplying needs, never enough > capitalist "scarcity" as premise of all economic activity > competition, art, civilization

Compare Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1976) feature a utopia of scarcity vs. utopia of abundance: A double-planet resembling earth & moon; the smaller planet is spartan, communitarian, egalitarian, plain; larger planet is rich, selfish, unequal, splendid.

19th-century utopias often took sides between return to agrarian communal villages (Morris's News from Nowhere, 1890) and technologically efficient cities (Bellamy's Looking Backward.

(see also dialogue)

Dialectic: an open-ended process of critical thinking by which opposing voices or positions in a dialogue or debate may include differing points of view yet move forward with a sense of progress.

Oxford English Dictionary 2a: In modern Philosophy . . . by Hegel . . . the term is applied (a) to the process of thought by which such contradictions are seen to merge themselves in a higher truth that comprehends them . . .

b. In more general use, the existence or working of opposing forces, tendencies, etc. Also in pl. form [dialectics]


from Book 1 of Plato's Republic

Compare opening pages of Thomas More's Utopia (1516). Anticipating the novel, the narrator of the dialogue briefly describes the setting in which characters debate.

Characters: Socrates & Glaucon

I [Socrates] went down yesterday to the Piraeus [port area of Athens] with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. . . .When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city . . .

[Polemarchus:] A festival will he celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. . . .

from Book 2 of Plato's Republic: Socrates describes the nature of a state, first as a small, healthy, simple community satisfied by fulfilling basic needs, but Glaucon challenges this vision as insufficient to satisfy human appetites. Socrates responds by describing a "fever" state of growing complexity, needs, and ambitions.


Socrates: I will tell you, I replied; justice, which is the subject of our enquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State.

Glaucon: True, he replied.

Socrates: And is not a State larger than an individual?

It is.

Socrates: Then in the larger the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible. I propose therefore that we enquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them. . . .

A State . . . arises . . . out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. . . .

Socrates: Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State.

True, Glaucon said. And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.

Very true.

Socrates: Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention. . . .

Now the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence. . . .

The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like. . . .

And now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand: We may suppose that one man is a husbandman, another a builder, some one else a weaver —shall we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants? . . .

And now, Adeimantus, is our State matured and perfected?

I think so.

Where, then, is justice, and where is injustice, and in what part of the State did they spring up?

Probably in the dealings of these citizens with one another. . . .

Socrates: Let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. Will they not produce corn, and wine, and clothes, and shoes, and build houses for themselves?

And when they are housed, they will work, in summer, commonly, stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means; having an eye to poverty or war. . . .

But, said Glaucon, interposing, you have not given them a relish* to their meal. 

[*OED "relish": 1.d. Appetizing or pleasing flavour or quality; 2. Enjoyment of the taste or flavour of something; the pleasure of tasting or enjoying something agreeable; liking, zest; 5a. Something of savoury of piquant taste; 5b. U.S. A piquant or spicy condiment eaten with food to add flavour; spec. a sauce made of chopped pickled vegetables.]

. . .

But what would you have, Glaucon? I [Socrates] replied.

Why, Glaucon said, you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want; such as the whole tribe of hunters and actors, of whom one large class have to do with forms and colors; another will be the votaries of musicpoets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, contractors; also makers of divers kinds of articles, including women's dresses. And we shall want more servants. Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.


And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?

Much greater.

And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

Quite true.

Then a slice of our neighbors' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?

Most certainly, he replied.

Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public. . . .



 . . . Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in story-telling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes.

[T]his has two divisions, gymnastic for the body, and music for the soul. . . .

And when you speak of music, do you include literature or not?

I do.

And literature may be either true or false?


And the young should be trained in both kinds, and we begin with the false?

I do not understand your meaning, he said.

You know, I said, that we begin by telling children stories which, though not wholly destitute of truth, are in the main fictitious . . . .

And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

We cannot.

Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded.

Of what tales are you speaking? he said. . . .

Those, I said, which are narrated by Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, who have ever been the great story-tellers of mankind.

But which stories do you mean, he said; and what fault do you find with them?

A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.

But when is this fault committed?

Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes, —as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.

Yes, he said, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what are the stories which you mean?

First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies, in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too, —I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him. [Ouranos was the ancestor of all Gods and father of the Titans, the youngest of whom (Cronus or Kronos) ambushed and castrated him.]

The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.

Why, yes, said he, those stories are extremely objectionable.

Yes, Adeimantus, they are stories not to be repeated in our State; the young man should not be told that in committing the worst of crimes he is far from doing anything outrageous; and that even if he chastises his father when does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods.

I entirely agree with you, he said; in my opinion those stories are quite unfit to be repeated. . . .

[N]ow the founders of a State ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their business.

Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean?

Something of this kind, I replied: —God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric or tragic, in which the representation is given. [Here the Republic establishes the three formal or representational genres of poetry or literature; "epic, lyric, or tragic" correspond to today's fiction, lyric poetry, and drama.]


And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented as such?

Certainly. . . .

It follows therefore that the good is not the cause of all things, but of the good only?


Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him. . . .


from Book 7 on the Philosopher-King

Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State? . . .  

  There can be no reason, he said, for rejecting those who have this greatest of all great qualities; they must always have the first place unless they fail in some other respect. Suppose, then, I said, that we determine how far they can unite this and the other excellences. . . .

  Let us suppose that philosophical minds always love knowledge of a sort which shows them the eternal nature not varying from generation and corruption.


  And further, I said, let us agree that they are lovers of all true being; there is no part whether greater or less, or more or less honorable, which they are willing to renounce; as we said before of the lover and the man of ambition.


  And if they are to be what we were describing, is there not another quality which they should also possess?

  What quality?

  Truthfulness: they will never intentionally receive into their minds falsehood, which is their detestation, and they will love the truth. . . .

  He whose desires are drawn toward knowledge in every form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul, and will hardly feel bodily pleasure—I mean, if he be a true philosopher and not a sham one.

  That is most certain.

  Such a one is sure to be temperate and the reverse of covetous; for the motives which make another man desirous of having and spending, have no place in his character. . . .

  There is another point which should be remarked.

  What point?

  Whether he has or has not a pleasure in learning . . . we must insist that the philosopher should have a good memory?


  And once more, the inharmonious and unseemly nature can only tend to disproportion?

  Undoubtedly. . . .

   Well, and do not all these qualities, which we have been enumerating, go together, and are they not, in a manner, necessary to a soul, which is to have a full and perfect participation of being?

  They are absolutely necessary, he replied.

  And must not that be a blameless study which he only can pursue who has the gift of a good memory, and is quick to learn—noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, temperance, who are his kindred?

  The god of jealousy himself, he said, could find no fault with such a study.

  And to men like him, I said, when perfected by years and education, and to these only you will intrust the State.


Raphael, The School of Athens 1509-11, the Vatican
(dialogue in action)