Painting, Ethics, and Ontology in Plato’s Republic 5

Citation with persistent identifier:

Petraki, Zacharoula. “Painting, Ethics, and Ontology in Plato’s Republic 5.” CHS Research Bulletin 3, no. 2 (2015).

1§1 In this paper I examine Plato’s use of the art of painting in the Republic, Book 5, as a metaphor for the integration of citizens in the harmonious society of the ideal city. In the Republic, Plato presents Socrates as a verbal painter who constructs a wide and diverse range of verbal images (eikones); the Cave, the Line, the Soul of the tyrant are only a few examples from a very long list. Contrary to these highly colorful, ornate and intricate images, the Socratic images which depict the ideal city are always very simple and they share one fundamental characteristic: unity. Plato, very consistently, chooses to depict his harmonious city as an individual: as a statue, or as a painting of a single figure, namely an andreikelon.

1§2 In what follows, I take the view that through his images of the city as a single man in the Republic Plato tries to solve a number of complex philosophic problems with regard to a) the inculcation of virtues in the inhabitants of the ideal city, b) the attainment of civic unity and harmony, and c) the ‘participation’ of his ideal city (which along with the other sensible particulars belongs to the sphere of Becoming) to the transcendent realm of the Forms.[1] Thus, in my view, through this imagery, Plato addresses a problem most central to his thought which he has inherited from the Presocratics: this is the tension between the one and the many, the reconciliation of their conflict, and the struggle to attain unity at the level of Becoming out of what appears to be a diverse and incongruous multitude.[2] In essence, for Plato, this is a hard epistemological puzzle that significantly impacts his ethics and politics.[3]

1§3 In the Republic, the issue of unity and multiplicity is raised in the analogy of soul and city and in the examination of their isomorphism.[4] Αt a psychic level, the Republic, Book 4, presents us with a divided, tripartite soul and seeks to harmonize it so that the person is just and flourishes in life. At a societal level, in Book 5, Plato has Socrates lay down the prerequisites for a harmonious society that consists of three classes: the producers, the guardians, and the philosopher-kings. As I have argued elsewhere, Socrates organises the ideal city in Book 5 so that it bears specific characteristics and complies with certain rules that are imposed by his middle period ontology.[5] In this paper, I examine the role of painting as the key means to bridge the gap between ethics, politics, and ontology in the Republic and I argue that Plato’s choice of this particular art imagery of the ideal city as a single person is far from fortuitous. Thus, I will argue that these art metaphors demonstrate the philosopher’s success in solving the puzzle of the individual’s participation in the Forms, but not that of the multitude’s.[6] To make this case, I turn to Plato’s so-called middle period ontology, during which he conceives the Forms as being independent and isolated, and the sensibles’ relation to the Forms in terms of one-to-one correspondence. Thus, one person can participate in many Forms, but, since at the ontological level the Forms do not combine or entwine with other Forms, Plato has problems combining the many inhabitants of his ideal city so that they ‘imitate’ true reality. [7] As a result, the metaphor of painting in Book 5, enlightening as it may be about Plato’s efforts to create an entirely unified and harmonised society, also helps us see the reasons why this political project is eventually so difficult to realize, why, that is, the attainment of harmony among the inhabitants of the ideal city is so fragile and so difficult to uphold.

1§4 Certain changes that take place in his late ontology, however, help Plato revisit these problems.[8] Such shifts in aspects of his ontology are reflected in his changing choice of imagery. Thus, the metaphor of painting and sculpture of a single person, which is so prominently used in the Republic to depict civic unity and homogeneity, gives way to the art of weaving as a metaphor for the statesman’s combining of bodies and virtues in the Politicus, and to the art of choral dancing (choreia) in the Laws, as the fundamental means to channel into society and into the human psyche the harmony and the order of the universe and of the Forms. From this point of view, we can also talk about a gradual ‘de-metaphorization’ of artistic imagery in these three Platonic works, which consists in a gradual passage from the art images of the Republic, in which humans and their virtues are equated with colours, to the Politicus, where bodies and virtues are turned into threads, and finally to their ‘transformation’ (or ‘literalization’) into bodies which blend harmoniously, like music does, in the performance of civic dance in the Laws.[9]

The collective body and its images 

2§1 According to the Republic, the foundation of a flourishing society should aim at the synthesis of the city into a unified whole. Consequently, life in the Platonic city should be designed to cultivate feelings of friendship (philia) among the members of the community. Socrates’ watchwords for a happy human life are community, harmonization, concordance, and stability. [10] Social disintegration, on the other hand, is the result of division, disagreement, and strife.[11] To bring this idea home, in the Republic, Book 4, Plato has Socrates compare his theoretical city to a statue (andrianta, 420c5). Socrates builds the image of the city as a sculptured body, in reply to Adeimantus’ objection that the future guardians will not be happy (419a). According to Socrates, the founding of the city aims at the happiness of all the inhabitants (420b2-8). In “molding” (plattomen) the flourishing city, the interlocutors are “not picking out a few happy people (oligous toioutous) and putting them in it (en autẽ tithentes)”, but making the ‘whole’ (holẽn) city happy. The use of platto could indicate a relief metaphor (420c1-5). Yet, the city is eventually identified with a statue, whose molding and painting follows certain conventions. As the eyes of a statue cannot be painted purple because it is not realistic, although purple is a more luxurious color, in a similar way, Socrates argues, the guardians cannot be happier than the other inhabitants.[12] Happiness, argues Socrates, should be felt by the entire city, and not just by one segment of it, in the same way that a person enjoys happiness wholly and not with respect to one part of him or herself. These remarks foreground the challenge which Socrates as an oikistẽs will ultimately have to face in the organization of the ideal city in Book 5.

2§2 In Republic Book 5, Plato again compares the city’s experience in terms of community and harmony to a single human body that reacts unanimously to feelings of pleasure and pain. Contrary to the other verbal images in the text, this is a subtle image that easily passes unobserved. Although not explicitly introduced as an eikon, Socrates’ later use of apeikazontes to refer to this metaphor makes it clear that it is a verbal image.[13] This pictorial presentation of the city is found at the heart of the Republic’s central book, which presents the prerequisites for the realization of the ideal city-state, and it is inextricably entwined with Socrates’ prescriptions for the guardians’ lifestyle in the theoretical city. Even beyond this, the image does not merely trumpet the importance of these regulations, since it is not yet another expression of the rules necessary for the city’s unity; the picture of the city as a single body is the final product.

῏Αρ’ οὖν ἐκ τοῦδε τὸ τοιόνδε γίγνεται, ὅταν μὴ ἅμα φθέγγωνται ἐν τῇ πόλει τὰ τοιάδε ῥήματα, τό τε ἐμὸν καὶ τὸ οὐκ ἐμόν; καὶ περὶ τοῦ ἀλλοτρίου κατὰ ταὐτά;

᾿Εν ᾗτινι δὴ πόλει πλεῖστοι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ κατὰ ταὐτὰ τοῦτο λέγουσι τὸ ἐμὸν καὶ τὸ οὐκ ἐμόν, αὕτη ἄριστα διοικεῖται;

Πολύ γε.

Καὶ ἥτις δὴ ἐγγύτατα ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἔχει; οἷον ὅταν που ἡμῶν δάκτυλός του πληγῇ, πᾶσα ἡ κοινωνία ἡ κατὰ τὸ σῶμα πρὸς τὴν ψυχὴν τεταμένη εἰς μίαν σύνταξιν τὴν τοῦ ἄρ[d.]χοντος ἐν αὐτῇ ᾔσθετό τε καὶ πᾶσα ἅμα συνήλγησεν μέρους πονήσαντος ὅλη, καὶ οὕτω δὴ λέγομεν ὅτι ὁ ἄνθρωπος τὸν δάκτυλον ἀλγεῖ· καὶ περὶ ἄλλου ὁτουοῦν τῶν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὁ αὐτὸς λόγος, περί τε λύπης πονοῦντος μέρους καὶ περὶ ἡδονῆς ῥαΐζοντος;

῾Ο αὐτὸς γάρ, ἔφη· καὶ τοῦτο ἐρωτᾷς, τοῦ τοιούτου ἐγγύτατα ἄριστα πολιτευομένη πόλις οἰκεῖ.

Ενὸς δὴ οἶμαι πάσχοντος τῶν πολιτῶν ὁτιοῦν ἢ ἀγαθὸν [e.] ἢ κακὸν ἡ τοιαύτη πόλις μάλιστά τε φήσει ἑαυτῆς εἶναι τὸ πάσχον, καὶ ἢ συνησθήσεται ἅπασα ἢ συλλυπήσεται.

Ἀνάγκη, ἔφη, τήν γε εὔνομον.


And isn’t that what happens whenever such words as “mine” and “not mine” aren’t used in unison? And similarly with “someone else’s”?

That city, then, is best ordered in which the greatest number use the expression ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ of the same things in the same way.

– Much the best.

What about the city that is most like a single person? For example, when one of us hurts his finger, the entire organism that binds body and soul together into a single system under the ruling part within it is aware of this, and the whole feels the pain together with the part that suffers. That’s why we say that the man has a pain in his finger. And the same can be said about any part of a man, with regard to the pain it suffers or to the pleasure it experiences when it finds relief.

– Certainly. And, as for your question, the city with the best government is most like such a person.

Then, whenever anything good or bad happens to a single one of its citizens, such a city above all others will say that the affected part is its own and will share in the pleasure or pain as a whole.

If it has good laws, that must be so.

2§3 Beyond simply restating the fundamental idea that a city should behave as harmoniously as an individual, the image subtly shifts the focus to include the soul in the picture as well.[14] Although later in the discussion, Socrates calls this comparison an image of the harmonious city and not of the human soul (464b1-3), with the city-soul analogy being always in the background, the comparison of the city to a body cannot but give rise to the harmonization of the tripartite soul.[15] As a result, city, body, and soul are now all interwoven in the same context in a harmonious whole. This comparison then points towards a well-balanced individual and seeks to found an analogous society in which people, bodies, and souls are all blended to form an integrated and coordinated whole.[16]

2§4 In addition, these art metaphors make Socrates a verbal sculptor and painter, comparable to the Republic’s “painter of constitutions” par excellence, namely the philosopher-king.[17] This similarity is enhanced further, however, if as I have argued elsewhere, we associate the societal regulations and the idiosyncratic lifestyle prescribed for the guardians in Book 5 with Plato’s conception of the Forms in the Republic. In this case, Socrates resembles the philosopher-king not only in using for himself, too, art images which describe his organization of society, but also in trying to ‘imitate’ true Reality in his politics.

2§5 In Rep. 500c-501c, the philosopher-king is a craftsman (dẽmiourgos) who, having contemplated the Forms, will then treat them as a model to structure life at the individual and collective levels:

῍Αν οὖν τις, εἶπον, αὐτῷ ἀνάγκη γένηται ἃ ἐκεῖ ὁρᾷ μελετῆσαι εἰς ἀνθρώπων ἤθη καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ τιθέναι καὶ μὴ μόνον ἑαυτὸν πλάττειν, ἆρα κακὸν δημιουργὸν αὐτὸν οἴει γενήσεσθαι σωφροσύνης τε καὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ συμπάσης τῆς δημοτικῆς ἀρετῆς;

῞Ηκιστά γε, ἦ δ’ ὅς.

Αλλ’ ἐὰν δὴ αἴσθωνται οἱ πολλοὶ ὅτι ἀληθῆ περὶ αὐτοῦ [e.] λέγομεν, χαλεπανοῦσι δὴ τοῖς φιλοσόφοις καὶ ἀπιστήσουσιν ἡμῖν λέγουσιν ὡς οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἄλλως εὐδαιμονήσειε πόλις, εἰ μὴ αὐτὴν διαγράψειαν οἱ τῷ θείῳ παραδείγματι χρώμενοι ζωγράφοι;

Οὐ χαλεπανοῦσιν, ἦ δ’ ὅς, ἐάνπερ αἴσθωνται. ἀλλὰ δὴ [501a] τίνα λέγεις τρόπον τῆς διαγραφῆς;

Λαβόντες, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὥσπερ πίνακα πόλιν τε καὶ ἤθη ἀνθρώπων, πρῶτον μὲν καθαρὰν ποιήσειαν ἄν, ὃ οὐ πάνυ ῥᾴδιον· ἀλλ’ οὖν οἶσθ’ ὅτι τούτῳ ἂν εὐθὺς τῶν ἄλλων διενέγκοιεν, τῷ μήτε ἰδιώτου μήτε πόλεως ἐθελῆσαι ἂν ἅψασθαι μηδὲ γράφειν νόμους, πρὶν ἢ παραλαβεῖν καθαρὰν ἢ αὐτοὶ ποιῆσαι…

Οὐκοῦν μετὰ ταῦτα οἴει ὑπογράψασθαι ἂν τὸ σχῆμα τῆς πολιτείας;

[b.] ῎Επειτα οἶμαι ἀπεργαζόμενοι πυκνὰ ἂν ἑκατέρωσ’ ἀποβλέποιεν, πρός τε τὸ φύσει δίκαιον καὶ καλὸν καὶ σῶφρον καὶ πάντα τὰ τοιαῦτα, καὶ πρὸς ἐκεῖν’ αὖ τὸ ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐμποιοῖεν, συμμειγνύντες τε καὶ κεραννύντες ἐκ τῶν ἐπιτηδευμάτων τὸ ἀνδρείκελον, ἀπ’ ἐκείνου τεκμαιρόμενοι, ὃ δὴ καὶ ῞Ομηρος ἐκάλεσεν ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐγγιγνόμενον θεοειδές τε καὶ θεοείκελον

Καὶ τὸ μὲν ἂν οἶμαι ἐξαλείφοιεν, τὸ δὲ πάλιν ἐγγράφοιεν, [c.] ἕως ὅτι μάλιστα ἀνθρώπεια ἤθη εἰς ὅσον ἐνδέχεται θεοφιλῆ ποιήσειαν. Καλλίστη γοῦν ἄν, ἔφη, ἡ γραφὴ γένοιτο.


And if he should come to be compelled to put what he sees there into people’s characters, whether into a single person or into a populace, instead of shaping only his own, do you think that he will be a poor craftsman of moderation, justice, and the whole of popular virtue?

He least of all.

And when the majority realize that what we are saying about the philosopher is true, will they be harsh with him or mistrust us when we say that the city will never find happiness until its outline is sketched by painters who use the divine model?

They won’t be harsh, if indeed they realize this. But what sort of sketch do you mean?

They’d take the city and the characters of human beings as their sketching slate, but first they’d wipe it clean––which isn’t at all an easy thing to do. And you should know that this is the plain difference between them and others, namely, that they refuse to take either an individual or a city in hand or to write laws unless they receive a clean slate or are allowed to clean it themselves.

And they’d be right to refuse.

Then don’t you think they’d next sketch the outline of the constitution?

Of course.

And I suppose that, as they work, they’d look often in each direction, towards the natures of justice, beauty, moderation, and the like, on the one hand, and towards those they’re trying to put into human beings, on the other. And in this way they’d mix and blend the various ways of life in the city until they produced a human image based on what Homer too called “the divine form and image” when it occurred among human beings.

That’s right.

They’d erase one thing, I suppose, and draw in another until they’d made characters for human beings that the gods would love as much as possible. At any rate, that would result in the finest sketch.

2§6 The philosopher-craftsman mixes “ways of life” and human behaviors or “virtues” (συμμειγνύντες τε καὶ κεραννύντες ἐπιτηδεύματα) on a clear slate as a painter blends his colors, so as to produce a (civic) ‘male body’ (an andreikelon) which is “divine-like in character and form” (theoeides and theoeikelon). In order to describe the philosopher’s task, Socrates re-employs here terminology that he had used earlier in his discussion of human virtues in Book 4.[18] Having as his model the Forms, which “remain always the same, neither doing injustice to one another nor suffering it”, and having been himself acquainted with the Good, the philosopher’s ethico-political aim is to diminish, if not erase, evil on earth. The interplay between the city and the individual is present here too (idia and demosia), but again the final product of the philosopher’s painting is a single male body, an andreikelon.

2§7 Socrates and the philosopher-king appear to have a similar task in the dialogue and they also share common tropes to describe this task, the metaphor of painting. But is the city that Socrates founds in Book 5 as harmonious and unified as his image of the collective body presents it to be? In the rest of this paper I will argue that Plato’s choice of the imagery of a single male body to describe the unity of his ideal city is related to the Forms and bears significant problems.

Painting unity and homogeneity in Book 5

3§1 In Book 5, Socrates deals only with the guardian-auxiliaries and the philosopher-kings.[19] Almost no attention is paid to the producers.[20] Plato devotes the best part of Book 5 to the description of the guardians’ idiosyncratic lifestyle and the Book’s latter part to the Forms, the epistemological apogee of the philosophers’ dianoetic journey. The prescriptions for the guardians’ life are organized around the imagery of the “three waves of argument”, with each wave representing a thesis, whose implementation is essential to the creation of the polis.[21] The laws of marriage, education, and property, which form the backbone of the system that Socrates introduces for his guardians, are presented in the first two “waves”. In the “third wave” Socrates proclaims the thesis that the city cannot come into existence unless politics and philosophy completely coincide in the figure of the philosopher-kings. The justification of this thesis leads to the Forms whose knowledge keeps the three classes separate. The philosopher-rulers will have direct acquaintance with the Forms; the guardians will have only a mediated contact, as the organization of their ethical education is based on the Forms, but they will not know the Forms; the producers stand further below in this ladder.

3§2 Scholars’ approach to the “three waves of argument” of Book 5 has been a separatist one. The first two waves are usually grouped together as socio-political and are distinguished from the third wave, the so-called metaphysical. In an earlier work, I argued that despite the surface shifts in subject matter, all three have a common denominator: the promotion of unification.[22] In the first two waves, each societal regulation for the guardian class aims at unification and homogeneity that resembles the Forms’ unity. Socrates erases division, difference, and diversity, all three of which signal pluralization, and substitutes it with unity:[23] one guardian nature, in which gender divisions are mostly inconsequential; a wholly unified guardian class, which lives a public and communal life––shared bodies, shared origins, siblings and parents, shared emotions, or rather identical emotions, a class so homogeneous that it is easily compared to an individual; ultimately, a class of identical virtues. The image of the ideal polis as a human body at the heart of Book 5 is a representation par excellence of this aspired unification of the many people. In this comparison, Socrates exploits fully the dynamics of philosophical painting and visualization.[24] His image of the city as a single body embodies the achievement of unification.

3§3 The unification of the guardians takes place in two stages. In the first stage Socrates demolishes the traditional male-female polarity (kechỡrismenẽn physin, 453c2-5) and substitutes it with a single guardian nature (phylakikẽ physis) in which both men and women “participate” (456b1-3). In founding the city, it is important to identify the physical and intellectual qualities of this guardian-nature. The men and women, to whom the guardian nature has been thus “distributed” (diesparmenai), should be unified in the class of guardians (455d-e). This unification and homogeneity can only be maintained if the class shares everything. As a result, in the next step of the argument, Socrates prescribes an entirely communal way of life for this class. The guardians’ privacy, ownership of property, and erotic mingling (mixis) are to be strictly controlled (458d-e).[25] The guardians must share everything, material goods, human relationships, and emotions (457d). In addition, civic life for the class must be public and open, because privacy and secrecy breed division, the worst evil for the city.[26]

3§4 The correlation of philosophy and politics again involves unification. Socrates argues that the natures which are similar in terms of ethical and intellectual qualities, and which are now barred from participation in politics, should be “forcibly debarred from going their several ways in the one or the other direction” (473d4) and be brought together by uniting politics and philosophy (473d2). Thus, each wave resembles the other in transcending divisions and diversities.[27]

3§5 Socrates’ aim with regard to the guardians is to unify similar natures and preserve their unity and homogeneity. In my view, in these unificatory steps Socrates follows the reverse process of the way in which the Forms appear to relate to their multiple worldly instances on earth. Supportive of this reading is Socrates’ consistent use of common wording to refer to the guardians’ societal “combination” (koinỡnia and mixis) and to the particulars’ “participation” in the Forms (koinỡnia). This relation is described in an important passage in the latter part of Republic, Book 5 (475e9-476a7):

᾿Επειδή ἐστιν ἐναντίον καλὸν αἰσχρῷ, δύο αὐτὼ εἶναι.

Πῶς δ’ οὔ;

Οὐκοῦν ἐπειδὴ δύο, καὶ ἓν ἑκάτερον;

Καὶ τοῦτο.

Καὶ περὶ δὴ δικαίου καὶ ἀδίκου καὶ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ κακοῦ καὶ πάντων τῶν εἰδῶν πέρι ὁ αὐτὸς λόγος, αὐτὸ μὲν ἓν ἕκαστον εἶναι, τῇ δὲ τῶν πράξεων καὶ σωμάτων καὶ ἀλλήλων κοινωνίᾳ πανταχοῦ φανταζόμενα πολλὰ φαίνεσθαι ἕκαστον.


῾Ο οὖν καλὰ μὲν πράγματα νομίζων, αὐτὸ δὲ κάλλος μήτε νομίζων μήτε, ἄν τις ἡγῆται ἐπὶ τὴν γνῶσιν αὐτοῦ, δυνάμενος ἕπεσθαι, ὄναρ ἢ ὕπαρ δοκεῖ σοι ζῆν; […]

Τί δέ; ὁ τἀναντία τούτων ἡγούμενός τέ τι αὐτὸ καλὸν [d.] καὶ δυνάμενος καθορᾶν καὶ αὐτὸ καὶ τὰ ἐκείνου μετέχοντα, καὶ οὔτε τὰ μετέχοντα αὐτὸ οὔτε αὐτὸ τὰ μετέχοντα ἡγούμενος, ὕπαρ ἢ ὄναρ αὖ καὶ οὗτος δοκεῖ σοι ζῆν; [476a-b]


“Since the beautiful is the opposite of the ugly, they are two.

Of course.

And since they are two, each is one?

I grant that also.

And the same account is true of the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, and all the forms. Each of them is itself one, but because they manifest themselves everywhere in association with actions, bodies, and one another, each of them appears to be many.

What about someone who believes in beautiful things, but doesn’t believe in the beautiful itself and isn’t able to follow anyone who could lead him to the knowledge of it? Don’t you think he is living in a dream rather than a wakened state… ?

But someone who, to take the opposite case, believes in the beautiful itself, can see both it and the things that participate in it and doesn’t believe that the participants are it or that it itself is the participants – is he living in a dream or is he awake?

3§6 In these lines Plato starts with a clear division of the two extreme opposites, the good and the bad, and then moves on to the way in which these concepts, which are themselves one, infiltrate the various and many human acts (praxeỡn) and bodies (somatỡn). This relation of the humans to the Forms is described in the same language of the first two waves, in terms, that is, of koinỡnia. Thus, human bodies and actions participate in the Forms, but because they are many and different they “manifest” (phainesthai) the Forms in diverse ways.[28] In addition, different properties (related to the Forms) “combine” in humans, so that no one person is a manifestation of a single Form, but a mixture of many. Nor is the identification of these properties or qualities easy. This is not only because, for example, positive properties such as justice, or courage, mix or combine in an indissoluble mixture, but also because more often than not the same person also bears negative ethical characteristics. As Plato has Socrates say in this passage, the good and the bad are well divided, but not in the human sphere of existence (476a4-7). From Plato’s point of view, in the sphere of Becoming, and in human ethics and politics, the struggle to approximate the Forms is continuous. So is the intellectual struggle to decipher virtue from vice, or to ensure that virtue is not turned into vice. Ultimately, this involves an intellectual fight to address the so-called problem of the ‘compresence’ of opposite qualities that divides Being from Becoming and the Forms from humans.[29] In my view in the Republic, Plato has Socrates address the various ramifications of this ontological problem in his organization of the theoretical city through the metaphor of the city as a single body.

The individual and the multitude in Book 5

4§1 The body metaphor reflects Socrates’ prescriptions for the guardians’ lifestyle and justifies them. Communal life aims at homogenizing and harmonizing the guardians, so that they are fully integrated into what could be described as a single human body. The comparison also draws our attention from the external social conditions to the intrinsic, harmonious coordination of body and psyche. Yet, according to Socrates, the body which reacts unanimously in pleasure and pain is not the collective body of the guardians, but of the entire city. It is the city at large that now shares the same emotional responses. Socrates goes on to explain that the preservation of this civic friendship (philia) requires modifications in terms of language.[30] Thus appellations must change. The ruling class of the guardians will be called “preservers” and “auxiliaries” (σωτῆράς τε καὶ ἐπικούρους), the people (τὸν δῆμον) instead of “slaves” (δούλους), are called “providers of wages and food” (μισθοδότας τε καὶ τροφέας), and the rulers will call each other “co-guardians” (συμφύλακας).[31] This reference to the three classes does not last long and Socrates returns again to the guardians. For Socrates, if the kallipolis can function as a single and harmonious body, this is because the guardians share everything (463e-464a):

Οὐκοῦν μάλιστα τοῦ αὐτοῦ κοινωνήσουσιν ἡμῖν οἱ πολῖται, ὃ δὴ ἐμὸν ὀνομάσουσιν; τούτου δὲ κοινωνοῦντες οὕτω δὴ λύπης τε καὶ ἡδονῆς μάλιστα κοινωνίαν ἕξουσιν;

Πολύ γε.

῏Αρ’ οὖν τούτων αἰτία πρὸς τῇ ἄλλῃ καταστάσει ἡ τῶν γυναικῶν τε καὶ παίδων κοινωνία τοῖς φύλαξιν;

Πολὺ μὲν οὖν μάλιστα, ἔφη.

[b.] ᾿Αλλὰ μὴν μέγιστόν γε πόλει αὐτὸ ὡμολογήσαμεν ἀγαθόν, ἀπεικάζοντες εὖ οἰκουμένην πόλιν σώματι πρὸς μέρος αὑτοῦ λύπης τε πέρι καὶ ἡδονῆς ὡς ἔχει.

Καὶ ὀρθῶς γ’, ἔφη, ὡμολογήσαμεν.

Τοῦ μεγίστου ἄρα ἀγαθοῦ τῇ πόλει αἰτία ἡμῖν πέφανται κοινωνία τοῖς ἐπικούροις τῶν τε παίδων καὶ τῶν γυναικῶν.


Then won’t our citizens, more than any others, have the same thing in common, the one they call “mine”? And, having that in common, won’t they, more than any others, have in common pleasure and pains?

Of course.

And, in addition to the other institutions, the cause of this is the having of wives and children in common by the guardians?

That more than anything else is the cause.

But we agreed that the having of pains and pleasures in common is the greatest good for a city, and we characterized a well-governed city in terms of the body’s reaction to pain and or pleasure in anyone of its parts.

And we were right to agree. Then the cause of the greatest good for our city has been shown to be the having of wives and children in common by the auxiliaries.

4§2 Socrates shifts from the homogeneous class of the guardians to the image of the whole city as a body and back again to the guardian class.[32] The shift is so smooth and subtle that it usually passes undetected in the scholarship, or is explained away on the basis of the pervasive and fundamental role that the guardians play at both a psychic and societal level in the Republic. In my view, however, this shift reveals an essential problem that Plato has recognized in his middle writing period in combining people with diverse characteristics and relating them to the Forms.

4§3 According to the ontology of the Republic, the Forms differ from their visible and sense-perceptible earthly manifestations in that, contrary to the doings in our own sphere of human action, the Forms are one, transcendent, pure (that is unmixed), unchanging, eternal, and truly real.[33] If, as I have argued, in Book 5, Plato has Socrates bridge the gap between the ideal city and the Forms by organizing life so that multiplicity and diversity are excluded in favor of singleness, homogeneity, and identification, then the image of the ‘entire city as a single body’ is indeed a successful metaphor for the guardians’ societal lifestyle, but not for the city at large. In other words, the theoretical city that Plato’s Socrates constructs in the first two waves is a unified city but only of guardians (auxiliaries and philosophers), in which the third class of the producers is an obvious necessity (cp. tropheas and misthodotas, 463b3), but also an awkward misfit.

4§4 From this point of view, Socrates has not explained the transition from the one, homogeneous class to the community of the entire city. In his metaphor of the city as single body he has stated his aim for civic friendship, but he has unified the bodies, the emotions, and the virtues of the guardians. From this angle, ‘painting’ the unity of the city in the form of a body is a most appropriate metaphor: the mixture of the guardians resembles the blending of colors and the resulting hue of the andreikelon, as it were, represents the similarity, indeed, unification, and homogeneity of the multitude. Nonetheless, although apt as a means to represent the convergence of the many into one, the imagery is not entirely successful: first, although an image of the city, it is essentially an image of only one part of the city; second, the image makes us bypass rather too quickly the Socratic elision between guardian-homogeneity and city-harmony.

4§5 In my view, Socrates’ treatment of the guardians in Book 5 is intended to maximize their so-called ‘participation in’ (koinỡnia) the Forms. To achieve this aim Socrates must inculcate in the class at least two ontic characteristics, namely, unity and certain ethical properties.[34] Socrates has managed to assign the unity and the purity of the Forms to the guardians,[35] but he has not distributed virtues to the entire city, nor has he achieved the unification of virtues for the city at large. Only a small number of the city’s inhabitants eventually ‘participate in’ the Forms. These are the philosophers who because of wisdom and knowledge (phronesis) will ‘mix’ with the Form of Good.[36] On the other hand, the virtues expressly attributed to the auxiliaries are manliness (andreia) and, possibly, moderation (sỡphrosynẽ).[37] The producers assume a passive role, and are left with the virtue of moderation, which does not even belong exclusively to them, as they share it with the auxiliaries.[38] What is more, the producers are not educated in self-control, but become moderate because the auxiliaries and the philosophers join forces.

4§6 Despite Socrates’ intentions then, the citizens are not as unified as the image of the city as a single body intends them to be. It is this resolution to attain harmony between the one person and the many individuals and between the different parts of the same soul––which the image of Book 5 captures, but which, as repeatedly suggested in the scholarship, the Republic fails to achieve.[39] The comparison, despite being expressly called an image of the entire city, eventually works better as a metaphor for the harmonization of the individual tripartite soul. In other words, the imagery and argumentation of Book 5 creates an unresolved tension between the notions of harmony and unity. As regards the city, Socrates may advocate harmony, but what he exhibits instead in Book 5 is unity and homogeneity for the guardians. Harmony, on the other hand, remains the key means to talk about the human psyche; and it is not by accident that Plato deploys music to do so in Book 4.[40]


5§1 In my view, Plato’s ethical and political scheme in the Republic addresses the highly complex problem of the compresence of opposites in the actions and disposition of humans. According to the scholarship, the so-called compresence of opposites in the world of Becoming, namely the idea that sensibles may have at the same time diametrically opposite properties, is the prime reason behind Plato’s posing of the Forms. The compresence of opposites infiltrates the ethical level of existence too, as an individual may be seen to bear at the same time opposite ethical qualities, or diverse and irreconcilable ethical qualities, posing thus difficult questions about how to assess one’s character and ethical choices.[41] In Plato’s middle writing period, this problem of extreme opposition and antithesis pervades the world of Becoming, but not the sphere of the Forms that negate conflict, diversity, and opposition. Consequently, in trying to create citizens who will have only positive ethical qualities in the Republic, Socrates is following certain ontological rules (Rep. 401b-d).

5§2 But the point could be made that it is from this imitation of the Forms that the various problems related to the harmonization of the three classes also arise. If we take the image of the city as a single body, in particular, as a representation par excellence of humans’ participation (koinỡnia) in the Forms, then Plato’s Socrates has managed to fight diversity and multiplicity for a limited part of the city and has also attributed to this part a narrow gamut of virtues. Plato is fully aware, I believe, of the various problems that arise from the fact that his educational proposals in the Republic leave out the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants, as well as of the restricted character of his distribution of virtues.[42] The integration of the producers and the artisans remains for Plato a philosophically intricate and demanding problem. The producers and the various artisans, who in psychic terms are identified with the pleasures of the appetitive part and who, furthermore, stand for every sort of complexity, intricacy, and diversity can be neither unified nor harmonised easily, and thus cannot be moulded to resemble or imitate the simplicity of the Forms on earth. When he addresses this problem anew in the Politicus and the Laws, certain parameters have changed. He has now found new ways to address the problem of division and binary opposition, he has modified his concept of the Forms so that instead of being isolated, they communicate at an ontological level, and he has also found the way to diffuse the (musical) harmonization of an individual’s soul to the society at large.


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* I would like to thank Andrew Barker, Kate Birney, and Eirene Visvardi for their valuable comments on various drafts of this paper.

[1] For an interpretation of ‘participation’ in the context of Platonic metaphysics, see Silverman 2002: 144: “Participation between a particular and a Form does not “tie” or “add” a property to an independently existing object, an object that would or could exist prior to any Participation it might engage in. Rather, participation is what gives the particular any and all of its properties; it somehow brings about the particular. Participation, therefore, would not be a relation holding between one object, the particular, and a second, a Form”. On ‘Participation’ see also Bostock 2000: 20.

[2] The relation of the one and the many is multifaceted and preoccupies Plato in many ways. In the dialogues of the so-called middle period, questions are raised about the relation of Being and Becoming and the sensibles’ participation in the Forms. In the middle period, the particulars of the physical world are complex individuals or composite pluralities, whose relation to the Forms in ‘many under one’. The Forms on the other hand, are (simple) unities which relate to the particulars as ‘one over many’. See McCabe 1994 (esp. 25). In the dialogues that postdate the Republic, the relation between a whole and its parts is explicitly theorized and associated with issues of composition as well as with Plato’s metaphysics of structure. On the late Platonic period, see Harte 2002.

[3] The bibliography on the particulars’ participation in the Forms is vast. On the particulars as an ‘imperfect embodiment’ of the Forms, see Allen, in Allen (ed.) 43-60; Nehamas 1973: 461-491, and Nehamas 1975: 105-117; and Irwin 1977: 1-13.

[4] Plato discusses the unity of virtue(s) in a number of dialogues. In Protagoras 329d3-8, Socrates and Protagoras discuss the proposition that virtue is a whole of which justice, piety, and moderation are parts. In the Republic (Books 4 and 5) the various virtues are related to the tripartition of the city and the soul. The city-soul analogy has generated much controversy in the scholarship: see Williams, in Lee, Rorty and Mourelatos (eds.) 1973: 196-206; Lear 1992: 184-215; Lear, in Irwin and Nussbaum (eds.) 1993: 137-159; Ferrari 2003; Santas, in Santas (ed.) 2006: 125-145; Kosman, in Ferrari (ed.) 2007: 116-137. In addition, see Brown, in Barney, Brennan and Brittain (eds.) 2012: 53-73. On the relation between Platonic psychology and metaphysics in the Republic, see Cooper 1977: 151-157; and Ferrari, in Ferrari (ed.) 2007: 165-201.

[5] See Πετράκη, in Αθανασσάκη, Νικολαΐδης, Σπαθάρας (eds.) 2014: 283-319. I use here and throughout this paper the terms metaphysics and ontology to talk about Plato’s Forms both anachronistically and as a matter of convenience. I am aware of the fact that both terms are post-Platonic in origin.

[6] Plato draws attention to the metaphysical relation of the city and the soul with the Forms in Rep. 435b1-2: “then a just man won’t differ at all from a just city in respect to the form of justice; rather he’ll be like the city” (italics mine).

[7] The literature on Plato’s Forms is of course enormous. Although I concur with the scholars who point out that there is not “a single mention in any Platonic dialogue of a ‘theory’ of ideas or forms” (so Hyland 1995: 168), I believe that an account of Platonic metaphysics can be put together from passages selected from certain dialogues, namely the Symposium, the Phaedo, the Republic, the Phaedrus and the Parmenides. See Annas 1981: 218-233; Kahn 1996: 359-363. On Forms in the middle period, see Ross 1951; Crombie 1963: 247-319; Cherniss in Allen (ed.) 1965: 1-13; Moravsick, in Werkmeister (ed.) 1976: 1-20; Fine 1993: 66-119; McCabe 1994: 75-94; McPherran 1996: 293; Silverman 2002: Ch. 4; Dancy 2004. In addition, see the collection of articles in Vlastos (ed.) 1970; Fine (ed.) 1999 and Fine 2003; and Welton (ed.) 2002.

[8] My approach to Plato’s late ontology is in agreement with those scholars who do not see Plato repenting of the Forms in his late period. The ontological shifts of the late period I refer to here involve the Forms’ “interweaving” (symplokẽ Ideỡn) as presented in the Sophist. See Silverman 2002: Ch. 5; Kahn 2014: Chs. 3 and 4.

[9] This paper is part of a bigger project in which I investigate Plato’s use of art metaphors to talk about ontology and metaphysics and their relation to the level of Becoming. The development of Plato’s art imagery with regard to the unity of virtues, which I have outlined here, cannot be pursued within the scope of this paper.

[10] In Rep. 422e and 423b-d, Socrates says that it is only the just city that can properly be called a polis, because the just polis has sufficient unity (see n. 1 above). In the Laws, 5. 739c-e, the ‘best’ city is the one in which the citizens share everything and behave as one person. For the Athenian Stranger, though, this is a ‘city of gods’, which holds the first rank (Laws 739a4; 739b3; 739e4; 875d3). On the contrary, Magnesia, the Laws’ city is organised for humans and is said to occupy ‘the second rank’ (Laws 739a4; 739b3; 739e4; 875d3).

[11] So Rep. 462b.

[12] See Rep. 420c4-e1: ὥσπερ οὖν ἂν εἰ ἡμᾶς ἀνδριάντα γράφοντας προσελθών τις ἔψεγε λέγων ὅτι οὐ τοῖς καλλίστοις τοῦ ζῴου τὰ κάλλιστα φάρμακα προστίθεμεν—οἱ γὰρ ὀφθαλμοὶ κάλλιστον ὂν οὐκ ὀστρείῳ ἐναληλιμμένοι εἶεν ἀλλὰ μέλανι—μετρίως ἂν ἐδοκοῦμεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀπολογεῖσθαι λέγοντες· “῏Ω θαυμάσιε, μὴ οἴου δεῖν ἡμᾶς οὕτω καλοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς γράφειν, ὥστε μηδὲ ὀφθαλμοὺς φαίνεσθαι, μηδ’ αὖ τἆλλα μέρη, ἀλλ’ ἄθρει εἰ τὰ προσήκοντα ἑκάστοις ἀποδιδόντες τὸ ὅλον καλὸν ποιοῦμεν· καὶ δὴ καὶ νῦν μὴ ἀνάγκαζε ἡμᾶς τοιαύτην εὐδαιμονίαν τοῖς φύλαξι προσάπτειν, ἣ ἐκείνους πᾶν μᾶλλον [e.] ἀπεργάσεται ἢ φύλακας. (“Suppose, then, that someone came up to us while we were painting a statue and objected that, because we had painted the eyes (which are the most beautiful part) black rather than purple, we had not applied the most beautiful colors to the most beautiful parts of the statue. We’d think it reasonable to offer the following defense: “You mustn’t expect us to paint the eyes so beautifully that they no longer appear to be eyes at all, and the same with the other parts. Rather you must look to see whether by dealing with each part appropriately, we are making the whole statue beautiful”. Similarly, you mustn’t force us to give our guardians the kind of happiness that would make them something other than guardians.”) The translations of the Republic are after Grube (as revised by Reeve).

[13] See Pender 2000: 1-27. The word eikon has a wide semantic range in the Platonic corpus. It is used both rhetorically to mean “metaphors, similes and other types of verbal comparisons and illustrations”, and in non-rhetorical contexts to denote “a statue or portrait or figures in paintings”. On eikones in the Republic, see Petraki 2011: 78-105. On the difference between philosophic and poetic images in the Republic, see see Napolitano Valditara 2004: 1-81; Pender, in G. R. Boys-Stones [ed.] 2003: 55-81; Petraki 2011: Chs. 3 and 4.

[14] The image has raised questions regarding Plato’s tripartite division of the soul and the isomorphism between city and soul. An examination of the isomorphism lies outside the scope of this paper. See Schofield 2006: 253-264; Annas 1981: Ch. 5.

[15] In my examination of this comparison in this paper, I do not focus on the questions that it can raise as an image of the harmonious soul. (On which, see for example Irwin 1995: Ch. 13) Instead, I am primarily interested in investigating the reasons behind Plato’s choice of this particular image of a single body to depict the integration of the many inhabitants into a harmonious whole.

[16] Cp. the comments made about happiness in the image of the city as a statue in Book 4 discussed in the previous section. Notice, however, that although as regards the body, all parts are considered equal (cp. the example of the finger) with respect to the pain they may cause, the supremacy of the rational part is maintained in this image too (τὴν τοῦ ἄρχοντος ἐν αὐτῇ, 462c12-d1).

[17] Note the reference to demotikẽ aretẽ in this context: unlike Socrates, whose education in the Republic is directed at the guardians and the philosophers, the philosopher-king will ‘educate’ the entire city. Cp. Rep. 443c4-7. Note that in 472d5-e, Socrates uses again the metaphor of painting in relation to the ideal city to emphasize this time the difficulty of realizing the project. Again the metaphor employed is of the city as a single man.

[18] See Rep. 443c4-7, where Socrates explicitly acknowledge that the definition of justice as ‘doing one’s own’ in terms of crafts (with cobbling being given as an example) is an eidolon of justice, which does follow the typos of justice but is not true justice. Immediately afterwards, in 443c9-444a2, Socrates states expressly that in truth “justice is not concerned with someone’s doing his own externally, but with what is inside him, with what is truly himself and his own”.

[19] The importance of the guardian class is fundamental in the Republic. The class, which at the end of Book 3 has been divided into the auxiliaries (epikouroi) and the guardians, has both societal and psychological duties: they defend the city against the external enemies and they control the unnecessary appetites.

[20] This is remedied in many ways in the Laws, “a study not of the height of human excellence, but of ordinary virtue”. So Kraut, in Bobonich (ed.) 2010: 51-70 (here 64). According to Kraut, “ordinary (politikẽ or dẽmotikẽ aretẽ) virtue is a topic to which the Republic pays no attention”. Nor is any attention devoted to the question of how ordinary people, who are not philosophers or guardians, are to be educated. See also Vasiliou 2008: Ch. 7.

[21] Scholars have refrained from locating a continuity of themes in these three waves. See, however, Halliwell (1993: 3) who calls this change of style and theme in Book 5 a “move between the mundane and the eternal”. In addition, see Howland 1998: 663-657. For a detailed analysis of the style and the imagistic wording of the “two waves” of Book 5, see Petraki 2011: 116-132. Ferrari, in Vegetti, Ferrari and Lynch (eds.) 2013: Ch. 6.

[22] See Πετράκη, in Αθανασάκη, Νικολαΐδης, and Σπαθάρας (eds.) 2014: 283-295.

[23] On difference and division as sources of pluralization, see Harte: 8-32.

[24] On the diversity of the philosophical painting in the Republic, see Petraki 2013: 71-94.

[25] Cp. Rep. 466d.

[26] See Rep. 464c-d: ῏Αρ’ οὖν οὐχ, ὅπερ λέγω, τά τε πρόσθεν εἰρημένα καὶ τὰ νῦν λεγόμενα ἔτι μᾶλλον ἀπεργάζεται αὐτοὺς ἀληθινοὺς φύλακας, καὶ ποιεῖ μὴ διασπᾶν τὴν πόλιν τὸ ἐμὸν ὀνομάζοντας μὴ τὸ αὐτὸ ἀλλἄλλον ἄλλο […] (Then, isn’t it true, just as I claimed, that what we are saying now, taken together with what we said before, makes even better guardians out of them and prevents them from tearing the city apart by not calling the same thing “mine”?

[27] See Rep. 455d8: ἀλλ’ ὁμοίως διεσπαρμέναι αἱ φύσεις ἐν ἀμφοῖν τοῖν ζῴοιν, 456b3: συγγενεῖς αὐτοῖς τὴν φύσιν, and 473d4: τῶν δὲ νῦν πορευομένων χωρὶς ἐφ’ ἑκάτερον αἱ πολλαὶ φύσεις ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἀποκλεισθῶσιν […]

[28] See Ketchum 1994: 1-21. These lines have generated a lot of controversy in the literature as to whether Plato implies here the existence of Forms of Badness, Injustice, and Ugliness. I concur with Rowe (2007: 200-2013), who argues that the Forms stand in the background of Socrates’ discussion with Glaucon, but that we should not interpret the word eidos here to refer exclusively to the Forms. Thus Socrates may refer here to ‘forms’ or ‘kinds’. So Adam 1963/1902 vol. 1: 168; see also Ross 1951: 229; Kahn 1993: 41.

[29] I use the term ‘compresence’ of opposites to refer to the simultaneous presence of a pair of opposite characteristics in a single subject. In the scholarship, the compresence of opposites lies behind Plato’s posing of the Forms. See Fine 1993: 44-65. See also above n. 3.

[30] On philia in Rep. 5, see Price 1989:179-192; Schofield 2006: 247.

[31] On the ideological force of this rhetoric, see Prauscello 2014: 52-56. On the rhetoric of civil strife and the treatment of the city as a subject, see in addition Loraux 2002: 63-92. (I owe this reference to Pr. Ioanna Papadopoulou.)

[32] See, for example, Halliwell 1993: 171, who comments on the inconsistency: “But even if the unity of the Guardians could be realised as proposed, we are left […] with the difficulty of understanding how, as P. so cursorily states, the unity of the entire city would follow from it. […] All that can be said here is that beneath bk. 5’s conception of the unity of the city, there lies the tenet that the rule of reason must always be for the best (9. 590d)”. Cp. Bertrand 2000: 41; and Laks 2005: 57-58.

[33] Plato’s catchword for the Forms in the Republic denotes identification (auto and tauton). For Forms as unities in both the middle and the late dialogues, see Rep. 507b6, 526a; 596a6; Phdr. 249c1, 265d3; Soph. 253d5, 8; Parm. 132a1,3. On the interpretation of the Forms as simple and independent entities in the middle period, see also Novak 1982: 71-85; for an approach that opposes this standard interpretation, see Cross in Allen (ed.) 1965: 13-31.

[34] Note that Socrates aims his city to escape diversity and change: see Rep. 434b; in 545d5 disintegration starts when civil war breaks out within the auxiliaries and the rulers). On the inculcation of positive ethical characteristics on the young guardians, see Rep. 401b-d.

[35] See also Rep. 460c6-7: Εἴπερ μέλλει, ἔφη, καθαρὸν τὸ γένος τῶν φυλάκων ἔσεσθαι.

[36] The philosopher’s close rapport with the Forms will help him mould himself along the ontic pattern. In the Republic and in the Symposium, this rapport is described in terms of ‘mixture’, a term with sexual connotations. This is the end of the philosopher’s long and arduous intellectual journey towards the Form. In demetaphorized terms, I understand this to mean that the guardian-philosopher has maximised his participation in the various Forms. From this angle, see also Bobonich (2002: 257) who argues that the desires, emotions, and beliefs that Plato associates with the body in the Phaedo, and the lower parts of the soul in the Republic do not draw upon a grasp of the Forms and cannot engage in reasoning based upon such a grasp. Bobonich associates this view with the discarnate souls’ vision of the Forms in the Phaedrus (299-315) and with the non-philosophers’ incapacity to recollect the Forms.

[37] Note that the auxiliaries are also related to the Forms in a mediated way, as they enjoy a reformed education (Books 2&3) which habituates them in goodness and concordance.

[38] So Saunders 1962: 52-54.

[39] See Annas 1981; Schofield 2006; Rosen 2005.

[40] See Barker 1989; and Barker 2007: 308-318; Petraki 2008: 147-170.

[41] The intellectually perplexing compresence of opposites is also one of the reasons behind Socrates’ banishment of tragedy in Republic Book 10. The circumstances in which the tragic heroes find themselves pose intricate questions for the audiences of Greek drama. In the choices and the actions of the heroes, goodness and badness, justice, and injustice, wisdom, deception, and folly are confounded often in inextricable ways, rendering the heroes themselves ethically conflictual and diverse. This incongruence is then transmitted to the viewers who internalize the myriads of “oppositions” (muriỡn enantiomatỡn, Rep. 603c4-d7). The confusing interplay of opposites, in this context, is given again through the metaphor of a particular type of painting, namely shadow-painting.

[42] In Republic 472d-e, Socrates explicitly acknowledges that the ideal city they have been trying to organize is a only “paradigm” (paradeigma), again, comparable to a painter’s portrait of the noblest and most beautiful human.