Ancient P olitical Political Thought

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1 Ancient Political Thought Plato s Republic

2 Overview I Setting Historical Background Structure of the work Cast of Characters

3 I. The Setting: Locale Locale: Pireaus Port of Athens, about 6 miles from city Center of commerce like NYC today the usual diversity and disorder associated with a trading center Center of the democratic party in Athens; i.e., those citizens who wanted popular control of the political life of the city

4 I. The Setting: The Polis The Republic is the Latin translation of the Greek politeia politeia. Politeia itself derives from the root politiēs or citizen ( literally one who belongs to the city ) Politiēs also gives us polis or city and is the root of our modern understanding of politics The word for statesman politikos means one who knows the things of the city.

5 I. The Setting: The Polis Polis as city/state City is the fundamental political unit at the time, indeed the fundamental social unit Bit like the modern understanding of the state, but with some technical differences

6 I. The Setting: The Politeia The Politeia or Republic is then: The class of citizens who rule the city They influence and structure the basic way of life of the city through their character and their actions Think of it as a regime So the book describing the true or best regime, is simply called The Regime

7 II. Historical Background Date of Dialogue About 411 B.C. In 404 B.C. (just after this dialogue) Piraeus became the center of the democratic resistance against the Thirty Tyrants who ruled Athens

8 II. Historical Background The Thirty Tyrants Athens loses the Peloponnesian War to Sparta ( B.C.E.) [more on that later] In the wake of the defeat, the Thirty seize power and rule Athens, backed by Spartan power and street thugs A number of the thirty were former students or associates of Socrates, the central figure in the Republic and all the Platonic dialogues

9 III. Structure of the Work: Plato The Republic is written by Plato (the name means broad ) Best guess on life is: B.C.E Came from upperclass Athenian family, was widely expected to play active political role, but turned instead to philosophy He had two relatives (Charmides and Critias) who were part of the Thirty Tyrant dictatorship

10 III. Structure of the Work: Plato Founded a school The Academy for the study of philosophy, p lasted until about 529 C.E.

11 III. Structure of the Work: Plato Plato wrote in a dialogue form Amazingly, all of his writing seems to have survived intact. We have all 29 dialogues* *35 were passed down from antiquity, but 6 have been rejected as not genuine

12 IV. Cast of Characters: Socrates The central character in all of the Platonic dialogues is Socrates Lived from about B.C.E. Was executed by the Athenian people following his conviction on charges of blasphemy and corrupting the youth of Athens Remember the Thirty Tyrants came to power in 404 B.C.E. Democracy was restored in 403 B.C.E.

13 Cast of Characters: Plato s Brothers Glaucon: son of Ariston a. Ariston is Plato s dad, so b. Glaucon is Plato s brother and b. father of Charmides (30 tyrants) t Adeimantus Plato s brother

14 Cast of Characters 4. Cephalus: A metic, meaning an alien (he was originally from Syracuse) who was allowed to settle in Athens and who pays taxes, but enjoyed no civil rights. Has 3 sons who appear in the dialogue 5. Polemarchus, son of Cephalus active in the democratic resistance to the tyranny will be executed by the Thirty Tyrants

15 Cast of Characters 6. Lysias, son of Cephalus, brother of Polemarchus, played a major role in the restoration of democracy renowned for his oratory called the ablest writer of his day by Plato in the Phaedrus 7. Euthydemus son of Cephalus, brother of Polemarchus

16 Cast of Characters 8. Thrasymachus earned his living by teaching rhetoric the art of political or legal persuasion 9. Cleitophon Title character in a short dialogue discussing the instruction of virtue, where Plato contrasts the Socratic style with that of Thrasymachus 10. Charmantides

17 Cast of Characters 11. Niceratus son of fnicias, i Nicias was an Athenian general elected as Co-Leader -- with Alcibiades -- of Athenian assault on Syracuse during the Pelopennesian War, but Athens loses battle of Syracuse (Nicias sees eclipse, opts not to attack) this loss hastens Athens defeat in the Peloponnesian War, which ushers in the 30 Tyrants

18 Cast of Characters: Alcibiades Aside One of Soc s best and brightest students, and a renowned leader in democratic Athens Not trusted t by Athenians, though, h which h is why they split the military command Eventually he was called back to face charges of desecrating religious shrines during a drunken spree

19 Cast of Characters: Alcibiades Aside Opts not to go back and instead heads to Sparta (middle of the war remember) Was ambushed in a woman s bed and Was ambushed in a woman s bed and assassinated on orders from Critias, another Socratic pupil and Plato relative, during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants

20 Cast of Characters: Alcibiades Coda Eventually, Alcibiades shows up in the dialogue Laches which discusses courage He is shown not to know what it is May act courageously, but doesn t really know the term. Ends up with reputation, according to Xenophon, as being one of the most licentious, the most arrogant, and the most violent leaders of the democracy

21 V. The Drama The dialogue takes place in the shadow of the Thirty Tyrant s rule The action takes place just before they seize power, but it is written just a few years after it Note the host of party is murdered by the Thirty

22 Glaucon s Question In what way does its [justice s] very possession benefit a man and injustice harm him? -- The Republic, book II, 367d, p. 26

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