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Plato’s Use of Myths and Stories in His ‘Republic’: An Essay

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Throughout the ‘Republic’ Plato looks at many themes and uses a wide range of stories and myths to make and back up his various points. There are many different myths and stories used throughout this dialogue and it would be difficult to look at every single instance Plato reference one of these works, picking out some of the most interesting and key myths that are used. In Plato’s ‘Republic’, one of the things Plato does is use ‘Republic’ as a metaphor for the soul, in a religious world, such as the one Plato existed in the soul, and essence of a human was incredibly important, and we can infer, that if Plato is writing about such an important and sensitive subject, that the other stories and mythology he uses will be equally important to understanding the story and points he is making as a whole. Another key point within the ‘Republic’ is the search of justice and the different things that means to different people. Social justice lawful justice being just some of the examples of this. When looking at justice in the context of myths is interesting because very often gods are the ones who dole out the justice (unless it directly includes them and then they more often than not just do what they like especially when women are involved). So, when there is a book, whose point is looking at justice having the gods involved in the myths is problematic as well as hypocritical but unavoidable in the society at the time. This is why I think Plato has chosen stories and myths than on the whole avoid the subject of the gods. It would be difficult to rely on arguments and points derived from beings who themselves are not always very just.

In the second and third books a very interesting idea is brought up and this is developed from the concept of the guardians. Known as ‘Plato’s Noble Lie’, it is an idea that all citizens should be taught that they are all created from the same earth. Essentially from the soil of the city that they reside in. this enforces the idea that at this fundamental point we would all be equals and that everyone would have an unshakeable sense of loyalty to a place in this case their city. Created from the same earth each man should consider each other as brothers with the earth itself as their mother. When Plato later developed this idea further and explains the concept that if when people were being formed under the earth that different metals could be added to each person’s soul. This included gold which would give you attributes for a ruling class, silver for the auxiliary or protectors of the city, and then iron and bronze for farmers and craftsmen. Essentially what Plato is doing in this case is creating a mythological basis for a meritocracy. Which is essentially selecting people for each job based on what they are best at. Plato’s myth of metal would ensure that people would be doing what they are best at. Just because both your parents where farmers would not mean you could not have had silver or gold added to your soul and despite your beginnings you may be the most suited to rule. The same would be in reverse the child of a gold soul would not necessarily be suitable for a leadership rule. In a way when you take in the context of Plato’s life with close connections in Athens to some of the tyrants this would actually stop this from happening in his utopia. The reason Plato is trying to use mythology to establish this meritocracy may be that it is an easier ideal for people to except. Having a predetermined skill set based on our soul would certainly make for a simpler life rather than having to wait and see what each individual person showed an aptitude for. Very often in humans we find it easier to accept something when there is a story behind it, an example of this is all throughout Greek history and this is all the creation myths. Wherever there is a flower, echo, bee sting there is a story behind it. It makes it easier for people to understand. Especially in a time where science was not as developed as it is nowadays things would have been terrifying and having a reasonable explanation based on a higher deity or being would have provided comfort. This is something we still do today in religions. But this is what I think Plato is trying to achieve when including this explanation for his meritocracy very simply it makes it easier to understand and accept. He owns the fact that this is a story at the end the day it has been coined as his noble lie or the Phoenician tale.

Towards the end of the ‘Republic’ Plato tells us about another myth - the Myth of Er; the story includes a tale of the cosmos and the afterlife that strongly influenced religious, philosophical, and scientific thought over the centuries.

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As a whole I think that Plato would have put myths and stories into his works as they help explain some of his more complicated concepts especially in a society that thrives on the myths and legends of their people. Many people in ancient Greece were illiterate with things being passed down to them in oral tradition. When something contains great battles, character and plot lines make things easier to remember and spreads the publicity orally. Not only this but each myth within the confines of the republic serves a very specific purpose, for instance with the entirety of the republic being one large metaphor for the soul, the Myth of Er is being used as a further metaphor for the afterlife and what the soul’s journey from this world to the next will look like. There are many scholars who think Plato’s use of the story of Er to conclude is messy and strange seeing that at his heart Plato was a philosopher so it’s strange he would use something like a myth or story to conclude his work.

Something I liked when reading Plato’s work is how the myth of metal in particular worked well with the allegory of the cave, which is written as a conversation by Socrates, Plato’s mentor who features frequently throughout this work and Plato’s brother Glaucon. Within this allegory which I struggled to understand at first, he speaks of some convicts or prisoners who are held captive in a cave for their entire lives and can only see a blank wall. All they can see is shadows on the wall (created with objects in front of a fire, a primitive form of shadow puppets). Plato Socrates explain that although these shadows are the prisoner’s reality but that they do not actually represent the real reality. They go on to say that there are three higher forms of thinking which include theory of form, the natural sciences (mathematics and geometry) and deductive logic. I think that the point Socrates is trying to make is that a philosopher like him (and Plato) is fundamentally the same as a prisoner who manages to escape the cave and their previously accepted reality. As they see more of the world around them, they start to understand that what they had thought for their entire lives to be the truth was in fact incorrect and not truly the real reality. The way that this relates to the myth of metals is that these philosophers or escaped prisoners would most likely have something different in them that makes them strive for the truth and the true reality obscured by the shadows surrounding them. Whereas the rest of the prisoners who would be like normal people when compared to philosophers would not seek this truth as they do not know any different to the reality around them and would most likely fight ever truly embracing these higher concepts of thinking and truths. I think this allegory is incredibly cleaver on Plutarch’s part as it allows him to tell people or Socrates is able to tell people that there wrong and essentially deluded without actually saying it to their faces which would have undoubtedly gotten him into trouble.

In conclusion, I think that Plato was being serious when in his choice to include myths and stories in his work ‘Republic’. I think that Plato did this for a number of reasons. Primarily I think it makes sense because the book as a whole is a metaphor for the human soul, something that we believe to exist but have no real proof of, using something as equally intangible as another metaphor or legend makes more sense than trying to reason it with things we can prove.

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Plato’s Use of Myths and Stories in His ‘Republic’: An Essay. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
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