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The Republic | Book 9 | Summary



In the first section of Book 9 Socrates continues his discussion of tyranny, focusing on the tyrannical man. As readers might expect, the tyrant is depicted as a slave to his passions. For example, he beats his own father and mother, and he is inordinately greedy and concerned with bodily needs. Summing up, Socrates elicits agreement with the proposition the ideal state, under the guidance of the philosopher-king, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a tyranny under the oppression of a tyrant. Tyranny is the most wretched form of government, and the rule of a king the happiest. The tyrannical soul must always be poor and miserable.

In the discussion of pleasure and pain that follows, Socrates guides the discussants to acknowledge the practice of justice is both virtuous and profitable, while the practice of injustice is both injurious and disadvantageous. This recognition amounts to a long-awaited refutation of Thrasymachus's claim in Book 1 that justice is unprofitable and injustice is advantageous. Socrates sums up the argument: "And so from every point of view, whether of pleasure, honor, or advantage, the approver of justice is right and speaks the truth, and the disapprover is wrong and false and ignorant."

Furthermore, detection and punishment—or lack thereof—make no difference in the net impact of justice and injustice on the individual soul. A person who is just profits from the advantage justice affords him; an unjust person suffers, whether or not he is detected and/or punished.


A substantial section of Book 9 should be read as a direct continuation of Book 8. Particularly notable is Plato's harsh portrait of the tyrannical type of man, who develops (perhaps surprisingly from a modern perspective) from the democratic man.

In fact, however, Plato's portrait of the tyrant is more than a little oversimplified and biased, considering that various Greek city-states, within the past two centuries, had prospered under the rule of benevolent tyrants. Some historians, in fact, have argued tyrannos in Greek simply meant an unconstitutional king or ruler who had seized power rather than "tyrant" in the modern sense. Both Herodotus and Aristotle, for example, testify to the relatively benign tyranny of Peisistratos, who led Athens in c. 561–527 BCE. Hieron, tyrant of the Sicilian city of Syracuse from 478–467 BCE, was a liberal patron of the arts, and the poets Pindar, Simonides, Bacchylides, and Aeschylus, and also the philosopher Xenophanes, attended his court. The tyrant Periander of Corinth (died c. 587 BCE) was considered, along with Solon of Athens and the philosopher Thales of Miletus, as one of the seven sages of ancient Greece. Plato himself had substantial dealings with tyrants in Sicily, even though the details of his relationship with them remain somewhat unclear.

Ever alive to the allure and cultural importance of poetry, Socrates makes an important allusion to the lyric poet Stesichorus in Book 9 when he touches once again on the theory of Forms or Ideas. Stesichorus (c. 630–555 BCE) hailed from southern Italy, where Greek colonizers had begun to establish new settlements as early as the eighth century. One of his most striking poetic innovations was to envision the Trojan War as a struggle over the shadow, or "double," of Helen, rather than the real woman, who had been divinely spirited away to Egypt. This conceit was adopted by the famous tragedian Euripides as the premise for his tragicomedy Helen, produced at Athens in 412 BCE. Plato's readers would thus be doubly familiar with the idea of a shadow impersonation, or unreal "copy"—a concept Plato stresses as a key idea in the theory of Forms. The placement of this notion in Book 9 is strategically advantageous, considering the key ideas of "imitation" and "copy" will dominate so much of the discussion of poetry and visual art in the following book.

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