By Myles F. Burnyeat
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Extra info for Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic
Plato is well aware that what he has to say will shock and appal his readers, then as now. His proposals for the ideal city amount to a complete reconstruction of Greek culture as it existed in his day. What motivates the proposals is his profound understanding of the many subtle ways in which the ethos of a society forms the souls who grow up in it. If you shudder at the authoritarianism of his programme, remember that shudder when the newspapers next debate whether bad behaviour 2 One of the many merits of G.
W e all share in the responsibility. That is why Plato put his question as one about making the total culture as ideal as possible. That is why for him the rulers’ most important risk is to guard the [BURNYEAT] Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic 255 culture against unnoticed change for the worse (424b 4: p$ A& 6qfdaph) W e are now ready for Plato’s answer. LECTURE II. ART A N D THE MENACE OF MIMESIS PLATO’S P ROGRAMME Plato is famous for having banished poetry and poets from the ideal city of the Republic.
Would life without TV, or without advertising, be spiritually better? But Plato’s focus is interestingly different from ours. First, sex and violence are less important to him than moral and religious values more generally. Take castration. When Socrates bans Hesiod’s story of the violence done by Cronos to Ouranos and Zeus to Cronos, the reason he gives is that this is not how gods behave, and it sets a bad example to sons (377e–78b). Violence as such is not to the fore. When he objects to the story of Zeus, overcome with desire for Hera, wanting sex at once in the open air, he couples it with a quote from Odysseus about the enticements of food and wine.