[Socrates] Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the
writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which
is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell
their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with
such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but
most of those which are now in use must be discarded.
Of what tales are you speaking? he said.
You may find a model of the lesser in the greater, I said; for they are
necessarily of the same type, and there is the same spirit in both of them.
Very likely, he replied; but I do not as yet know what you would term
Those, I said, which are narrated by Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of
the poets, who have ever been the great storytellers of mankind.
But which stories do you mean, he said; and what fault do you find with
A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling a lie, and,
what is more, a bad lie.
But when is this fault committed?
Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and
heroes - as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a
likeness to the original.
Yes, he said, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what
are the stories which you mean?
First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies in high
places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too - I
mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him.
The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted
upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to
young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in
silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen
few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common
[Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the
number of the hearers will be very few indeed.
Why, yes, said he, those stories are extremely objectionable.
[Socrates] Yes, Adeimantus, they are stories not to be repeated in our
State; the young man should not be told that in committing the worst of
crimes he is far from doing anything outrageous; and that even if he
chastises his father when he does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only
be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods.
I entirely agree with you, he said; in my opinion those stories are
quite unfit to be repeated.
[Socrates] Neither, if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit
of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any
word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings
of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never
mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments;
and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and
heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we
would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time
has there been any quarrel between citizens; this is what old men and old
women should begin by telling children; and when they grow up, the poets
also should be told to compose them in a similar spirit. But the narrative
of Hephaestus binding Here his mother, or how on another occasion Zeus sent
him flying for taking her part when she was being beaten, and all the
battles of the gods in Homer - these tales must not be admitted into our
State, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For
a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal;
anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become
indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the
tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.
There you are right, he replied; but if anyone asks where are such
models to be found and of what tales are you speaking - how shall we answer
[Socrates] I said to him, You and I, Adeimantus, at this moment are not
poets, but founders of a State: now the founders of a State ought to know
the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits
which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their
Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean?
[Socrates] Something of this kind, I replied: God is always to be
represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric, or
tragic, in which the representation is given.
[Socrates] And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented as
[Socrates] And no good thing is hurtful?
[Socrates] And that which is not hurtful hurts not?
[Socrates] And that which hurts not does no evil?
[Socrates] And can that which does no evil be a cause of evil?
[Socrates] And the good is advantageous?
[Socrates] And therefore the cause of well-being?
[Socrates] It follows, therefore, that the good is not the cause of all
things, but of the good only?
[Socrates] Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as
the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most
things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are
the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the
causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.
That appears to me to be most true, he said.
[Socrates] Then we must not listen to Homer or to any other poet who is
guilty of the folly of saying that two casks
"Lie at the threshold of Zeus, full of lots, one of good, the other
of evil lots,"
and that he to whom Zeus gives a mixture of the two
"Sometimes meets with evil fortune, at other times with good;"
but that he to whom is given the cup of unmingled ill,
"Him wild hunger drives o'er the beauteous earth."
And again -
"Zeus, who is the dispenser of good and evil to us."
And if anyone asserts that the violation of oaths and treaties, which
was really the work of Pandarus, was brought about by Athene and Zeus, or
that the strife and contention of the gods were instigated by Themis and
Zeus, he shall not have our approval; neither will we allow our young men
to hear the words of Aeschylus, that
"God plants guilt among men when he desires utterly to destroy a
And if a poet writes of the sufferings of Niobe - the subject of the
tragedy in which these iambic verses occur - or of the house of Pelops, or
the Trojan War or on any similar theme, either we must not permit him to
say that these are the works of God, or if they are of God, he must devise
some explanation of them such as we are seeking: he must say that God did
what was just and right, and they were the better for being punished; but
that those who are punished are miserable, and that God is the author of
their misery - the poet is not to be permitted to say; though he may say
the wicked are miserable because they require to be punished, and are
benefited by receiving punishment from God; but that God being good is the
author of evil to anyone is to be strenuously denied, and not to be said or
sung or heard in verse or prose by anyone whether old or young in any
well-ordered commonwealth. Such a fiction is suicidal, ruinous, impious.
I agree with you, he replied, and am ready to give my assent to the law.
[Socrates] Let this then be one of our rules and principles concerning
the gods, to which our poets and reciters will be expected to conform -
God is not the author of all things, but of good only.
That will do, he said.
[Socrates] And what do you think of a second principle? Shall I ask you
whether God is a magician, and of a nature to appear insidiously now in one
shape, and now in another - sometimes himself changing and passing into
forms, sometimes deceiving us with the semblance of such transformations;
or is he one and the same immutably fixed in his own proper image?
I cannot answer you, he said, without more thought.
Well, I said; but if we suppose a change in anything, that change must
be effected either by the thing itself or by some other thing?
And things which are at their best are also least liable to be altered
or discomposed; for example, when healthiest and strongest, the human frame
is least liable to be affected by meats and drinks, and the plant which is
in the fullest vigour also suffers least from winds or the heat of the sun
or any similar causes.
And will not the bravest and wisest soul be least confused or deranged
by any external influence?
And the same principle, as I should suppose, applies to all composite
things - furniture, houses, garments: when good and well made, they are
altered by time and circumstances.
Then everything which is good, whether made by art or nature, or both,
is least liable to suffer change from without?
But surely God and the things of God are in every way perfect?
Of course they are.
Then he can hardly be compelled by external influence to take many
But may he not change and transform himself?
Clearly, he said, that must be the case if he is changed at all.
And will he then change himself for the better and fairer, or for the
worse and more unsightly?
If he change at all he can only change for the worse, for we cannot
suppose him to be deficient either in virtue or beauty.
Very true, Adeimantus; but then, would anyone, whether God or man,
desire to make himself worse?
Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being,
as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every God remains
absolutely and forever in his own form.
That necessarily follows, he said, in my judgment.
Then, I said, my dear friend, let none of the poets tell us that
"The gods, taking the disguise of strangers from other lands, walk up
and down cities in all sorts of forms;"
and let no one slander Proteus and Thetis, neither let anyone, either in
tragedy or in any other kind of poetry, introduce Here disguised in the
likeness of a priestess asking an alms
"For the life-giving daughters of Inachus the river of Argos;"
- let us have no more lies of that sort. Neither must we have mothers
under the influence of the poets scaring their children with a bad version
of these myths - telling how certain gods, as they say, "Go about by night
the likeness of so many strangers and in divers forms;" but let them take
heed lest they make cowards of their children, and at the same time speak
blasphemy against the gods.
Heaven forbid, he said.
But although the gods are themselves unchangeable, still by witchcraft
and deception they may make us think that they appear in various forms?
Perhaps, he replied.
Well, but can you imagine that God will be willing to lie, whether in
word or deed, or to put forth a phantom of himself?
I cannot say, he replied.
Do you not know, I said, that the true lie, if such an expression may be
allowed, is hated of gods and men?
What do you mean? he said.
I mean that no one is willingly deceived in that which is the truest and
highest part of himself, or about the truest and highest matters; there,
above all, he is most afraid of a lie having possession of him.
Still, he said, I do not comprehend you.
The reason is, I replied, that you attribute some profound meaning to my
words; but I am only saying that deception, or being deceived or uninformed
about the highest realities in the highest part of themselves, which is the
soul, and in that part of them to have and to hold the lie, is what mankind
least like; - that, I say, is what they utterly detest.
There is nothing more hateful to them.
And, as I was just now remarking, this ignorance in the soul of him who
is deceived may be called the true lie; for the lie in words is only a kind
of imitation and shadowy image of a previous affection of the soul, not
pure unadulterated falsehood. Am I not right?
The true lie is hated not only by the gods, but also by men?
[Socrates] Whereas the lie in words is in certain cases useful and not
hateful; in dealing with enemies - that would be an instance; or again,
those whom we call our friends in a fit of madness or illusion are going to
do some harm, then it is useful and is a sort of medicine or preventive;
also in the tales of mythology, of which we were just now speaking -
we do not know the truth about ancient times, we make falsehood as much
like truth as we can, and so turn it to account.
[Socrates] Very true, he said.
[Socrates] But can any of these reasons apply to God? Can we suppose
that he is ignorant of antiquity, and therefore has recourse to invention?
That would be ridiculous, he said.
[Socrates] Then the lying poet has no place in our idea of God?
I should say not.
[Socrates] Or perhaps he may tell a lie because he is afraid of enemies?
That is inconceivable.
[Socrates] But he may have friends who are senseless or mad?
But no mad or senseless person can be a friend of God.
[Socrates] Then no motive can be imagined why God should lie?
[Socrates] Then the superhuman, and divine, is absolutely incapable of
[Socrates] Then is God perfectly simple and true both in word and deed;
he changes not; he deceives not, either by sign or word, by dream or waking
Your thoughts, he said, are the reflection of my own.
[Socrates] You agree with me then, I said, that this is the second type
or form in which we should write and speak about divine things. The gods
are not magicians who transform themselves, neither do they deceive mankind
in any way.
I grant that.
[Socrates] Then, although we are admirers of Homer, we do not admire the
lying dream which Zeus sends to Agamemnon; neither will we praise the
verses of Aeschylus in which Thetis says that Apollo at her nuptials
"was celebrating in song her fair progeny whose days were to be
and to know no sickness. And when he had spoken of my lot as in all
things blessed of heaven, he raised a note of triumph and cheered my
soul. And I thought that the word of Phoebus, being divine and full
of prophecy, would not fail. And now he himself who uttered the
strain, he who was present at the banquet, and who said this - he it
who has slain my son."
These are the kind of sentiments about the gods which will arouse our
anger; and he who utters them shall be refused a chorus; neither shall we
allow teachers to make use of them in the instruction of the young,
meaning, as we do, that our guardians, as far as men can be, should be true
worshippers of the gods and like them.
I entirely agree, he said, in these principles, and promise to make them
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