republic (books 6 - 10)
And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians,
and Homer, who is at their head, know all the arts and all
things human, virtue as well as vice, and divine things too, for
that the good poet cannot compose well unless he knows his
subject, and that he who has not this knowledge can never be
a poet, we ought to consider whether here also there may not
be a similar illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imi-
tators and been deceived by them; they may not have remem-
bered when they saw their works that these were but imitations
thrice removed from the truth, and could easily be made with-
out any knowledge of the truth, because they are appearances
only and not realities? Or, after all, they may be in the right,
and poets do really know the things about which they seem to
the many to speak so well?
The question, he said, should by all means be considered.
Now do you suppose that if a person were able to make the
original as well as the image, he would seriously devote himself
to the image-making branch? Would he allow imitation to be
the ruling principle of his life, as if he had nothing higher in
I should say not.
The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be
interested in realities and not in imitations; and would desire
to leave as memorials of himself works many and fair; and,
instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to
be the theme of them.
Yes, he said, that would be to him a source of much greater
honor and profit.
Then, I said, we must put a question to Homer; not about
medicine, or any of the arts to which his poems only incidentally
refer: we are not going to ask him, or any other poet, whether
he has cured patients like Asclepius, or left behind him a school
of medicine such as the Asclepiads were, or whether he only
talks about medicine and other arts at second-hand; but we
have a right to know respecting military tactics, politics, edu-
cation, which are the chiefest and noblest subjects of his poems,
and we may fairly ask him about them. "Friend Homer,"
then we say to him, "if you are only in the second remove from
truth in what you say of virtue, and not in the third--not an
image maker or imitator--and if you are able to discern what
pursuits make men better or worse in private or public life, tell
us what State was ever better governed by your help? The
good order of Lacedaemon is due to Lycurgus, and many other
cities, great and small, have been similarly benefited by others;
but who says that you have been a good legislator to them and
have done them any good? Italy and Sicily boast of Charon-
das, and there is Solon who is renowned among us; but what
city has anything to say about you?" Is there any city which
he might name?
I think not, said Glaucon; not even the Homerids themselves
pretend that he was a legislator.
Well, but is there any war on record which was carried on
successfully by him, or aided by his counsels, when he was