republic (books 6 - 10)
And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There
are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and
yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear
them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all dis-
gusted at their unseemliness; the case of pity is repeated; there
is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a
laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because
you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out
again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre,
you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the
comic poet at home.
Quite true, he said.
And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other
affections, of desire, and pain, and pleasure, which are held to
be inseparable from every action--in all of them poetry feeds
and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets
them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are
ever to increase in happiness and virtue.
I cannot deny it.
Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of
the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator
of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the
ordering of human things, and that you should take him up
again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole
life according to him, we may love and honor those who say
these things--they are excellent people, as far as their lights
extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the
greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must re-
main firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises
of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted
into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the
honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and
the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever
been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in
That is most true, he said.
And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let
this our defence serve to show the reasonableness of our former
judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the
tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us.
But that she may not impute to us any harshness or want of
politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between
philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such
as the saying of "the yelping hound howling at her lord," or
of one "mighty in the vain talk of fools," and "the mob of
sages circumventing Zeus," and the "subtle thinkers who are
beggars after all"; and there are innumerable other signs of
ancient enmity between them. Notwithstanding this, let us
assure our sweet friend and the sister art of imitation, that if
she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we
shall be delighted to receive her--we are very conscious of her
charms; but we may not on that account betray the truth. I
dare say, Glaucon, that you are as much charmed by her as I
am, especially when she appears in Homer?
Yes, indeed, I am greatly charmed.