There be dragons!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

the Little Low Wall

In Book VI, ln 496d, of the Republic Socrates claims that the Just Man in the world will be like “a human being who has fallen in with wild beasts and is neither willing to join them in doing injustice nor sufficient as one man to resist all the savage animals” and as a man who “keeps quiet and minds his own business – as a man in a storm, when dust and rain are blown about by the wind, stands aside under a little wall.”

The Greek is this:

I was struck today by that image of the little wall. Influenced by Bernard Suzanne's observation that images in one myth in Plato show up in some form in all the myths, I can't help but think that this "little wall" in this passage might also be that "little wall" in the cave in Book VII, ln 514b:

Between the fire and the prisoners there is a road above, along which see a wall, built like the partitions puppet-handlers set in front of the human beings and over which they show the puppets.

The prisoners of the cave crouch behind that wall and, in the midst of the darkness of the storm, engage in - some seeing, some showing - shadow puppets. The Just Man must be among them, crouching behind that wall. Though he is just, justice alone is not sufficient for hope. Spem in alium; hope in OTHER things. The Just Man's erotic longing is for something greater than this world to be true.

That wall, though protecting him from the storm, is also preventing him from moving forward - keeps him in a crouch in his foxhole. As Winters yells to his troop "GET UP! YOU HAVE TO MOVE! IF YOU STAY HERE YOU'RE SITTING DUCKS!" Is it the wall that seperates being from non-being? image from reality? life from afterlife? Is the wall death?

His release and travel out would then be a transformation from out the storm of darkness into light for the first time. Childlike, trusting, that those things of which we speak are real. Peter says "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty." Moreover,

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


  1. Will – It’s been years since I read Plato, but your commentary reminds me of the passage which has always struck me most from the Republic: Glaucon’s challenge in book 2:
    “Therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering... Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust... the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound - will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled.” (Republic, Book II).
    Leo Strauss is one of many philosophers who have observed the eerie similarity between Glaucon’s “just man” and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who is also “impaled:”
    “One cannot read Plato’s description in the second book of the Republic of the perfectly just man who suffers what would be the just fate of the most unjust man without being reminded of Isaiah’s description of him who has done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth, yet who was oppressed and afflicted and brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” (Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, page 106).

  2. Well that certainly hits it on the head. The only problem with Straussian interpretation is that they seem to say all these stories are equal and all equally BS - good only as political motivators. I disagree. There are similarities, but the similarities are revealing, as language is designed to do, something of our nature as men.

  3. Leo's cousin Levi also tried his hand at political philosophy, I hear, but found his true vocation lay elsewhere.