Jowett: REP III 392c-398b — A forma literária

Enough of the subjects of poetry : let us now speak of the style ; and when this has been considered, both matter and manner will have been completely treated.

I do not understand what you mean, said Adeimantus.

Then I must make you understand ; and perhaps I may be more intelligible if I put the matter in this way. You are aware, I suppose, that all mythology and poetry are a narration of events, either past, present, or to come ?

Certainly, he replied.

And narration may be either simple narration or imitation, or a union of the two ? That, again, he said, I do not quite understand.

I fear that I must be a ridiculous teacher when I have so much difficulty in making myself apprehended. Like a bad speaker, therefore, I will not take the whole of the subject, but will break a piece off in illustration of my meaning. You know the first lines of the “Iliad,” in which the poet says that Chryses prayed Agamemnon to release his daughter, and that Agamemnon flew into a passion with him ; whereupon Chryses, failing of his object, invoked the anger of the god against the Achaeans. Now as far as these lines,

“And he prayed all the Greeks, but especially the two sons of Atreus, the chiefs of the people,”

the poet is speaking in his own person ; he never leads us to suppose that he is anyone else. But in what follows he takes the person of Chryses, and then he does all that he can to make us believe that the speaker is not Homer, but the aged priest himself. And in this double form he has cast the entire narrative of the events which occurred at Troy and in Ithaca and throughout the “Odyssey.”


And a narrative it remains both in the speeches which the poet recites from time to time and in the intermediate passages ?

Quite true.

But when the poet speaks in the person of another, may we not say that he assimilates his style to that of the person who, as he informs you, is going to speak ?


And this assimilation of himself to another, either by the use of voice or gesture, is the imitation of the person whose character he assumes ?

Of course.

Then in this case the narrative of the poet may be said to proceed by way of imitation ?

Very true.

Or, if the poet everywhere appears and never conceals himself, then again the imitation is dropped, and his poetry becomes simple narration. However, in order that I may make my meaning quite clear, and that you may no more say, “I don’t understand,” I will show how the change might be effected. If Homer had said, “The priest came, having his daughter’s ransom in his hands, supplicating the Achaeans, and above all the kings ;” and then if, instead of speaking in the person of Chryses, he had continued in his own person, the words would have been, not imitation, but simple narration. The passage would have run as follows (I am no poet, and therefore I drop the metre) : “The priest came and prayed the gods on behalf of the Greeks that they might capture Troy and return safely home, but begged that they would give him back his daughter, and take the ransom which he brought, and respect the god. Thus he spoke, and the other Greeks revered the priest and assented. But Agamemnon was wroth, and bade him depart and not come again, lest the staff and chaplets of the god should be of no avail to him — the daughter of Chryses should not be released, he said — she should grow old with him in Argos. And then he told him to go away and not to provoke him, if he intended to get home unscathed. And the old man went away in fear and silence, and, when he had left the camp, he called upon Apollo by his many names, reminding him of everything which he had done pleasing to him, whether in building his temples, or in offering sacrifice, and praying that his good deeds might be returned to him, and that the Achaeans might expiate his tears by the arrows of the god” — and so on. In this way the whole becomes simple narrative.

I understand, he said.

Or you may suppose the opposite case — that the intermediate passages are omitted, and the dialogue only left.

That also, he said, I understand ; you mean, for example, as in tragedy.

You have conceived my meaning perfectly ; and if I mistake not, what you failed to apprehend before is now made clear to you, that poetry and mythology are, in some cases, wholly imitative — instances of this are supplied by tragedy and comedy ; there is likewise the opposite style, in which the poet is the only speaker — of this the dithyramb affords the best example ; and the combination of both is found in epic and in several other styles of poetry. Do I take you with me ?

Yes, he said ; I see now what you meant.

I will ask you to remember also what I began by saying, that we had done with the subject and might proceed to the style.

Yes, I remember.

In saying this, I intended to imply that we must come to an understanding about the mimetic art — whether the poets, in narrating their stories, are to be allowed by us to imitate, and if so, whether in whole or in part, and if the latter, in what parts ; or should all imitation be prohibited ?

You mean, I suspect, to ask whether tragedy and comedy shall be admitted into our State ?

Yes, I said ; but there may be more than this in question : I really do not know as yet, but whither the argument may blow, thither we go.

And go we will, he said.

Then, Adeimantus, let me ask you whether our guardians ought to be imitators ; or rather, has not this question been decided by the rule already laid down that one man can only do one thing well, and not many ; and that if he attempt many, he will altogether fail of gaining much reputation in any ?


And this is equally true of imitation ; no one man can imitate many things as well as he would imitate a single one ?

He cannot.

Then the same person will hardly be able to play a serious part in life, and at the same time to be an imitator and imitate many other parts as well ; for even when two species of imitation are nearly allied, the same persons cannot succeed in both, as, for example, the writers of tragedy and comedy — did you not just now call them imitations ?

Yes, I did ; and you are right in thinking that the same persons cannot succeed in both.

Any more than they can be rhapsodists and actors at once ?


Neither are comic and tragic actors the same ; yet all these things are but imitations.

They are so.

And human nature, Adeimantus, appears to have been coined into yet smaller pieces, and to be as incapable of imitating many things well, as of performing well the actions of which the imitations are copies. Quite true, he replied.

If then we adhere to our original notion and bear in mind that our guardians, setting aside every other business, are to dedicate themselves wholly to the maintenance of freedom in the State, making this their craft, and engaging in no work which does not bear on this end, they ought not to practise or imitate anything else ; if they imitate at all, they should imitate from youth upward only those characters which are suitable to their profession — the courageous, temperate, holy, free, and the like ; but they should not depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation they should come to be what they imitate. Did you never observe how imitations, beginning in early youth and continuing far into life, at length grow into habits and become a second nature, affecting body, voice, and mind ?

Yes, certainly, he said.

Then, I said, we will not allow those for whom we profess a care and of whom we say that they ought to be good men, to imitate a woman, whether young or old, quarrelling with her husband, or striving and vaunting against the gods in conceit of her happiness, or when she is in affliction, or sorrow, or weeping ; and certainly not one who is in sickness, love, or labor.

Very right, he said.

Neither must they represent slaves, male or female, performing the offices of slaves ?

They must not.

And surely not bad men, whether cowards or any others, who do the reverse of what we have just been prescribing, who scold or mock or revile one another in drink or out of drink, or who in any other manner sin against themselves and their neighbors in word or deed, as the manner of such is. Neither should they be trained to imitate the action or speech of men or women who are mad or bad ; for madness, like vice, is to be known but not to be practised or imitated.

Very true, he replied.

Neither may they imitate smiths or other artificers, or oarsmen, or boatswains, or the like ?

How can they, he said, when they are not allowed to apply their minds to the callings of any of these ?

Nor may they imitate the neighing of horses, the bellowing of bulls, the murmur of rivers and roll of the ocean, thunder, and all that sort of thing ?

Nay, he said, if madness be forbidden, neither may they copy the behavior of madmen.

You mean, I said, if I understand you aright, that there is one sort of narrative style which may be employed by a truly good man when he has anything to say, and that another sort will be used by a man of an opposite character and education.

And which are these two sorts ? he asked.

Suppose, I answered, that a just and good man in the course of a narration comes on some saying or action of another good man — I should imagine that he will like to personate him, and will not be ashamed of this sort of imitation : he will be most ready to play the part of the good man when he is acting firmly and wisely ; in a less degree when he is overtaken by illness or love or drink, or has met with any other disaster. But when he comes to a character which is unworthy of him, he will not make a study of that ; he will disdain such a person, and will assume his likeness, if at all, for a moment only when he is performing some good action ; at other times he will be ashamed to play a part which he has never practised, nor will he like to fashion and frame himself after the baser models ; he feels the employment of such an art, unless in jest, to be beneath him, and his mind revolts at it.

So I should expect, he replied.

Then he will adopt a mode of narration such as we have illustrated out of Homer, that is to say, his style will be both imitative and narrative ; but there will be very little of the former, and a great deal of the latter. Do you agree ?

Certainly, he said ; that is the model which such a speaker must necessarily take.

But there is another sort of character who will narrate anything, and, the worse he is, the more unscrupulous he will be ; nothing will be too bad for him : and he will be ready to imitate anything, not as a joke, but in right good earnest, and before a large company. As I was just now saying, he will attempt to represent the roll of thunder, the noise of wind and hail, or the creaking of wheels, and pulleys, and the various sounds of flutes, pipes, trumpets, and all sorts of instruments : he will bark like a dog, bleat like a sheep, or crow like a cock ; his entire art will consist in imitation of voice and gesture, and there will be very little narration.

That, he said, will be his mode of speaking.

These, then, are the two kinds of style ?


And you would agree with me in saying that one of them is simple and has but slight changes ; and if the harmony and rhythm are also chosen for their simplicity, the result is that the speaker, if he speaks correctly, is always pretty much the same in style, and he will keep within the limits of a single harmony (for the changes are not great), and in like manner he will make use of nearly the same rhythm ?

That is quite true, he said.

Whereas the other requires all sorts of harmonies and all sorts of rhythms, if the music and the style are to correspond, because the style has all sorts of changes.

That is also perfectly true, he replied.

And do not the two styles, or the mixture of the two, comprehend all poetry, and every form of expression in words ? No one can say anything except in one or other of them or in both together.

They include all, he said.

And shall we receive into our State all the three styles, or one only of the two unmixed styles ? or would you include the mixed ?

I should prefer only to admit the pure imitator of virtue. Yes, I said, Adeimantus ; but the mixed style is also very charming : and indeed the pantomimic, which is the opposite of the one chosen by you, is the most popular style with children and their attendants, and with the world in general.

I do not deny it.

But I suppose you would argue that such a style is unsuitable to our State, in which human nature is not twofold or manifold, for one man plays one part only ?

Yes ; quite unsuitable.

And this is the reason why in our State, and in our State only, we shall find a shoemaker to be a shoemaker and not a pilot also, and a husbandman to be a husbandman and not a dicast also, and a soldier a soldier and not a trader also, and the same throughout ?

True, he said.

And therefore when any one of these pantomimic gentlemen, who are so clever that they can imitate anything, comes to us, and makes a proposal to exhibit himself and his poetry, we will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being ; but we must also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to exist ; the law will not allow them. And so when we have anointed him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we shall send him away to another city. For we mean to employ for our souls’ health the rougher and severer poet or story-teller, who will imitate the style of the virtuous only, and will follow those models which we prescribed at first when we began the education of our soldiers.

We certainly will, he said, if we have the power.