Book III

Glaucon,[1] the son of Ariston, had conceived such an ardour to gain the headship of the state that nothing could hinder him but he must deliver a course of public speeches,[2] though he had not yet reached the age of twenty. His friends and relatives tried in vain to stop him making himself ridiculous and being dragged down from the bema.[3] Socrates, who took a kindly interest in the youth for the sake of Charmides[4] the son of Glaucon, and of Plato, alone succeeded in restraining him. It happened thus. He fell in with him, and first of all, to get him to listen, detained him by some such remarks as the following:[5]

Ah, Glaucon (he exclaimed), so you have determined to become prime minister?[6]

Glaucon. Yes, Socrates, I have.

Socrates. And what a noble aim! if aught human ever deserved to be called noble; since if you succeed in your design, it follows, as the night the day, you will be able not only to gratify your every wish, but you will be in a position to benefit your friends, you will raise up your father's house, you will exalt your fatherland, you will become a name thrice famous in the city first, and next in Hellas, and lastly even among barbarians perhaps, like Themistocles; but be it here or be it there, wherever you be, you will be the observed of all beholders.[7]

The heart of Glaucon swelled with pride as he drank in the words, and gladly he stayed to listen.

Presently Socrates proceeded: Then this is clear, Glaucon, is it not? that you must needs benefit the city, since you desire to reap her honours?

Glaucon. Undoubtedly.

Then, by all that is sacred (Socrates continued), do not keep us in the dark, but tell us in what way do you propose first to benefit the state? what is your starting-point?[8] When Glaucon remained with sealed lips, as if he were now for the first time debating what this starting-point should be, Socrates continued: I presume, if you wished to improve a friend's estate, you would endeavour to do so by adding to its wealth, would you not? So here, maybe, you will try to add to the wealth of the state?

Most decidedly (he answered).

Socrates. And we may take it the state will grow wealthier in proportion as her revenues increase?

Glaucon. That seems probable, at any rate.

Socrates. Then would you kindly tell us from what sources the revenues of the state are at present derived, and what is their present magnitude? No doubt you have gone carefully into the question, so that if any of these are failing you may make up the deficit, or if neglected for any reason, make some new provision.[9]

Glaucon. Nay, to speak the truth, these are matters I have not thoroughly gone into.

Never mind (he said) if you have omitted the point; but you might oblige us by running through the items or heads of expenditure. Obviously you propose to remove all those which are superfluous?

Glaucon. Well, no. Upon my word I have not had time to look into that side of the matter either as yet.

Socrates. Then we will postpone for the present the problem of making the state wealthier; obviously without knowing the outgoings and the incomings it would be impossible to deal with the matter seriously.

But, Socrates (Glaucon remarked), it is possible to enrich the state out of the pockets of her enemies!

Yes, to be sure, considerably (answered Socrates), in the event of getting the better of them; but in the event of being worsted, it is also possible to lose what we have got.

A true observation (he replied).

And therefore (proceeded Socrates), before he makes up his mind with what enemy to go to war, a statesman should know the relative powers of his own city and the adversary's, so that, in case the superiority be on his own side, he may throw the weight of his advice into the scale of undertaking war; but if the opposite he may plead in favour of exercising caution.

You are right (he answered).

Socrates. Then would you for our benefit enumerate the land and naval forces first of Athens and then of our opponents?

Glaucon. Pardon me. I could not tell you them off-hand at a moment's notice.

Or (added Socrates), if you have got the figures on paper, you might produce them. I cannot tell how anxious I am to hear your statement.

Glaucon. No, I assure you, I have not got them even on paper yet.

Socrates. Well then, we will defer tending advice on the topic of peace or war, in a maiden speech at any rate.[10] I can understand that, owing to the magnitude of the questions, in these early days of your ministry you have not yet fully examined them. But come, I am sure that you have studied the defences of the country, at all events, and you know exactly how many forts and outposts are serviceable[11] and how many are not; you can tell us which garrisons are strong enough and which defective; and you are prepared to throw in the weight of your advice in favour of increasing the serviceable outposts and sweeping away those that are superfluous?

Glaucon. Yes, sweep them all away, that's my advice; for any good that is likely to come of them! Defences indeed! so maintained that the property of the rural districts is simply pilfered.

But suppose you sweep away the outposts (he asked), may not something worse, think you, be the consequence? will not sheer plundering be free to any ruffian who likes? . . . But may I ask is this judgment the result of personal inspection? have you gone yourself and examined the defences? or how do you know that they are all maintained as you say?

Glaucon. I conjecture that it is so.

Socrates. Well then, until we have got beyond the region of conjecture shall we defer giving advice on the matter? (It will be time enough when we know the facts.)

Possibly it would be better to wait till then (replied Glaucon).

Socrates. Then there are the mines,[12] but, of course, I am aware that you have not visited them in person, so as to be able to say why they are less productive than formerly.

Well, no; I have never been there myself (he answered).

Socrates. No, Heaven help us! an unhealthy district by all accounts; so that, when the moment for advice on that topic arrives, you will have an excuse ready to hand.

I see you are making fun of me (Glaucon answered).

Socrates. Well, but here is a point, I am sure, which you have not neglected. No, you will have thoroughly gone into it, and you can tell us. For how long a time could the corn supplies from the country districts support the city? how much is requisite for a single year, so that the city may not run short of this prime necessary, before you are well aware; but on the contrary you with your full knowledge will be in a position to give advice on so vital a question, to the aid or may be the salvation of your country?

It is a colossal business this (Glaucon answered), if I am to be obliged to give attention to all these details.

Socrates. On the other hand, a man could not even manage his own house or his estate well, without, in the first place, knowing what he requires, and, in the second place, taking pains, item by item, to supply his wants. But since this city consists of more than ten thousand houses, and it is not easy to pay minute attention to so many all at once, how is it you did not practise yourself by trying to augment the resources of one at any rate of these--I mean your own uncle's? The service would not be thrown away. Then if your strength suffices in the single case you might take in hand a larger number; but if you fail to relieve one, how could you possibly hope to succeed with many? How absurd for a man, if he cannot carry half a hundredweight, to attempt to carry a whole![13]

Glaucon. Nay, for my part, I am willing enough to assist my uncle's house, if my uncle would only be persuaded to listen to my advice.

Socrates. Then, when you cannot persuade your uncle, do you imagine you will be able to make the whole Athenian people, uncle and all, obey you? Be careful, Glaucon (he added), lest in your thirst for glory and high repute you come to the opposite. Do you not see how dangerous it is for a man to speak or act beyond the range[14] of his knowledge? To take the cases known to you of people whose conversation or conduct clearly transcends these limits: should you say they gain more praise or more blame on that account? Are they admired the rather or despised? Or, again, consider those who do know what they say and what they do; and you will find, I venture to say, that in every sort of undertaking those who enjoy repute and admiration belong to the class of those endowed with the highest knowledge; whilst conversely the people of sinister reputation, the mean and the contemptible, emanate from some depth of ignorance and dulness. If therefore what you thirst for is repute and admiration as a statesman, try to make sure of one accomplishment: in other words, the knowledge as far as in you lies of what you wish to do.[15] If, indeed, with this to distinguish you from the rest of the world you venture to concern yourself with state affairs, it would not surprise me but that you might reach the goal of your ambition easily.

[1] Glaucon, Plato's brother. Grote, "Plato," i. 508.

[2] "Harangue the People."

[3] See Plat. "Protag." 319 C: "And if some person offers to give them advice who is not supposed by them to have any skill in the art [sc. of politics], even though he be good-looking, and rich, and noble, they will not listen to him, but laugh at him, and hoot him, until he is either clamoured down and retires of himself; or if he persists, he is dragged away or put out by the constables at the command of the prytanes" (Jowett). Cf. Aristoph. "Knights," 665, {kath eilkon auton oi prutaneis kai toxotai}.

[4] For Charmides (maternal uncle of Plato and Glaucon, cousin of Critias) see ch. vii. below; Plato the philosopher, Glaucon's brother, see Cobet, "Pros. Xen." p. 28.

[5] Or, "and in the first instance addressing him in such terms he could not choose but hear, detained him." See above, II. vi. 11. Socrates applies his own theory.

[6] {prostateuein}.

[7] "The centre of attraction--the cynosure of neighbouring eyes."

[8] Or, "tell us what your starting-point will be in the path of benefaction."

[9] Or, "or if others have dropped out or been negligently overlooked, you may replace them."

[10] See "Econ." xi. 1.

[11] Or, "advantageously situated." See the author's own tract on "Revenues."

[12] Again the author's tract on "Revenues" is a comment on the matter.

[13] Lit. "a single talent's weight . . . to carry two."

[14] Or, "to talk of things which he does not know, or to meddle with them."

[15] Or, "try as far as possible to achieve one thing, and that is to know the business which you propose to carry out."