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Plato’s Mimetic Republic: A Preliminary Treatment of Plato’s

Preliminary Treatment of the Gennaion Pseudos.

Abstract:

This paper offers a new and novel treatment of Plato’s infamous “noble lie.” I
argue that by understanding 1) the relationship between Plato’s Republic and Sophocles’
Philoctetes; 2) the ways in which Plato uses and problematizes the notion of gennaion
throughout the Republic; and 3) the immediate context of, and preliminary remarks to,
the gennaion pseudos itself; it becomes clear that Plato is not the authoritarian or anti-
democratic thinker he is often take to be. In fact, I argue that Plato’s gennaion pseudos,
actually exemplifies a form of democratic rhetoric that is meant to counter the tyrannical
tendencies of his contemporary and future readers, and to instill a salutary ethos of
philosophic suspicion into his readers.

Paper presented to the Political Theory Workshop of Washington University

December 4, 2009

Christina Tarnopolsky

McGill University

1
As Plato’s Republic suggests, a certain amount of light can sometimes be shed

upon a topic by venturing into those spaces and places that have not been so well-trodden

by others. In this paper, I tread over (and wade through) some of these overlooked places

in an attempt to shed new light on Plato’s infamous “noble lie.”1 I argue that by

understanding 1) the relationship between Plato’s Republic and Sophocles’ Philoctetes;

2) the ways in which Plato uses and problematizes the notion of gennaion throughout the

Republic; and 3) the immediate context of, and preliminary remarks to, the gennaion

pseudos itself; it becomes clear that Plato is not the authoritarian or anti-democratic

thinker he is often take to be. In fact, I argue that Plato’s gennaion pseudos, actually

exemplifies a form of democratic rhetoric that is meant to counter the tyrannical

tendencies of his contemporary and future readers, and to instill a salutary ethos of

philosophic suspicion into any individual who has the audacity to try to figure out just

what the hell he could possibly mean by his gennaion pseudos.

The Athenian Political and Dramatic Context of Plato’s Republic:

Although there is a great deal of scholarly dispute over the dramatic date of

Plato’s Republic, the consensus amongst scholars is that, like the Gorgias, it takes place

during the Peloponnesian War sometime between 421 B.C. and 404 B.C.2 This is

significant when thinking about Plato’s treatment of the gennaion pseudos because the


























































1
For the remainder of this paper I do not translate gennaion pseudos as noble lie for
reasons that will become obvious as this paper proceeds.
2
For a discussion of the various disputes surrounding the dramatic date of the Republic,
as well as an excellent dateline indicating the various events that are alluded to in the
dialogue, see Nails (1998). The Peloponnesian War lasted from 431 B.C. to 404 B.C.

2
unprecedented character of this war with Sparta meant that questions about the possible

need for secrecy and deception in a democratic polis were at the center of Athenian

assembly debates and dramatic self-representations.3 Far from being something that

marks Plato’s Republic as a totalitarian tract directed against his own democratic polity,4

the interrogation of and anxiety about using lies, falsehoods, deceptions, or fictions (both

with one’s friends and one’s enemies) in order to establish and preserve a polity betrays

the dialogue’s deep engagement with the Athenian democracy’s own treatment of these

issues during the Peloponnesian War. Although the Thucydidean Pericles contrasted

Athenian democratic openness with Spartan oligarchic deceit (apatē) in his funeral

oration, a series of devastating military defeats had caused Athenian democrats to

question whether a certain amount of Spartan deception might not be necessary for the

very salvation of their city in their war with an enemy so ready to use both trickery

(dolos) and deceit (apatē).5

These concerns about lies, deceptions, fictions and falsehoods were at the center

of a number of plays that were staged during the Peloponnesian War in the dramatic


























































3
For an extended treatment of the “noble lie” within Athenian democratic oratory,
dramas and even satyr plays see Hesk (2000), 143-291.
4
The most famous presentation of Plato as a totalitarian enemy of the open, democratic
polity is of course Popper’s (1966), but see also Crossman (1963), 82.
5
Hesk (2000), 198. As Hesk (2000, 198) points out, “Thucydides frequently records
occasions when Athenian land-troops were tricked and ambushed in the war against
Sparta. Furthermore, he tells us that Athenian generals soon learnt to use trickery and
ambushes. This was to be a ‘dirty war’ where the honourable and chivalrous ideals of
‘open’ hoplite confrontation would be useless in mountainous terrain or against a more
mobile and cunning enemy.” There are, of course, obvious parallels to many current
justifications for the secrecy necessary to fight a war with a mobile and cunning enemy
living in mountainous terrain. For the argument that certain Straussian thinkers
emphasize this politically charged atmosphere as a central concern motivating Plato’s
esotericism, see Moore (2009), 92-93. At the same time, I follow Moore in thinking that
it is extremely important not to totally conflate this particular Straussian view with
Strauss’ own thoughts on Plato reasons for esotericism.

3
competition of the Great Dionysia.6 In this paper, I want to look at just one of these

plays, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, in order to show just how deeply interwoven into the

Athenian democratic discourse these themes actually were.7 As Jon Hesk (2000, 189)

has recently argued, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, performed at the City Dionysia in 409 B.C.,

was performed before an “Athenian audience who had experienced oligarchic revolution

in 411 and who were still recovering from reverses in the war with Sparta.” Seen within

this context, Odysseus’ counseling Neoptolemus to use a trick (dolos) against Philoctetes

because he (Odysseus) knows that Philoctetes will not listen to persuasion (peithō) and

cannot be taken by force (bia) takes on a very different meaning.8 An Athenian audience

would associate Odysseus with trickery because of his portrayal by Homer, but

Sophocles now places this famous trickery within the context of the necessity of both

Philoctetes and his bow for winning the war at Troy. As Hesk (2000, 194) argues, what

makes Odysseus’ trickery more difficult for a contemporary Athenian audience to

condemn is its relation to necessity rather than merely personal victory:

Odysseus’ ‘noble lie’ is not activated out of choice but necessity. In

this respect, his deception-plan has a circumstantial resemblance to the

examples of noble lying which were put forward by Plato, Xenophon


























































6
For the view that Plato offers the Republic to his Athenian audience and his future
readers as a worthy dramatic competitor to the poets, see Tarnopolsky (2010b).
7
Euripides’ Bacchae (staged posthumously at the Great Dionysia in 505 B.C.) and its
depiction of Cadmus’ “noble lie”: i.e., the falsifying of genealogy with regard to
Dionysius’ divine origins, is also an important play for understanding Plato’s gennaion
pseudos. I treat this play in another paper. For a discussion of its importance for
understanding part of the Phoenician character of the gennaion pseudos, see Carmola
(2003), 54-55.
8
Hesk (2000), 194.

4
and Andocides. To save an insane friend, to preserve your troops’

morale, to maintain the structures of your ideal polis it is necessary to

use deception. … The play makes it clear that Philoctetes would never

be persuaded by any articulation of that prophecy from Odysseus or

anybody else who admitted that Odysseus was with them. And it is

crucial to realize that both the philosophical and ‘common-sense’

discourse of the ‘noble lie’ (alongside Andocides’ lying stratēgos)

share the notion that lies can be necessary when there is no other

available means of achieving an outcome which is generally agreed to

be desirable.9

The Philoctetes, however, was not only interested in interrogating acceptable and

unacceptable forms of pseudos (lie/fiction/falsehood), dolos (trick) and apatē (deception),

it also interrogated the notion of what it means to be well-bred or noble (gennaion). This

theme would have been particularly salient in 509 B.C. because of the fact that a number

of gennaoin men had just overthrown the democracy (in 511 B.C.) and others were now

plotting to overthrow the restored democracy and stage another oligarchic coup (in 504

B.C.). Neoptolemus, the character who mediates between Odysseus and Philoctetes, is

the gennaion son of Achilles. In the play, both Odysseus and Philoctetes interpret the

word, gennaion, in very different ways. Odysseus suggests that because Neoptolemus is

the gennaoin son of Achilles, he owes Odysseus obedient and unquestioning service

(Phil. 51). At this point in the play, this means putting aside his shame about trickery in


























































9
Hesk (2000), 194.

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order to help Odysseus get Philoctetes to come to Troy so that the war can be won.

Philoctetes, on the other hand, argues that precisely because Neoptolemus is gennaoin, he

will refuse to do anything shameful (aischron) and will pursue only worthwhile sources

of renown (Phil. 475-477).10 Although Neoptolemus initially obeys Odysseus’ orders

and tells a false story to Philoctetes to get him to give up his bow, he subsequently seems

to pursue the latter way of being gennaion because he confesses and shows remorse for

his trickery of Philoctetes (Phil. 895-920), and later gives Philoctetes back his bow (Phil.

1290-1293). At two other points in the play, instead of resorting to more deception to get

Philoctetes to come to Troy, he tries to openly persuade him to come, both for his

(Philoctetes’) own sake (i.e., to have his festering foot cured by the doctors and sons of

Asclepius) and for the sake of helping the Atreids win the war (Phil. 919-920, 1330-

1345).11

All of this might well make it seem like Sophocles is showing that the truly

gennaoin man (unlike Odysseus) shows remorse for shameful deeds, refuses to win at all

costs and to use deceit, and instead chooses the honest and open route of rational

persuasion, even if this means defeat in war (e.g., the Trojan or the Peloponnesian War).

However, the end of the play leaves Neoptolemus’ intentions up in the air. When


























































10
The role of shame as motivating both the philosophers and the auxiliaries to rule is an
overlooked theme in the Republic, but defending this controversial assertion would
require another paper.
11
Blundell (1989, 184-225) does an excellent job of showing the different kinds of
challenges that the play poses to the Greek ethos of helping friends and harming enemies.
For example, by helping his new friend Neoptolemus, Philoctetes would actually be
helping his enemies (Odysseus and the others who left him on the island), rather than
harming them. Alternately by harming his new friend Philoctetes, Neoptolemus would
be helping his other friends: Odysseus and the rest of the Atreids. For an account of how
this ethos was strained, tested, and challenged during the Peloponnesian War and then
interrogated in Plato’s Republic, see Frank (2007).

6
Philoctetes repeatedly and stubbornly refuses to listen to the sound advice given by

Neoptolemus about why he should come to Troy, Neoptolemus seems to relent and agree

to take Philoctetes off the island, but it is unclear if this is just a new deception on the part

of Neoptolemus to get Philoctetes to the Atreid ship, or if he is really intending to take

him back home as he now promises (Phil. 1409). Also, and more importantly, an

Athenian audience watching this play would know that Neoptolemus was far more

frequently depicted as the man who goes to Troy and performs all kinds of horrific

deeds.12 He was a character more renowned for his cruelty and savagery than for his

honour. This lends a depth to Sophocles’ portrayal of Neoptolemus and an irony to his

gennaoin character, and it might well be that Sophocles intended Neoptolemus to be a

stand-in for Alcibiades, who was (by 509 B.C.) famed for his treachery and deception of

the Athenian democracy. If this is the case, then Sophocles might well be suggesting that

it is precisely the person who claims to be using rational and open persuasion and who

claims that others (i.e. Odysseus) are wily and deceitful, who is really the one that needs

to be regarded with the most suspicion by a democratic polity. As Hesk (2000, 169)

points out, by the end of the 5th century the rhetorical trope of stating that you are a

truthful speaker in opposition to your clever and tricky opponent, was used as a method

of self-authorization (or I suppose, other-deauthorization) by a number of democratic

orators, especially Demosthenes. Indeed, in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian

War, Diodotus makes the argument that good advisors might have to use apatē to re-

establish their credibility when there is such an atmosphere of suspicion (Hist. 43.2-4).13

In the Republic, this dramatic and oratorical theme is interrogated and deepened by


























































12
I thank Eli Friedland for alerting me to this fact.
13
Hesk (2000), 168.

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Plato’s reflections on the difficulties faced by any author of a speech-act of self-

authorization (e.g., Socrates’ account of the just man), when an atmosphere of suspicion

is rampant in a democratic polity.14

There are moreover a number of structural and thematic similarities between

Plato’s Republic and Sophocles’ Philoctetes, which suggest that this play serves as one of

the many important subtexts to Plato’s Republic. First, Sophocles presents a wily

Odysseus trying to persuade or trick a man, who has opted out of the Trojan war in order

to live a very private life on an island with animals for company, to re-enter the fray.

Following Ferrari (2005), we could then see the Republic as mirroring this structure in

the fact that Plato depicts a wily Socrates trying to persuade or trick Glaucon, who has

opted out of democratic politics to care for his well-bred (gennaion) dogs, horses and

cocks, to re-enter the fray of democratic politics. Or following Bloom (1968) we could

see the Republic as reversing this dramatic structure in the fact that Plato depicts a wily

Socrates who must try to persuade or trick the tyrannical Glaucon, who has opted into

democratic politics, to leave public life and lead a more private life. Or we could see the

Republic as doing both of these things since Plato probably held the more complex view

that the aristocratic or well-born (gennaion) youth of Athens had actually not pursued

either of these more salutary courses during the Peloponnesian War, but instead had

abandoned the democracy when it most needed their support, and had re-entered the fray

twice only to set up tyrannical oligarchies. Indeed, one of the truths communicated by

Plato’s Republic is that the way we interpret Glaucon’s character, or the overall character


























































14
Glaucon and Adeimantus’ remarks in the opening scene of Book 2 testify to this
atmosphere of suspicion with regard to the determination of who really is just. I discuss
this scene later in this paper.

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of the gennaion pseudos, or the overall character of the Republic, depends in part upon

our own unexamined predilections for a particular type of character or regime, which

then seems to be the one that is first offered to us by Plato.15 And what the dialogue as a

whole dramatizes is the ways in which we, like Glaucon and Adeimantus, can work

through the very predilections and worldviews that now hold us captive and prevent us

from really thinking and acting differently.

That Plato might well have had the Philoctetes in mind when writing the Republic

is also suggested by the fact that, like the Philoctetes, the themes of trickery, persuasion

and force are interwoven into the entire drama of the Republic. Indeed, these themes are

first announced at the very beginning of the work.16 Polemarchus first jokingly threatens

Socrates and Glaucon with force in order to get them to stay in the Piraeus (Rep. 1.327c).

When Socrates suggests that another possibility is for him to persuade them to let them

go, Polemarchus answers, “Could you really persuade if we don’t listen” (Rep. 1.327c)?

Immediately following this remark, Adeimantus entices Glaucon and Socrates to stay

with the offer of going to watch a novel torch race on horseback for the goddess at sunset

(Rep. 1.328a).17 It is left ambiguous as to whether this enticement is what really changes

Socrates’ mind or as, he himself asserts, he decides to stay because this is what all of the


























































15
Andrew (1989) does an excellent job of showing how the modern belief in equality of
opportunity and unequal class structures actually predisposes many modern readers to see
this as the deeper truth of Plato’s gennaion pseudos.
16
For the way in which these themes work at the beginning of the Republic, see Strauss
(1964), Bloom (1968) and Frank (2009).
17
For an account of the ways in which Socrates’ imagining of this novel torch-race
involves the kind of free play of imagination characteristic of any true act of persuasion,
see Frank (2009).

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other men (now including Glaucon) have resolved (Rep. 1.328b).18 The issue alluded to

by Adeimantus’ intervention is the question of whether either or both Glaucon and

Socrates are beguiled (doloun) or bewitched (pharmassein) by the charm (pharmakon) of

Adiemantus’ promise of a novel torch-race or spectacle, and the question of just what

kind of persuasion this actually is. Similarly, at the beginning of the Philoctetes,

Neoptolemus asks Odysseus why he cannot use persuasion (peithō) instead of deceit

(dolos) to get Philoctetes to come to Troy with them. Odysseus responds to his query

with the statement, “He will never listen; and by force you cannot take him” (Phil. 104).

(The truth of this statement is later borne out by Philoctetes himself at line 624 when he

asserts that nothing Odysseus says could ever persuade him, and is dramatized when

Philoctetes later refuses to listen to Neoptolemus’ attempts at open and rational

persuasion (Phil. 919-920, 1330-1345).) Odysseus thus counsels deceit (dolos) rather

than persuasion (peithō) or force (bia) because of Philoctetes’ stubborn resistance to

rational persuasion.19

Interestingly enough, a similar situation is confronted by Socrates at the beginning

of Book 2 when he asserts that he doesn’t know how he will persuade Glaucon and

Adeimantus that the life of justice is better than the life of injustice, since they were not


























































18
As Bloom (1968, n. 6, 441) points out, Socrates uses the same phrase here that was
“used in the assembly to announce that the sovereign authority had passed a law or
decree.”
19
Immediately before this assertion there is also an interesting exchange between
Odysseus and Neoptolemus that suggests that lying (pseudēs) and deceit (dolos) are not
considered the same thing by Neoptolemus, Odysseus or Sophocles. Neoptolemus asks
Odysseus, “What then, are your orders – apart from my lying (pseudēs)?” , to which
Odysseus replies, “I command you to take Philoctetes by deceit (dolos)” (Phil. 100-101).
Pseudos, unlike apatē or dolos does not imply the intention to deceive, but merely refers
to the ontological status of the speech-act itself. In the Republic, Plato explores the ways
in which a pseudos (fiction/falsehood/lie) can lead to either deception or revelation in
oneself or another.

10
persuaded by his earlier, rational arguments with Thrasymachus (Rep. 2.368b). He

nonetheless agrees to try, but it is important to note that he agrees to defend the life of

justice the way Glaucon wants it defended: i.e. proving that it is good in itself (Rep.

2.358b), even though he (Socrates) thinks that it belongs to a different and finer category

of goods: i.e., those that are chosen both for themselves and for what comes from them

(Rep. 2.358a). In some sense, however, the discussion that he undertakes with Glaucon

(and Adeimantus) is a trick or deceit (dolos). In the end, Socrates does show them that

justice is both good for itself and for the rewards that come from it, even while (or

because) he shows them that justice entails a very different way of life than either the just

or unjust life, which they had both originally constructed and fantasized about. The work

as a whole dramatically illustrates how the mimetic pleasures of poetic-philosophizing

can be utilized to entice or seduce someone to enter a way of life that then involves a

retroactive critique of the very desires, dreams and fantasies that first drew them into this

practice.20 In other words, the Republic models a form of persuasion that gives in to the

very prejudices or worldviews that first hold Glaucon and Adeimantus captive, but then

works to get them to engage in the kind of philosophic activity that can then disclose the

limits of these prejudices or worldviews to them, and to the contemporary and future

readers of the Republic.21 (If the work is as democratic as I want to argue, then it would

also have to be doing this with Socrates’ and Plato’s own prejudices and worldviews. My

own view about the character of Plato’s middle works, defended at length in Tarnopolsky

(2010a), suggests that this is exactly what Plato is doing with the views of his teacher,


























































20
Tarnopolsky (2010b).
21
Cf. Carmola (2003) for a similar but slightly different account of how this works with
Glaucon, especially in relation to the gennaion pseudos.

11
Socrates. And indeed all of Plato’s characters represent a kind of work upon his own self,

which for Plato is exactly the kind of work that is implicated in any truly democratic and

mimetic political activity.22)

Another similarity between the Republic and the Philoctetes lies in the fact that

part of the complexity of Sophocles’ portrayal of Neoptolemus, like the complexity of

Socrates’ gennaion pseudos, consists of the very contradictory subtext of the message:

Neoptolemus’ reputation for savagery and cruelty helps qualify and add depth to the kind

of reading a Greek audience would make of his character in the same way that the

Cadmean legend’s tale of strife amongst the earth-sown brothers (the “Spartoi”) qualifies

and lends depth to the kind of reading a Greek audience would make of the “Phoenician”

character of Plato’s gennaion pseudos. Or at least both Sophocles’ and Plato’s

complicated speech-acts require some kind of interpretive work on the part of the

audience receiving them if they are to understand the complex sense of the speech-act.23

Moreover, if, as I argued above, the atmosphere of suspicion in democratic Athens was

generated by speakers who claimed to be telling the whole truth in opposition to their

opponents’ wholly deceptive and false speech, then both Sophocles and Plato might be

offering instead a form of speech-act that, in the very telling, discloses its partiality and

offers more than one side to its own message. As I will discuss at greater length below,

the fact that Plato prefaces and qualifies his own gennaion pseudos with 3 or 4 pointed

assertions about its outrageous or unbelievable character (Rep. 3.414c, 414d, 415a, 415d)


























































22
Cf. Friedland (2009a), Chapter 1 for an account of how the Republic as a whole and the
gennaion pseudos in particular opens up a space and time within which Plato can perform
this kind of work on the self.
23
See Frank (2008) for an account of how Plato’s poetic-philosophic Republic works to
shift the locus of authority and responsibility to the audience or reader receiving its
message.

12
suggests another way in which Plato wants to present a different from of democratic

rhetoric, which explicitly flags its partial and contestable character to the audience(s) of

the speech-act. Thus in some sense, the gennaion pseudos is a speech-act which partially

de-authorizes itself by cutting of its own head (or maybe just an eye or an ear) in the very

act of its delivery.

Fourth, both Neoptolemus24 and Glaucon25 are ephebes when they are told about

the necessity for dolos (Neoptolemus) or pseudos (Glaucon) in persuading others (either

Philoctetes or the imaginary rulers and ruled of the kallipolis) to care more for the

common good than for their own private interests. In other words, they are both around

twenty years old, and would be required to engage in military pursuits, but are both still

on the verge of entering full maturity. They are in that transitional stage between

childhood and adulthood, and one of the crucial roles of Athenian drama was to teach the

ephebes in particular the ability to deliberate and judge well.26 This was also a stage of

life when a certain amount of deceit was seen to be an acceptable part of the right of

passage into adulthood.27 Moreover, the strict distinction between ephebic deceit and

hoplitic honesty might well have been blurred and challenged during the Peloponnesian

War when deceitful tactics became necessary for adult Athenian warriors in the last part


























































24
Hesk (2000), 189. Though see Hesk (2000, 189) who argues that this ‘ephebic’ reading
is based on an interpretation of the play offered by Vidal-Naquet, elements of which have
come under attack in recent years.
25
Although Glaucon’s real birthdate is controversial, Nails (2002, 154-155) argues that
the first description of Socrates by Glaucon suggests that he has engaged in military
activities but still has his erōs directed towards men, therefore suggesting he is around
twenty years old at least in the drama of Plato’s Republic.
26
Winkler (1990).
27
Hesk (2000), 88.

13
of the fifth-century.28 In Books 2 and 3 of the Republic and throughout the Philoctetes,

Plato and Sophocles dramatize the liminal ephebic stage between childhood and maturity

as a way of exploring the salutary and pernicious hermeneutics of suspicion that can be

fostered in citizens by a democratic polity.29

Finally, both the Philoctetes and the Republic interrogate the notion of what it

means to be truly gennaion and explore the connections between this and peithō, bia,

dolos, apatē and pseudos. In other words they explore what it means to give birth to

speech-acts, to bear out the implications of these acts, or to have these speech-acts bear

down upon one in unexpected and sometimes fruitful, sometimes frightful, ways.

Plato’s Gennaion Pseudos (Rep. 414c): Well-bred, tyrannical or simple-minded

guardians?

Although a considerable amount of ink has been spilt over whether pseudos in the

gennaion pseudos should be translated as lie, fiction or falsehood, far less ink has been

spilt over the question of why Plato chose to use the word gennaion rather than kalon to

signify the noble character of the myth.30 AIthough both Greek words can be translated

as “noble”, gennaion means “true to one’s birth or descent”, “high-born” or “well-bred”

and is related to genos, which means “descent, birth, origin.”31 It thus contains an


























































28
Hesk (2000), 88.
29
The Philoctetes is set on the island of Lemnos, which is somewhere between Troy and
the homes to which Philoctetes (and Odysseus and Neoptolemus) all want to return.
30
A notable exception is Carmola (2003).
31
Liddell and Scott (1996), 344.

14
explicit reference to birth, generation and to past generations, specifically to an

aristocratic or “high-born” ancestry.32 This of course makes sense given that the

gennaion pseudos contains a myth about the autochthonous and divine origins of the

imaginary citizens of kallipolis. It also makes a certain amount of sense given that the

gennaion pseudos is articulated when Glaucon is Socrates’ conversational partner.

Although both he and Adeimantus share the same aristocratic descent as Plato, it is

Glaucon who owns and breeds pedigree dogs, horses and cocks and who is most

concerned with political power.33 And, as I hope to have made clear above, it also makes

sense given the kind of anxiety about lies, fictions, deceptions and trickery, and the

gennaoin men who might be telling them, that pervaded Athenian democratic discourse,

both during the time-period in which the Republic is set and the time-period in which it

was written.34

The use of the word gennaion thus suggests that we understand the gennaion

pseudos within the larger context of birth, death and re-birth, which is a theme that

actually opens and closes the Republic and forms one of its most important underlying

subtexts. The first word of the dialogue, katebēn (“I went down”), suggests that this

dialogue will be a metaphoric katabasis outlining a descent into Hades or the underworld.


























































32
Carmola (2003), 40.
33
At Rep. 5.459a Socrates mentions Glaucon’s hunting dogs and pedigree cocks
[gennaion ornithōn]. For Plato, the dog is often the symbol of thumos, the horse the
symbol of erōs, and the cock is what Socrates asks to have sacrificed to Asclepius on his
deathbed. (Cocks were sacrificed by sick people in the temple of Asclepius who where
hoping for a cure.) Carmola (2003, 40-1) points out that Xenophon (Memorabilia III.6)
mentions Glaucon as politically ambitious and unstoppable except for Socrates, who
‘took an interest in him for the sake of Plato’. Cf. O’Connor (2007), 65.
34
See Ober (1989) for an account of the various kinds of anxieties and negotiations that
took place between mass and elites in the 4th century B.C. regarding differential levels of
education and wisdom, and the concomitant potential for elites to deceive the masses.

15
Katabasis is also the word used by Odysseus when he recounts his “Visit to the Dead” to

his wife Penelope (Od. 23.252).35 (That the gennaion pseudos is also a katabasis myth

and not just a myth about origins, or rather that the two kinds of myth are always

connected, is suggested by fact that Socrates describes it as a Phoenician thing. As

Bloom (1968, n. 455) points out, this might refer to the legend of Cadmus36 or it might

refer to Odysseus’ Phaeacian tale about his descent into the underworld in the Odyssey,

or both.) This katabasis theme is also characteristic of the Gyges myth, the myth of Er,

and the cave and sun image.37 The torch-race in honour of the Thracian goddess Bendis,

the promise of which probably entices both Glaucon and Socrates to remain in the

Piraeus, suggests the theme of birth and generation in the passing of the torch. This

connection is made explicit in the Laws where Socrates describes birth as “handing on

life, like a torch” (Laws 6.776b).38 In addition, the Thracian goddess Bendis was

represented in Athens along with a male figure, Deloptes, whose iconography was that of

Asclepius, and whose cult was associated with the healing arts and the theme of death

and rebirth.39 And Bendis herself was probably associated with Persephone, the queen of

the underworld.40 The theme of birth is also suggested by the fact that the word used for

the three waves of Book 5, involving the radical innovations necessary to bring the


























































35
O’Connor (2007), 59.
36
Cadmus was the legendary founder of Thebes. He founded Thebes with the help of the
giants who sprang forth from the earth after he sowed the teeth of a dragon slain by him.
To be more specific only 5 of the giants helped him found Thebes, since the rest where
killed by each other. Cadmus was also considered the person who introduced the
Phoenician alphabet to Greece. He was related to Dionysius and associated with Hermes.
All of these facts are important for understanding the full character of the gennaion
pseudos, however, I deal with these issues in another paper.
37
Rosenstock (1983), 220. Cf. Seery (1988).
38
Rosenstock (1983), 220.
39
Rosenstock (1983), 221-222.
40
O’Connor (2007), 73.

16
kallipolis into existence, is kuma, which can also mean fetus.41 Indeed as Bloom (1968,

459) points out, the same imagery is used in the Theaetetus to indicate Socrates’ activity

of intellectual midwifery. Later, in Book 6, Socrates describes the philosopher’s

passionate love of the forms in terms of labor and birth pains: “And once near it and

coupled with what really is, having begotten (gennēsas) intelligence and truth, he knows

and lives truly, is nourished and so ceases from his labor pains, but not before” (Rep.

6.490b). The tyrant in Book 9 is said to enjoy “bastard” pleasures, and mimetic poetry in

Book 10 is said to produce foul offspring (Rep. 10.603a-b). Finally, the myth of Er,

which closes the dialogue, involves Er’s recollection of what he saw at the place of

judgment of the dead after his own death and subsequent rebirth on his funeral pyre (Rep.

10.614b-621d).42 The myth of Er allegorically describes the activity of choosing a new

way of life in its depiction of each person’s choice of the kind of person or creature into

which it wants to be reincarnated. Here Odysseus is explicitly mentioned as the last soul

to choose a life. He chooses the private or common (idiotēs) life of someone who minds

his own business (Rep. 10.620c). This choice of life recalls the well-bred character

(gennaion ēthos) of Book 6 who consorts with philosophy due to exile, and the

philosophic character who minds his own affairs rather than engaging in the madness of

the multitude (Rep. 6.496a-e).43 That the myth of Er is a Platonic revision to Odysseus’s

“Visit to the Dead” is signified by the fact that Socrates explicitly prefaces the myth of Er

by saying that it will not be “a story of Alcinous” (Rep. 10.614b) (the proverbial name


























































41
Bloom (1968), n. 16, 459.
42
Cf. Rosenstock (1983), 222.
43
O’Connor (2007), 60.

17
for Odysseus’ recounting of tales to Alcinous, the king of the Phaeacians, which includes

his tale of his descent into Hades.44)

The dialogue itself takes place over the course, and in lieu, of a nightlong festival

and torch-race. It involves a lengthy conversation in which Glaucon, Adeimantus and

Socrates construct a city and soul in speech in their own attempt to give birth to a new

and just way of life that will be worthy of choosing. In the course of this long discussion,

the three of them censor and alter the authoritative poetic stories told by Hesiod and

Homer. This very activity of censoring and altering the fundamental exemplars of action

that they have inherited from Hesiod and Homer thus involves a metaphorical killing off

or death of their old way of life and authoritative paradigms of action, and a re-birth of

new paradigms for just (and unjust) action. The founding of the city in speech thus takes

place by negotiating the difficult passage between simple deference to old customs and

the revolutionary desire to wipe the slate clean and start anew.45 By editing and

censoring the accounts of the heroic figures of Achilles and Odysseus, Socrates, Glaucon

and Adeimantus metaphorically kill these men off, even while elements of these

characters (Achilles and Odysseus) are re-born and re-signified in their own souls

(Adeimantus and Glaucon), and in the exemplary figure of the philosopher, Socrates.

(This of course suggests that the ways in which Achilles and Odysseus are re-born in the


























































44
Bloom (1968), n. 13, 471.
45
Carmola (2003), 42. Cf. Tarnopolsky (2010b). See Carmola (2003) and Frank (2008)
who argue that the Republic actually teaches a kind of self-limiting authority that lies
somewhere between deference to the past and radical autonomy from it (Carmola) or
deference to poetic/philosophic authority and usurpation of this authority (Frank). They
both speak about the different kinds of relationships between fathers and sons, first
suggested by the relationship between Cephalus and Polemarchus in Book 1, and then
alluded to at various other places throughout the dialogue, as an important subtext for
understanding Plato’s treatment of political authority.

18
lives led by Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus after the dialogue will all be very

different. For Plato, speech-acts are not only complex in their sending, but are complex

in their reception and digestion by the diverse characters who receive them.)

On yet another level, the Republic can be seen as the metaphoric killing off of

Socrates by Plato in his own attempts to give birth to himself as a philosopher both

profoundly indebted to his father, Socrates (and to Homer, and Achilles, and Odysseus,

and Hermes, and Pythagoras….), but also now trying to become his own unique kind of

philosopher. Indeed, his dialogues might well have been written as a kind of ongoing

ephebic rite of initiation for himself in which he comes to terms with his own past and

continually gives birth to a new self through mourning, re-signifying and re-founding all

of his founding fathers. Indeed one of the truths that Plato communicates to his

contemporary and future audiences in both the Gorgias and the Republic, is the need for

citizens to see themselves as perennial ephebes and thus in the process of continually

coming into full maturity and forever giving birth to a new individual and collective

self.46

The Republic, however, does not present this process of giving birth to a new and

more philosophic self as easy or as something that is simply guaranteed by encountering

and engaging in a philosophic conversation with Socrates (as Glaucon and Adeimantus

do), or by encountering a written dialogue by Plato (as we, the readers do), or even by

writing a dialogue (as Plato himself does). Indeed, it is interesting that most of the times

that Socrates uses the word gennaion in the Republic it is used sarcastically or to denote a


























































46
At Gorg. 485a-b, it is Callicles and not Socrates who thinks that philosophy is only
suitable to the youth and should be given up when one enters manhood. The fact that
Plato wrote and re-wrote all of his dialogues exemplifies the ongoing character of the
philosophic process of giving birth to a new self.

19
kind of high-minded simplicity. It is first used by Thrasymachus to refer to the high-

minded or noble innocence [gennaian euētheian]47 of those who are just in comparison to

the goodness and prudence of the unjust (Rep. 1.348c). It is then used by Glaucon in

Book 2 to refer to the simple (haplous) and well-born (gennaion) just man (Rep. 2.361b).

The next use of the word comes when the simple men of Adeimantus’ city of pigs are

said to eat noble (gennaion) cakes and loaves at Rep. 2.372b. At Rep. 3.375a, Socrates

sets up his ironic comparison between gennaion hounds and gennaoin youth saying that

they both have “sharp senses, speed to catch what they perceive, and, finally, strength if

they have to fight it out with what they have caught.” Then at Rep. 3.375e, Socrates says

that both gennaion hounds and the guardians of their city share the same nature because

they are as “gentle as can be with their familiars and people they know and the opposite

with those they don’t know.” The next reference to gennaion occurs in the gennaion

pseudos. After this, in Book 4, the gennaion person’s thumos is said to “boil and become

harsh and form an alliance for battle with what seems just” when he “believes he’s being

done injustice” and does not “cease from its gennaoin efforts before it has succeeded, or

death intervenes, or before it becomes gentle, having been called in by the speech within

him like a dog by a herdsman” (Rep. 4.440c-d). It is also used with reference to the fact

that Glaucon’s pedigree (gennaion) dogs and cocks don’t always produce the best

offspring (Rep. 5.459a). In Book 6, at Rep. 494c-495b, Socrates tells Adeimantus that the

gennaoin youth is the soil out of which grows either the tyrant or the philosopher, and

that due to a bad rearing the gennaoin youth exiles philosophy from his soul and becomes


























































47
Bloom (1968, n. 44, 446) points out that the word for innocence, euētheia, also means
good habits. In the myth of Er, the person who chooses the life of tyranny is the person
who comes from heaven (and thus is gennaion) and has been brought up with good habits
but without philosophy.

20
a tyrant. Then at Rep. 6.496b, Socrates tells Adeimantus that a gennaion and well-reared

disposition, held in check by exile, can become a true philosopher. In Book 8, gennaoin

is sarcastically used twice. The first time it is used to describe the worst type of regime,

tyranny (Rep. 8.544c).48 It is then used by Adeimantus at Rep. 8.558c to describe the

gennaion democracy which stops ensuring that its rulers are educated by the kind of

noble (kalos) play described in Books 2 and 3 of the Republic,49 and which doesn’t care

about the upbringing of the rulers, but simply honors those well-disposed towards it.

Oddly enough, however, this problematizing of what it means to be gennaion in

the other parts of the Republic is not really noted by most commentators on the gennaion

pseudos.50 Indeed, in the myth of Er, it is primarily the souls who come from heaven

rather than from the earth who end up choosing imprudent and tyrannical lives (Rep.

10.619d).51 The person who chooses the greatest tyranny is specifically said to be “one

of those who had come from heaven, having lived in an orderly regime in his former life,

participating in virtue by habit, without philosophy” (Rep. 10.619c-d). To live a life

governed only by habit is to live a dream life because one simply takes the authoritative

patterns and laws of citizen behavior to be the best way of life. (In Book 5, Socrates


























































48
Cf. Carmola (2003), 40, 49. A similarly sarcastic use of the terms occurs in the Gorgias
when Socrates describes Callicles as gennaois at the very point when he is explaining that
it was Callicles’ immoderate equation of the pleasant and the good that led to the
argument that the best life for human beings is one of scratching itches and being a
catamite (Gorg. 494e). Cf. Soph. 231b and Theaet. 209e. Socrates’ remark about
Callicles suggests that resolving to live by certain first premises (i.e. the pleasant and the
good are the same) gives birth to a whole way of life.
49
This is one of the instances where Plato subtly alludes to the fact that his Republic is
meant to help his own and other democracies inculcate a more philosophic ethos into
their citizens.
50
Page (1991) and Carmola (2003) are notable exceptions, although they do not treat the
importance of this fact in the way that I do in this paper.
51
O’ Connor (2007), 77.

21
describes dreaming, “whether one is asleep or awake” as consisting of “believing a

likeness of something to be not to be a likeness, but rather the thing itself to which it is

like” (Rep. 5.476c). And in Book 9, he describes the tyrant as the person who translates

his dreams into reality.52) The ambiguity which characterizes Plato’s use of the word

gennaion throughout the Republic thus points to one of the central problems for any

democratic polity. This is the fact that the most philosophic and most tyrannical

individuals grow up out of the same soil: democracy’s unleashing of the unnecessary and

mimetic pleasures of sights and sounds offered by the poets, sophists and philosophers,

who all flourish in the tolerant soil of democracy. And what Plato wants to communicate

by his placement of the gennaion pseudos at the end of the preliminary education of the

young guardians, is that one of the ways in which the tyrant is born out of the soil of a

democracy, is by his desire for and belief that his education has come to an end at a

certain point.53

In order to see this, it is necessary to understand the exact placement of the

gennaion pseudos within the Republic as a whole. The gennaion pseudos comes at the

end of the discussion of the young guardians’ education in music and gymnastic and right

after Socrates states that there will need to be a distinction between rulers and auxiliaries

in the guardian class of kallipolis. As he puts it, only the former are complete guardians

who can “guard over enemies from without and friends from within – so that the ones


























































52
See Tarnopolsky (2000) for a full account of the role of dreams and fantasy in Plato’s
Republic.
53
The dialogue as a whole constantly stresses the need for new beginnings and the need
to refuse to rest content with whatever place one is now at (Rep. 5.450a, 9.571b-c). The
longer road, which would be necessary to work through all of the issues that are brought
to light in the work, is alluded to at numerous places throughout the dialogue (Rep.
4.435d, 6.484a, 10.621d).

22
will not wish to do harm and the others will be unable to” (Rep. 3.414b). Moreover, in

the immediately preceding section, Socrates says that in order to make the distinction

between the rulers and the auxiliaries, the young guardians will need to be subjected to

testing “far more than gold in fire” (Rep. 3.413d).54 This sentence foreshadows Socrates

account of the importance of determining who the truly golden souls are in the myth of

the metals of the gennaion pseudos. The language used throughout this preceding section

is suggestive of the secret rites of initiations that were given to the ephebes in their entry

into manhood, and also of the secret initiations rites involved in the Eluesinian Mysteries,

which started with a festival for Asclepius and which culminated in an all-night feast

accompanied by dancing and merriment. In this discussion, Socrates also tells Glaucon

that they must devise a competition of wizardry (goēteia), wherein their guardians are

tested to see whether they give up their true conviction (dogma), that they must always do

what is advantageous to the city, because they are bewitched [goēteuthentas] by pleasure

or terrified by fear (Rep. 3.413c-e). Here Glaucon agrees saying “Yes, that’s because

everything that deceives seems to bewitch [Eoike gar …, goēteuein panta hosa apatai]

(Rep. 3.413c).

In other words the gennaion pseudos is told as a kind of test of one’s metal as a

guardian. And it is told at the moment when it will become clear to the reader whether or

not Glaucon is a guardian in the fullest sense, and thus able to understand the reasons

behind the conviction that will serve as the foundational myth of the kallipolis, or


























































54
Schofield’s (2007) is one of the few accounts of the noble lie that stresses the
importance of this immediate context for understanding the reasons for the noble lie.
Although I agree with him that this section shows that one of the purposes of the noble lie
is to forge guardians who will love or care for the city and not just rule out of self-
interest, I want to stress rather the importance of the kinds of testing and wizardry that
Socrates suggests would be involved in the gennaion pseudos.

23
whether he is only an auxiliary or helper of the ruler’s convictions (Rep. 3.414b).

However, Glaucon is not the only person who is being put to the test by the gennaion

pseudos. As Bloom (1968, n. 64, 455) points out, the Attic Greek word for conviction,

dogma, means both “an opinion” and “a public agreement or law” decreed by the

assembly. In other words, what the gennaion pseudos tests is the way in which both the

rulers and ruled of kallipolis, but also all of the actual “citizens” of the conversation now

taking place (including Socrates’ interlocutors, Plato’s contemporary and future readers,

and Plato himself) relate to the authoritative decree or dogma that is now being offered

by the gennaion pseudos.

Although commentators of the gennaion pseudos have argued that it is designed

as a remedy (pharmakon) for combating the money-loving desires and pleasures of the

rulers of kallipolis,55 it is thus also a test and a pharmakon (poison/cure) for the ways in

which the citizens (both rulers and ruled) relate to any authoritative representation

(mimēma), fiction (pseudos) or myth (muthos), which always offers the beguiling and

enticing mimetic pleasure of understanding just how reality is both like and unlike this

particular representation (mimēma), myth (muthos) or fiction (pseudos). The problem

however, is that there is also a pleasure in the feeling of competency that comes from

prematurely preempting this process and assuming that the likeness is the reality. As I

argued earlier, Plato thinks that the tyrannical individual is the one who ends up living a

waking dream because he mistakes a likeness for the thing that it is like, and then

translates this into his actions. What Plato’s gennaion pseudos is designed to do is to


























































55
Bloom (1968), Page (1991).

24
offer a myth or fiction that will try to cure this problematic tendency in both its author(s)

and its audience.

Again, Socrates states that the true guardians or rulers are those who can “guard

over enemies from without and friends from within” (Rep. 3.414b). The Republic as a

whole teaches that the “friends from within who can do harm” include not only those

gennaion (well-bred) men who offer bad advice or plot to take over one’s polity (Book

6), or those common men (hoi polloi/plēthos/to dēmos) who allow themselves to be

deceived by such men (Book 8), but also the words one tells oneself in the belief the one

knows the whole truth about how to benefit the city (Rep. 3.382a-b). The gennaion

pseudos is an attempt to cure the self-deception that arises from accepting one’s own or

another’s pseudos about reality as the truth about reality (Rep. 3.382a-b).

But this can only be seen if some of the most prevalent misunderstandings and

self-deceptions that have been projected onto the overall character of the gennaion

pseudos are contested. First, it is important to understand that it is not told by the rulers

to the citizens.56 The specific passages, with which Socrates introduces it, state that it is

to be told to the guardians and auxiliaries and all of the other citizens (Rep. 3.414b,

3.414d). Thus, “the noble lie is very far from being simply a brazen piece of propaganda

designed primarily to control the mass of the population of the ideal city…It is aimed at

the rulers in the first instance, and its main purpose is to get them to be public-spirited.”57

To be even more exact, Socrates’ initial remark about the gennaion pseudos is

indeterminate as to whether it is directed at the rulers and ruled of the kallipolis, or at

Socrates and Glaucon ( the founders of this imaginary city), or at Plato himself, or at all


























































56
This mistake is made by Popper (1966) [1945], Annas (1981), 102 and Shorris (2004).
57
Schofield (2007), 159.

25
three audiences. The Attic Greek is, “Tis an oun hēmin, ēn d' egō, mēchanē genoito tōn

psuedōn tōn en deonti gignomenōn, hōn dē nun elegomen, … ”. The complexity here

arises from the fact that Plato uses the dative of hēmin, which can have two different

meanings. If it is the dative of agency (as most translators assume) then it would be,

“How then,” I said, “might a contrivance come to be, by us, [one] of those

lies/fictions/falsehoods of which we were just not speaking…”. However, if it is the

dative of interest, then it would be, “How then,” I said, “might a contrivance come to be,

for us, [one] of those lies/fictions/falsehoods of which we were just not speaking…”. In

other words, Plato’s gennaion pseudos is a speech-act that refers back to its author and

forward to its audience and, as I will argue below, this suggests that it would have to be

interpreted as an instance of all 3 kinds of falsehoods in words/speeches that Plato speaks

about at Rep. 2.382b-e.

Socrates’ prefatory remark about the myth of autochthony, overlooked by most

commentators,58 about the overall character of their education is also important for

understanding the unique character of the gennaion pseudos. Here, Socrates tells

Glaucon that they will have to “persuade first the rulers and the soldiers, then the rest of

the city, that the rearing and education they gave them were like dreams…” (Rep.

3.414d1-3). In other words, the gennaion pseudos is a fiction (pseudos) about how all of

the citizens of the ideal republic should treat their education as a dream (Rep. 3.414d3).59

It is thus “a dream about dreaming and waking up….it is an allegory told to us when we

cannot recognize allegory as such but which right on its surface tells us that the other


























































58
Andrew (1989), Lear (2006) and Schofield (2007) are notable exceptions to this,
although only Lear (2006) sees this as a key to understanding the gennaion pseudos.
59
Lear (2006).

26
allegories we’ve already heard (and by hypothesis have not yet recognized as such) are

really only dreams. In that way, the Noble Falsehood embeds an anti-foundationalist

message about all other myths: none of them should be taken literally.”60

This new kind of pseudos is misinterpreted by those commentators who link the

gennaion pseudos only to the lies and deceptions that Plato talks about in Republic 5

regarding his proposed eugenics program.61 This is problematic because the passage in

Republic 5 explicitly states that these lies and deceptions will be told by the rulers to the

ruled for the benefit of the ruled (Rep. 5.459c). This actually sets the passage in Book 5

apart from the gennaion pseudos, which is primarily directed to the rulers.62 This is also

true of the earlier passage at Rep. 3.389b-c, which is the passage that both Page (1981)

and Brickhouse and Smith (1983) use to support their arguments that the gennaion

pseudos is definitely meant to deceive the ruled, even if this is for their own benefit. Both

of these passages (i.e., Rep. 5.459c and Rep. 3.389b-c) also explicitly say that this kind of

pseudos will be used as a pharmakon by the rulers for the benefit of the ruled. But these

explicit statements, which would tie the gennaion pseudos back only to the second kind

of falsehood in words/speeches described at Rep. 2.382c-d, is absent from the gennaion

pseudos. Or to be more precise, the way in which Socrates presents the gennaion

pseudos makes it unclear whether it is meant to cover only case 2: pharmacological lies

told to so-called friends due to their folly or madness (Rep. 2.382c), or whether it is

meant to cover case 3 as well: fictions we tell because we don’t know the truth about


























































60
Lear (2006), pp. 32-33. Cf. Arendt (1968, 298, n. 5).
61
Brickhouse and Smith (1983), Page (1991), Schofield (2007).
62
Oddly enough, Schofield (2007, 150, 154, 159) repeatedly emphasizes this unique
aspect of the gennaion pseudos, even though he ultimately links it to the lies and
deceptions told in Book 5.

27
ancient things (Rep. 2.382d), or both. And given that Socrates cunningly substitutes

echthros for polemios in his discussion of the falsehoods in words/speeches that can be

told to enemies (Rep. 2.382c-e), then case 1: lies told to enemies, can in some instances

refer to the same people as case 2: our “so-called” mad and foolish friends. In other

words, the gennaion pseudos refers back to all three kinds of falsehoods in

words/speeches discussed at Rep. 2.382b-e. It is thus told to Plato’s enemies and so-

called friends: i.e., 1) tyrannical individuals who mistake a likeness for the thing that it is

like, or 2) Glaucon, who prematurely thinks that he has done all of the interpretive work

necessary in relation to the gennaion pseudos when he thinks that it’s only falsity consists

of the fact that humans are not really born from the earth and don’t literally have metal in

their souls; or 3) interpreters who mistake their own prejudices for the deeper truth

conveyed by Plato’s gennaion pseudos. And it is told as a founding and self-founding

myth or fiction to all listeners (including Plato himself) as a reminder that the only way to

take founding myths seriously is not to take them too seriously.

What does tie the gennaion pseudos to the passages in Book 5 about the fake birth

lotteries is that they are both presented by Socrates as outrageous or preposterous

proposals.63 As I mentioned above, Socrates goes out of his way, (in fact more than in

any other instance in a Platonic dialogue), to actually flag the improbable and outrageous

character of the gennaion pseudos. This kind of speech-act is quite different from

ideology because it tells the person right on the surface that it is false.64 And the only

regime which allows for this kind of open questioning of its own most authoritative


























































63
See Bloom (1968, 380-381) for the preposterous character of the proposals Republic 5.
See Schofield (2007, 158 ) for the outrageous character of the gennaion pseudos.
64
Andrew (1989), 579.

28
dogma(s) is a democracy. The speech-acts which Socrates tells in the gennaion pseudos

and the fake birth lottery are ironic utterances which can mean exactly the opposite

(simple irony) or something far more complex than their surface meanings suggest

(complex irony). (For these distinctions see Vlastos (1991, 21-44)). But to ironically

counsel pseudos (fiction/lie/falsehood) or deception (apatē) is to signal to the audience

that they need to do some interpretive work to uncover the deeper meaning of the

utterance they are now hearing. This is the fundamental thing that Plato wants to signal

to all adult audiences of his Republic about the patriotic myths of citizenship that they

hear from their leaders or fellow citizens. The gennaion pseudos is meant to set up a

relationship of openness and candor between the rulers and citizens of Plato’s ideal

regime,65 but this ironically means that these citizens would then treat all subsequent

comprehensive paradigms of citizen behavior offered by their regimes with a certain

amount of skepticism. The only foundational myth that they will take seriously is the

foundational myth that tells them (when they are children and thus before they can fully

distinguish between playfulness and seriousness or irony and sincerity) that they need to

continually question foundational myths. (This is why Socrates and Glaucon agree that

they won’t be able to persuade the grown leaders of kallipolis to literally believe the

gennaion pseudos, but rather only their “sons or successors” (Rep. 3.414d1-2)). In other

words, Plato’s teaching on the gennaion pseudos encourages a deeper form of truth-

telling and truth-hearing66 than the one he saw on display in his own democratic polity.


























































65
Schofield (2007), 141.
66
See Monoson (2000, 61) for the argument that the Athenian democratic and reciprocal
ideal of parrhēsia (free or frank speech) included within it a critical kind of listening.

29
Taken out of its proper context and location - i.e., the Athenian oratorical and

dramatic discourse of the late 5th century B.C. and its unique place at the end of Book 3

of the Republic - the gennaion pseudos might seem to encapsulate a Platonic teaching

about the lies and deception needed to establish and maintain a moderate and unified

polity,67 but taken within this complex context, it encapsulates Plato’s teaching that the

truly gennaion citizens or guardians of a regime are those who continually question its

authoritative myths and fictions.

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———. “Plato’s Myths of Judgment.” Phronesis 27 (1982): 119-43.
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———. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University
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