The misconstrual of Plato’s Republic, that St. Augustine quotes Socrates, and other discoveries

Below are some examples of what my thesis achieves in terms of research and discoveries:

1. St. Augustine quotes directly from Plato’s Republic, and a close comparison of St. Augustine with Plato reveal that the modern category of Neoplatonism is unnecessary to explain the thought of the former.

I disprove the widespread notion that the Platonic aspects of the theology of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 A.D.) must be almost exclusively due to the influence of so-called “Neoplatonism”, as opposed to the philosophy of Plato himself (allegedly because St. Augustine only had a rudimentary knowledge of Greek, and did not have access to more than “snippets” from Plato’s dialogues, and, also allegedly, because a number of the aforementioned Platonic features of his theology only start occurring in a “late” or “new” phase of Platonic philosophy etc.). I show that all the major metaphysical concepts in Confessions and De Trinitate could either have come directly from authentic, early Platonism, or have been engendered by close antecedents in it, and that St. Augustine, in at least one case, quotes directly from a Latin translation of Plato’s Republic (for details on this stunning discovery, which I am not aware that anyone else has ever set forth in print, see the chapters on St. Augustine in my thesis).

The category of “Neoplatonism” is in fact a comparatively recent, modern construct (c.f. Catana, 2013), created for reasons which I cannot go into here, and it was never used by the ancient philosophers themselves, who viewed themselves, and were viewed by contemporary commentators (as far as I am able to judge), as belonging to a single Platonic tradition, and the category of “Neoplatonism” soon reveals itself, upon examination, to be largely untenable and unnecessary.

There are, of course, differences between the metaphysics and the worldviews of, say, Plato and Iamblichus, or Plato and Proclus, but what else could one possibly expect from a school of thought which, arguably, began with Pythagoras of Samos in the 500s B.C., and then burned brightly in this world of flux for some one thousand years?

The Sun and its Light — in this wonderful painting by Ivan Aivazovsky represented by the reflected sunlight of the Moon — has a central role in Platonic Philosophy. With the arrival of Christianity on the world stage, the Hidden or Noetic Sun, i.e. the Sun illuminating the Kingdom of the Eternal Ideas, becomes Jesus Christ, who is this Sun — in Platonic terminology also known as the Idea of the Good — incarnated in this world of matter and Becoming. Ivan Aivazovsky, the Tower of Galata, 1845.

2. The foremost theme of Plato’s Republic, when properly read and understood, is the construction of a spiritual and psychological Kingdom within, where Man’s greatest and highest, but nowadays usually latent mental faculty or power – the Inner or Third Eye – constitutes a metaphorical Monarch, whose Divine Kingship is made possible and desirable by its being in a state of continual Communion with the divine realm of the Eternal Ideas, the Christian Kingdom of Heaven.

I demonstrate that the Republic is not, as it is now commonly said to be, a work which is primarily about politics, and the construction of the ideal worldly City or State, but, on the contrary, a work where the City functions as an extended allegory, the goal of which is the exploration of the inner life of the human being, and of different states of consciousness, and, moreover, a work which is principally about the metaphorical city within, i.e. the “City” which is constituted by the different parts of the Individual Human Being (incidentally, the highly distinctive term “inner man” or “inner human being”, familiar to many from certain epistles by the author we know as St. Paul, also occur in Plato’s Republic, which predates the Pauline Epistles by some 400 years).

(That the City has a crucial allegorical function is in fact explicitly stated by Socrates, in different ways, several times, over the course of the dialogue, but, as becomes evident when one examines academic literature, the majority of modern analysts and commentators do not read the Republic from start to finish, but only examine certain selected or preferred parts of it, and even those usually only in translation.)

The foremost goal of the various spiritual practices outlined in and alluded to in the Republic (such as the Art of the Turning Around of the Soul, which involve several Platonic or Pythagorean, esoteric studies, which differ significantly from the ordinary or popular versions of the studies bearing the names in question – such as Platonic Astronomy, for example, which is really about the spiritual Contemplation of the Eternal Ideas) is a transformation of the Human Being, the ideal end result of which is the establishment of an Inner Kingdom, in which the Eye of the Soul, which is the faculty or power capable of apprehending the Divine, is the metaphorical Monarch, inhabiting the Acropolis or Throne of the Soul, and in which all the other psychological parts, i.e. the reasoning part, the honor-loving or martial part (which corresponds to the entity we tend to call the Will) and the appetitive or gain-loving parts are arranged in a hierarchy below it.

The mental state or inner “government” or “constitution” thus achieved, by way of a series of steps and stages which could be compared to those of authentic Yoga (as outlined by Patanjali), is styled, somewhat surprisingly to most modern readers, Justice, which is not, therefore, a merely political or worldly concept, but also a mental or psychological state, in which every part of the Human Being (the Republic mentions five, which are intimately connected to the five forms of “government”) is performing the role and receiving the treatment proper to its inherent nature.

This rediscovery of what one of the founding works of Hellenic, Greco-Roman and European philosophy is actually about, and of its multiple levels of meaning – again, there are at least five, but here I can only go into one or two of them – is perfectly in keeping with the almost universally acknowledged fact that one of the characteristic features of Hellenic culture was the conviction that Man, the Human Individual, constitutes a Microcosm which, in a variety of ways, reflects and corresponds to the Macrocosm of the Universe, but it also shows, I would assert, that this feature of ancient thought could take far more complex, subtle and profound forms than have usually been realized – as the Republic, once properly understood, is a truly wonderful example of.

Furthermore, this rediscovery confirms and elucidates the ancient Hellenic maxim, reportedly inscribed on one of the walls of the Temple of Delphi, namely “Nothing in Excess” (μηδὲν ἄγαν), as it is when none of the inner parts of the human being engage in excessive or transgressive or unnatural behavior, and all of them, instead, are contributing to the wellness of the whole, in ways consistent with their substance, that the inner state of Justice or Oneness or Harmony arises (Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of Individuation was probably inspired by precisely this aspect of Platonic thought). My rediscovery also does much the same for that other and possibly even more famous Hellenic maxim, namely “Know Thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν).

Hence, the Platonic worldview does not, when this is taken into account, advocate a radical asceticism, or the abrupt striking down of one or more of the lower parts of oneself, such as the appetites, nor, of course, hedonism – no, the ideal is rather a sophisticated Balance, in which all the faculties and powers and forces within oneself have come to work in conjunction with one another, aiding and protecting one another, while under the natural and benevolent leadership and guidance of the Royal or Kingly Power, which is the purified and rekindled Eye of the Soul, in continual Communion with Nous (Noos), so that the Human Being goes from being “many”, and in a state of more or less perpetual inner conflict and unrest, to being, insofar as it is possible in this earthly life, One.

Not everyone is capable of attaining to this state of Inner Kingship, though, for many are by nature dominated by and inclined towards the rule of some other faculty or power within, such as Discursive Reason or the Will or the Necessary or the Un-Necessary Desires, and that is why, in real life, and in all societies consisting of more than some very few individuals, there will always be certain inevitable, natural classes or categories or types of people, regardless of policies and forms of government. Hence, Platonism is very far indeed from having much in common with the utopian ideologies characterizing Modernity. But membership in these classes is not determined by heredity and talents alone, but also by psychological states and mental achievements, and may therefore change over the course of the earthly life of the individual (a life which, in Platonism, is but one of many reincarnations of the Soul). For example, even the Tyrannical or Democratic individual may eventually, if he or she is a carrier of the Philosophic Nature, become a King.

What these findings, which are virtually incontestable, also show, is that Plato’s Republic is being misunderstood and misconstrued. The most remarkable, most important and most inspiring message of this dialogue – one which has never been more relevant and more needed – has been almost entirely lost, buried as it tends to be in layers and layers of inaccurate or fanciful translations, ill-informed or deliberately skewed academic and theological commentaries, and rigid and petty-minded interpretative conventions.

Even the very title imposed on this greatest of Plato’s works is an example of this, for the ideal City spoken of therein, whether it is understood on the worldly and materialistic and exoteric level or on the inner and spiritual and esoteric level, is most certainly not a republic, but a kingdom!

Moreover, the term republic has now acquired strongly anti-monarchical and even revolutionary connotations, and is therefore wholly inappropriate. That is why, in my thesis, I boldly discard the conventional title forced upon this work when translated into English, and instead employ the title of Politeia, which is a transliteration of the original Greek title (as reported by Diogenes Laertius), and which preserves the multiplicity of levels of meaning which was probably intended to be encapsulated by Politeia, which simply means Government or Constitution.

(Incidentally, the issue of the title given to the translation being a misnomer is present in other languages as well. In Norwegian, for example, the Politeia is usually styled “Staten”, which means “the State”, and which has no spiritual connotations whatsoever.)

According to Diogenes Laertius (180–240 A.D.), the Politeia had a subtitle as well, namely “περὶ δικαίου”. If translated at all, this secondary title is usually translated as On Justice. This is also, however, misleading, albeit in a somewhat less brazen and outrageous manner than when “Politeia” is replaced by “Republic” (which, it is true, is partly due to the influence of Cicero’s “Res Publica”). For “peri dikaiou” does not mean on or concerning justice, but on or concerning the just man, or the just individual. Here, in other words, is yet another indication of the veracity of the assertions made above.

3. The Ancient Greek term idea and the related nouns and verbs are intimately bound up with the act and activity of seeing, and comprehending just what this entails will likely bring us many steps closer to an accurate understanding of precisely what Plato actually intended to convey.

I call attention to the intimate connection between the Attic Greek nouns εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) and the verbs from which they are derived (such as ἰδεῖν, to see), and point out a most interesting semantic aspect borne out by this connection, which is readily apparent in the entries of the more sophisticated dictionaries, but which is rarely, to my knowledge, taken into consideration when Plato’s so-called “Theory of Forms” is discussed, namely that the fundamental meaning of these nouns has to do with the activity of seeing, and with that which is being seen, and, moreover, that acknowledging and considering this facet of their meaning may provide us with some extremely important and wonderfully clarifying clues regarding the nature of the famous Platonic entities called “forms” or “ideas”.

Doing so may even tell us a great deal of the Platonic metaphysical schema as a whole. For if the term idea, so frequently used by Plato in his Republic, as well as its “cousins”, should be taken to mean something which is seen, or an object of sight, or, more specifically, and as the dictionaries do indicate, a beautiful appearance or countenance, then that becomes yet another argument, and a strong one, for distinguishing between the Idea of the Good and the Good Itself – as I show in my thesis. One of the reasons for this is that if the Idea of the Good can be an object of sight, then it can hardly be identical to the Good Itself, which is said to be beyond Being and Ousia (Essence or Ousia is used by Plato as synonymous with Being), and which Socrates refuses to speak about.

This insight, which I personally find amazing inspirational, is in one sense very simple, and anything but difficult to come to, yet it was only after several years of Platonic studies, and the reading of various etymological dictionaries, that I finally arrived at it, and began to appreciate its significance.

Some of the credit for this insight should, however, go to the American Platonist and teacher Dr. Pierre Grimes, as it was he who first alerted me to the fact that the term idea could be signifying something akin to visibility or “being-seen-ness”.

The seeing in question is not, moreover, an ordinary kind of seeing, but a spiritual kind of seeing, which Plato sometimes calls Noesis (νόησις), and which St. Augustine of Hippo tends to style Contemplation – and this explanation of what it means to fully apprehend the Platonic Ideas, as well as the implications of it, fit effortlessly into the extensively articulated Platonic concept of the Eye of the Soul.

I suspect that this profoundly spiritual and contemplative and mystical sense of “idea” may have been just as prominent as the more mundane and subjective and restricted one when Plato composed his dialogues, and that we may, by dwelling intently on this possibility, recover one of the crucial aspects of authentic Platonic philosophy, and of Hellenic culture in general, for that matter, namely the prominent place given to the conviction that a direct, mental connection to the (Truly) Above (ἄνω), to the Divine realms beyond this world of flux, is both possible and necessary.

One of the circumstances that lead me to believe this to be likely is my first-hand knowledge of Norwegian, the native language of my mother. For in Norwegian, there are still a number of archaic terms which are closely related to the ancient Greek ones mentioned above, and which tend to describe mental phenomena having to do with knowledge rather than such as deal with the merely physical or imaginary. One of the most obvious examples of these terms is the verb “å vite”, to know. In Danish, this verb is spelled with a d, making the kinship between “vite” and “idein” even more obvious. Then there is the noun “vit” (alternative form “vett”), consciousness or sense. There is also the verb “å veide”, which now means to hunt, but which originally, I suspect, must have meant something like “to spot” or “to identify”.

As the student of Indo-European languages will already know, the great similarity in both spelling and meaning between these Norwegian terms and the Greek ones discussed earlier is due to them having a common origin, exemplified by the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European verb *weyd. In Greek, the initial consonant, the v, had already disappeared thousands of years ago, while in Norwegian, it has for some reason been preserved. The latter is also true of Sanskrit, which has the noun “vidya”, knowledge, and of Latin, where we find the verb “videre”, to see.

Although a great deal more research would be needed to turn the hunch here outlined into a defensible theory, I would say that my acknowledging the connection between the Platonic Ideas and the act of mental seeing, which is in fact established by Plato himself, is one of the more important aspects of my thesis, and one which it would likely be worthwhile to study much more extensively.

4. The Idea of the Good is not identical to the Good Itself, but is both the Sun and the Son of the Highest Good, which is both its Father and the Unknowable One. There are only two possible explanations for the striking similarity between Platonic and Christian theology – either the enigmatic Father and Son-theology permeating even the Canonical Gospels is the result of a profoundly Platonic influence on the early Christian movement, or Jesus Christ Himself, by virtue of being the incarnated Son of the Father, was able to reveal this theology to his disciples directly.

This brings me to the fourth and last aspect I would like to mention here, namely the virtual necessity of distinguishing between the Idea of the Good and the Good Itself, instead of conflating them into a single metaphysical entity. The term the Idea of the Good (“η ιδεα του αγαθου”, 505a, 508e, 517b–517c, c.f. also “ἀγαθοειδῆ”, 509a) is arguably one of the most important of its kind in Plato’s Republic, but exactly what did Plato intend this term to signify?

One widespread way of reading the Politeia is to understand this phrase as referring to the same metaphysical entity as the Good or the One. Phrased differently, the Idea of the Good is seen as denoting the exact same genus as the Good Itself(506e). There are, however, very strong grounds for questioning the validity of this way of interpreting the passages in question, and for suspecting that it is not only inaccurate, but that it leads to wildly incorrect portrayals of the structure of the Realm of the Eternal Ideas.

The most important of these grounds are found in the Politeia itself, and in some of the other dialogues by Plato, but supporting evidence exists in works by later writers belonging to or strongly influenced by the Platonic tradition, such as St. Augustine of Hippo, some of the central works of whom I also discuss in my thesis.

Concerning those discoverable in the Politeia, one of the foremost of these is that Plato evidently thought that there is more than one way to gain Knowledge (which Plato calls Episteme or Gnosis – these terms are used synonymously). A careful examination of the Politeia shows, for example, that Plato must have been aware of the two distinct kinds of mystical experiences which, some centuries later, gain such prominence in the medieval Christian tradition – one of which is the mental encounter with Divine Light or Radiant Beauty (i.e. the Via Positiva as an actual, firsthand mental experience, one might say), and the other of which is a kind of Knowing which is actually an Unknowing, as one famous anonymous work called it (i.e. the Via Negativa as a personal mental realization).

Those who would like to see this for themselves should take a look at 506d–507a in the Greek, where Socrates, I think, distinguishes between (1) the Good Itself, (2) the Offspring of the Good, and (3) that which resembles the Offspring of the Good. The Good Itself is called the Father, and, as the subsequent Eye–Sun–Sight-analogy shows, the Offspring of the Good is the Idea of the Good, and that which resembles it is Helios, the sun of Becoming. This is then confirmed by the statements in 517b–517c, which explain that the Idea of the Good is Lord/Lady – Kyria – of Higher Being, while Helios is lord – kyrios – of Generation. The sense of 509a must be that neither Truth, nor Knowledge, nor the Form of the Good are the Good Itself.

Moreover, Socrates explicitly states in 506e–507a that he will not speak about the Good Itself, and all he later says of it – in 509b – is that it is beyond Ousia or Being. Why this – that he will not speak of it – is so often not taken into account in the interpretation of this part of the Politeia is nothing short of mystifying.

On the one hand, Plato speaks of a Good beyond Being, which is undoubtedly the same entity as the One, mentioned in the Parmenides. In the Politeia, he also uses the term Father. As Proclus would later observe, the Highest God is called the Good by Man because it is the ultimate End or Good of all creatures, but the One by Man because it is the source of all Oneness on the planes below it. This Platonic Good is also clearly the inspiration behind the “Proclean” and “Pseudo-Dionysian” category of “Super-Essence” or “Beyond-Being”, for this genus, so frequently mentioned by Proclus, is merely the striking articulation of something which is already wholly implicit in the Politeia, since Essence (Ousia) is there used as synonymous with Being, and since Being is not, as already stated, the ultimate echelon of Divine existence.

On the other hand, there is certainly a Knowable God in the Platonic metaphysical schema, for one of the foremost themes of the Politeia is precisely Knowing or Noesis, which is likened to seeing, and what is the final or most exalted “object” which may be seen in the Realm of Knowing? It is the Idea of the Good (517b). Moreover, the Idea of the Good is the Greatest Study (505a). And, likewise, true philosophy, the goal of which is the Loving of Sophia, results in the gaining of Knowledge or Wisdom, which is provided by the Idea of the Good.

Now, if the Unknowable One, the Good Itself, which is beyond Being, were identical to the Idea of the Good, then how could it possibly be seen and known? How could it conceivably be the subject of the activity of philosophy, of love and study, longing and devotion? For in Plato, the study in question is clearly not a mere “theoretical” analysis, and the love he has in mind is certainly not faith in something unknown – on the contrary, both refer to the actual encounter and even the “communion” (611e) with a divine entity.

This, however, is only one of the reasons why it is likely a great mistake to completely conflate the Idea of the Good with the Good Itself. For if they denote one and the same entity, then the True or Hidden or Noetic Sun – one of the most wonderful metaphors of the Politeia – would have to refer to the supraessential One itself, and if that were the case, then how could one go from the Unknown, completely beyond all Being (509b), to a Sun or a Giver of Light visible in Being (517b)?

For if we may “analogize” our way to Higher Being (the Upper Section of the Realm of the Noetic) because this world of Generation is an image of That Which is Truly Above, then must we not assume that “in the manner in which the Helios of Generation is visible to the physical eye, so the Giver of Light Above is visible to the Eye of the Soul?

Phrased differently, how could the gap between Higher Being and “Super-Being” possibly be bridged? And how could Higher Being possibly be illuminated by “the Sun of God”?

But there is more to consider. For if the Idea of the Good is the Good Itself, then where in that metaphysical schema might the Child or Offspring of the Father be given a suitable place? If it is not the first irradiation from the Father, and the first Knowable God, crossing over from that which is “Beyond It All” to Higher Being, then what is it? To say that the Offspring of the One is actually the Helios of Generation is absurd.

As far as I am able to judge, what we have in Plato’s Politeia is a theology which is usually seen as arising only hundreds of years later, with the enigmatic hints in the Gospels, and as finding its clearest Christian expression in the Nicene Creed, namely the Father and Son, God of God and Light of Light-doctrine of Christianity. Its form in the Politeia is germinal, but it is there.

If that is the case, we also have what could be viewed as an explanation for the seemingly sudden appearance of the Father and Son-theology with nascent Christianity, a theology which, in the absence of this antecedent, remains an enigma, since there is no such thing as a Divine Son with the properties found in the gospels in the Old Testament or elsewhere in traditional, exoteric “Judaism” (even though there is the Wisdom of God and the Memra).

A possible supporting argument for this interpretation may be found by considering the wide range of meaning of the Greek word Idea (and Eidos). For one of its possible meanings is that of beautiful appearance or countenance. Hence, it may well be that what we are dealing with in the Idea of the Good is a Platonic version of the prominent theological concept of the Face or Countenance of God.

Now, if this does not get your attention, it is high time that we part ways.

On the other hand, if this did get your attention, then I invite you to download and read the full thesis.

Bibliography

Catana, L. (2013). The Origin of the Division between Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism. Apeiron, 46.2, 166–200.

Diogenes Laertius. (1925/1972). Lives of Eminent Philosophers (R. D. Hicks, Trans.). Cambridge, MA, the United States: Loeb Classical Library

Plato & Bloom, A. (1991). The Republic of Plato. Translated with Notes and an Interpretive Essay by Allan Bloom (2nd ed.). New York, NY, the United States: Basic Books.

Plato. (2018). The Nature of Government [e-book] (Juan and Maria Balboa, Trans.). Sunset Beach, CA, the United States: The Noetic Society. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/republic-balboa/mode/2up

Plato. (2020). Platonis Opera (John Burnet, Ed.). Perseus Digital Library (Gregory R. Crane, Ed.). Medford, MA, the United States: Tufts University. Retrieved from http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0059.tlg030.perseus-grc1:1.327a

(Digitized version of: Plato. (1903). Platonis Opera (John Burnet, Ed.). Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford University Press)

Proclus. (2010). On the Theology of Plato [e-book] (Thomas Taylor, Trans.). Archive.org: Martin Euser. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/ProclusOnTheTheologyOfPlato-ElectronicEdition/mode/2up

(Digitized version of: Proclus. (1816). The Six Books Of Proclus, The Platonic Successor, On The Theology Of Plato, Translated From The Greek (Thomas Taylor, Trans.). London, Great Britain: A. J. Valpy)

Dictionaries and other resources

Beekes, R. and van Beek, L. (2010). Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Alexander Lubotsky, Ed.). Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R. & Jones, H. S. (1940) [online version]. Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.). Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://lsj.gr/wiki/Main_Page

Norwegian: Solen og sollyset — i dette fantastiske maleriet av Ivan Aivazovsky representert ved det reflekterte sollyset til månen — har en sentral rolle i platonsk filosofi. Med kristendommens inntreden i verden, blir Den skjulte eller noetiske solen, det vil si den åndelige solen som opplyser De evige ideers rike, til Jesus Kristus, som er denne solen — i platonsk terminologi også kjent som Det godes ide — inkarnert i vår verden av materie og tilblivelse. Ivan Aivazovsky, Tårnet i Galata, 1845.

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