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Plato's Republic

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Plato's Republic

Postby Elucubrator » Tue May 06, 2003 6:21 pm

Here is the question I would wish to discuss with Plato if it were possible to return in time to the 5th c. and visit the Academy when it was flourishing and meet him in person, perhaps taking a few lessons in the art of words from him. It concerns the Republic: Why, when Plato is opposed to the influence of poetry, does almost every sentence in the opening paragraph of his great work end in the rhythym of a dactylic hexametre, the same verse in which epic poetry was set ever since the time of Homer? What is his purpose in crafting the opening scene of the Republic in this way? <br /><br />Since he is no longer around we cannot ask him. But he has left us clues perhaps, through which he offers those who seek for answers the pleasure of working it out for ourselves.<br /><br />Plato was himself not merely a philosopher, but a man who loved to write, and a brilliant prose artist. He used his prose style to express his philosophy through dialogues in which there is nothing that is not done by intention.<br /><br />The question is one about which I have always wondered, yet have never found the time to explore, and I do not know where it should lead. But the search itself is part of the joy, and makes life rich and enjoyable. Better it is to be curious and seek for answers, than never to wonder at all. And this is part of the beauty of the Classics, that they provide so much for wonder!<br /><br />Well, my friends and fellow lovers of wisdom, what say ye? <br /><br /> shall we speak of the Republic and enjoy,<br /> or in mournful, lyreless silence this avoid?<br /><br />Sebastian
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Erica » Fri May 09, 2003 11:38 pm

Stunning question -- I have toyed with the idea also. <br /><br />How can he wish to condemn the poet/artist and have so much to say about how dangerous it is for the poet/artist to have manipulative control over the populace via art, yet not realize he is himself "guilty" of that very "crime" himself? <br /><br />I love reading Plato - and such an accomplished writer must have at least realized the level of accomplishment of his own work -- meaning the writing. OK so if I am to suppose he didn't feel artistic pride and just regarded the work as philosophy, how could he not recognize the beauty and greatness of the writing apart from the subject matter regardless? Or did he, and as it is "just philosophy" exempt himself? <br /><br />To me Plato's philosophy is wonderful, but I almost can say I value the literary/artistic quality of it more! Imagine the Repulic as written by Kant --- it would have been an awful mess! I doubt he could have done it. I actually must admit I can't stand Kant's philosophy, but insist that he was an AWFUL writer, and even those Kantians out there must cop to that fact. My point is, philosophy comes in all forms, and artistic/literary aspects are not crucial to it, and actually can be harmful to the process of and true function of philosophy, but I feel for those who can pull it off to write a meaningful work of philosophy and also do so in a beautiful way, that is virtuous (in the Aristotelian sense).
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Elucubrator » Sun May 11, 2003 12:25 am

[quote author=Erica link=board=13;threadid=98;start=0#438 date=1052523489]<br />Stunning question -- I have toyed with the idea also. <br /><br />How can he wish to condemn the poet/artist and have so much to say about how dangerous it is for the poet/artist to have manipulative control over the populace via art, yet not realize he is himself "guilty" of that very "crime" himself? <br />[/quote]<br />[face=SPIonic][size=18=12]<br /> Plato is a brilliant writer and as far as prose is concerned I would call him an artist and a genius. He has so written his dialogues so as to contain within them what could be described as three-dimensional representations or models that serve to illustrate his philosophical content. That is quite an incredible thing to accomplish through the art of words.<br /><br /> I think he is well aware that prose writing is an art in itself; I also believe that he himself loved to write more than he loved to do philosophy. He took so much care in his writing to make it beautiful, not necessarily beautiful in the same way that a poem can be beautiful, but so that the final construction of one of his dialogues would be the<br />ei0/dh* to which whatever vision of philosophy that the dialogues themselves expressed corresponded. It is said that he spent ten days in the composition of the first sentence of the Republic before finally deciding on:<br />[/face][/size]<br />[face=SPIonic]<br />kate/bhn xqe\j ei0j Peiraia= me/ta Glau/kwnoj tou= 70Ari/stwnoj proseuco/meno/j te th|= qew|= kai\ a#ma th\n e9orth\n boulo/menoj qea/sasqai....<br />[/face]<br /><br />*(The Greek word in English paragraph above are the "eide", the Platonic Forms, plural of the singular ei0=doj, "eidos".)<br /><br />[face=SPIonic][size=18=12]<br /> So, you are not to suppose that he didn't feel any artistic pride and regarded his work as philosophy alone, and he did not "recognise the beauty and the greatness of the writing apart from the subject matter" because for him the two were one and the same thing.<br /><br /><br /> You also said:<br />[/face][/size]<br />To me Plato's philosophy is wonderful, but I almost can say I value the literary/artistic quality of it more! Imagine the Repulic as written by Kant --- it would have been an awful mess! I doubt he could have done it. <br />[face=SPIonic][size=18=12]<br /> [ snip snip! ]<br /><br /> You are supposed to value its literary and artistic quality as much. ;) If Kant had written the Republic, it would not have been the Republic. Besides, Kant was concerned with finding a means to know how the things we see are really as we see them; he avoided elegance, beauty, poetic feeling in his style because it would have been a distraction. Kant is asking a question. Plato on the other hand is not; Plato places the reader in the position of having asked, and comes forth to give us answers rather than leading us through his investigation, and his vision is represented in the Form of the dialogue. (Not a pun intended there, but a very serious point.) :o<br /><br /><br /> Then you added:<br />[/face][/size]<br />My point is, philosophy comes in all forms, and artistic/literary aspects are not crucial to it, and actually can be harmful to the process of and true function of philosophy, [face=SPIonic][size=18=12]<br /> [ snip! ]<br /><br /> I agree with you that it may come in all forms, and that artistic aspects may not be crucial to it, but not that it can be harmful to the process of and function of philosophy, except perhaps in being a distraction as I mentioned it would have been for Kant's purposes.<br /><br /> I also really value and delight in the literary and artistic aspects of Plato. The purpose I had in phrasing my opening question in the way I did was not really so much intended to criticise Plato for hypocrisy, but to stress the fact that the hexametre endings in every sentence in the opening of the Republic, precisely because of his views on poetry, should be all the more striking. I don't think he was being hypocritical. I think that he had a purpose in mind, that he did it for a definite reason, and that we are meant to notice it. But, what is it? What are we supposed to make of it?<br /><br /> The reason can be approached I think through two different routs, one would be to ask what purpose it may have in relation to the story he is about to tell about the conversation on that night in the house of Lysias before the war with Sparta: What purpose as a literary device it has within the framework of that story.<br /><br /> The second, would be to ask what purpose it may have in relation to his philosophy, but this is too big and we are bound to get lost. I think it will be more productive to approach the question in the literary manner, because, as I pointed out above, the literary and artistic elements of the dialogue are what hold the philosophy. To try to understand the philosophy first, without understanding the story would be like trying to bite the nut without first cracking the shell. For me it would also be more entertaining to explore the Republic as literature, than as an exposition of Philosophy. It is both, but I feel that to consider it alone as an exposition of philosophy is to miss half of it.<br /><br /> I think you have read the book much more recently than I have. I don't really remember his arguments against poetry, only that there was something negative there. It would help if you, or anyone else, could state what Plato's view of poetry is to start with, and then perhaps we could begin reading the dialogue as a group and talking about it, and more people would jump in. <br /><br /> How does that sound?<br /><br /><br />sincerely,<br /><br />Sebastian<br /><br />PD The Jowett translation of the Republic is available here on Textkit:<br /><br /> http://www.textkit.com/details.php?author_id=4&ID=5<br /><br />[/face][/size]
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Erica » Thu May 15, 2003 1:26 am

I see I need to clarify a bit -- I did not mean to accuse Plato of being a hypocrite, rather was being ironic (guess it didn't translate well in the electronic medium)...sure he was aware of the literary value of his prose writing -- another favorite example of mine is Symposium, which I'm sure he crafted with care as well. And of course, the "characters" in the Republic are not necessarily reflecting Plato's personal views in the course of arguments, but I just found the "scandal" in Plato banishing the poet amusing -- yet unerstand what I believe to be his point, that is to say that we can't have the poets using illusion to influence and distract the people or the philosopher king, because what is "feared" is the poet's ability to utilize the irrational "emotional power" of the arts and tell attractive lies or subversive truths, and that in general art was hostile to religion as well as philosophy, as it is "bad" mimesis, or that art was essentially personal fantasy and as such should not influence "serious" issues. <br /><br />I fear I am wandering from the point of your original post, but must apologize and just respond to your most recent post a bit more- <br /><br />In both philosophy and literary art the writer is aware of the expectation of the reader of each, and the creative process one employs to be able to accomplish the goal/work for each form is different (in general), and while sometimes they overlap, there are fndatmental differences large enough between the two that one can say in most cases literary techniques/qualities can detract from philosophical inquiry. <br /><br />I generalize, but in writing philosophy the goal is to explore the question and answer the question or to find the form or definition of a topic. The novelist or literary writer is trying to create an illusion or manipulate emotions in a story line, and the philosopher is trying to dispel the illusion. Literary writing is free to do this through different narratives, voices, techniques and personal style, and when great has literary "magic" and "tricks" which move our emotions, and actually leave room for the reader to guess as part of the involvement with the story...meaning some parts left out in literature make it a great read because of your interaction with the work and the fact that the author doesn't spell something out. <br /><br />Philosophy of any sort (Kant or Plato) has the goal of exploring a question/problem/etc. and is not self indulgent, and I beleive actually (while not escaping or ignoring imagination) looks to explain or consider a theory to answer a question, and often requires one to go over and over again. I'm just saying it tends to be incompatable with art to continually consider forms which one makes is attempting to solve a problem and seek out the "truth" and continue to grip the philosophical problem as one tries out different solutions, and to keep up the artistic side. <br /><br />I don't think good writing need be "beautiful" -- and certainly while Kant was not at all concerned with beauty of writing (as Plato was) I personally find his writing terrible...just in an expository way if you will...he could have done his philosophy with the same goals and method of "no frills" and written clearly, concisely when needed, and in general better. I guess maybe he could have used a good editor, but I'm sure that would not be a suggestion he would EVER have been "down with". And as a note about beauty and art, I found his Critique awful...not a surprise as many philosophers write on art poorly, I think he was tring to capture the essence of art with his set of tools which, considering the subject manner, were not appropriate. So, yes Kant could not have written the Republic, but that is for a host of reasons, not just the "beauty" aspect. <br /><br />I digress....sorry. Anyway, that is a bit more of my 2 cents on the topic, take them or leave them. Cool conversation, hope to bring more to the next post, and again if anyone is reading this note my personality tends to be ironic or facetious, and I don't mean to piss anyone off as well! <br />Erica ;)
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Mansella » Mon Jul 21, 2003 1:37 pm

M.M. Bahktin in The Dialogic Imagination comes very very close to calling Plato's dialogues a proto-novel. I'm not sure about this. It is a wonderful manifestation of rhetoric and persuasive discourse, but this discourse is dualistic and not a polyglossia. I suppose Bakhtin is pushing the distinction between monologism (epic) and dialogism to it's extreme, but I think this is reductive. As I said, he very nearly calls the dialogue novelistic, but never actaullty does. <br /><br />However, in this age of plural deconstruction, a text remains a text whether it is viewed as a piece of literature or rhetoric. There was no distinction when Plato wrote his dialogues, and the distinction is becoming once again less important. The matter of genre makes very little differnce in the study of text as a cultural document.<br /><br />This is not a standpoint I completely agree with, but it is a useful one in considering the reading of Plato as a literature rather than a piece of rhetoric.<br />
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Skylax » Tue Jul 22, 2003 8:53 pm

[quote author=Elucubrator link=board=13;threadid=98;start=0#405 date=1052245303]<br /> Why, when Plato is opposed to the influence of poetry, does almost every sentence in the opening paragraph of his great work end in the rhythym of a dactylic hexametre, the same verse in which epic poetry was set ever since the time of Homer? What is his purpose in crafting the opening scene of the Republic in this way? <br />[/quote]<br /><br />Sadly enough, it could be no more that a coincidence... Furthermore, I've read somewhere that ancient prose-writers deliberately avoid too much similarities to poetry.<br /><br />Plato's prose is yet deeply poetic, so your question is perfectly relevant.<br /><br />But when you say that Plato is opposed to the influence of poetry, you must be more precise. Plato isn't opposed to any poetry in any case.<br /><br />Let's quote the passage of the Republic :<br /><br />"If a man, then, it seems, [398a] who was capable by his cunning of assuming every kind of shape and imitating all things should arrive in our city, bringing with himself1 the poems which he wished to exhibit, we should fall down and worship him as a holy and wondrous and delightful creature, but should say to him that there is no man of that kind among us in our city, nor is it lawful for such a man to arise among us, and we should send him away to another city, after pouring myrrh down over his head and crowning him with fillets of wool, but we ourselves, for our souls' good, should continue to employ [398b] the more austere1 and less delightful poet and tale-teller, who would imitate the diction of the good man and would tell his tale in the patterns which we prescribed in the beginning,2 when we set out to educate our soldiers.” “We certainly should do that if it rested with us.” “And now, my friend,” said I, “we may say that we have completely finished the part of music that concerns speeches and tales. For we have set forth what is to be said and how it is to be said.” “I think so too,” he replied."<br /><br />Here, the point is how to educate the soldiers, the guardians of Plato's ideal polis. So, Plato don't speak about the ordinary real life of the ordinary Athenian citizen.<br /><br />Now, the undesirable poet is the one who is able (and willing) to exhibit "demoralizing" poetry.<br /><br />Note that even this undesirable man will be sent away very politely.<br /><br />Plato would retain patriotic poets (in a nearly Soviet way...)<br /><br /><br /><br />Yet, Plato himself was a great poet (in prose). We find in the Ion<br /><br />http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0180:div1=Ion:section=530a<br /><br />further thoughts about poets and poetry. There, Plato develops his theory of "enthousiasmos", in which he describes the poet as a man directly inspired by the gods.<br /><br />The contradiction between the two Plato's (the poet and the political would-be reformer) can be illustrated in an amusing way: it is said twice (Ion 541e and Euthyphron 15b) that someone is ever changing his mind "like Proteus", a god who changes his shape as one tries to catch him, yet in the Republic:<br /><br />[381d] I said, “my good friend, must be allowed to tell us that<br />The gods, in the likeness of strangers,<br />Many disguises assume as they visit the cities of mortals.<br />Nor must anyone tell falsehoods about Proteus and Thetis, nor in any tragedy or in other poems bring in Hera disguised as a priestess collecting alms<br />for the life-giving sons of Inachus, the Argive stream.<br /> [381e] And many similar falsehoods they must not tell. Nor again must mothers under the influence of such poets terrify their children1 with harmful tales, how that there are certain gods whose apparitions haunt the night in the likeness of many strangers from all manner of lands, lest while they speak evil of the gods they at the same time make cowards of children.” “They must not,” he said. <br /><br />He did it himself, however, many times, with a great art.
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Emma_85 » Fri Jul 25, 2003 8:28 pm

<br /><br />On the subject of Kant: uurrrrghghghghghh!<br />Lol, I have to 'translate' Kant quite a lot at school and I’m no good at it. Kant didn't actually write German, even, he wrote all his works towards the end of his life and rushed it all a lot. He didn't think 'How can I write this so people will understand me', but just wrote as quickly as he could in a pseudo German, like some German words and Latin grammar all mixed up together.<br /><br />Anyway, back to Plato: I disagree that Plato was such a great 'artist'. He was very good at putting what he wanted to say into writing, in a form that was normal at that time. He did not invent the dialogue stile of writing, it just happened to be a stile that was quite often used at the time. He didn't use it very well, either, I mean, how is someone saying 'yes, I agree', or 'you're totally right there' every now and again really an active counterpart in the dialogue? <br />Plato was a philosopher, who knew how to use language, but did not create or do anything artistic with it.<br /><br />well that's just what i think...
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Skylax » Sat Jul 26, 2003 7:29 pm

[quote author=Emma_85 link=board=13;threadid=98;start=0#1986 date=1059164893]<br /> He didn't use it very well, either, I mean, how is someone saying 'yes, I agree', or 'you're totally right there' every now and again really an active counterpart in the dialogue? <br />[/quote]<br />Not exactly so, Miss. Sometimes somebody says "Well, it seems to be so." It happens when the man feels that Socrates is trapping him into a contradiction. The (preceeding) "I agree" are important inasmuch these boring answers make the interlocutor of Socrates responsible for apparently evident thoughts that eventually prove to be contradictory. It is a way to show contradictions in the mind of the interlocutor.<br /><br />This method is basically a game called "eristike" played by sophists among the aristocrats. One player asks questions, the other may only answer with "yes" or "no" and must avoid being led to a contradiction. The one who answers can't ask any question. See Euthydemus :<br /><br />"(...)<br />[287c] you mean I am at a loss how to refute it? You must tell me what else your phrase can intend, “at a loss how to deal with the arguments.”<br /><br />But it is not so very hard to deal with that phrase1 of yours, he said. Just answer me.<br /><br />Before you answer me, Dionysodorus? I protested.<br /><br />You refuse to answer? he said.<br /><br />(...)<br /><br />What nonsense you talk, he said, instead of answering as you should. Come, good sir, do as I bid you and answer, since you confess to my wisdom.<br /><br />Well then, I must obey, I said, and of necessity, it seems; for you are the master here. Now for your question." And so on.
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Skylax » Sat Jul 26, 2003 7:56 pm

[quote author=Emma_85 link=board=13;threadid=98;start=0#1986 date=1059164893]<br />Anyway, back to Plato: I disagree that Plato was such a great 'artist'. He was very good at putting what he wanted to say into writing, in a form that was normal at that time.<br />[/quote]<br /><br />Did Shakespeare invent tragedy?<br />
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Hamilton » Sat Sep 20, 2003 4:26 am

The Catholic philosopher (and Greek Classicist) wrote a wonderful little book called Divine MadnessPlato's Case against Secular Humanism which covers Phaedrus.<br /><br />Plato wrote in such a way that he wished to "outcharm" Homer. He knew the intoxicating effect of Rhetoric, and wrote his works in such a way that he would appeal to as many people as possible.<br /><br />The quarrel between philosophy and poetry is covered very well in some of Leo Strauss' works.<br /><br />The best ever translation into English is the Allan Bloom edition of Plato's Republic.
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Hamilton » Sat Sep 20, 2003 4:28 am

Oops. The name of the author in my prior post was Josef Pieper
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Re:Plato's Republic

Postby Petrus Quercus » Sun Sep 21, 2003 2:06 am

Forgive me for being too Alexandrian here, but..<br /><br />Not all prose is prosaic: Not all poetry is poetic.
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Postby Baphomet » Sat Nov 08, 2003 3:37 am

In one hand, we're talking about the same old thing: form against contents.
In the other hand, we may find analog questions concerning to Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra: Is it a philosophical poem or just a poetical treatise on philosophy? All of us know that Zarathustra created a very ancient religion whose "hard core" was the opposition between good and evil. Well, Nietzsche wrote that none but Zarathustra himself ought to be the destroyer of his own metaphysical principles.

[face=SPIonic]Kalh/ tu/xh, ma\ to\n ku/na.[/face]
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Postby polemarchos » Sun Mar 28, 2004 5:13 pm

It's too late for me to read this thread, but I'd like to comment a little on this topic.
According to some commenters, say, Leo Strauss and his pupil Allan Bloom, Plato writes his dialogues in rival to Homer on one hand, and to Aristophane on the other. Plato criticized poets like Homer because the traditional epic convey many immoral materials. And in the comedies, philosophers were portrayed as madman(this might be a friendly caution for philosophers that they should be prudent in their intellectual activities in the public life). Plato knew the tremendous power of poetry(together with music) on human souls too much, so he contended that the poems used to educate people must be censored by the rulers of an ideal polis(an idea realized in some degree by Nazis and Communists). His own works, we can say, were to provide a substitute of old poetry, and thus give the new nomos(contained in a new poetry, that is, a new education) of polis. By composing his dialogues in a highly artistic way, Plato legislate for his polis, and finally, for a new world. This legislation, after 2000 years, governs modern world in secret: now most of us believe the public life should be based on reason, rather than on religion or mythology.
Plato is a lawgiver through poetry. :roll:
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Postby Emma_85 » Wed Apr 07, 2004 1:25 pm

Hehehe... this is an old thread! Wow, is this thread old...

When I first posted a reply here I hadn't read Plato's 'Republic' - now I have...
(Still don't think dialogue is a good and entertaining way to write a book, at least the way Plato does it, it isn't).

But I think I can answer this question a bit better now (for anyone interested at all... :wink: ):
Why, when Plato is opposed to the influence of poetry, does almost every sentence in the opening paragraph of his great work end in the rhythm of a dactylic hexameter, the same verse in which epic poetry was set ever since the time of Homer? What is his purpose in crafting the opening scene of the Republic in this way?


I think it's just that any book written then was also considered to be a piece of art. He didn't hate the language, that is the hexameter form of the poetry, I think he thought that was very beautiful indeed, but it was just what the poets wrote about the Gods for example, he didn't like at all.
There are other things such as symmetry to look out for in the Republic, one of the things that was suppose to make a book beautiful.
Plato wanted his book to be considered 'literature' as opposed to say a 'recipe' for making a perfect state.
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brief answer

Postby nicomachos » Fri Oct 08, 2004 4:37 pm

Using my humble knowledge of philosophy and philology, I'd atempt an answer to the original question: the ambiguity of Plato's atidude towards poets.
Constantin Noica (a Romanian philosopher) wrote a preface to the Republic where he deals with the things everyone knows about Plato. One of these is that he bannishes poets from he's ideal state. Noica reminds us that we usually ignore the essence of the Republic: it is not the desciption of an ideal state, but the metaphor of an ideal soul. In the bigining, that is the issue they start to discuss: politics is only a way of simplifying the discourse. And so, PLATO DOES NOT BANNISH POETS FROM THE CITY, BUT FEELINGS FROM THE SOUL. Remember that it happens in an initial phase: don't we advise our juniors to be rational?
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Postby Emma_85 » Fri Oct 08, 2004 6:46 pm

Hmm... Well I suppose that's the question really, isn't it? Did Plato really want to describe an ideal state, or is it only meant as an image of the soul?
I find it hard to believe that he thought of it only as an image for his soul model. There are loads of things he wouldn't have written if this were so I feel.
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Postby cweb255 » Tue Oct 12, 2004 6:07 am

I think laws is needed to be read in order to fully understand politeia...
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Oct 17, 2004 8:48 am

Well, the problem is that basically you need to read a lot of Greek and a lot of history to understand it fully, because you've got to understand what they were thinking at the time, where Plato's ideas come from (they didn't just come out of nowhere) and why he wrote what he wrote. :P I can only hope that each time I read it I'll be able to understand more of it. Not exactly sure when I'll read it again, but it's always best to re-read these sort of books once in a while.
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