No Comment, Quotation — February 1, 2008, 12:00 am

Plato – the Præses lupus

lycaon-solis

??? ???? ??? ????????? ?? ????????? ??? ????????? ? ????? ??? ??????? ?????? ??????? ???? ? ????????? ?? ?? ?? ???? ?? ???? ?? ?? ???????? ?? ??? ???? ??? ??????? ????? ???????. . . ??? ??? ? ?????????? ??? ?????????? ?????????, ?? ?????? ????? ??????? ???? ????????????????, ?????? ?? ????? ???? ????????. ? ??? ??????? ??? ?????. . . ???’ ??? ???? ??? ?? ?? ????? ????????, ????? ?????? ?????????? ?????, ?? ????????? ???????? ???????, ???’ ?????? ????????????, ??? ?? ????????, ??? ?????????? ???? ????????, ???? ?????? ????????, ?????? ?? ??? ??????? ?????? ????????? ????? ?????????, ??? ????????? ??? ?????????? ??? ?????????? ????? ?? ???????? ??? ??? ?????????, ??? ?? ??????? ?????? ?? ?? ???? ????? ??? ???????? ? ?????????? ??? ??? ?????? ? ????????? ??? ???? ?? ???????? ????????. . . ?? ?? ?????????? ?????? ?? ???????????? ??? ????? ?????? ?? ??? ????? ???????????? ?????????????, ?????? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ??? ???????, ??? ??? ?????? ? ? ??? ????? ??????.
??????? ?? ????? ????????? ??? ???? ???????, ??????????? ?? ???? ??????. . . ?????? ????? ???? ??? ???? ??????? ???? ??? ???? ??? ???????? ?????? ????????? ?????, ???? ?? ?????, ? ??????, ???? ??? ?????? ????????? ???????—?????????? ???’ ??????/ ??????, ???? ?????, ???’ ???????? ????? ?????. ?? ??? ??, ???, ???????? ????? ?????????. ?? ?? ?? ?????, ?? ?’ ???, ??????????? ?????? ???????. ???????.

?? ?? ?? ????????? ??????? ????? ????? ?? ??? ????? ????????? ?? ??????, ???? ????????? ?????? ??????? ??????? ?? ?? ????? ??? ??????, ???????? ???? ????????? ???????????????.


How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian temple of Lycaean Zeus. . . The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to become a wolf. . . And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizens; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf—that is, a tyrant?. . . Then comes the famous request for a body-guard, which is the device of all those who have got thus far in their tyrannical career—‘Let not the people’s friend,’ as they say, ‘be lost to them. . .’ The people readily assent; all their fears are for him—they have none for themselves. . . And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not ‘larding the plain’ with his bulk, but himself the overthrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute.

Plato (??????), Republic (????????) 565d – 566b (360 BCE)


College students know the Republic for its dialogue form and its lofty discussion of abstract notions of justice. But it takes some fascinating turns near the end when it discusses the Socratic theory of regression of government, in Greek, ??????. The idea was not unique to Socrates/Plato, of course, it appears in Aristotle, in Polybius and in several other writers. At its core is a sense of impermanence or instability. Human society is incapable of maintaining a single form of government. Rather there is a cycling between the various forms. Human society emerges from the darkness of anarchy, and its early manifestation is the rule of one, the monarchy. There are three forms, namely, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy (in their positive aspect) and tyranny, oligarchy and ochlocracy (in their degenerate aspect). Plato of course gives us the elitist notion of the service-committed, self-denying philosopher-king as the perfect form, but his final chapters are devoted to a sketching of the cycle by which the forms of government steadily change.

One passage in this narrative stands out because of its vivid imagery, and I set it out above. Socrates tells us that in times of war and danger, the people repose their trust in a single man, the “protector.” But with great regularity this relationship transforms itself. How and why does the “protector” turn into a “tyrant” (?? ????????? ??? ????????). To explain the process of degeneration, he reaches back to the most distant memory of Hellenic society, to the primordial tale of Zeus and Lycaon in Arcadia. Lycaon offered up a sacrifice of human flesh to Zeus, and the king of gods, reacting in horror, transformed Lycaon into a wolf Pausanias (?????????), Description of Greece (??????? ??????????), vii, 2 (ca. 150 CE).. Socrates/Plato modifies the myth of Lycaon to suit his purpose: it is Lycaon who commits an act of cannabilism and is separated out of the human species for this reason.

Modern archaeology lets us dig a bit further. The legend almost certainly references a dark, pre-Hellenic era, say around 1600 BCE, in which a cult of human sacrifice existed on the soil that later became Greece. This is now known as the Pelasgian era, and references to it appear in many places in the early literature of Greek antiquity. Lycaon tells us of a Zeus cult, but this is not the Greek god of light, rather a dimly remembered, embarrassing predecessor, a god whose cult almost certainly entailed the sacrifice of human beings. The Hellenic era placed Zeus in his stead, and the mythology was transformed to show Zeus reacting in disgust to the idea of human sacrifice. (This is a thread of the “civilizing mission” of the Greek gods identified by Enlightenment writers like Winckelmann and Schiller).

But Socrates/Plato recounts this story for a special purpose–he fits it into the theory of governmental regression. When the “protector,” that is, the leader who assumes dictatorial authority in times of war, tastes human flesh, be is transformed into a wolf, that is, a tyrant. The human flesh that works this transformation is arbitrary power over the community. It is, he tells us, addictive. Having tasted of it, there is no turning back. Thus, the noble, virtuous spirit becomes power-crazed and unrestrained. The image chosen is of a ferral creature, the wolf, a creature that thrives in violence and does not know the rule of law. He is præses lupus, the wolf-leader, and he is not an outcast, but a bloodthirsty tyrant over men. It’s a tale of obvious relevance to developments in Washington today.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today