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.

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