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:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

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

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Number of cast members of the movie Predator who have run for governor:

3

A Georgia Tech engineer created software that endows unmanned aerial drones with a sense of guilt.

Roy Moore, a 70-year-old lawyer and Republican candidate for the US Senate who once accidentally stabbed himself with a murder weapon while prosecuting a case in an Alabama courtroom, was accused of having sexually assaulted two women, Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson, while he was an assistant district attorney in his thirties and they were 14 and 16 years old, respectively.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today