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  • Glaucon's Fate: History, Myth, and Character in Plato's Republic by Jacob Howland
  • Adam Thomas
HOWLAND, Jacob. Glaucon's Fate: History, Myth, and Character in Plato's Republic. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2018. 295 pp. Paper, $29.95

In his second manuscript on Plato's Republic, Jacob Howland rereads the dialogue as a failure. He begins from the likelihood that Glaucon lost his life fighting for the Thirty Tyrants at the Battle of Munychia in 403, on the road and in the place where the Republic begins. The contest for Glaucon's soul between Socrates and Critias, leader of the Thirty, therefore provides the dialogue's dramatic context, along with the sobering thought that Socrates failed with Glaucon no less than with Charmides or Alcibiades. In making this contest explicit, Howland offers a groundbreaking reading of the Republic; in making explicit Socrates' failure in that contest, he offers the provocation that Plato's dialogue includes a critique of his teacher, who "was in a certain sense not entirely free" of Critias's and Glaucon's confusion of philosophy and ideology.

In chapter 1, Howland sketches the evidence for Glaucon's fate. Much suggests that he is a future timocrat, goaded on by his mother's relations (Critias and Charmides) to forsake his father's philosophic example for victory and domination. Socrates thus takes a great risk in outlining a scheme of absolute rule. In chapter 2, Howland shows how the city's construction reflects Glaucon's character and desires. The movement from the True City to the Virtuous City is inspired by the "dehumanizing poison" of "the longing for glory, victory, and power," while the completion of Callipolis only heightens the contradictions of the more Spartan regime, with its "manly virtues and vices," longed for by aristocratic Athenians like Glaucon. By failing to object to Socrates' proposals, he shows the danger he poses to himself and others. The necessity of so testing Glaucon, along with the hope that he could "channel [his] attachment to the regime into a passion for wisdom," explains why Socrates associated himself with an "ugly and ignoble" and even "decadent" regime, introducing a confusion that lingers on even today.

In chapters 3 and 4, Howland turns to Critias, whose "dream of scientific tyranny that mistakes itself for the wakefulness of wisdom" stands behind Callipolis. A fragment of a lost drama of Critias serves as the programmatic statement of a project to combine "political technicism and poetic esotericism" to impose order on a world without gods. For Howland, "the truth in which [Critias] is interested arises in human life not [End Page 140] from an erotic aspiration to Being," as for Socrates, "but through the impress of an intelligent plan on the dynamic field of Becoming." The contrast between Critias and Socrates in the Timaeus, Critias, and Charmides bears this out, as his ideological mythologizing, certainty in abstraction, and disregard for "the flame of divinity in himself and others" foreshadow the totalitarian government of the Thirty as well as the speeches of Thrasymachus and Glaucon in the Republic.

Chapters 5 and 6 therefore return to the Republic, documenting the "distortion and degradation of philosophy" in Socrates' "advertisement" to Glaucon. Howland argues that the first two "waves" in book 5 reverse the purification achieved in the Virtuous City, culminating in the rehabilitation of Homer and Hesiod. In the all-important discussion of the philosopher-kings, the genuine philosopher's path of "natural erotic development" is intertwined with the path of "thumotic political production." Socrates' shift from gnosis to episteme to describe the philosopher's knowledge at the end of books 5 (476d), 6 (506a–b), and 7 (533e) indicates the broader movement from "philosophical prophecy" regarding the good beyond being to Callipolis's promise of an abstract, mathematical, and applicable political science. In the end, the philosopher-kings and their education "answer to the demands of thumos, including the demands for intelligibility," rather than the freedom of philosophical eros.

Howland faults Socrates for "clouding the erotic purity of his soul with the unphilosophical spiritedness of an ideologue" in his competition with Critias, thereby "inadvertently" pushing Glaucon away from philosophy. In the final chapter, he argues...


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pp. 140-141
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