The concept of “Metals” as explained by Plato in his book Republic III is based on a reference to Socrates’ allusions. Metals, in fact, stand for the worth or the elements, good or bad, which are inherent in a man or a woman. Socrates in his bid to foster better relations and understanding amongst the citizens narrated one story to them. He told them that men exhibiting excellent, good or baser qualities are not their doings but it is the choice of gods. It does not depend upon the nature of upbringings of men in this world. He went on to say that while gods formed men, he mixed gold, silver and crude metals like iron and bronze into them. Those who got mixed up with gold became the guardians i.e., the best men in the society; those mixed up with silver, formed the auxiliaries and they who received bronze and iron formed the lower grades like farmers and craftsmen. Plato does not agree with this explanation of Socrates. He calls the allusions a noble lie, as they are based on a hypothetical misconception. Plato believes that all men are brothers and it is not necessary that their offsprings will come into this world with the same metals i.e., trades, quality of nature, etc, which their parents possessed. It is the duty of the parents, Plato opines, to find out the singular metals in their offsprings and must nourish them to fruity. If the offspring has good elements and parts (qualities) in his or her soul, he or she must be promoted. Likewise, those having baser metals should be demoted from their rank they hold at the time of their birth.
Plato is a great thinker of Greece. He dwells upon a number of subjects including an ideal society, political governance, education, fine arts, love, etc and has his prescriptions too for their achievements. As described earlier, he divides the society in three broad categories – the best, the good, and the low whom he calls the guardians, the auxiliaries, and the farmers respectively. The three classes are determined by the nature of their upbringing, the kind of education imparted and the continuing conscious efforts put in by the citizens to constantly better themselves and make them near perfect to do their best for the state. For the citizens to be promoted to the category of guardians, he has to confine himself to the study of such literary works, which cultivate in him complete freedom from the fear of death. He thus must avoid readings, which mourn or lament the death of someone, however, big and famous the person might be. He should also imbibe the quality of not being overcome with laughter. Plato wants such descriptions in literature to be outright censored in all the genres of literature – short story and poetry in particular. There should however, be no imitation in a short story either, as imitation take out the best in him and condescends him to a dwarf.
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Poetry, Plato, says must be beautiful, full with grace and with loftier themes woven around brave men or those engaged in peaceful voluntary activities. There should be no place for anything, which would hamper the dignity of the state or cause base “Metals” to creep into the character of its citizens. Poetry, he envisages attracts more than any other form of literature. Thus the guardians will learn to appreciate beauty and the subtle musical nuances of poetry by developing harmony in soul. Education will also teach them to have good health, as a fit abode for a good mind. The best men will shy away from accesses be it food, sex or anything, which gives pleasure. Homer, for example, describes the over indulgence in physical pleasure by the gods making no discrimination between their spouses deserves to be censored. Any semblance of such over indulgence on the part of the guardians would demean their reputation in the public eye. This should extend to all the citizens and their temperate attitude would make them obedient to the ruler and help in building the image of the state. Truth has to be respected and lying in any form to be punished. However, lying may be resorted to by the guardians or the ruler alone but only in the interest of the state and the welfare of its citizens. Lying for example, in wartime is excusable if it is imperative to do so. Above all, the citizens must also learn to live in peace eating and enjoying life together. They must beware of accumulation of wealth, which would only engender hatred and degrade them to the third grade. It is imperative for the guardians to realize that they are blesses with divine harmony in soul and therefore, are in no need of worldly possessions.
Education plays a very important role in Plato’s conception of ideal governance also. The rulers, he advocates, must come from the guardians i.e., whom education has nurtured them with all good human qualities. Moreover, the ruler must be healthy and old. Healthy he has to be to efficiently exercise his powers and old age will make him wiser to judge things. Since he is good, he is supposed to have seen more of adverse situations to harness his abilities. Plato’s conviction that philosophers should be kings is known all the world over.
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