Words Crush Wednesday – One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Published February 3, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

But no, I’m not quoting Sesame Street for this week’s Words Crush Wednesday.  It’s actually (another) quote from Plato’s Republic.  But reading it made me start humming that old Sesame Street song…once I stopped laughing, anyway.

To explain the context a bit:  Socrates and some others are discussing the concept of justice, and trying to define it, and so on.  It was decided to start at the beginning, and look at how cities are formed, and how justice and injustice are created within them.  (It’s more complicated than that, but…)  Socrates starts out by describing a very small town, with only the barest of essentials — food and shelter, and little else.  One of his companions objects, and so Socrates replies…

All right, I understand. It isn’t merely the origin of a city that we’re considering, it seems, but the origin of a luxurious city.  And that may not be a bad idea, for by examining it, we might very well see how justice and injustice grow up in cities.  Yet the true city, in my opinion, is the one we’ve described, the healthy one, as it were.  But let’s study a city with a fever, if that’s what you want.  There’s nothing to stop us.  The things I mentioned earlier and the way of life I described won’t satisfy some people, it seems, but couches, tables, and other furniture will have to be added, and, of course, all sorts of delicacies, perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries.  We mustn’t provide them only with the necessities we mentioned at first, such as houses, clothes and shoes, but painting and embroidery must be begun, and gold, ivory and the like acquired.  Isn’t that so?

(As with last week’s quote, this is the G.M.A. Grube translation.  Which I would find a lot easier to read if it included either quotation marks to show if the end of a paragraph is also the end of a speaker’s line, or little indicators in the margin to show when the speaker changes.  Because sometimes it’s at the end of a paragraph, and sometimes it’s not for several paragraphs, and it’s not always clear right away in the text itself.)

I know it’s called “the oldest profession” for a reason, but really!  I think Socrates is over-commodotizing sex here.  (Is that a word?)  Of course — naturally — long before the discussion is over, Socrates and his followers (Plato’s brothers, mostly) have agreed that actually their city doesn’t want all those luxuries after all.

Although, actually, there’s a certain harmony to the phrase “prostitutes and pastries.”  I think I’ll name a brothel that in some book or other…



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