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(Here be an essay which was presented at a grad conference at Carleton U, but which won't be published any time soon, due to a need for massive research and revisions... Edit: 'Ware the numerous instances of Appleworks 'helpfully' correcting my grammar and Greek...)


Aristophanes' second to last surviving comedy, Eccleisiazusae (composed and staged c. 393-389 BC) may be said to be a play about “what to do?”. More specifically, it is a dramatic staging, by an Athenian, of the question of what to do about Athens. It is a play about political ends in an age of endless political vortex, about a turn to endless introversion at the end of an extroverted imperial fever, about the turning of Athenians’ infamous busybodiness (polypragmosyne) inwards and against itself. In essence, it is a play about “what to do” when action itself has become a political problem. Phrased thusly, the answer veritably leaps to the lips of the dramatic characters, “Why, we should eliminate it then, of course!”, and thence proceeds the dramatic action, which, ironically, serves to eliminate the possibility of dramatic action. The city is handed over to the benevolent household management of Praxagora and the women of Athens, and the problem of politics eliminates itself in a final act of self-negation.

Book V of Plato’s Republic, by contrast, may be called a tale of “how to do it?”. Having, apparently, become enamored with the prospect of constructing a real city out of the city in speech, Socrates’ younger speaking companions restrain him from his escape from the Kallipolis. He should, they insist, pay them what they’re owed. He should expand upon that bit to do with the community of women and children (449b). What was that to do with? How does that relate to the laying-out of a city in brick and mortar? Thus, restrained by the young Spartanophiles, the son of Sophroniscus takes up the task of finishing his crafting; together with young Glaucon, he turns to face three crashing waves of resistance.

“What to do?” and “how to do it?”. These then may be used to bracket the context of the dramatic action of play and dialogue. It may also be contended that the answer culminated in a recourse to timelessness -- to a timeless, human morass without form, on the one hand, as opposed to layers of formation which proceed to a timeless experience of form itself, on the other. The task here, then, will be to draw-out the themes of time and timelessness, form and formlessness, history and the eternal, as the present themselves in the two works. It will also be the task to analyze their two very different solutions to the problem of political action and history. In both cases, the problem of human-being’s in-betweeness (metaxy), in the the sense explored by Plato in his dialogues, takes its place, invisibly, at center stage. The quintessence of existence (of human being qua human being) is explored in its status as lying somewhere between two realms. On one side, the increasingly timeless being of the lower animals, of vegetation, of inanimate matter, and the apeiron (limitless), and, on the other, the increasingly timeless being of the daimons, the gods, and the One of being itself. Time, by such a reckoning, becomes increasingly of issue as a factor of a being’s suspension between ultimate form and ultimate formlessness, as that being’s proportion of participation (methexis), relative to the One and the apeiron, shifts.

Both authors explore the issue in their varying ways. Aristophanes' farce, it shall be suggested, proposes a solution to the tiresome human condition, which amounts to an escape to the comparatively formless, animal-like commonality of Praxagora’s gynocracy. By forcibly removing all possibilities for boundaries and distinctions, both ontic and epistemic, from the city of Athens, Praxagora fulfills the secret longing of its men. That is, to escape into a childish animal state, which is seemingly a-temporal, but also unfitting to human beings. Plato’s Socrates, by contrast, effects a satisfaction of the yearnings of his audience by crafting a farce of a farce. By turning the Eccleisiazusae on its head, the philosopher crafts a city of seemingly exemplary animals, which finds its measure of a-temporal fulfillment only in and through its lone human occupant -- its philosopher-king. Thus in the first case, the reaction of Praxagora’s city to the suspenseful betweenness of existence is for the residents to de-form themselves from a polis of humans into a household of animals. In the case of the Platonic dialogue, however, the dramatic action points to another means to suspending time within the city. The suspension is made possible through the progressive formation of the polis’ most human being, whose participation (through contemplation) in the things above purely human betweenness, allows the polis as a whole to partake of a measure of the eternal. In both cases, however, it seems to be indicated that a wholesale escape into eternity is impossible -- that the tension towards that above and that below will undo all things with time, and that all good (and bad) things must come to an end.


By most accounts, the composition and staging of Eccleisiazusae took place in an era in which Athens had passed into its senescence. In 404 BC, the Peloponnesian War and concluded with a decisive victory for Sparta. For Athens, this meant both the loss of its empire, and the imposition of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. A year later, a brief civil war concluded with the restoration of the democratic regime. The political and spiritual malaise which had afflicted the city for nearly two generations, however, had not been cured by its fall from hegemony. In 399 B.C, the most dramatic outburst of that pathology displayed itself in the trial and execution of Socrates, through which Athen’s, “the education of Hellas”, finally divested itself of its god-given educator. Throughout the remaining years of the first decade of the fourth century, Athens, pining after her lost empire was chafing under the increasingly harsh hegemony of Sparta. In the years 392 - 389 BC, she involved herself in coalitions with Boeotia, Corinth, and finally Persia as means by which to recover her imperial majesty, and shake off the yoke of the Lacadaemonians. It was all for naught. By 390, a lack of continuing Persian support, combined with a successful Spartan campaign, had forced the city to conclude terms of peace.

The play captures the mood of a city which has “tried everything” (455-480) to save itself (395-405)... but from what? Two acts, in particular, give air to the confusion over that very matter -- Praxagora’s practice speech before her fellow, female conspirators, and Chremes’ report to Blepyros of the day’s events at the Assembly. As Praxagora mockingly related to her fellows, both the affairs of the war, and the alliances with Corinth and the Argives are a jumbled mess which bring no peace, either within the city or without. The poor, who stand to profit from the launching of a fleet, clamour for conflict. The rich and the farmers, who would foot the bill for the venture, would just as soon avoid the expense and the adventure. The city thus splits internally as each group declared itself for its own material interests. Meanwhile, its external relationships are similarly fraught and confused:

When we were discussing the alliance, it seemed as though it were all over with Athens if it fell through. No sooner was it made than we were vexed and angry, and the orator who had caused its adoption was compelled to seek safety in flight. Is there talk of equipping a fleet? The poor man says, yes, but the rich citizen and the countryman say, no. You were angered against the Corinthians and they with you; now they are well disposed towards you, be so towards them. As a rule the Argives are dull, but the Argive Hieronymus is a distinguished chief. Herein lies a spark of hope; but Thrasybulus is far from Athens and you do not recall him.” (195-204)

In short, the acts of state are pulled to and fro by the varying moods of the Assembly, on the one hand, and the piqued pride of strategoi (such as Thrasybulus) on the other. Thus, pulled inside and out by prevarications and sudden enthusiasms, the polis finds itself desperately ready to try something new. In its crisis, we may identify two representative figures whom are thrown-up by the city and onto the stage -- the nubile, erotic, and ambitious young woman Praxagora, and her flaccid, constipated, and corrupted old husband Blepyros. The battle-lines are thereby drawn between the female and the male, the young and the old, the erotic and the frigid, the new and the old, which are incarnated in the symbolic partners of an unhappy marriage.

First and foremost in the play, we are presented with the illuminated figure of young Praxagora standing amidst the dusk shadows, hanging her lantern. Her name is a compound of praxis and agora, which suggests the dual connotation of “action in the Assembly place” and “transaction in the market place”, symbolically unifies, and foreshadows the unification of, the disparate elements of the city: the eccleisia and the oikos, the political and the economic, the public and the private. Her place at the very beginning of the play, and her soliloquy identify her as the arche of the events which are about to unfold. She is both the temporal beginning of events (arche), the primal cause (arche) of the drama, and the future ruler (arche) of the city of Athens -- a veritable trinity unto herself. As she waxes poetic to her “wheel-borne” lamp, she reveals her self-conscious eroticism in speech. The fire which illuminates her is contained in a clay vessel fashioned from the flesh of the fecund and all-embracing Earth (Gea or Gaia), whose primordiality placed her prior to both gods and titans in the myths of Homer and Hesiod. Furthermore, that fire and that lamp alone have known all the secret places of her woman’s body, has singed-off the hairs of her inner thighs, opened-up her brimming granary, and exposed her Bacchic juices (1-20).

That Promethean fire, contained in a clay-womb of the Earth, is thereby symbolized as her true lover, the restorer and preserver of the cosmetic appearance of youth and beauty, the cause and the key to the erotic, Dionysian overflow of her innermost self. Before even her fellow conspirators arrive on the scene, the stage is set for a psychosexual descent into the young tyrant’s depths -- a descent which will ultimately pull down the polis into the whirlpool of her overflowing womb. There immersed, the distinctive forms and shapes of the city are forgotten or swept aside in the boiling heat of her Titanic eros. Indeed, even that all important matter of the outside of the body politic -- the conduct of the war -- is quickly forgotten, and hardly given mentioned after the revolution’s success. The obsession with the insides of the body quickly take an almost exclusive precedent. Lengthy strips of dialogue are given over to the filling of stomachs at communal feasts, and to the enforcement of sexual egalitarianism. Blepyros, it may be noted, is not displeased with such measures as will free him from the overwhelming necessity of filling his Praxagora’s needs (320-350). Indeed, one might even say that the comedy’s title, which may be translated as “The Assembly of Women”, is a misnomer. In fact, no such lawful Assembly of women ever meets. A more appropriate title, perhaps, might be Praxagora Tyrrana, “The Tyrant Praxagora”.

By contrast, the audience is given to consider old Blepyros (from blepo and pyros, “looks or stares at fire”) -- the often unenthusiastic stand-in for the men of Athens. Blepyros’ first, inglorious action upon the scene is to stumble into the public street at dusk, clad in his (suspiciously) absent wife’s slippers and nightgown, and defecate noisily before his neighbour’s window. All the while complaining of his constipation, and his inability to keep-up with his wife’s suspected galavanting, Blepyros’ public inability to pass anything from his insides to the outside world causes him to fail to appear in the Assembly whatsoever (a problem which hasn’t afflicted Praxagora and her companions) (375-380). When his friend and neighbour, Chremes, enters, he comments briefly on Blepyros’ attire, and proceeds to discuss with him the day’s events in the eccleisia. If Praxagora’s mock speech hadn’t done enough to reveal the malaise in the heart of Athen’s, that exchange certainly does so.

The exchange gets to the rub of the issues. Whereas the business tabled before the Assembly was the salvation of Athens, in some shape or form, the opening proceedings quickly degenerated into shameless pandering for the sake of private benefit. This much is rather brilliantly exemplified in the figure of Euaeon, who presents himself naked before the supreme office of the polis. As Chremes related, Euaeon does this in order to better persuade the Assembly that they ought to pass a law which would force shopkeepers to feed and house to poor in their shops, lest they be fined three warm bedsheets (410-415). Blepyros voices his approval of this brilliant young man, and only critiques that he himself would have added that the corn-dealers out to be made to give-out three quarts of corn to the poor for every dinner meal, or face a penalty (420-430). The shamelessness of the men of the city is thereby revealed, denuded of any sort of pretense. Furthermore, it is made clear, not only by the conduct in the Assembly, but also by Blepyros’ public airing of his business, that the ends pursued by the men of the city mirror those of the feminine conspiracy in all meaningful aspects. The men, for instance. meet in secret from the women, they mix the private and the public in a shameless manner, they use the political realm as a means to advance economic ends, and they neglect the war and arete of Athens.

In all important ways, then, the revolutionaries propose nothing contrary to the not-so-secret desires of the men themselves. The reduction of the polity to a political-economy is already a policy of the men. As the disguised Praxagora announces, they (the men) simply haven’t met those ends in a competent manner. Their pleurisy has prevented them from perceiving the necessary path. The city should be handed-over to the care of the city’s most competent and experienced household managers, the women (455-460). Being unable to think of any logical objections to the turn-over, and to the new communality of property and of bodies, Blepyros (and most of the men) relents without resistance (690-715). Blepyros, “he who looks or stares at fire”, whose name denotes both a certain open-stared gormlessess, and one who merely stares passively at his wife’s erotic fire, himself becomes a positive supporter of the takeover. It relieves him, after all, of those troubles which he hates the most: working, thinking, and satisfying Praxagora’s heat.

In practical terms, Praxagora’s constitutional revolution comes about through three means: communality of external goods (wealth, property, and possessions), communality of eating and drinking, and communality of bodies through the abolition of both the sexual prerogative of spouses and lovers, and the abolition of sexual agency among the young and attractive (614-620). From now on, it is announced that the oldest and ugliest shall have priority of sexual satisfaction, and will have the right to demand fulfillment before any man, woman, boy, or girl, shall be allowed to couple with the person of their ardour.

This forcible breaking of all boundaries between public and private, oikos and polis, economy and politics, subject (lover) and object (beloved) is thus an effective demolishing of all forms within the city proper through the law. In so far as that is the case, Praxagora’s project is perhaps better termed a de-constitutonal revolution, which brings about a non-regime, in the sense developed by Plato and Aristotle. For, by forcibly destroying all forms of association in the polis through the law, the result is a human social mass without distinctions between rich and poor, high-born and low-born, young and old, the shameful and the noble, the good and the bad. In so far as necessity permits, even the conventional distinctions between male and female are eliminated, in as much as the sexual and political arche of men is overturned by the arche of the Lady Tyrant.

Praxagora’s womb, however, is forever a conflagration of potential without birth, for the equality of the unformed in her Dionysian body-politic is the equality of the unborn, rather than the equality of adult citizens. It is an equality achieved by the artificial leveling of all. At first, this is a reduction of all to a common state of unrealized potential. This much is apparent when any potential consequences of the coming together of the handsome Epigenes and his girl are aborted by the intervention of three increasingly ugly (and inflamed) hags (976-1111). His energies and eros, quite obviously, cannot continuously outlast the demands upon his body which are to be made by the old women and men of the community. The impossibility of a lasting, erotically motivated joining of Epigenes and the girl, forestalls the potential of a private household arising from their coupling. In addition to this, this leveling of distinctions points towards an eventual egalitarianism by nature, as the eros and fecundity of all is spent on the ugliest, the lowliest, and the worst. The swinish conduct within Praxagora’s domain would seem to logically proceed to a future when the appearance of all will come to match their inner-selves. This program of reverse eugenic (which perhaps could be termed kakogenics) thus leads to mirroring in the physical forms of the demos, the formlessness of their psyches.

This race to the apeironic depths of de-formed formlessness is in fact reflected in the loss of time and its distinctions which is achieved by the end of the play. Blepyros, who had formerly gone off to help with the preparations for the feat, suddenly enters upon a scene being made by Praxagora’s maid, who is raging drunk (1112-1125). She announces that he is going to be last of all to today’s feast, and the older resident is quick to make ready to bustle off to the communal table. As Sommerstein observes, however, there is some confusion here. Blepyros was just at the feast. Wasn’t he? In fact, no indication is given as to where he has come from, or where he has been, or for how long. In terms of the staging of the play, only one scene seems to separate Blepyros’ latest entry from his last exit. In terms of the narrative time, however, the only potential measure or reference point for the passage of time would seem to be the feasts. But has any time passed? Did the first feast ever stop? The temporal reference points within the narrative have dissolved into nothingness. The city remains lit-up in a permanent Dionysia, the maid remains drunk, and Blepyros deems to be perpetually on his way to a feast. The city, which has been set on fire by Praxagora’s eros, and deformed into distinctionless morass, seems suspended in a timeless potentiality of becoming without actualization, of everlasting pregnancy without birth.

The Republic, Book V, prelude

Book V of The Republic begins with the apparently thwarted exit of Socrates from the city in speech. The middle of the dialogue thus parallels its very beginning, which began with the philosopher’s attempt to take his leave of the hurly-burly of the Piraeus. The thwarting of the first attempt is effected when the slave-boy of Polemarchus catches the older man by the cloak, and causes him to turn around (periagoge). The second attempt to leave a city miscarries when Polemarchus himself takes Adeimantus by the clock and, turning him, asks, “What shall we do? Shall we let it go?”, to which, of course, the older son of Ariton replies, “No, we shall not.” (449b)

Not a moment before, Socrates was ready to treat his account of the justice (dikaiosyne) of the city, and the soul which it represented, as complete -- a conclusion which Ariston’s younger son, Glaucon, had assented. His older companions, however, smell something afoot, and are not fooled. What was that business with the sharing of women and children, they demand of the old satyr. Socrates is asked to explain himself, and to explain what this has to do with justice in the supposedly beautiful city (kallipolis) from which he is attempting to abscond. After much hemming and hawing, Socrates relents after securing his friends’ assurance that they won’t be inspired to prosecute him, or treat him harshly (450c-451c).

The problem, it seems, has everything to do with dogs. In particular, with the regime of female dogs, and with the breeding of noble pups. The two issues, in fact, become to causes and themes of the first two of three waves of resistance to Socrates’ account of the Kallipolis. But how in the world did the conversation turn to dog breeding, in what way is it so, and what is the meaning of the strange turn? What, furthermore, does the community of women and children among auxiliaries and guardians have to do with all of this?

Initial answers are provided by reference to the metaphors for human being which have been ascribed to the residents of Kallipolis, and accepted right up to and including Book V. In Book II, the residents of the first, healthy city had practiced an elementary dikaiosyne. Each looked to their own tasks, and avoided any sort of busybodied interference in the affairs of others (polypragmosyne). Each practiced their own special craft (techne), thereby adding to the totality of goods available to the community. This, in turn, allowed each, by barter and trade, to supply the goods of a household without being learned in many (polymathos) crafts. A sort of autarky of the whole community was presented, in which each was able to fulfill their necessary appetites, to retire to the privacy of their oikos each evening, there to beam upon their frugal meals with their family, sing pious hymns to the gods, and be satisfied (372a-d). Glaucon declares this charming, just place “a city of sows” (372d).

As the city of pigs is then set to feverish expansion for the sake of Glaucon’s unnecessary appetite for relishes and couches, it quickly becomes apparent that it must prepare itself to make war in defense of its unjust consumption of neighbouring lands (373d-e). Pigs, however, make poor war-makers, and so, it becomes necessary to introduce into the city a class of dogs -- the guardians, with souls primarily composed of silver and gold (374a). This class, later subdivided into auxiliaries and true guardians, of silver and gold respectively, possess the thumos (spiritedness) necessary to bring to fruition the desires (epithumiai) of the feverish city. The courage (andreia) of the dogs, paired with their loves of victory and honour (philonikos kai philotimos) fits them to the task of expanding the unjust polis’ holdings and defending its gains.

The obvious difficulty arises, of course, of turning the dogs of war, once they’ve been let loose in the polis. While the warriors had been called up and fitted to the task of inflicting injustice and injury upon other communities, it is scarcely in keeping with community itself (koinonia) for their war-like drives to be turned upon the inside of the city. The difficulty then, is one of integrating packs of dogs into a city of sows -- of ensuring that they are friendly to their familiar fellow-citizens, and hostile to strangers (375b-c). It is to this task which Socrates and his friends turn their attention for much of Books III and IV. The education of thumos, represented in the dogs, proceeds in order to bring it into harmony with the appetites (epithumetikon), represented in the pigs. By the end of Book IV, Socrates, having elaborated a complex regime of myths, gymnastics, and music (together with that minor point to do with the community of women, children, property, and possessions), declared the task complete, and is ready to move on to the task of describing the unjust, corrupt regimes (445c-e).

Of course, Adeimantus and Polemarchus are right to accuse the old Pan of cheating them. In fact, they’ve been cheated on two counts. With regards to the supposedly beautiful city, one could search in vain for any signs of any quintessentially human figure. The city, which is thus far, is evidently composed of dogs and pigs, bears more resemblance that a barnyard than a polis. Its koinonia is the unsteady harmony between those whose existence is sow-like and those whose existence is like that of a guard dog. The metaphors betray no illusion that there is anything particularly human about the lives of the residents, and the education system has only succeeded in (i) producing a higher, nobler class of animals, and (ii) balancing the various drives of the various beasts. More importantly, with regards to the psyche, the epithumetikon and thumos have been brought into a sort of moderation (sophrosune), but to what end? The resulting psyche, in its form, resembles that of a dog or lion (588d, 590b) more than that of a human qua human. If it is true that the city is the psyche writ large (368e-369a), then when is the Kallipolis but a strange sort of zoo where the lion has been made to lay down with the lamb, and the zookeeper is absent?

In effect, the city cannot account for itself, and has not been accounted for. Where are these beautiful (kalos) dogs coming from, and why, quite frankly, shouldn’t they eat the pigs? It seems apparent that the city, as presented at the end of Book IV, could not possibly function for long once its auxiliaries should begin questioning the veracity of the Phoenician Tale (414c-415d). As it stands, they have been told, which suggests that they should feel the workers, labourers, and farmers of the city to be brothers and sisters, and treat them as such. Should the tale be taken literally, as the companions seem to hope that it would be, with time, then it must eventually become an object of incredulity -- for what noble dog ever had a pig for a brother? Far safer that the tale be understood as a philosopher’s myth (alethes mythos) of existence, one regarding the common spiritual substance of humankind. But where in the city is there a teacher to reveal the true face of the myth? at 440d, it is indicated that the thumos will be reared and formed into nobility and justice, “by the speech within him like a dog by a herdsman” and further that the dogs will be, “obedient to the rulers, who are like shepherds of a city”. Thus far, though, it’s a mystery as to where such a shepherd and his speech have come from, and how they have won their way into the psyche and into the city.

By this turn in the dialogue, it seems that the only shepherds have been Glaucon and Socrates, who as lawgivers (nomothetai) of the city, have been responsible for constructing the beautiful speeches which are meant to be perpetuated in Kallipolis. The are, however, absentee shepherds. Like Solon and Lycurgus, they have laid down the nomoi, and vanished from the scene. In their wake, there is only the hope (elpis) that the nomoi and the ethos (habits and moral disposition) of the people will maintain order (themis). The maintenance of Themis and Arete thus hinges upon the true or righteous convictions (aletheia doxa) held by the resident, and thus upon their sheer faith (pistis) in them. The form of the city is, therefor, a function of pistis rather than knowledge (episteme). The hinge of time is rusty indeed, for the history-making deformation and re-formation of the polis by the erotic overreach (pleonexia) of Glaucon has been stabilized from the outside by the nomothetes Socrates. However, the polis lacks wisdom (phronesis) in itself. The relatively compact and timeless form of the city of sows has given way to a more differentiated, Spartan polis, at the cost of introducing more time, more history. Polemos and stasis now sit on the doorstep of the city, and along with them, the drastically increased possibility of meaningful change.

Book V itself

The problems which confront the companions at the beginning of Book V can be restated thusly:

I) The well-ordered barnyard of Book IV cannot account for its own order,
II) As such, it’s order is unsustainable, without the timely injection of the alethes mythos from the outside, by the nomothetes,
III) Even so, the Themis and Arete of the city rely upon the tender hold of Pistis, an unlikely source of order in an age of sophistic rhetoric, and one which is unlikely to last, even in a better age -- as the short history of the Solonic order demonstrated,
IV) The order of the psyche, which is logically prior to the polis, is unsustainable for similar reasons,
V) The differentiation of the thumos from the epithumetikon, and its paideia, has been a formative, timely pharmakon for the feverish body, but the hard-won distinction threatens to collapse, or, more likely, permit a new disease to arise in which thumos turns upon epithumetikon (e.g. the myth of Leontius, Homer’s Achilles),
VI) The differentiation, which has given greater dignity to humans qua humans, seems to have only plucked humanity from its congenial, relatively timeless, compact existence, only to thrust it into the tragic history of order ever-ready to explode into disorder and hubris (e.g. Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Orestia)
VII) Justice, then, really seems to be nothing more than an order necessitated by the differentiations of history -- a rather dubious honour, indeed.

These quandaries, which we may venture represent the quandary of Hellenic order under Homer and the tragic poets generally, underlie the three waves of resistance which Socrates anticipates in reaction to his corrections to the idealized, tragic regime. It is then perhaps apropos that the correction so resembles a comedy, in which the communalistic farce once staged by Aristophanes is re-staged in dialogue. What proceeds thus seems to be nothing so much as a farce of a farce as Socratic irony and philosophy sets to revealing the comedy of the Homeric constitution. However, whereas the Aristophanic comedy had proceeded to outline the complete deformation of the city into a timeless morass, the Socratic comedy proceeds towards ever more elaborate formation, culminating in a vision of eternal being (to on) (476e-480b).

Firstly, the companions must finish giving account for the differentiated forms within the psyche and polis which have thus far revealed themselves. This leads to the apparent comedy of girls and women, young and old, stripping nude to wrestle with the boys and men in the gymnasium (452a-453a). This image is enough to elicit a reaction out of Glaucon. The logic, however, seems impeccable: if the city is to have a steady supply of dogs, then they must be bred. And, if they are to be noble and beautiful (kalos) in form and spirit, two conditions must be met. On the one hand, the best bodies must be determined from among the male and female, and they should be mated as often as possible (459d-460c). To this end, one would observe that naked, co-ed gymnastics would provide ample opportunity to separate the good bodies from the bad, and select for desirable traits. On the other hand, and more importantly, the examples of the female sex with which the males are paired must be of similar psychai. On the surface, this suggests both simply that thumotic women and men should come together, and that thumotic girls and women must be tamed and formed by the same education as the males. While this is true enough, the “why” of the matter is not fully revealed until Book VIII: that women with an uneducated and unsatisfied thumos, who are deprived of what they perceive to be honour and victory, shall be corruptors of their children, and thereby of the regime (449d).

The comedy in the first wave of opposition, then, is not simply to the visual imagery which Socrates evokes, but the exasperating difficulty of proving to the men that women’s souls are important, and might be fitted to things other than household affairs (oikonomia) The female auxiliaries and guardians, in other words, must be properly reared into history, for, as members of the polis, their psychai cannot help but be affected by the differentiation from compact existence. Better that their formation support well-ordered existence on the new plane than, as with Praxagora, move in resistance to the new order, and threaten to collapse it into timeless chaos.

The education of women is thus a necessary, but insufficient, pre-condition to order and justice in the city. Only when the female guardians strip naked and clothe themselves in Arete does she truly become present in the polis. Only then does every citizen practice what they are fitted for, and only then is the city, potentially, just throughout. The stipulation that women and children should be held in common among the guardians and auxiliaries follows from the same premises. What better way to insure well-formed bodies, and to insure that the spiritedness of those groups is not spent upon fractious defense and advancement of their own particular family members? History, after all, had been made more than once by a thumotic mother seeking to advance her child -- as the story of Olympias and Alexander reminds us.

Still, no true account of the city -- one which addresses the enumerated points -- has occurred before we approach the third wave, whose arrival is launched by Socrates hesitant statement, “[That] There is no end to suffering, Glaucon, for our cities, and none, I suspect, for the human race, unless either philosophers become kings in our cities, or the people who are now called kings and rulers become real, true philosophers...” (473d)

Up until this point in the dialogue, there has been no way for the city in speech to account for itself without blandly appealing to its faith in the nomoi handed-down by its nomothetai. Even such an appeal, however, merely pushes back the problem in time. For, what account can the nomothetes, Glaucon, give of himself? The quest brings us to the dead point at which the lawgiver’s law must be grounded, or risk being declared the particular fancy of a particular person. To do the latter is to abandon it to sophistic relativism of Thrasymachus’ type, in which justice can, with luciferic vigour, be declared the advantage o the stronger, and nothing else (338c). The philosophic quest (zetesis) into which Socrates has attracted the sons of Ariston points beyond the measureless political relativism of the sophist, towards the paradigmatic measure of the philosopher’s soul. The city, it has been declared, is the man writ large, and the measure of man, and therefor of the city, is now revealed to be the philosopher.

Now, it is the psyche of Plato-Socrates which becomes the ruler by which existence is measured, while the tragic figure of the poets (especially the Achilles of Homer’s epics) is pushed down as an inadequate, misleading, and in need of the philosopher’s purification (386c-387b). Only the philosopher can provide an account for himself, for only he has the logos and muthos, animated by his eros and wonder (thaumazein), and directs them into the zetesis and dialectics, alongside his fellow human beings. His reason (logistikon), it is revealed, is active, and is grounded in the experience of being (to on), which allows him to distinguish between knowledge (episteme), ignorance (agnoia), and seeming or opinions (doxa)(477a-479a). His episteme, however, is not the science simply of things (ta onta) or numbers (hoi arithmetoi) but of psyche. Having differentiated his logistikon from his thumos and epithumetikon, and having discovered its ground in being, the philosopher has discovered the eternal measure of human being. The philosopher-king of the dialogue is the only resident of the Kallipolis who is fitted to rule, for only he or she has differentiated him or herself as human qua human. That distinguishing human characteristic lies in self-conscious participation in being. It is their ability to evoke the symbols and accounts of that very human participation, that in-betweeness, which, through their persuasion (peitho), turns around the souls of their fellow towards their eternal measure, and points them to order and justice.

By the end of Book V, Plato-Socrates thus seems to have accounted for the order of existence and of the city, and for their measure, in the questing participation in timeless being itself. In so far as philosophy is the self-conscious practice of such questing, is active and persuasive in the soul and in the city, it is led upwards, towards justice, and shall be well-ordered in form. In so far as philosophy is absent or unpersuasive, both soul and city will tend downwards, towards the apeironic depths. In-between the timelessness of being and timelessness of the apeiron lies the reality (aletheia) of history in participation.


Much has been made, by Allan Bloom, Sommerstein and others, of the thematic similarities which are shared by Eccleisiazusae and The Republic, Book V. These observations seem to focus on the issue of communalism. However, it is also interesting to note the way in which the two mirror and invert the other’s structure of existence and politics in their respective cities.

The solution to politics and history which is affected by Aristophanes’ Praxagora is an essentially artificial elimination of time through the abolition of all boundaries within the polis. However, this perpetuation of an experience of timelessness is, queerly, less natural than that of Book V. The humanity of the characters of Eccleisiazusae are depicted as drawn towards actions and judgments which lead towards distinctions between “mine” and “thine”, “beautiful” and “ugly”, quite in spite of the law. That much is sharply evinced by the character of Epigenes.

Indeed, if the essence of eros were the drive for mere sexual pleasure, irrespective of the qualities of the beloved, then the laws regarding sexual egalitarianism would scarcely be needed. Epigenes, however, cannot even be persuaded to enjoy the company of hags over that of his lovely beloved, though the purely physical release would be comparable. His eros must finally be compelled by force of law; the hags’ laughable attempt at persuasive seduction quickly degenerates into the violence of a gang rape. The naturally arising distinctions, from which the forms of human life spring, can, ironically, only be destroyed through the artifice of Praxagora’s law. However, one could legitimately ask how long such a disorder could last without some force to constantly maintain the atomization of the community. The timeless depths into which Praxagora’s Athens have sunk seem to run counter to the in-betweeness of to planeton, let alone that of humans.

In the case of Book V, another sort of timeless experience is achieved, one which seemingly springs from politics and history, rather than in spite of, or contrary to them. Plato-Socrates apparently shares with Aristophanes, the conviction that humans are not really capable of remaining in a relatively timeless, pre-political condition. Their eros is too grand, too complicated, and not too easily satisfied (if ever) in the things of to planeton. History will happen as the lonely form of a human comes together with fellows, and they develop more complex forms of association for the sake of working-out their yearnings.

Those longings, however, are said to find balance only by association with that which alone has the eternal plenitude capable of matching the always restless eros -- to on, the source of beauty itself. The paideia which is described throughout Books III-V (and then in VII), by this reckoning, becomes the means by which the child is formed into adult, who is prepared for some degree of true experience of the eternal. If the student is incapable of direct contemplation of being, then at least a true opinion founded in faith in the philosopher’s myth will orientate their psyche towards things higher, and more lasting, than the passing objects of the appetites. Politics, in this conception, moves beyond the engagement in only polemos, and eris, but is joined and balanced with the arts of Peitho, Arete, and the Muses. Politics thereby becomes the practice by which the philosopher’s logos and mythos may encourage the psyche and polis consciously to partake of the divine.

In either case, neither history nor politics is transcended, or transcendable. Rather, one senses, they remain an indelible factor of existence. Only in The Republic, however, is the practice of politics itself identified as a perhaps necessary means to the end of human fulfillment. Whatever the case may be, what seems clear is that, for the comedian as well as the philosopher, the in-between existence of human beings is a necessity, and history, therefor, will remain with us.


Aristophanes. Ecclesiazusae / edited with an introduction, translation and commentary by Alan H. Sommerstein. Warminster : Aris & Phillips, 2007, c1998.

Plato. The Republic of Plato / translated with notes and an interpretive essay by Allan Bloom (2nd edition). New York: Basic Books, c1991.

Plato. The Republic / translated by Tom Griffith, edited by G.R.F. Ferrari. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Voegelin, Eric, 1901-1985. Plato. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966.

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