Wolves and Tyrants? Politics is Spookier than Lycanthropy (Plato)

From Plato’s Republic, Book 8 (565d)

“What is the beginning of the change from guardian to tyrant? Isn’t clear when the guardian begins to do that very thing which myth says happened at the shrine of Lykaion Zeus in Arcadia?

Which is? He said.

That once someone tastes a bit of human innards mixed up with the other sacrifices he becomes a wolf by necessity? Haven’t you heard this tale?

I have.

Is it not something the same with a protector of the people? Once he controls a mob that obeys him, he cannot restrain himself from tribal blood, but he prosecutes unjustly, the sorts of things men love to do, and brings a man into court for murder, eliminating the life of a man—and with tongue and unholy mouth that have tasted the murder of his kind, he exiles, kills, and promises the cutting of debts and the redistribution of land. Is it not by necessity that such a man is fated either to be killed by his enemies or to become a tyrant, to turn into a wolf from a man?”

Τίς ἀρχὴ οὖν μεταβολῆς ἐκ προστάτου ἐπὶ τύραννον; ἢ δῆλον ὅτι ἐπειδὰν ταὐτὸν ἄρξηται δρᾶν ὁ προστάτης τῷ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ ὃς περὶ τὸ ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ τὸ τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Λυκαίου ἱερὸν λέγεται;

Τίς; ἔφη.

῾Ως ἄρα ὁ γευσάμενος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου σπλάγχνου, ἐν ἄλλοις ἄλλων ἱερείων ἑνὸς ἐγκατατετμημένου, ἀνάγκη δὴ τούτῳ λύκῳ γενέσθαι. ἢ οὐκ ἀκήκοας τὸν λόγον;


῏Αρ’ οὖν οὕτω καὶ ὃς ἂν δήμου προεστώς, λαβὼν σφόδρα πειθόμενον ὄχλον, μὴ ἀπόσχηται ἐμφυλίου αἵματος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίκως ἐπαιτιώμενος, οἷα δὴ φιλοῦσιν, εἰς δικαστήρια ἄγων μιαιφονῇ, βίον ἀνδρὸς ἀφανίζων, γλώττῃ τε καὶ στόματι ἀνοσίῳ γευόμενος φόνου συγγενοῦς, καὶ ἀνδρηλατῇ καὶ ἀποκτεινύῃ καὶ ὑποσημαίνῃ χρεῶν τε ἀποκοπὰς καὶ γῆς ἀναδασμόν, ἆρα τῷ τοιούτῳ ἀνάγκη δὴ τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ εἵμαρται ἢ ἀπολωλέναι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἢ τυραννεῖν καὶ λύκῳ ἐξ ἀνθρώπου γενέσθαι;

In ancient Greek myth, Lykaon (Lycaon, related to lúkos, “wolf”) was a king of Arcadia. According to Pausanias (8.31-5) , Lykaon sacrificed a newborn child to Zeus. In other sources he offers the infant mixed up with other food to test Zeus’ divinity (although some attribute the deed to his sons, see Apollodorus, 3.8.1). Zeus killed the sons with lightning; Lykaon was transformed into a wolf.

There may actually be physical evidence of human sacrifice in Arcadia now.

There are other sources (Pausanias, Pliny and Petronius) who mention other lycanthropies, but this one seems like an appropriate starting point.

Plato Likes Play for Education Too: Republic 536e6-537a11

Earlier, I put up a passage from Aristotle’s Politics where he mentions the importance of games for the education of children.  Plato was down with that too:

“And I said, “Certainly do not train children in their lessons by force, but have them play so that you will be better able to observe for what type of activity each has inborn ability.”

Then he said, “What you say has logic.”

I replied “Do you remember what we were saying, that it is necessary that children be taken to battle as observers on horseback, and that, if all were safe, they should be brought near to taste the blood just like puppies?”

“I remember” he said.

“Indeed,” I said “in all these practices—in labors, learning, and dangers—whoever appears to be the most suited for them ought to be enrolled in this very number.”

Μὴ τοίνυν βίᾳ, εἶπον, ὦ ἄριστε, τοὺς παῖδας ἐν τοῖς μαθήμασιν ἀλλὰ παίζοντας τρέφε, ἵνα καὶ μᾶλλον οἷός τ’ ᾖς καθορᾶν ἐφ’ ὃ ἕκαστος πέφυκεν.

῎Εχει ὃ λέγεις, ἔφη, λόγον.

Οὐκοῦν μνημονεύεις, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὅτι καὶ εἰς τὸν πόλεμον ἔφαμεν τοὺς παῖδας εἶναι ἀκτέον ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων θεωρούς, καὶ  ἐάν που ἀσφαλὲς ᾖ, προσακτέον ἐγγὺς καὶ γευστέον αἵματος, ὥσπερ τοὺς σκύλακας;

Μέμνημαι, ἔφη.

᾿Εν πᾶσι δὴ τούτοις, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τοῖς τε πόνοις καὶ μαθήμασι καὶ φόβοις ὃς ἂν ἐντρεχέστατος ἀεὶ φαίνηται, εἰς ἀριθμόν τινα ἐγκριτέον.

Taking Issue With Homer: We Shouldn’t Approve of Achilles (Plato, Republic 390e-391a)

Earlier today I posted some fragments from Plato the Comic poet. Here’s a bit from that other Plato, you know, the philosopher.

“We should not praise Achilles’ teacher Phoinix as speaking prudently when he advises him to take the gifts and defend the Achaeans, but not to give up on his rage without the gifts. Nor should we think it right that Achilles is so acquisitive or agree that he might take the gifts from Agamemnon, and then earn honor in turn for ransoming a corpse, when he isn’t willing to do so otherwise.”

οὐδὲ τὸν τοῦ ᾿Αχιλλέως παιδαγωγὸν Φοίνικα ἐπαινετέον ὡς μετρίως ἔλεγε συμβουλεύων αὐτῷ δῶρα μὲν λαβόντι ἐπαμύνειν τοῖς ᾿Αχαιοῖς, ἄνευ δὲ δώρων μὴ ἀπαλλάττεσθαι τῆς μήνιος. οὐδ’ αὐτὸν τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα ἀξιώσομεν οὐδ’ ὁμολογήσομεν οὕτω φιλοχρήματον εἶναι, ὥστε παρὰ τοῦ ᾿Αγαμέμνονος δῶρα λαβεῖν, καὶ τιμὴν αὖ λαβόντα νεκροῦ ἀπολύειν, ἄλλως δὲ μὴ ‘θέλειν.

Plato, Republic 369b


“A city develops because each of us isn’t self-sufficient since we lack much of what we need. Is there any other reason to build a community?”


γίγνεται τοίνυν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, πόλις, ὡς ἐγᾦμαι, ἐπειδὴ τυγχάνει ἡμῶν ἕκαστος οὐκ αὐτάρκης, ἀλλὰ πολλῶν ὢν ἐνδεής: ἢ τίν᾽ οἴει ἀρχὴν ἄλλην πόλιν οἰκίζειν;