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Plato's Republic - in Scots?!

Our Scots translation of Plato's 'Republic' is complete and is now available to purchase.

Saturday, April 13, 2024
13 mins.

Questions, questions, questions...

by Rab Clark

Our Scots translation of Plato's Republic is complete and will be going on sale later this week.

We are chuffed with how it's turned out and hope others will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed working on it.

We published an extract from Book 7 (The Allegory of The Cave) last week and reaction was great.

Off-Topic Scotland | It's all Greek to me (offtopicscotland.com)

Here's another wee taster, the introduction to, and an extract from, Book 9. We leave it to readers to decide whether or not it contains material of relevance to the situation we find ourselves in right now...

Beuk IX

In Beuk 9 o' Plato's Republic, they delve intae the minds o' tyrants and whit true happiness really is.

First aff, Socrates explores hoo a tyrant comes aboot. He argues that a tyrant develops in a democratic hoosehauld, whaur there's a constant battle between tyrannous desires and the freedoms o' democracy. The democratic man gives intae unnecessary desires but lacks the discipline o' the aristocratic (ideal) man.

A tyrant appears when someone wi' these desires gets powerful. This chiel lacks reason and self-control, allouin' their basest wants to rule the roost.

Niest, Socrates compares the souls o' different types o' folk. He argues that the just person, wi' reason in charge, experiences true happiness, even if things are tough. The chiel wha chases honour and the yin wha chases wealth, lackin' wisdom, can only find a flichtin' and limited happiness.

The beuk dives deeper intae the concept o' pleasure. Socrates draws a distinction atween true and fake pleasures. Fake pleasures, like the ones that come fae satisfyin' wee desires straightaway, are fleein' and ultimately leave ye feelin' empty. True happiness comes fae fulfillin' yer nature and livin' a virtuous life.

Socrates uses the analogy o' a city tae explain this point. A just city, whaur each class does its job, runs smoothly and experiences a form o' true pleasure. This is similar tae the individual soul whaur reason guides the spirit and desire, leadin' tae a sense o' inner peace and fulfilment.

By the end o' Beuk 9, there's a clear distinction atween the just life and the tyrannical life. The true path tae happiness lies in livin' virtuously and alignin' yersel wi' reason and wisdom. This sets the stage for Beuk 10, whaur they'll explore art, literature, and hoo they shape a just society.

Socrates - GLAUCON 

Finally, there's the tyrannical man. We still need to figure oot hoo he comes aboot fae a democracy, and whit his life is like - happy or miserable?

Aye, that's right, he said, he's the last one left tae discuss.

But there's an earlier question we havenae answered properly yet, I said.

Whit question is that?

I dinnae think we've truly nailed doon the nature and nummer o' desires fowk hae, and until we dae that, oor whole discussion will be a wee bit all ower the place.

Fair point, he said, it's no too late tae sort that oot.

Absolutely, I said. Noo, listen tae whit I'm trying tae get at: There's certain pleasures and desires that folk hae that arenae really necessary, and I wid say are wrang. Everyone seems tae hae them, but some fowk manage tae control them through laws and reason. In these fowk, the better desires win oot - either they get rid o' the bad desires completely, or they become weak and dinnae cause much bother. But for ithers, the bad desires are stronger and there's mair o' them.

Whilk desires are ye on aboot?

I mean the ones that come alive whin the sensible and human part o' us, the part that should be in charge, is sleepin'. Then the wild beast inside us wakes up, bein' all full o' food or drink, and throws off sleep. It goes oot on the rampage tae satisfy its desires, and there's nae foolishness or crime ye could imagine - nae even lyin' wi' yer ain family, or eatin' something that's forbidden - that a man michtnae be ready tae dae at that time, when he's lost all sense o' shame and reason.

Aye, that's absolutely true, he said.

But whin a man's body is healthy and keeps a guid balance, an' whin he wakes up the sensible part o' himsel afore he goes tae sleep, giein' it somethin' tae think aboot wi' noble thoughts an' enquiries, gatherin' himsel through meditation. An' after that, he disnae gie in tae his desires ower much or ower wee, juist enough tae put them tae sleep an' stop them an' their joys an' sorrows fae gettin' in the wey o' the mair important part - the bit that he leaves quiet an' clear-headed, free tae think aboot an' try an' understand things that are unknown, whether they happened in the past, are happening the noo, or will happen in the future. An' then again, whin he's calmed down the passionate side o' himsel, if he has a score tae settle wi' someone - aw right, so after he's pacified these twa irrational sides o' his nature, an' woken up the third ane, the reason, afore he goes tae rest, then, as ye ken yersel, that's when he's closest tae the truth, an' the least likely tae be plagued by daft an' lawless dreams.

I completely agree.

While I wis sayin' aw that, I kinda went off on a wee tangent, but the point I'm tryin' tae make is that aw o' us, even the good folk, hae a wild beast nature that's lawless an' comes oot whin we're sleepin'. Tell me if I'm richt, dae ye agree wi' me?

Aye, I agree.

An' noo, mind the description we gied o' the democratic man. We said that frae bein' a young yin, he wid hae been brought up by a parent that wis a bit of a tightwad, wha encouraged him tae save his siller, but put off ony desires that wisnae necessary an' juist for fun or show?


An' then he went an' hung aboot wi' a mair sophisticated, wild crowd, an' takkin' up all their hedonistic ways, he swung completely the other wey, juist tae spite his mean o' a faither. In the end, bein' a better man than the folk that were corruptin' him, he got pulled in baith directions until he settled somewhere in the middle, livin' a life that wisnae aboot base an' slavish passions, but whit he thocht wis a moderate indulgence in various pleasures. Is that how the democratic man came oot o' the oligarch?

Aye, he said; that wis oor thinkin' then, an' it still is.

An' noo, I said, years will hae passed, an' ye need tae imagine this fella, sic as he is, havin' a son who's brought up wi' his faither's values.

I can imagine that alright.

Then ye need tae imagine the same thing happening tae the son as happened tae the faither: he gets sucked intae a completely lawless life, that his tempters say is perfect freedom. His faither and friends try an' keep him on the straight and narrow, while the other crowd egg him on. As soon as these scary wee manipulators an' tyrant-makers see they're losin' their grip, they'll stick a real whopper of a desire in him, tae be the boss o' his lazy and spendthrift urges. This desire is like some kind of giant, creepy, winged wasp - that's the only way tae properly describe it.

Aye, he said, that's the only image that really fits.

An' when his other desires, surrounded by clouds o' incense an' perfumes an' flowers an' wine, and all the pleasures o' a wild life, get let loose, they swarm aroond him, feedin' this sting o' desire they put in his wasp-like nature. Then, at last, this ruler o' his soul, wi' Madness as his chief bodyguard, goes completely mental. If there's any good ideas or desires simmerin' away inside him, or any wee shred o' decency left, he gets rid o' them a', throws them oot until he's purged o' self-control and completely oot o' his mind.

Aye, he said, that's how the tyrannical man comes about.

An' is that no why love has always been called a tyrant?

Makes sense.

And on top o' that, isnae a man who's drunk also in the grip o' a tyrant-like spirit?

He is that.

And ye ken that a fella who's oot o' his mind, no thinkin' straight, will believe he can rule everyone, even the gods?

Aye, that's what they'll think.

An' a true, real-life tyrannical man comes tae be when, either through his natural tendencies, or habits, or both, he becomes a drunken, lustful, passionate mess. Isn't that right, my friend?


That's the kind o' man he is, and that's how he comes about. But whit's his life like? Tell me, as if you were just havin' a laugh.

Weel, I imagine, I said, that the next stage involves feasts and parties and wild celebrations and prostitutes, and all that kind o' thing. Love is the lord of the roost inside him, and runs everything to do with his soul.

That's definitely true.

Aye, and every single day and night, these desires just keep growin' bigger and stronger, and they all want somethin' different.

They sure dae, he said.

His income, if he has any, will soon be all gone.

True enough.

Then he'll be stuck wi' debts and will need to start sellin' off his stuff.

Of course.

When there's nothin' left, these desires, huddled together like a nest o' hungry young ravens, will be squawkin' for food. An' him, bein' prodded on by them, especially Love himself, who's kind of like their leader, will be in a right state, desperate to find someone he can rob or swindle oot o' their gear, so he can keep these desires happy.

Aye, that's bound to happen.

He'll need money, no matter how he gets it, if he wants to avoid some horrible pains and torments.

He will that.

An' just like how he kept wantin' new pleasures that overshadowed the old ones and took over, so him being younger will think he deserves more than his father and mother. And if he's already spent his own share o' the stuff, he'll try and nick a bit of theirs.

There's no doubt about it.

An' if his parents dinnae gie in, then he'll try to cheat them and lie to them first.

Very true.

And if that doesnae work, then he'll resort to force and steal it off them.

Aye, that's probably what he'll dae.

But what if the auld fella and wife try and fight back for their own stuff, my friend? Will this creature feel any guilt about tyrannizing over his ain parents?

Naw, he said, I widnae hae much hope for his parents at all.

Aye, but heavens forfend! Fitba [Fitba can also be "Eejit" or "Glaikit"] Adeimantus, on account o' some newfangled fancy for a slapper that's no a necessity by ony stretch, wid ye believe he'd strike his mither, wha's been a pal for ages an' is pure dead essential tae his existence? Wid he pit her unner the authority o' the other wan, jist 'cause they're unner the same roof noo? Or wid he dae the same tae his auld, feety falder, the first an' maist important pal a fella can hae, aw for the sake o' some spring chicken he's just met that's anythin' but essential?

Aye, true enough, he said, I wid believe that.

Weel then, says I, a tyrannical wean [wean = child] is a richt blessin' tae their fayther an' mither!

That they are, he says.

First they nick their gear, an' when that's gane an' pleasures are startin' tae swarm in their heid, they'll break intae a hoose, or rob some puir sod walkin' hame at night. Niest, they'll be raidin' a kirk [kirk = church]. A' the auld ideas they had as a bairn [bairn = child] aboot whit's richt an' whit's wrang get chucked oot by thir newfangled notions that've jist been let oot o' the cage an' are noo the bodyguards o' love an' share his rule. Back when they were jist a wean, an' still answerin' tae the law an' their dad, these ideas were only let loose in dreams. But noo that they're unner the thumb o' love, they become constantly an' in real life whit they only wis rarely an' in dreams afore; they'll commit a murder that wid make yer hair stand on end, or eat somethin' they shouldnae, or dae onythin' else that's pure horrific. Love's their tyrant, livin' like a lord an' lawless within them, and bein' a king itself, it leads them on, juist like a tyrant leads a kintra, tae dae onythin' reckless that keeps it an' its rabble o' pals gaun, whether it's them they've met up wi' 'cause o' bad company, or them they've let loose within themsels acause they're jist as rotten. Is that no a richt picture o' their life?

Aye, true enough, he says.

An' if there's only a wheen o' them in the kintra, an' the rest o' the folk are decent, they'll bugger off an' become the bodyguards or mercenary sodjers for some other tyrant that needs them for a war. An' if there's nae war, they bide at hame an' cause aw sorts o' wee problems in the toon.

Whit sort o' problems?

Weel, for a start, they're the thievin' scallywags, the burglars, the pickpockets, the neds, the kirk-robbers, the folk nappers o' the community. Or if they canny steal, they turn grass, gie fake evidence, an' tak bribes.

Aye, a wee listicle o' evils, even if they're no that common.

True enough, says I, but wee and big are jist relative terms. An' aw these things, wi' the misery an' evil they bring tae a kintra, are peanuts compared tae the tyrant. When this rotten lot an' their pals get numerous an' realise whit a powerful bunch they are, egged on by the daftness o' the folk, they pick the yin that's maist like a tyrant themself, an' mak' him their king.

Aye, that makes sense, he says. He'd be the perfect tyrant.

If the folk gie in, then aw well an' good. But if they fecht back, jist like he battered his ain fayther an' mither, noo if he's got the power, he'll gie them a right good clumpin' an' keep his beloved faitherland, or motherland as the Cretans say, unner the thumb o' his young mates he's brung in tae be their bosses. That's whit a' his passions an' desires are ultimately aboot.

Spot on.

When these chiels are juist ordinary folk an' havenae got any power yet, this is their character: they only hang aboot wi' their ain flatterers or folk that'll dae whit they're telt. Or if they need somethin' aff somebody, they'll be redy enough tae grovel at their feet: they'll tell them they're their best pal an' aw that. But ance they've got whit they wanted, they dinnae ken them frae a barstool.

Aye, that's true enough.

They're either the boss or the lackey, never a true friend tae anybody. The tyrant will never ken whit true freedom or friendship is like.

Absolutely no.

An' wid we no be right tae say these folk are treacherous?

Och, withoot a doubt.

They're also completely unjust, if we were richt aboot whit justice is?

Aye, he says, an' we were spot on.

So then, tae sum it up in a wee phrase, says I, this is whit the worst kind o' fella is like: he's the real-life version o' that nightmare we had.

Absolutely spot on!  This fellae that's naturally most like a tyrant, the langer he lives the waur a tyrant he becomes.

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