The role of the myth in Plato's Statesman.


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Plato’s Statesman attempts to find the eidos of the political art “separated and removed…from everything else” (Plato 1984: 258c). Perhaps unsurprisingly, this proves to be a rather difficult task. The conversation is led by an Eleatic Stranger with a young man named Socrates. The Stranger begins with precise division, cutting the broad category of “knowers” successively down the middle, leading to increasingly specific categories (258b). From this method, the Stranger initially defines the statesman as a herdsman who nurtures a flock of human beings, or “featherless bipeds,” a somewhat unsatisfying account of human beings, not to mention the political art (268d). The Stranger must begin the search anew (267a). It turns out the Stranger has a very literal return to the beginning in mind; in place of the failed method of division, he gives a mythological account of the origin and structure of the cosmos, wherein the cosmos is sometimes rotated by the god and sometimes let go to move itself. Through its cosmic and poetic orientation, the myth seems quite distant from the dialogue’s stated practical goal of finding the statesman. The reader learns, however, that this return to cosmic beginnings is not a digression but rather essential to the question at hand; in order to know the statesman, one must know the place of human beings in the whole.



Plato. Philosophy. Myth. The statesman. Political science.