THE TRAGEDY OF LAW: GYGES IN HERODOTUS AND PLATO.
THE SECOND BOOK OF PLATO'S REPUBLIC begins with a spirited outburst. Glaucon, not satisfied with Socrates' arguments proving the goodness of justice in book 1, demands a new proof. At once deeply tempted and deeply repelled by the life of injustice, he wishes to be purged of his longing for tyranny and, accordingly, wants Socrates to show that justice itself, by itself, is good (despite the fact that they have just agreed that it is one of those things good both for its own sake and for the sake of its consequences), that is, that justice is not simply a necessary evil, something good by law or nomos but not by nature.(2) To explain what he means, Glaucon tells a story. Perhaps it is worth quoting in full.
That even those practicing [justice] practice it involuntarily by virtue of an inability to do injustice we would especially perceive if we should make (poiesamen) something in thought of the following sort: once we give the possibility to each (both to the just man and to the unjust) to do (poiein) whatever he wants, let us follow, seeing where desire will lead each. We would catch the just man in the act, going toward the same thing as the unjust on account of a longing for more which (thing) every nature pursues by nature as good, while only by law is it led astray by force to the honor of the equal. The authority which I mean would be especially like this if the sort of power should ever be theirs that they say belonged to the ancestor of Gyges, the Lydian. [They say] he was a shepherd in the service of the one then ruling Lydia when there was a great thunderstorm and earthquake, breaking open the earth so that there was a chasm in the place where he pastured. Looking and wondering, he went down and saw, in addition to other wonders about which [men] mythologize, also a bronze home, hollow and having little doors, through which he peeped in and saw a corpse buried within that appeared larger than human, and this wearing nothing else than around its hand a gold ring; after stripping it off, he went out. During the usual meeting of the shepherds in order that they might bring a monthly report to the king about the herds, he came bearing the ring. While sitting with the others, he chanced to turn the collet of the ring around toward himself, to the inside of his hand. When this happened he became invisible to those with whom he was sitting, and they conversed as though about someone absent. He wondered at this, and, again feeling for the ring, he twisted the collet outward, and, in twisting it, he became apparent. Thinking about this, he tested whether the ring held this power, and it happened thus: by turning the ring inward he became immanifest, and outward [he became] manifest. Perceiving this, he immediately brought it about that he was among the messengers to the king, and after arriving, committed adultery with his wife, and, with her, setting upon the king, he killed [him] and so gained the rule.(3)
Glaucon goes on to draw conclusions about what all would do should they possess this power of becoming invisible so as to be able to avoid the consequences of their actions. The final nine books of the Republic are Socrates' extended reflection on this poem invented by Glaucon to make visible the power and naturalness of injustice in the soul and the weakness and conventionality of justice.
Now, whether wittingly or no, Glaucon's poem about the visible and the invisible, the usurpation of a throne, and eros for a woman has an ancestor. Toward the beginning of the History,(4) Herodotus gives an account of the ascent of Gyges to the throne of Lydia. It is the first extended story in the book and contains the first of many quotations of which Herodotus cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, the event having occurred some seven generations before his own day.(5) As the quotation must be an invention, this story too is a poem. Herodotus tells us that the king of Lydia, Candaules, so loves his wife that he finds her the most beautiful of women. He praises her frequently to his trusted bodyguard, Gyges, but, troubled lest this claim not be believed because her beauty is never publicly visible, Candaules urges Gyges to hide unseen in the queen's bedroom so that he might see her naked form (eidos). Gyges demurs but, when Candaules insists, obeys his king. On the fateful evening Gyges conceals himself and secretly observes the queen, but as he leaves she sees him. The queen does not at once indicate her discovery but the following day assembles her most faithful servants and sends for Gyges to give him an ultimatum: he must choose either to die at once or to kill Candaules, marry her, and become king of Lydia. Thus compelled to consider his own good, Gyges naturally chooses the latter alternative and founds a dynasty that endures for five generations until the fall of Croesus. Now, the deepest of Herodotus' themes in the History is embedded in this story--the power of nomos or law in its relation to nature. Like Glaucon's story about the ring, it provides a structure for the nine books of the History that follow. And like Glaucon's story, it is concerned with the relation between nature and nomos. While Glaucon may not know the origin of his tale, Plato surely knows, thereby suggesting to us that something might be learned by comparing the structure of the Republic to the structure of the History. This would of course be a very long task, but perhaps what we are to learn is writ small in the two stories themselves.
Let us begin at the beginning of the History:
This is the showing forth of the inquiry [historie] of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in order that neither the things having come to be from human beings in time come to be eradicated, nor the great and wondrous deeds, on the one hand shown forth by the Greeks and on the other hand by the barbarians both with respect to other things and with respect to the cause on account of which they warred with one another, come to be without fame.(6)
Herodotus has a double intention. He writes in order to prevent what comes to be in time from being eradicated by time.(7) This is a universal principle and seems to apply indifferently to everything that time produces and consumes; Herodotus means somehow to overcome human temporality. On the other hand, he intends to reward with fame the great and wondrous deeds that attach to a specific event, the Persian War. That Herodotus' History will be simultaneously so all-embracing and so very particular is a version of the problem of history simply: to give an account of change in terms of fixed principles.(8) Perhaps this particular war with these particular antagonists interests Herodotus so because he perceives its cause to be especially revelatory of our common nature as temporal beings.
We are at first a little taken aback to discover that, for Herodotus, this cause has so much to do with rape. To be fair, the Greek word he uses here, harpage, and its cognate verb, harpazo, like the Latin rapio and the less customary, but older, meaning of our word rape, all have the more general sense of seizing or carrying off. Still of the fifteen occurrences of harpage in the History (the verb occurs much more frequently), nine have to do with the carrying off, and presumably the rape, of women, eight occur in the first six chapters of the book (three pages out of 631 in David Grene's translation), and, of these, seven have to do with rape in the more common sense.(9) In addition, the verb harpazo occurs eight times in these same chapters. Rape is clearly the theme of the beginning. The Persians say that 10 of Argos was carried off to Egypt by Phoenician traders and that the Greeks (different Greeks--these are Cretans) retaliated by carrying off Europa from the Phoenician city of Tyre. The Argonauts then doubled the Greek retaliation by carrying off Medea from her home in Colchis on the Black Sea.(10) The Persians say that when it became clear that the Greeks would pay no penalty (literally "would not give justice") for the rape of Europa, Alexander of Troy decided that he would steal a Greek wife, who turned out to be Helen. The Greeks took this rather more seriously than he had anticipated, and the ultimate result was the destruction of Troy.
Now, Herodotus is aware that the Greeks tell a different story.(11) They say, for example, that Hera became angry with 10 for having had intercourse with Zeus. For protection Zeus disguised 10, transforming her into a cow, but Hera nevertheless relentlessly pursued her all the way to Egypt, where Zeus restored her and she gave birth to the god, also a cow, that the Egyptians worship as Apis.(12) About Europa, the Greeks say that Zeus disguised himself as a bull and carried her away to Crete where she gave birth to his sons, Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadymantus and then married the Cretan king.(13) Similarly mythic accounts are given of the abductions of Medea and Helen.(14) What Greeks feel the need to mythologize and seek divine causes for, however, Persians demythologize and make light of. Herodotus quotes the Persian learned men (logioi):
Now, on the one hand, to rape men's women we hold [nomizein] to be a deed of unjust men, while to take in earnest the avenging of those having been raped [is a deed] of fools; but to have no care for those having been raped [is a deed of] sensible men. For it is clear that if they themselves had not wished it, they would not have been raped.(15)
In what is probably the first recorded instance of this lamentable defense of rape--"she was asking for it"--Herodotus reveals something interesting about the Persians. They are the people about whom he will later say that "whatever is not allowed for them to do these things are not even allowed for them to say."(16) Accordingly, one of the Persian laws or customs (nomoi) is that no one has ever committed matricide or parricide, so that wherever this seems to have happened there must have been some sort of Gilbert and Sullivan mix up at birth.(17)
The Persians trace their enmity toward Greece to the Trojan War when Europeans invaded Asia "for the sake of a Lacadaemonian woman."(18) Herodotus seems to agree with their view of the relative insignificance of rape when he says first that he will tell us who was the first Asian to do unjust deeds against the Greeks(19) and then tells us that it cannot have been the invasion of Ionia by the Cimmerians, for that was simply a matter of harpage--here apparently to be understood as plunder.(20) But his agreement is only partial. Herodotus stands somewhere between the Greeks who consider harpage unjust and take it seriously and the Persians who consider it unjust and make light of it.(21) Insofar as the Medes are of all Asians closest to the Persians(22)--Cyrus was half Mede--one can go even further. The Mede who is instrumental in bringing Cyrus to the throne and later in the defeat of the Lydians by the Persians seems to be an invention of Herodotus; his name is Harpagus--the masculine version of harpage. "Rapist" seems a strange name to give to one's child.(23) It should tell us something about the Persian view of rape. The cause of the war between Greece and Persia that in its specificity will reveal a universal feature of human nature as temporal has to do with their different estimations of the importance of rape, and so of women in relation to sexuality.
It should some as no surprise that all these issues are present in the Gyges story.
Now, this Candaules was in love [erasthe] with his own wife, and because loving [her] held [enomize] his wife to be much the most beautiful of all women. So that holding [nomizon] these views, since there was among his bodyguards Gyges son of Daskylus who especially pleased him (to which Gyges Candaules used to communicate the most serious of his concerns), he also used to go so far as to praise the beauty of form [eidos] of his wife. Not much time thereafter--for it was fated that Candaules should end badly--he said the following to Gyges: "Gyges, I don't think you are persuaded by what I say concerning the beauty of form of my wife--for the ears are indeed for men less to be trusted than the eyes. Contrive [poiei] a way to see her naked." Crying out greatly, Gyges said, "Master, what an unhealthy speech you speak, bidding me to see my mistress naked; for in laying aside her robes at the same time she lays aside the shame [aidos] appropriate to woman. Long ago the beautiful things were discovered by human beings, and one must learn from them. Among them is this one: look [skopein] at what is your own. I am persuaded that she is the most beautiful of all women, and I beg you not to require unlawful things."(24)
Eros occurs three times as a noun in the History; the cognate verb erao occurs eight times.(25) Of these eleven instances, two refer to Candaules' love for his unnamed wife. Of the rest, seven refer to a variety of illicit loves--Mycerinus' possible love and subsequent rape of his daughter,(26) Cambyses' love of his sister,(27) Ariston's love of the wife of his best friend.(28) and Xerxes' love of his brother's wife and then of his niece.(29) The remaining two refer to an eros for tyranny.(30) Most of the women involved remain nameless (the one exception is Xerxes' niece, Artaynte). All of them are antinomian objects of longing--this seems to be the link to tyranny.(31) The whole History more or less concludes with an account of the illicit love of Xerxes, who elsewhere announces quite openly that his goal is universal empire so that his realm will be coextensive with that of Zeus who is the sky.(32) Is there a clue to this relation between eros and tyranny in the Gyges story?(33)
Candaules loves his wife and therefore believes her beautiful. He loves what is his own, what is private to him, but wants public confirmation of its attractiveness to him as his own. He cannot bear that the beauty of what he holds good should remain invisible; somehow, he wants it to be both his and be universal.(34) Now, to contrive that the essentially private should be seen publicly in its character as essentially private is to abolish shame (aidos is used only here in the History).(35) Candaules wants the world to acknowledge his own experience that what is his is incomparable and the best. His desire for Gyges to confirm his judgment of his wife's beauty is tantamount to a desire that there be no distinction between his experience of the world and the world. This is, unwittingly, but essentially, a tyrannical desire for truly universal empire.
Candaules wants Gyges too to accept what he holds or believes (nomizo). He does not think this possible through speech, "for the ears are indeed for men less to be trusted than the eyes." Speech removes us one step from the reality that verifies it. To get at the truth there must be no intermediaries between us and the evidence; we must be fully in the presence of being. But Candaules ignores the fact that his certainty about the beauty of his wife is a product of his eros. To be fully in the presence of the evidence Gyges would have to experience not only what is inside the king's private quarters; he would also have to experience what is inside the king. Gyges is to contrive, or make, a way to see the queen naked; the verb poiein also means to make poetry. It is not hard to see how the ambiguity is important here, for to do what Candaules wishes him to do, Gyges would have to put himself in the king's place in more than a spatial sense. Thinking himself into the king's position would be an act of poetic imagination. In requiring interpretation, it would be more akin to the speech that comes through the ears than the visions that come through the eyes. Candaules is peculiarly like the Persians in his trust in the self-evident significance of things as they appear.(36) His belief that the eidos of his wife is something unproblematically visible is tantamount to a belief that there is no qualitative difference between inside and outside. Candaules thinks that you get a look at the inside of an orange by slicing it open; he does not realize that all you get is a new outside. He is like Cyrus' son Cambyses, who, when accused of madness, thinks to prove his sanity by demonstrating that he has a hand steady enough to shoot an arrow straight into the heart of Prexaspes' son.(37) Afterward, he challenges Prexaspes to verify the success of his prediction by opening up the chest of his son. Cambyses treats the inside and the outside as though they are of the same order. This enormous exaggeration of the power of the visible is what will lead Xerxes to think that one becomes whole by conquering the world. Persians think spatially.
Candaules' trust in the visible is connected to the question of law. Twice Herodotus says that Candaules held his wife most beautiful--both times using the verb nomizo. Gyges begs not to be forced to do what is unlawful, clearly believing it unlawful to look at the naked queen, for it is one of the beautiful or noble things (ta kala) discovered of old that one ought to look only at one's own. This principle is expanded later in the History in a passage that follows directly after the account of Cambyses' madness.
For if someone were to address all human beings bidding [them] to select the most beautiful nomoi from all nomoi, having considered, each would choose their own; thus each holds (nomizousi) its own nomoi to be by far the most beautiful ... and it seems to me that Pindar was right to make a poem [poiesai], saying nomos to be the king of all.(38)
Nomos operates in a double way; accordingly, we translate it sometimes as law, sometimes as custom. When the rules of our conduct are explicit, we must also be aware that there are alternatives to them; when they are only tacit, custom is so powerful that it seems to us simply to be the way things are. While Herodotus tells us that Candaules thinks his wife most beautiful because he loves her as his own, we do not know this to be Candaules' self-understanding. Making no distinction between what is his own and what is, Candaules could simply think his unnamed wife is beautiful. On the other hand, that he wants Gyges to confirm his judgment must mean that he is not altogether at ease with it. The beautiful things are the hidden measures of all our judgments that we wish somehow to bring into the light and make manifest. Gyges tells the king that one of the many beautiful things discovered (or invented) of old is that one should look only at one's own. To disobey would be unlawful. This is the nomos that makes everyone likely to prefer his own nomoi above those of others. "Look to your own" means "accept what is customary," but it is an injunction that cannot help calling attention to one's own as one's own. In doing so it calls forth the lawful longing to vindicate one's own over against what is other. To say that nomos is king of all means that all hold (nomizousi) their nomoi to be most beautiful. Yet this lawful defense of one's own--let us call it patriotism--leads willy nilly to the lawless violation of one's own. Candaules' behavior is thus not aberrant; it is the necessary consequence of the double structure of law, which in telling us that our way is the only way necessarily also tells us that there are other ways. In forcing us to reveal what it enjoins us to keep hidden, the law assures our shame (aidos). The story reveals this doubleness to us in a double manner, for what is true of Candaules is also true of Gyges. Gyges reveres the law; this seems to be why Candaules trusts him so. He therefore recoils from the command to look at the secret beautiful things--ta kala. But as his lawful king commands him, he must obey. The law forces Gyges to transgress the law. Given this tragic conclusion, it is perhaps no accident that Herodotus should make the story of Cyrus, in which Harpagus figures so prominently, a version of the story of Oedipus.(39)
Now, what does all this have to do with women? Why should Candaules' unnamed wife stand for the law? The Gyges story calls our attention to the relation between clothing and nomos. When a woman removes her clothing she removes her shame, for, as Herodotus tells us, "among the Lydians, and also, I dare say, among the rest of the barbarians, even for a man to be seen naked carries a great shame [aishkunen]."(40) The remark is clearly meant to call our attention to the fact that for a Greek this shame must seem a little provincial.(41) Exercising naked--gumnazomai--is a sign of what it means to be Greek. And yet, since the Greeks wear this practice as a badge of distinction, isn't it too a species of clothing? That is, ignoring for the moment that even for a Greek it is not so clear that female nakedness is of the same status as male nakedness, if the particular nomos to which one is so devoted is most obviously revealed in the character of the clothing one dons to cover one's shame, isn't pride in nakedness as what distinguishes Greek from barbarian simply a more complicated parochialism--a particular sign of a particular nomos and not the shedding of nomoi in favor of nature that it represents itself as? The Greeks are a people who represent themselves to themselves as a people unlike any other people, as in some sense a universal people--a chosen people.(42) Still, however special they may be, they do not simply escape the tragedy of political life.
As Darius, Xerxes' father, prepares for the invasion of Greece, he finds it necessary to name a successor in case anything should happen to him.(43) Before becoming king Darius had three sons, the eldest of whom was Artobazanes. After he became king he had four more sons, now by a new wife, Atossa, daughter of Cyrus. Xerxes was the eldest of these. In pressing his claim, Artobazanes maintains that all men hold (nomizo) that the eldest should inherit the rule. Xerxes at first claims to deserve the rule by virtue of his relation to his mother, whose father, Cyrus, was the founder of the empire, but then, urged by
the Spartan exile Demaratus, he cites a supposed Spartan nomos (it is not clear that there actually was such a law(44)) according to which sons born to a king after he became king have precedence over those born to him previous to his kingship. Darius accepts this claim, the implication of which is that it is not a man but a king who has offspring, as though one's being were totally exhausted by one's office and no distinction were possible between homos and nature. That this is somehow the Persian view is confirmed in the immediate sequel. Having become king, Xerxes announces that he too plans to invade Greece, for imperial expansion is the essence of the Persian nomos.(45) The ultimate goal of the invasion is to "show forth a Persian earth coextensive with the sky of Zeus."(46) Needless to say, in such a world there would be no difference between the natural laws of earth and sky and Persian nomoi. Comparative politics of the Herodotean variety would no longer be an option.
When Xerxes asks his advisors for their opinions of his plan, they are divided. Xerxes is at first especially angry with Artabanus' opposition but later reconsiders and decides to call the expedition off. That night, however, a dream comes to him in which a man who is great and cuts a fine figure (eidos) warns him not to change his mind. Xerxes nevertheless goes ahead and announces his decision to cancel the invasion, but the next night the same dream figure returns warning him more sternly. Terrified, Xerxes summons Artabanus to whom he announces a curious plan. To determine whether it is a god who speaks to him, Xerxes decides that Artabanus should dress up in the king's clothes, sit in the kings throne (this, by the way, was a crime), and sleep in the king's bed. Then, if the dream should come to Artabanus as well, it will be a divine sign. This is rather bizarre behavior, especially since it turns out that the dream figure is not fooled for a moment and addresses Artabanus as himself. In any event, Xerxes' ploy would make sense only if one assumes that there is no distinction between being the king and wearing the clothing of and behaving like the king. If it looks like a king, and walks like a king, then it must be a king?(47) Xerxes' plan involves collapsing the realms of inside and outside, of being and seeming. It is typically Persian because it is understanding internal phenomena in an altogether external way.
The connection between this story and the succession crisis is that the Persians hold that what you are by nomos--what you wear--is what you are. This is why they cannot acknowledge the possibility of matricide or parricide. If your being is exhausted in your role as child, then you cannot behave as other than child.(48) There is no inner substance that eludes one's conventional role; one has a role but no soul. Now, at the conclusion of his account of the ascension of Xerxes to the throne, after having introduced the complicated Spartan nomos Darius was supposed to have used as the basis of his decision, Herodotus adds in his own voice that "even without this advice [of Demaratus] Xerxes would have become king; for Atossa had all the power."(49) Herodotus acknowledges what the Persians cannot--the power of women, a power that apparently grounds the nomos but resists being taken up into the nomos. It is what is hidden and needs to be hidden but cannot be dispensed with for political life to be possible. And it is what distinguishes the Persian attempt to bring everything into the light from the Greek acknowledgment of the importance of women. To return to where we began, unlike the Persians, the Greeks do not think that rape is trivial.
Insofar as it is idiosyncratic the power of women is generation; this is the connection between women and temporality. Just before marching on Greece, Xerxes reviews his troops.(50) After looking at the whole of his fleet and army, he first declares himself blessed and then, reflecting on the fact that none of these men will be alive in a hundred years, weeps over the brevity of human life.(51) Xerxes collects a vast host for the purpose of mastering the whole world. By obliterating the distinction between being a man and being a Persian, he will make his reach extend as far as that of Zeus. Still, one thing thwarts Xerxes' wish to be a god. While universal spatial dominion is thinkable, even Xerxes must relent in the face of the rule of time. He too will be dead in one hundred years.
Perfect political life would require that there be a nomos worthy of being king of all; it would justify a nonparochial patriotism. To be complete and perfect such a nomos could leave nothing to chance. But if everything is subject to the law, then we are simply whatever we are by law. Everything is manifest; nothing is hidden. Herodotus begins the History with the Gyges story because it points to the impossibility of this Persian project for universal dominion. For there remains something that cannot be made public itself but without which the public cannot be. Women bear children and so put human beings in time--make them particular. No political order can exist without citizens, but citizens are first human beings who must be brought into being nonpolitically, to the embarrassment of the polis. Atossa has all the power because without her there would be no succession. It is a necessity of political life to be able to say "The king is dead; long live the king!"--this is the illusion of the polis of its own atemporality. Men die; the king never dies. But this is quite absurd unless there is a stratum of life beneath, and not simply exhausted by, political life. Women, in their distinctive roles as generators, thus point to the fact that the political sphere is necessarily incomplete and cannot be other than incomplete. Yet, upon sensing this incompleteness, political life in its will to order has a natural tendency to seek to complete itself. It can do so only by way of an attack on the very private sphere that makes it possible. Xerxes' attempt to make his realm coextensive with that of Zeus, a universal homogeneous state, thus requires him to undermine the natural. That the Persians do not take rape seriously is the sign for Herodotus that they do not understand this fundamental fact of political life. Accordingly, by being too political they are not really political at all. What distinguishes Herodotus' Greeks is an awareness of the necessary incompleteness of nomos in its dependence on the natural; this makes them the paradigmatic political people in the History. Whether by virtue of the unwittingly salutary disorder of the double kingship of Sparta(52) which conspired to make them the only Greek people never subject to tyranny, or by virtue of the quite conscious attempts of a man like Themistocles to attend to his private good at the same time as he was doing his public duty, Herodotus' Greeks are aware of the limits of the political. Still, as this is distinctive of them politically, they do not altogether escape the ultimately contradictory character of the political attempt to stabilize what comes to be in time. Perhaps only Herodotus' History may be said to succeed in this regard, and only insofar as it is knowledge of the political.
Close to the end of the History, after the Persians have suffered terrible defeats at Salamis, Plataea, and Mycalae, Herodotus shifts the scene briefly from political events to tell us of Xerxes' erotic longing for his brother's wife. He pursues her, but she will not give in, so in an apparent attempt to bring her closer to him he arranges for her daughter to marry his son, Darius. It is hard to know exactly what all of this means, but it is clearly a little perverse even though Herodotus tells us that Xerxes arranged for this betrothal by "doing ta nomizomena [the customary or lawful things]."(53) Xerxes then proceeds to develop an erotic passion for the daughter--his niece Artaynte. Not so virtuous as her mother, she gives in. In the mean time, Xerxes' wife makes him a gift of a beautiful robe in which he delights as he delights in Artaynte (Herodotus uses the same word for both attachments). Overcome by eros, he offers his niece anything; when she says "Are you sure?" he says that he is, and she asks for the robe. So, Xerxes has received something from his wife that is meant only for him. To prove his love to the girl, he claims that he will give her anything. This is, of course, possible only if he is absolutely free to do so, but who is free if not the Great King? Xerxes must give Artaynte the robe to prove that his wife has no claims on him. For the Great King there is no private sphere to limit the public sphere; the public sphere is the private sphere. Yet Xerxes only behaves as he does because his niece does have such a claim on him. Xerxes seems to be shamed into behaving as if shame has no hold over him.
As with Gyges, the story contains two versions of the problem at its core. When Xerxes' wife, Amestris, learns that he has given the robe to his niece, she believes it is for the sake of her sister-in-law. Accordingly, at the yearly feast for the King's birthday when the King distributes gifts, Amestris asks Xerxes for her sister-in-law. This would appear to be the day on which even the Great King acknowledges his own genesis; he is a creature in time and so not a god. Xerxes thus cannot refuse his wife without violating the nomos that by forbidding him not to satisfy a request made during this feast, humbles him. There is thus a Persian law that by recognizing obligations to family recognizes the limitations of law. Knowing that his wife is up to no good, Xerxes seeks to assuage his brother in advance by urging that he forsake his own wife and take Xerxes' daughter in her stead. The brother refuses and goes home to find his wife mutilated. This leads him to rebel, and, in putting down the rebellion, Xerxes has him killed. Once again, the whole course of events is set in motion by Xerxes' unwillingness to acknowledge that there are certain things he cannot do. Xerxes experiences aidos in the face of the possibility that he might experience aidos. Ironically, here he might have put an end to the whole matter by simply denying his wife's request. The nomos in question is clearly more of a custom than a law; its violation was hardly likely to foment a revolution. Xerxes need only have said to Amestris "I cannot allow you to harm my brother's wife." But he is ashamed to admit that there is something he cannot do. Accordingly to demonstrate that he is absolutely free and not at all governed by nomos, against his will, Xerxes must obey the letter of a trivial nomos about the limitation of nomos and so allow the mutilation of his innocent sister-in-law and the death of his brother. His law abiding assertion of independence from the law leads to complete enslavement to the law. The placement of this story and the similarity of its terms to those of the Gyges story suggest that it is meant to mark the movement of the History as a whole.(54) This history of the Persian War is at the same time a history of the consequences of playing out within the political sphere the erotic longing for completeness.
By this time, the outlines of the connection to the Republic should be apparent. Glaucon's initial ambivalence about justice and injustice is no more an accident than Candaules' longing to have his internal vision of his wife externally confirmed. In fact the Republic is remarkably similar in structure to the History. Coincidences of language seem to connect certain peaks of the argument of the Republic. The first word of the dialogue is kateben--"I went down"; the verb appears in the accounts of the descent of Gyges' ancestor into the chasm, of the philosophers' descent into the cave, and of Er's descent into Hades.(55) When we are told that the collet of the ring is "turned around,"(56) we are reminded of the famous peri agoge of the released prisoners in the cave,(57) and the chasm of the Gyges story reminds us both of the cave and of the chasms in the myth of Er.(58) These are not arguments of course; they merely focus our attention. Then we see that the passages serving as glosses on the Gyges story in Herodotus have their analogues in precisely these passages in the Republic. The power of nomos as potentially king of all,(59) so that there is no distinction between being and seeming, is what is at stake in the cave. And the necessary failure of Xerxes' project to make himself like Zeus is the subject first of the critique of tyranny in Republic 8-9 and, perhaps less obviously but more tragically, of the failure of the men raised in the best city to choose their next lives wisely in the myth of Er.(60) Herodotus links the fairly innocent, if misguided, eros of Candaules to the longing for tyranny and, in so doing, means to show that this is no aberration; it is the very nature of politics. Is this also what is underlying the argument of the Republic?
If the text is to be trusted, Gyges' ancestor discovers a ring on a corpse of more than human stature.(61) Now, if the ring is so powerful why isn't it handed down from generation to generation? That is, why isn't Herodotus' Gyges already king of Lydia? Or, to put the same point differently, if the ring is so powerful, why is it found on a corpse? The problem for Glaucon, as it was for Xerxes, is death (his brother Adeimantus seems to understand this better than he). He means to make up a story demonstrating the utter superiority of the life of the perfectly unjust man, but the details of his own story make clear that the ring leaves the greatest human problem unresolved. It is useless for avoiding the ravages of time. One wonders, given the difficulty of this detail, why Glaucon chooses to make a story at all. Why does he need more than an extended example like Socrates' example in his conversation with Cephalus in book 1 of the man who deposits arms with a friend and then goes mad? Why be so elaborate? Why is the Gyges' ancestor a shepherd? Is it simply to contrast his low birth with his ascent to the throne, or perhaps to allow Plato to use the verb "to pasture"--nemein--and so hint at its connection to nomos? And why the bronze horse, or the little doors? Glaucon uses none of this detail but cannot seem to resist introducing it. By excessively adorning his story Glaucon calls our attention to the fact that he is making visible something of which he has just finished denying the visibility.
When the ancestor first discovers the power of the ring, he is said to turn the collet around "toward himself, to the inside of his hand."(62) Glaucon's choice of words is revealing. What does it mean to turn the collet of a ring toward oneself?. Isn't Glaucon using a spatial category for something that is not really spatial--himself, or let us say, the soul? And doesn't his entire argument depend on this understanding of soul as something that has permanence and does not unfold in time?
At the beginning of book 2 Glaucon demands that Socrates show him what justice is like in the soul--that is, stripped of all external consequences, of all seeming. Despite Socrates' claim that justice is the sort of good that is good both for itself and for the sake of its consequences, Glaucon demands that it be defended solely in terms of itself. His assumption that its two sorts of goodness are separable from one another is a little like assuming that it is possible to give an account of a form or idea--an eidos--independent of what it is an eidos of, as though one could give an account of the idea of the beautiful without recourse to the things it makes beautiful. Glaucon's demand would ultimately require that justice as an internal disposition be identical to happiness. In making this demand he is consciously articulating his antinomian desires. Nomos has justice as its goal, but it is a compromise fashioned by the weak because they cannot do what everyone by nature really wants to do. Were they to become strong, to possess the ring of Gyges, those previously weak would sleep with the queen, kill the king, and so fulfill their deepest longing--to have the fulfillment of no desire denied them.
The greatest difficulty with Glaucon's game plan emerges in the poem he fashions to give voice to this antinomian desire. As in the story in Herodotus, the problem is visibility.(63) Candaules guarantees that he will find a way to allow Gyges to see without being seen, as though one could see body without being a body and so have nonperspectival vision. Gyges, of course, gets caught; human beings are not invisible. Glaucon, however, alters the story so that his hero is invisible, but this does not really solve the problem. He does not see that the real desires we have require visibility--nondetachment; to become king presumably means that the ancestor must make an appearance. He not only wants to have certain things; he wants to be recognized as having them. So Glaucon has a peculiar understanding of soul; where did he get it?
Glaucon clearly loves justice. But, because he is so honest, he is bewildered. He does not know whether he is truly just or only just for its consequences. When he looks into himself, he finds secret longings for what is forbidden. He therefore focuses on what was down-played in book i of the Republic--moral intention apart from consequences. Only if justice were its own reward could its reward never be attained by counterfeit means. To express this purity of intention Glaucon is forced to make poetry. He has to find a way to express the supposedly internal and invisible in visible images. This of course means that, while Glaucon's poetic characters may not see the injustice of the unjust man, we see it, and his example would not work unless we could see it. Glaucon's longing for justice leads him first to understand the soul as something essentially hidden and permanent and then to attempt to make it manifest in its permanence and hiddenness. It leads him to understand soul as something wholly independent and detachable from body about which it makes sense to say that it can have a being apart from any seeming or coming to be, and then to be compelled to attempt to make it come to be visible. He could not say what he wanted to say except by making visible his real self as an invisible thing beyond the body. Now, it turns out that the so-called natural life of the perfectly unjust man is equally dependent on this understanding of soul which originated in Glaucon's longing for justice. Glaucon's rejection of justice is rooted in justice.
In isolating the soul in this way, Glaucon simply does what the polis does and must do all the time. The polis assumes that, as responsible agents under the law, our souls are permanent, independent, and invisible; at the same time, as responsible agents under the law, our motives can be made visible and our souls altered by punishment. We are both capable of feeling guilty and of being found guilty in a court of law. Glaucon's tyrannical longing is simply the extension of this essentially political, but contradictory, understanding of the human soul. The tyrant, understanding himself as an absolutely free agent, profoundly resents all feelings of limitation. He therefore attempts to overcome these disproportions between himself and the world by annihilating any distinction between himself and the world. He seeks to remake the world as an outgrowth of his own will, and so to eradicate the distinction between nomos and nature. Now, every political order must perforce expect its laws to be treated as though they were laws of nature. Glaucon's tyrannical longing is thus simply the natural extension of the political understanding of the human soul. Accordingly, its cure requires that Socrates provide a purification of the political so extreme as finally to imply a critique of the political altogether. What seems at first a mystifying, if monumental, move in the argument of book 2, the decision to look for justice first writ large in the city and only later as it appears in the soul, is in fact the only way Socrates could have proceeded, for Glaucon's demand that the just man be perfectly happy is only the claim that every city makes with respect to the justice of its own nomoi.(64)
The problem of politics is the coincidence of the public and private goods--of duty and self-interest. If we identify the first with the beautiful or noble, to kalon, and the second with the good, to agathon, then perfect politics would require the conjunction of the two--kalos k'agathos, the Greek word for a complete gentleman. In terms of nomos and nature, this would mean the assertion that the nomos--what one ought to do--is by nature. This is justice. However, in Herodotus' Persia, as in Glaucon's soul, the attempt to bring this situation about leads to universal imperialism. In the History, as well as in the Republic, women are the obstacle to this ambitious undertaking. The Persians cannot acknowledge it, but Atossa has all the power, and it is no accident that the coming to be (genesis) of Socrates' best city should become problematic with the introduction of women in relation to birth (genesis) in book 5 of the Republic. In Persia to be called worse than a woman is the worst insult there is,(65) and of course Glaucon is said to be "most manly in everything."(66) The Persians cannot acknowledge the fact that nature has a greater range than nomos; the standard sign of this is kinship--that is, the result of childbirth. They are a people who pride themselves on total truthfulness. But their overcoming of the split between being and seeming is possible only because they are sealed in the cave. For the Persians, there is no seeming because there is no being. Nomos is king of all. In the History, Herodotus uses the Greeks to point to various ways (none altogether successful) in which the necessary incompleteness of the political (the tension between public and private, kalon and agathon) can be acknowledged from within the political, thereby retarding its tendency to become unjust out of justice. The Republic is also such a critique of political life in which it is Socrates' intent not so much to respond to Glaucon's question at the beginning of book 2 as to show why he has asked it.
(1) Richard Kennington, "Strauss's Natural Right and History," The Review of Metaphysics 35 (1981): 74.
(2) Republic 359b.
(3) Republic 359c-360b. Translations from the Republic are my own and follow the Greek text of John Burnet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978).
(4) History 1.8-12.
(5) Herodotus implies that his version owes a debt to the poet Archilochus of Paros. See History 1.12.
(6) Translations of Herodotus are my own and follow the Greek text of Carl Hude (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).
(7) The construction of toi khronoi permits one to read it both ways.
(8) If history, properly understood, amounts to an account of the togetherness of motion and rest it would be an account of being. See Plato, Sophist 250a-d.
(9) See History 1.2 (twice), 1.3 (thrice), 1.4, 1.5, 2.118, and 5.94; for those instances having to do with theft or plunder see 1.6, 1.97, 3.47, 3.48, 3.104, and 9.42.
(10) Colchis we later learn is an Egyptian colony in Scythian territory--one might wonder with the Persians what this has to do with them (apparently the Greeks easily identify one barbarian with another even though their cities are probably a thousand miles apart). See History 2.104.
(11) See History 1.2.
(12) See Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 823-76 and History 2.38. 10 is frequently identified by the Greeks with Isis. See W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928), 1:54-5.
(13) See Iliad 14.321-2.
(14) See Theogony 992-1002 and Cypria, 1.
(15) History 1.4.
(16) History 1.138.
(17) See Seth Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969), 71.
(18) History 1.4.
(19) History 1.5.
(20) History 1.6.
(21) While Herodotus seems to make light of harpage, he does so by refusing to acknowledge that it is a case of injustice and, of course, also uses it in the sense of plunder. He thereby calls attention to what is most distinctive in the Persian view. They consider harpage unjust and irrelevant. That the question of justice is not the most important question for them is connected to their failure to understand the seriousness of rape and so of women.
(22) See History 1.134 and 3.89.
(23) While Harpagus is a central character in Herodotus' account, he is mentioned by no other historian of the period. This is especially important given that Xenophon's Cyropaedia is a history of the coming to power of Cyrus.
(24) History 1.8.
(25) As a noun: History 5.32, 6.62, and 9.113; as a verb: 1.8 (twice), 1.96, 2.131, 3.31 (twice), and 9.108 (twice). See Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 137-8.
(26) See History 2.131.
(27) See History 3.31.
(28) See History 6.62.
(29) See History 9.108.
(30) Deioces at History 1.96 and Pausanias at 5.32.
(31) The eros for tyranny of Deioces is especially interesting since its fulfillment proves to require that he become invisible. See Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 24-6 and 137.
(32) See History 7.8.
(33) For the relation between the Gyges story and the story of Xerxes' seduction of his niece, see Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 212.
(34) It is probably not accidental that the word Herodotus uses here to refer to the beauty of Candaules' wife is eidos--a word deriving from the verb "to see" and meaning something like "looks" or "visible form"; it begins a long and distinguished career in Plato as "idea" or "form."
(35) See Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 12.
(36) Consider, for example, Xerxes at the beginning of book 7. He has heard arguments for whether the Persians should invade Greece, first decides that they should, and then thinks better of it. Then a dream comes to him in the night and tells him to go ahead with the invasion. Out of fear he does so. But this is an appearance just like the appearances of the everyday world. Doesn't it have to be interpreted just as they require interpretation? Had Cambyses understood that meaning is never simply self-evident but is always the product of putting things together, he would not have assumed that a dream that told him that Smerdis was on the throne was altogether straightforward and unambiguous in its meaning (History 3.30). Benardete has noted that in Herodotus' account of the Persians there are a number of significant dreams but no oracles (Herodotean Inquiries, 24).
(37) See History 3.35.
(38) History 3.38.
(39) See History 1.108-29.
(40) History 1.10.
(41) See Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 12.
(42) Compare to History 7.61-83 where Xerxes' army is enumerated on the basis of a division by tribes distinguished almost solely in terms of what they wear. There is an interesting related passage in the Mishnah. Proklos, the son of Philosophos, asks the following of Rabbi Gamaliel in Acre while he is bathing in the Bath of Aphrodite: "It is written in your Law, `And there shall cleave naught of the devoted thing to thine hand.' Why then doth thou bathe in the Bath of Aphrodite?" To which he replies, "One may not answer in the bath." The editor glosses the story: "It is forbidden to speak words of the Law while naked"; The Mishnah, translated from the Hebrew, with introduction and brief explanatory notes, by Herbert Danby (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), 440 n. 11.
(43) See History 7.2-3.
(44) See How and Wells, Commentary on Herodotus 2:125.
(45) "Men of Persia, I myself am not initiating this new law by laying it down, but I use it as something I have received. For, as I learn from the elders, never have we kept still since we took over this rule from the Medes"; History 7.8.
(46) History 7.8.
(47) This should be considered in connection with the story Cyrus playing king with his young comrades. See History 1.114-16.
(48) This is the true significance of the "one man one art" principle in the Republic. You can do your particular job perfectly only if it is your only job, but this makes you a shoemaker or a guardian and nothing else. Your being is identical to your function with nothing left as a remainder. For a similar problem see Sophocles' Antigone (1) and Seth Benardete, Sacred Transgressions (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine's Press, 1999), 1-2.
(49) History 7.3.
(50) We will later learn that they number 1,700,000. See History 7.60.
(51) See History 7.45-6.
(52) See History 6.52.
(53) History 9.108.
(54) See Benardete's account of the relation between these two stories (Herodotean Inquiries, 212-13).
(55) The verb occurs infrequently in the Republic: twice in the introductory section (327a and 328c) referring to Socrates' going down to the Piraeus, once in book 6 (511b) referring to the downward movement on the divided line that characterizes dialectic, twice in book 7 (516e and 520c) in connection with philosophers returning to the cave, once in book 10 in the myth of Er referring to souls coming down from heaven, and once, of course, in book 2 describing the movement of the ancestor of Gyges into the chasm that opens up before him.
(56) Republic 359e.
(57) Republic 515c and 518d.
(58) Republic 614c and d.
(59) History 3.38.
(60) See Seth Benardete, Socrates' Second Sailing: On, Plato's Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 225-9.
(61) There is considerable debate about whether it is Gyges himself who finds the ring, especially given Republic 612b where Socrates (linking the ring with Hades' cap) refers to it as Gyges' ring.
(62) Republic 359e.
(63) See Benardete, Socrates' Second Sailing, 36-8.
(64) While, the Republic does not explicitly acknowledge the tension between the city and time, Plato does provide an indirect account in his portrayal of the conditions making possible the coming to be of the conversation about the city--what has been called the dialogic city (Benardete, Socrates' Second Sailing, 47). For an apparent attempt at a direct account, one might turn to the Timaeus. Herodotus, of course, combines the timeless and the temporal in his historie. This is the power of exemplary stories.
(65) See History 9.107.
(66) Republic 357a.
MICHAEL DAVIS Sarah Lawrence College
Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy, 1 Mead Way, Bronxville, NY 10708-5999.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2000|
|Previous Article:||ON HERACLITUS.|
|Next Article:||THE TEACHING OF NATURE AND THE NATURE OF MAN IN DESCARTES' PASSIONS DE L'AME.|