Tyranny and Incest in Plato's Republic

Socrates develops a fierce attack in the Republic on poets in general, and tragedians in particular. Tragedians are said to be apologists for tyrants.  Among poets, Hesiod, Homer, Euripides and Simonides are named, but the only explicit mention of Sophocles is favorable; the virtuous old man Cephalus quotes Sophocles in the first pages of the book to the effect that one tyrant he has outlived is his own tyrannical sex drive.  Elsewhere, the attack on tyranny is developed through marked but implicit references to “Oedipus Tyrannos.”  Why Sophocles must be attacked obliquely while Homer can be attacked openly has to do with the embarrassingly tyrannical elements in Plato’s own philosophical project, especially the poetic suggestion that Socratic philosophy is itself tyrannical and incestuous in its over-reliance on reason.

Dr. Philip Vogt - Associate Professor of History