Truth and Falsehood in Greek Contradictions


Translated by Steven Willett

Plato Republic 389b~c

Certainly we must be highly concerned about truth. For if what we were saying just now is correct, and falsehood quite useless to the gods, to men it’s serviceable as a form of medicine, so clearly such a thing must be given to doctors, but not to common people.

Clearly, he said.

Then to the leaders of a city, if to anyone, it’s appropriate to lie concerning enemies or citizens for the benefit of the state, but all others must make no use of it, for a private citizen to lie to such rulers we affirm is the same and even greater fault than for a sick person not to tell his doctor or an athlete his trainer the truth about his body’s condition or a sailor not to tell the helmsman the facts about the ship and crew or the real state of himself or a fellow shipmate.

Most true, he replied.


Theognis 1135~50

Hope is the only good god existing among mankind;

   the others forsaking us have gone to Olympus.

Trust has departed, a mighty god, and Restraint has gone

   from men, and the Graces, my friend, abandoned earth;

Judicial oaths are no long trustworthy among mankind,

   and no one dreads the immortal gods;

the race of pious men has decayed, and customary rules

are no longer recognized or acts of piety.

But so long as someone lives and sees light of the sun,

   reverencing the gods let him depend on Hope;

let him pray to the gods and burn splendid thigh bones

   sacrificing to Hope at the first and last.

Let him always watch for twisted speech of unjust men

who, with no regard for deathless gods,

always direct their design on the property of others,

   making shameful compacts for evil deeds.


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4 Responses to Truth and Falsehood in Greek Contradictions

  1. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Thank you, Mr. Willett.
    Ah, self-justifying elites convinced of their rectitude seem to be a constant in our Western cultures. But whenever they don’t inquire of the people over whom they lord it as to whether their vision squares with the hopes and aspirations of that people?
    Well, to use the metaphor crafted by another historical people, those elites risk losing the Mandate of Heaven.
    Elites are to serve, not themselves, but their peoples, regardless of how very clever they think themselves to be. And when they fail in that most basic duty, there goes that Mandate of Heaven…

  2. Deap says:

    How could this be the same back then …. this is fake news, right. A gussied up translation just to fit modern times? (Thanks for these extraordinary pieces)
    Reminds me of the Three Riddles in Puccini’s opera Turandot – off with your head young man if you do not answer every one at my command. La speranza – hope – was one of them, along with blood and …ta da ….Turandot herself.
    Then in the last act we finally get to hear…. Nessun dorma, Trump’s new swan song – tomorrow vincero, vincero, vincero …… I will win, I will win, I will win .. at dawn tomorrow.
    BTW: Now how do you say “change” in Latin? As in hope and changey.

  3. English Outsider says:

    “Then to the leaders of a city, if to anyone, it’s appropriate to lie concerning enemies or citizens for the benefit of the state,”
    This deplorable says blow that for a lark. That takes the nine most terrifying words in the English anguage and supercharges them. “I’m from the government and I’m here to lie to you” could be tailor made for Obama and his ilk, Pelosi and hers following hard on his heels with “And you’d better believe the lies or we’ll unperson you”.
    And Google et al ensuring the lie is all we hear. And Karl Rove in the background with “We have ways of making today’s lie come true. Shut up and study it.”
    Thus a straight reading of that passage. But apparently Plato didn’t really mean it like that. Or he was just illustrating the impracticability of any perfect form of governance. Or …
    Give us a steer then, Professor Willet. How do you read this at first sight unattractive passage?

  4. Steven Willett says:

    I’d like to recommend that English Outsider read the following two articles. The first is a simple explanation of how the Kallipolis works under the philosopher king. The second is a detailed analysis of lying and the philosophical king.
    The best course is to read the Republic.

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