the symbolism of the sun and light in the republic of plato. ii

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The Symbolism of the Sun and Light in the Republic of Plato. II Author(s): James A. Notopoulos Source: Classical Philology, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1944), pp. 223-240 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: Accessed: 09/10/2009 10:49Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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HEsun reaches its greatest development as a symbol in Plato. It becomes the symbol of the highest element in his thought, and he endows it with the complex function of symbolizing Being and Becoming. In the thought of Plato the sun assumes a symbolical function which embraces the traditional conceptions of the sun, yet transcends them through Plato's new use of the symbol. As symbols expand in meaning in the minds of poets, so the sun expands in symbolical content in Plato's thought. Plato contributes to the symbol a new metaphysical meaning, which is found in the account of the sun as a symbol of the Good. In the Republic Plato expands the symbol to include metaphysics as well as religion and poetry. Plato impressed deeply upon the history of metaphorical thought the notion that light equals truth. It is the importance of his contribution to the history of the symbol that makes a study of the sun and its light in his thought significant. The appropriateness of the sun as an image of the Good was inevitable. In the sun Plato had found a symbol which by its very nature lends itself to symbolizing the highest. Dante also saw in the sun the most appropriate symbol for the expression of God. "There is," he says, "no sensible thing in all the world more worthy to be an image of God than the sun, which with its sensible light illumines first itself, and then all celestial and elementary bodies; so God first illumines Himself with intellectual light, and then the celestial and other intelligences."85 T85 Convivio I, 12, 4.

The sun, though a material thing belonging to the world of sense and change, was for Plato eternal; its light shines eternally, it is self-sufficient (i.e., needs no fuel from outside), is independent of the world, and the earth is dependent upon its light and heat for its very existence and growth. Plato needed a symbol which would express a reality which was comprehensive in character; he needed a symbol full of religious feeling, one which was at the same time the source of Being and of Becoming. He therefore found in the sun of Greek tradition a highly developed symbol to express the highest element in his thought. Plato chose the Sun86as the first of the symbols, ahead of the mathematical Line and the symbol of the Cave, because it was a natural visible counterpart of the invisible and was usefully molded by Greek tradition with a nature and character capable of expressing the immanent, yet transcendent, status of Being in the world of Becoming. The Line and the Cave, in turn, depend upon the Sun for a framework of reference. The Sun provides the visual counterpart for the intellectual symbol of the Line, and the Cave makes use of light and darkness, image and original for metaphysical application. The three symbols are interrelated in a "ternary" structure, i.e., they express "in [three] parts a conception which exists in the speaker's mind as one. The immediate use of this artifice is to present the conception to the hearer in [three] parts, which, after entering his mind separately,88The capitalized forms refer to the similes, wLile the small letters refer to the sun, line, and cave, the actual objects.





will there reunite. The ulterior use is (1) transposes them to different contexts; to facilitate a clear expression of a com- furthermore, it is a technique which transplex conception, and (2) to set before the poses the concrete elements of perceptible apprehension [three] images of the object, analysis to the abstract and vice versa; as it presents itself at [three] successive and, finally, it is a technique which moments."87This technique, which Riddell transposes the elements of the first simile observes in Plato's style, is carried over to the problems of human beings. There into the symbolism of the Republic. The are so many complex movements in the three symbols are three different facets for technique of transposition that its comthe expression of one conception; the Sun plexity may become baffling unless, like gives the background for the other two, Theseus, we wind the thread amid the comas well as symbolizing the Good; in turn plexities back toward the first simile, the Line and the Cave give analytic defi- which, by its nature, is simple and easily nition and dramatic spectacle to the Sun. understood. The similes of the juaKporepa The Good is illustrated through each sym- 7repLoSos are characterized by a movement bol; the Line is treated from the precise of thought which by its very nature canepistemological point of view; the Cave not treat symbols in a static way. The is treated from the allegorical point of movement of thought, however, is generalview, i.e., the relation of human nature ly tied down to a few notions which are to the contents of the Line; the Sun derived from the simile of the Sun; these gives the keynote, the religious and sug- are: (1) light and darkness, (2) image and original, and (3) up and down. It is the gestive quality, to the rest. An examination of the evidence, how- transposition of these symbolic formulas ever, reveals that there is only one simile, to various philosophical and human probthat of the Sun; the similes of the Line lems that constitutes much of the comand Cave are special determinations of plexity of the similes. It is the use of these the Sun; torn apart from the matrix of three factors in a technique of transposithe first simile, they create difficulties, tion that is the keynote to the understandbut, considered as amplifications of the ing of the similes. Light and darkness, Sun, they gain cumulative and rooted sig- image and original, up and down, are difnificance. ferent symbolic formulas with the same Plato expands the simile of the Sun meaning even though they are not althrough what may be called a techniqueof ways applied to the same object. They are transposition;88 Plato takes the already the language of dramatization and symdefined elements of the first simile and bolism. They are the formulas of philoso87 J. Riddell, The Apology of Plato (Oxford, 1867), phy which explain the invisible through p. 196. I have substituted a ternary structure in place its appropriate visible. They are repetiof the "binary structure," though I have retained his exact phrasing. tions, which occur again and again in the 88 Cf. W. H. Palmer, "The Use of Anaphora in the language of Plato; here they are concenAmplification of General Truth," TAPA, Vol. XLV trated in their application. By studying (1914), Abstracts, I: "But as the underlying purpose of the amplification is to hold the attention of the listenPlato's technique in the use of these forer on a certain thought for some length of time, it may not only take the form of an analysis into a number of mulas, noting where they are used alone partitive representations of this general thought, as is and where they are co-ordinated, we shall normally the case, but again it may consist of a number of practically synonymous expressions, which regain clarity of interpretation. iterate the general thought by stating it in several The essential function of the three symdifferent ways" (cf. Aristotle Rhetoric 1412 a 4: rar:Ta bolic formulas is economy in definition; lAeragop&s). 68 rpoaji/e 8La rTS KarT &vaXo'yia~v





they are abbreviations of thought, plastic for purposes of transposition, and are cognates in meaning, being what Aristotle calls 6Aoiowsx'ovra 7rpoS a&XX,Xa.89 Figure 1 illustrates the three symbolic formulas of light and darkness, up and down, original

Sun. Light and darkness are reinterpreted in terms of up and down and of original and image, which are cognate symbolic formulas. Starting from the first simile, light and darkness are expanded through their cognate notions of up and down, b

a2I[ Light or Original Darkness


IID Image [fl Up and down FIG. 1

FIG. 2 I. Simileof SunA=Light=vo0rT6s TOr6OS B = Darkness = paTr6sr6ros

II. Simileof LineA =Light=voTr6OS T6OroS B=Darkness = par6s Tr67rO C-D=Movement upward in Divided Line a=Original in votrds r6oroS s= Image in voirT TOrTOS a= Original in dpar6s r6ros 8=Image in