The name Plato should not be strange to any student of philosophy as it is known and revered worldwide. Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived many centuries ago and was taught by the famous Socrates. He opened the world’s first institution of learning, located in Athens, which was known as The Academy. It was in this school that he expounded on the techniques and lessons he learned from Socrates. The Academy trained and played host to various students among which was Aristotle, the greatest and most influential student of them all. Furthermore, it was with the help of Aristotle and Socrates that Plato started his teachings which formed the groundwork on which western philosophy and science are built. Plato is also widely regarded as one of the founders of spirituality and western religion.
In ancient Greece, myths were often used in oral poetry to pass on a message to the intended recipients. The reason for this was that myths had a reputation for elevating an ordinary poem to a memorable one. Plato, seeing the usefulness of myths, made a decision to capitalize on the traditions of his day. Thus, he decided to use myths in expressing most of his philosophical ideals and beliefs. However, there was a significant difference between the traditionally accepted myths in Greece and Plato’s version of myths. While the ancient Greek’s myths were true stories, Plato’s myths were a mixture of both accurate reports and stories that he made up.
Some of Plato’s most popular myths that are intertwined with his ideas and philosophy include the following:
- The myth of the Noble Lie
- The myths of the Gorgias
- The Phaedo
- The Republic
- Laws 10
- The central myths of the Phaedrus
- The central myths of the Statesman
- The myth of Phaethon
- Allegory of the cave
Anyway, this article is not here to discuss the moral implications of Plato’s decision to make use of false myths in teaching his students. Rather, we bring to your knowledge some things you should know about Plato’s myths:
It was used to express the truth
Plato employed the use of myth when he felt the need to disseminate hard truths to his students and followers. He believed that his myths contained facts which could wreak havoc on the beliefs of his students. Besides, these hard realities could make it more difficult for them to accept his message. Therefore, he concealed his idea in myths that could only be revealed to a student who reflects deeply on them. For instance, while he was in Timaeus, Plato made use of the myth of Phaethon, son of the Sun-god, to conceal a truth involving cataclysms. His most celebrated work, The Republic, has a section devoted to the allegory of the cave. This allegory seeks to compare the way we view the world to shadows that appear on the wall of a cave. In reality, the allegory of the cave and all the things that happened in the cave do not exist.
It was used as a parable
Plato delivered his myths in the form of a parable. His myths performed the same function as the parables used by Jesus. The parables were a way of revealing deeper truths about his philosophy in a manner that his students could easily understand. When studied on its own, most of Plato’s concepts and theories are pretty hard to comprehend. But with the use of myths, Plato broke down his ideas by using imageries and symbols his students could recognize. Also, Plato valued the process involved in searching for the meaning to his various myths. He believed it was an essential part needed to understand his philosophy.
It was used as a form of persuasion
Plato used his myths as a persuasion tool for persons that were wary of philosophers and their ideas. In Plato’s day, there were citizens of his state that had no use for him and his beliefs. These people were reluctant to employ the instruments of arguments and logic in their thinking and way of life. In a bid to win them over to his side, Plato devised the use of myths as a persuasion tool. The myths, some of which were true instilled a form of belief into his opponents.
For instance, in the myth of Phaedo, Plato sought to know the fate of the human soul after death. The meaning behind the myth indicated that the soul becomes immortal after death. This explanation impressed upon his followers the claims of justice in the after-life. As a result, it motivated his students to work on their souls to ensure that the justice in the after-life is favorable to them.
Another example of this persuasion tool is the myths collectively known as the Noble Lie. The lessons gotten from it encouraged his students to believe in noble things like having a love for their city and promoting their town’s best interests. From the examples, you can see that myth helped to persuade or encourage someone into changing some undesirable aspects of their life. It was viewed as the last resort when arguments or philosophy fails.
It was a teaching tool
Plato was first a teacher before being a philosopher. Therefore, he formulated his myths to contain lessons that will aid him in teaching his students. In ancient Greece, the success of a philosopher was primarily based on the willingness of his students to follow his teachings. And students can only follow the teachings of their philosopher if his idea is presented in clear terms. Philosophy at that time was highly abstract, and Plato was aware of this fact. This reason was why he was ready to use every method necessary to ensure that his students understood his arguments and the meaning behind them. Therefore, even if his students failed to grasp the logic and arguments, the meaning would still not be lost on them.
Plato had every reason to avoid the use of myths in his works, but he saw how useful they were. Besides, he wanted to reach a much larger audience than other philosophers of his era. Through his myths, Plato was able to deliver the truth, conceal the true meaning of an idea, persuade his doubters and also influence his followers to adopt his model and way of living. Finally, his myths were successful in achieving most of the objectives he wanted.
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