Plato's Republic at
Comparing the Gnostic with the Original
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
Comparing Plato' Republic in the Nag Hammadi coptic to the Original Greek
|NHC 6.5 - Extract from Plato's Republic (Coptic)
||Plato's Republic - the Original Greek
Since we have come to this point in a discussion, let us again take up the first things that were said to us.
And we will find that he says, 'Good is he who has been done injustice completely. He is glorified justly.' Is not this how he was reproached?"
"This is certainly the fitting way!"
And I said, "Now then, we have spoken because he said that he who does injustice and he who does justice each has a force."
"He said, 'An image that has no likeness is the rationality of soul,' so that he who said these things will understand.
He [...] or not?
|[588a] And now that we have come to this point in the argument, [588b] let us take up again the statement with which we began and that has brought us to this pass.|
It was, I believe, averred that injustice is profitable to the completely unjust man who is reputed just. Was not that the proposition?”
“Let us, then, reason with its proponent now that we have agreed on the essential nature of injustice and just conduct.”
“How?” he said.
“By fashioning in our discourse a symbolic image of the soul, that the maintainer of that proposition may see precisely what it is that he was saying.”
[588c] “What sort of an image?” he said.
|Summary (1): Nothing substantial to report; looks essentially the same ...
We [...] is for me. But all [...] who told them [...] ruler, these now have become natural creatures - even Chimaera and Cerberus and all the rest that were mentioned. They all came down and they cast off forms and images. And they all became a single image.
It was said, 'Work now!'
|One of those natures that the ancient fables tell of,” said I, “as that of the Chimaera or Scylla or Cerberus, and the numerous other examples that are told of many forms grown together in one.”|
“Yes, they do tell of them.
|Summary (2): The monsters of Plato's ancient fables "have now become natural creatures", and are loose in the Republic presented in the Nag Hammadi version. Once they existed as many fabulous monsters in tales, but now they have become a single monster. Yes, they were the subject of tales in Plato. But in the Coptic these monsters (now a single monster) lived in the empire, and it was commanded to work in the empire. Things were grim.
Certainly it is a single image that became the image of a complex beast with many heads. Some days indeed it is like the image of a wild beast. Then it is able to cast off the first image. And all these hard and difficult forms emanate from it with effort, since these are formed now with arrogance.
And also all the rest that are like them are formed now through the word. For now it is a single image.
|“Mould, then, a single shape of a manifold and many-headed beast that has a ring of heads of tame and wild beasts and can change them and cause to spring forth from itself all such growths.|
[588d] “It is the task of a cunning artist,” he said, “but nevertheless, since speech is more plastic than wax and other such media, assume that it has been so fashioned.
|Summary (3)The theoretical allegory of a many-headed monster is fashioned in Plato's Republic. But in the Coptic republic a complex many-headed monster appeared as a single image. On some days, in the NHC Republic, the monster is out of control. The NHC monsters were created via the word, and through arrogance.
For the image of the lion is the one thing and the image of the man is another. [...] single [...] is the [...] of [...] join. And this [...] much more complex than the first. And the second is small."
"It has been formed."
“Then fashion one other form of a lion and one of a man and let the first be far the largest and the second second in size.|
That is easier,” he said, “and is done.
|Summary (4): much the same ...
"Now then, join them to each other and make them a single one - for they are three - so that they grow together, and all are in a single image outside of the image of the man just like him who is unable to see the things inside him.
But what is outside only is what he sees.
And it is apparent what creature his image is in and that he was formed in a human image.
|Join the three in one, then, so as in some sort to grow together.”|
“They are so united,” he said.
“Then mould about them outside the likeness of one, that of the man, so that to anyone who is unable [588e] to look within but who can see only the external sheath it appears to be one living creature, the man.”
“The sheath is made fast about him,” he said.
|Summary (5): much the same; man is a composite creature. See Plato's Allegory of the cave.
"And I spoke to him who said that there is profit in the doing of injustice for the man. He who does injustice truly does not profit nor does he benefit.
But what is profitable for him is this: that he cast down every image of the evil beast and trample them along with the images of the lion.
But the man is in weakness in this regard. And all the things that he does are weak. As a result he is drawn to the place where he spends time with them. [...]. And he [...] to him in[...]. But he brings about [...] enmity [...]. And with strife they devour each other among themselves.
Yes, all these things he said to everyone who praises the doing of injustice."
|“Let us, then say to the speaker who avers that it pays this man to be unjust,
and that to do justice is not for his advantage,|
that he is affirming nothing else than that it profits him to feast and make strong the multifarious beast and the lion and all that pertains to the lion,
[589a] but to starve the man and so enfeeble him that he can be pulled about whithersoever either of the others drag him, and not to familiarize or reconcile with one another the two creatures but suffer them to bite and fight and devour one another.”
“Yes,” he said, “that is precisely what the panegyrist of injustice will be found to say.
|Summary (6): It has been noted that But what is profitable for him is this: that he cast down every image of the evil beast and trample them along with the images of the lion. is a mistranslation of the original Plato.
"Then is it not profitable for him who speaks justly?"
"And if he does these things and speaks in them, within the man they take hold firmly.
Therefore especially he strives to take care of them and he nourishes them just like the farmer nourishes his produce daily. And the wild beasts keep it from growing."
“And on the other hand he who says that justice is the more profitable
affirms that all our actions and words should tend to give the man within us
[589b] complete domination over the entire man|
and make him take charge of the many-headed beast
--like a farmer who cherishes and trains the cultivated plants but checks the growth of the wild--and he will make an ally of the lion's nature, and caring for all the beasts alike will first make them friendly to one another and to himself, and so foster their growth.
|Summary (7): Plato describes the perfect farmer in the natural scene who (1) fosters the growth of cultivated plants, (2) checks the growth of the wild plants, (3) makes an ally of all the beasts by caring for them, (4) promoting friendship and (5) fostering growth. The coptic presents a stark and simpler reality. The Coptic describes a farmer who (1) is striving to take care of the farm on a daily basis, but (2) is unable to check the growth of the wild monster on a daily basis.
Translated by James Brashler, James M. Robinson, ed.,
Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. |
Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.
Prologue I.1. 327a—328b. Descent to the Piraeus I.2—I.5. 328b—331d. Cephalus. Justice of the Older Generation I.6—1.9. 331e—336a. Polemarchus. Justice of the Middle Generation I.10—1.24. 336b—354c. Thrasymachus. Justice of the Sophist Introduction II.1—II.10. 357a—369b. The Question: Is Justice Better than Injustice? Part I: Genesis and Order of the Polis II.11—II.16. 369b—376e. Genesis of the Polis II.1—III.18. 376e—412b. Education of the Guardians III.19—IV.5. 412b—427c. Constitution of the Polis IV.6—IV.I9. 427c—445e. Justice in the Polis Part II: Embodiment of the Idea V.1—V.16. 449a—471c. Somatic Unit of Polis and Hellenes V.17—VI.14. 471c—502c. Rule of the Philosophers VI.19—VII.5. 502c—521c. The Idea of the Agathon VII.6—VII.18. 521c—541b. Education of the Philosophers Part III: Decline of the Polis VIII.1—VIII.5. 543a—550c. Timocracy VIII.6—VIII.9. 550c—555b. Oligarchy VIII.10—VIII.13. 555b—562a. Democracy VIII.I4—IX-3. 562a—576b. Tyranny Conclusion IX.4—IX.13. 576b—592b Answer: Justice is Better than Injustice <<<============= NHC 6.5 extract Epilogue X.1—X.8. 595a—608b. Rejection of Mimetic Art X.9—X.11. 608c—612a. Immortality of the Soul X.12. 612a—613e. Rewards of Justice in Life X.13—X.16. 613e—631d. Judgment of the DeadThe entire work is directed at questions and answers related to the specification of the concept of justice, and the extract preserved in NHC 6.5 is located at the concluding sections of the work as shown above. In Books VII-X Plato criticises various forms of unjust government. It begins with the dismissal of timocracy, a sort of authoritarian regime, not unlike a military dictatorship. It dismisses oligarchy, the rule of a small band of wealthy people, who are themselves mercenaries.. Democratic government Plato presents as being susceptible to being ruled by unfit "sectarian" demagogues. Finally the worst regime is tyranny, where the whimsical desires of the ruler became law and there is no check upon arbitrariness.
The Many-Headed beast, The Lion and the Man as Parts of the Psyche (person)
|Parts of the Psyche
||Virtues (Excellences at)
||Parts of the polis (city-state)
||The Allegory of Symbiosis
||Truth, Goodness, Beauty
||Glory, honor, fame
||Possessing, Consuming, Enjoying
||Producer/ Consumer class
||The Many Headed Beast
P.71 Manuscript Tradition for Plato's Republic Oldest sources: 1) 0250: ? 2nd/3rd CE papyri fragments 2) 0895: oldest ms "B" copied by John the Calligrapher 895 CE *: fifty one Byzantine ms copied from the 9th century. 3) 1484: Latin translation Marsilius Ficinus 4) 1513: first printed edition in Greek * This is 1250 years after the lifetime of Plato. [FN:41] According to G. Pasquali (1952) "Plato is the classical author with the richest textual tradition after Homer. P.74 The text of Plato is generally sound. If we compare the critical apparatus on a random page of a modern edition of Plato and most other Greek authors, we will see that the text of Plato contains many fewer variants that significantly effect the sense. The text of our manuscripts is generally confirmed by the abundant testimonia in other ancient writers.  [FN:53] The quantity and distribution of the ancient testimonia for the Republic may be gathered from the seventy-two page index in Boter, Textual Tradition, 291-365. At 366-76, Boter gives a list of the authors cited.
It is suggested that what academics perceive as a "mistranslation" is in fact a purposeful rendition of Plato, adapted for the political reality of Greek philosophy during the rules of Constantine and Constantius II, from 324 to 360 CE.
The extract is "ineptly translated", according to Howard M Jackson,
and "hopelessly confused", "a distastrous failure", and
"a product of an intellectually unsophisticated person who has lost contact with a living philosophical tradition", according to James Brasher, who notes that "Plato's words have been distorted and misunderstood so badly that they are hardly recognisable.
~ Lion and Human in "Gospel of Thomas" Logion 7
Andrew Crislip, SBL 126/3 (2007)
p.414: Nag Hammadi Library - in Upper Egypt, near Nile 12 books (codices) with leaves from a 13th in jar (1945) Consistent of 57 Coptic tracts; "spurious gospels". But "none of the "gnostic christians" wrote/read Coptic." "The collection is not a single library, not uniformly heretical, nor even entirely christian." includes a poor trans of Plato's republic, and a pagan letter of "Eugnostos the Blessed" the letter was then given a christian preface and a conclusion and represented in another copy as the "wisdom" which Jesus revealed to his Apostles after his death. p.659 The libraries extract from Plato (mistranslated in Coptic) refers to the virtue of ... "casting down every image of the evil Beast and trampling on them, together with the image of the Lion. Monks were the supreme destroyers of pagan's religious art, the "image of the Beast and Lion". --- Pagans and Christians, in the Mediterranean World from the second century AD to the conversion of Constantine",
Drafted 3 March 2009
The "three natures of man" as expounded by those who write about this aspect of the text are also very much (in Plato) representative of the "three natures within the political state" - the "guardian class", "the military" and the "consumer/producer" class". The extract is from the concluding books of "The Republic" which concerns political tyranny, and its justice.
The extract is from the end of the republic. Is this coincidence? Is it coincidence that the Coptic author alters Plato to present a picture of an unbalanced political state, in which the monstrous side of humanity has been given the free roam of the empire? The Nag Hammadi books were buried for a good reason - to preserve them from the epoch - rather than have them destroyed. They are thus entitled to be viewed as "time capsules" however in order to so view them, we need a chronology. Fortunately, C14 provides one as the mid-fourth century.
The roots of "gnostic thought" IMO are non-christian. The assertion that there were "christian gnostics" is Eusebian. All the source documents appear either Coptic or Syriac and not Greek (as Eusebius informs us). I think that this happened as a result of the fourth century changed political state, when the Constantinian regime took control of the Greek literature, and the temples and the infrastructure of preservation, and communications. (It was a shut-down job).
The opposition to christianity (you can call them the "pagans" or the "gentiles" etc, were largely Hellenistic easterners - renown for their Plato and Pythagoras and "Secret Knowledge". The Jewis influence is small here. The people who were the gnostics at this time in the fourth century, shifted their literature preservation to the Coptic and Syriac at that time. Hence the distribution of the earliest extant manuscripts for non-canonical texts are all mainly either Coptic or Syriac. They needed to be preserved "out-of-town" and in the case of the NHC, hundreds of miles up the Nile away from Alexandria. In the case of the Syriac, in the deserts of Syria, where the resistance to christianity is purported to have supported Arius of Alexandria for example after Nicaea.
If I may make an analogy using Plato. The "Guardian Class" in the eastern Roman empire prior to Nicea had been drawn from the Hellenistic milieu associated with the massive temple networks, and the preservation of literature in Greek. Constantine put a stop to this at Nicaea and created another "Guardian Class" in the form of Nicean "christianity" and the Roman universal divine "church". The old "Guardian class" had at least three choices:
(2) Heretic? - They could become heretics (such as Arius and those who eventually followed him), or
(3) Leave Dodge - They could become desert dwellers (like Pachomius and the thousands who followed him after 324 CE in a mass exodus out of Alexandria and the eastern "newly christianised" empire.)
Why did the NHC authors present a purposefully corrupted version of Plato's Republic?
And what exactly are the differences and similarities between the two texts and
what do these differences and similarities actually tell us, if anything?
It is useful that a date of authorship is attributed to the coptic Plato text IMO. The C14 dating says mid-fourth century. As this is not a christian text, I hope that I will not have any problems when I assert that the Plato NHC 6.5 has probably not been tediously copied for centuries but was in fact authored close to the mid-fourth century (when we think via C14 the codices were published.) My ideas relate to the deliberate use of Plato's Republic by the gnostics to tell us story of oppression by a many-headed monster that got loose in the external world (in the republic) at that time in history. INJUSTICE
The original plato is balanced. It appears to be an allegory discussing self-control over disparate parts. The many headed monster is the lower nature of man, the lion is courage of the animal nature, and man is represented as "greater" but at the same time as part of the symbiosis of the entire mixture. (Man has his own inner natures to seek command over -- KNOW THYSELF)
The coptic version OTOH is (IMO) trying to tell us a story by omission and contrast with the original. If we accept the chronology of mid-fourth century then we know that land tax had tripled in living memory in the year 350 CE and that the chrysargon (poll tax) had also been implemented by Constantine (and continued under Constantius). Nag Hammadi was a remote refuge pioneered by Pachomius (another story and thread) for more than a generation.
The coptic appears to present an externalisation of Plato's allegory as if it had just now happened in the past tense. At the end, there is no symbiosis of the inner parts of the psychology of man, but a stark external reality where the men and the farmers are essentially at the mercy of wild beasts. Reading what Ammianus Marcellenus has to say about this epoch around the mid-fifth century is also mandatory stuff. The times were not good for the common people or the aristocracy. The highways were covered with galloping bishops. The NHC were published remotely during an epoch of malevolent despotism (political and social INJUSTICE) from the new christian emperors (Constantine and his son Constantius ... 312 to 360 CE). The authors of the NHC were gnostics: their "christian status" (if any) is yet to be understood. It is better just to examine the evidence.
Final point. This coptic Plato is derived from the 6th codex. All the tractates in the 6th codex are heavily pagan with the exception of the very first codex which has the strange name "The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles". Now we either have one codex which is a combination of one christian story and many pagan stories, or this TAOPATTA is not a "simple christian narrative" and the entire codex six is a gnostic work.