Original Sin

by Maria on February 3, 2016

The Just City story is triggered by an attempted rape. The god Apollo chases and tries to ‘mate with’, as he puts it, a nymph called Daphne. Nymph-chasing is one of his favourite hobbies. Daphne flees and prays to Artemis who turns her into a tree. Apollo cannot understand why Daphne would do this rather than be mated with by a god. As Apollo later points out, “Father’s big on rape”, swooping down on girls and carrying them off. Apollo likes the seduction and the chase; they’re on a continuum for him, and not binary states with consent as the switch that turns the light of passion on or off.

He goes to his sister, Athene, who explains the idea of consent. What Apollo terms ‘equal significance’ – of the volition of gods and mortals, and implicitly of men and women – is so novel and strange to him, that he decides to become mortal to try to understand. He joins Athene’s Just City as one of its founding children.

Plato’s thought experiment in the Republic becomes a real-life experiment on the conditions needed to live an excellent life. Hundreds of children are dropped on an island out of time and raised as the philosophers who will perfect the Just City when they grow up. Meanwhile, they are educated and subtly manipulated by a group of committed Platonists plucked from throughout human history.

But, as Jo Walton shows, this Just City neither escapes nor ever resolves its origin as a game predicated on overcoming the will of another. Rape is everywhere in this novel. There’s Apollo’s attempted rape just preceding the beginning, another about a quarter of the way through and, arguably, several hundred of them about a third of the way to the end. For a perfect society designed to create excellence, there’s an awful lot of rape in the Just City. If I were a pessimist, it would make me fear patriarchy is simply part of the human condition.

The other predicating condition for the Just City is slavery. Not only do the city’s founders buy children from slave markets around the ancient world, but the demand created for ten to eleven year olds causes some of the children’s families to be murdered and the children to be taken as slaves. Kebes, one of the stolen children, resolves never to fully submit to the excellence regime the city demands. It’s a pity his viewpoint isn’t featured more.

To avoid overt slavery in the Just City, Athene brings robots from the future to do the hard work. This allows the guardians to educate the children and for the female guardians to look after the thousands of babies the regime ultimately contrives. But eventually the robots become self-aware and get fed up of drudgery, and the humans have to accept that they rely on slaves. The sub-plot of the machines’ awakening to sullenness and its consequence for the economy of the city is very deft.

It is also very satisfying how Walton keeps threading the guardians’ shady decisions and deceptions through the novel. Some of the guardians try to gloss over or deny the Just City’s relationship with slavery, dismissing it as external to and not a necessary condition for the experiment. But slavery’s consequences keep coming back in the form of teenage recalcitrance, the withdrawal of labour and the threat of outright rebellion.
The system is corrupt from the inside out. Following the whims of the numerologists, the guardians impose a gamed class system on the children, and a programme of eugenics to boot. The moment the Guardians finesse the numbers to make the ‘right’ number of children gold and others silver and bronze, the principle of their judgement evaporates. But they fudge it and hope no one notices. And basically no one does.

Then there is the lot-drawing that decides who the children, now late teenagers, are required to have sex with (but only once every three months because Eros is unplatonic. Uh huh.). For reasons of the breeding programme, that, too, is secretly fixed.

Or there is the ongoing insistence of Cicero’s cadre of grumpy old men that women cannot be equal members of the Just City and cannot be debated with. The women – who Plato explicitly said can have philosophical souls – mostly shrug and let them get on with it. Everywhere you look in the Just City, un-excellent thinking is breaking out.

Before a major character is raped, she tries to argue her way out of it. She objects to being thought of by her rapist as one of ‘all women’, “a class of beings that are all the same”, that is to say, ‘a thing’. But the rapist is a rapist and he just wants what he wants. And anyway, she has come away from the city with him to discuss philosophy, so is obviously asking for it. He just knows she wants it, so there is nothing she can say to convince him she does not. She can’t get away, he says, so she might as well enjoy it. Afterwards, she can’t tell people because he’ll say she wanted it. Her word against his, as it always is, and his will carry the day, as it always does. Because who would choose to believe in such an awful every-day thing? And as so many women have done and will always do, she says nothing and withdraws from organisations or activities where she would see him. She doesn’t lash out at his bruised feelings at being ‘ignored’ by her. And she makes sure never to trust a man so innocently again.

(Funnily enough, his sorry-not-sorry present is a print of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat. It depicts an ahistorically ‘having it all’ Mary holding the infant Jesus while writing a book; the precise thing this character knows she can never do.)

For Maia, a natural intellectual who has escaped genteel poverty in Victorian England, the Just City is a life she dreamed of only for half a second. As a guardian, she has the responsibility to flesh out Plato’s slightly daft ideas with day-to-day wisdom to help her charges live a just life. The point of the guardians is to manage the city justly, but that is precisely what they fail to do. The Just City is built on godly injustice, joins to that the injustices peculiar to the guardians’ own epochs and cultures and, as Larkin would have it, ‘adds some extra, just for you.’

Like every cult, the Just City regulates access to women’s bodies, even while pretending to ignore them under ungendered kitons. The next generation is the goal. The kidnapped children are just the beginning of the epigenetic turn to perfection. Dining under Botticelli paintings and literally sitting at Socrates’ feet count for little when the teenaged heroine is forcibly impregnated – what can consent possibly mean when everyone you know says it is your duty? – and then has her baby taken away to be raised collectively. The inevitable result – profound depression and myriad ill health – is magicked away by Athene. At least for this one character, this one time. But the unshakeable Simmea truly believes the Just City is helping her to become her best self.

(The forced sex of the ‘one-day marriages’ is shown as sometimes equally excruciating for both young men and women. Apollo, in a rather pleasing not-quite-symmetry, has to muster every bit of willpower he can to perform terrible sex with a woman who detests him.)

Collectively, the guardians seem to have the same instrumental and affectless attitude to childbirth and child-rearing of George Lucas’ Revenge of the Sith. Or maybe it’s just Plato’s odd ideas about children that are so off-key. The Just City model denigrates parenting, farming it out to low-status workers so that the biological parents can achieve their individual excellence. This seems to promise much, taking away from the heroine the burden of domestic labour that, even in this paradise, would fall only to her. But it leaves her a shattered wreck, a broken mother who cannot mother, an individual with no path back to the uncomplicated excellence she enjoyed before childbirth.

Which prompts one of the questions at the heart of Plato’s Republic. It’s part-prescription for a virtuous city in which individuals can achieve their best selves and, from that, build the true Just City. In the novel The Just City, the Republic isn’t so much a conception of justice as one of excellence through self-actualisation. With teenagers. No wonder it all goes horribly wrong.

The Just City is built on and shot through with rape and slavery. Walton shows them as simply the gender and class-based instantiations of a deeper view of other humans as mere instruments. The trick is, here it’s not just the gods who think they can play with human lives.

Can you achieve a Just City if you systematically lie to and manipulate children, carry out eugenics projects on them and pretend that food comes for free? Of course not, and The Just City shows precisely why not, albeit with a true-believing protagonist at its heart.

Although The Just City is a refreshingly a-Christian take on Platonism, it nicely illustrates Augustine’s conception of original sin. Original sin means on the one hand simply the fallen human condition, and on the other the idea that the sins of the parents and grand-parents will be visited on the children. Is it possible to expunge? Yes, say so many political theorists, but only if you get rid of families.

Families are profoundly impervious to political philosophy. No wonder Plato wants rid of them. Whether it’s an agrarian peasant paring off slithers of common land for his son, or a Conservative politician sending her offspring to private school while slashing social spending, parents play the system to benefit their children and screw everyone else. The screwing everyone else part can be hard to see, buried as it nowadays is under great big buttery wodges of middle class guilt and the vinegary narcissism of attachment parenting. But it’s still there. If even mediumly well-off people were to do just a little less ‘for their family’, we’d be well on the way to tackling inequality. So I feel for Plato. I really do.

But people are more important than systems and ideas and what-if social experiments. Always have been, always will. Even the unphilosophical ones. Even the venal ones. Even the rapists. The Just City’s stolen children long to recreate the families they were stolen from, and Simmea may be destined to end up a highly philosophical nappy-changer. It’s messy and unsatisfying and the hurt done more insidious and harder to escape. But people must come before ideas. If the twentieth century didn’t already teach us that, The Just City just might.



Hindu Friend 02.03.16 at 6:53 pm

If the Ancients indestood this, what’s wrong with the repefugees in Germany, Sweden, etc.?


bob mcmanus 02.03.16 at 8:00 pm

I really liked this. I was reminded here of Huxley’s Brave New World, also based in part on compulsory sex and the elimination of families (though maybe retaining clans? not really, little intra-caste loyalty). Is the lesson that it is easier and less offensive to current tastes to design a society of sensual hedonists than one of ethical philosophers?


Neville Morley 02.03.16 at 8:25 pm

This is wonderful.

I had two immediate thoughts. One is really just a question about reading Walton: you suggest that the robots attain sentience and so become tired of drudgery, whereas I’d read them as always sentient and gradually becoming bored with what they’ve been set to do. Admittedly the latter reading implies a significant mistake on Athene’s part – but it wouldn’t be the first. The former raises the question of how this happens – does even a one-sided encounter with Socrates instil the philosophic spirit into dead circuitry?

The second is much broader, to do with utopian possibilities. It’s the classic C19 revolutionary problem (from Schiller’s Aesthetische Erziehung onwards): French Revolution suggests to many that political revolution can’t succeed without a prior transformation of humanity in social, cultural and emotional terms, so that they’re ready for a new form of society – but the need for such a transformation then becomes the basic argument against radical thought, on the basis of irreducible and eternal human traits that will, it is assumed, rebel against any change to the ‘natural’ conditions of present society. Does Walton go the whole way in rejecting utopian thought on the grounds of its incompatibility with human nature, the impossibility of avoiding slavery and patriarchy etc.? Or are there signs (most obviously with Simmea) that such a transformation of sensibility is indeed possible?


PJW 02.03.16 at 8:35 pm

So good. Makes me want to read her.


Lynne 02.03.16 at 9:00 pm

Maria, I haven’t read the books so can’t comment on them but on the issue of consent, I have to share this video (short) likening sex to tea, to explain the concept of consent.



geo 02.03.16 at 9:15 pm

OP: If even mediumly well-off people were to do just a little less ‘for their family’, we’d be well on the way to tackling inequality.

I agree with this suggestion in spirit, but it seems to me much fairer, and perhaps even politically more feasible, to take a lot of money away from the .1 percent — even if that means invading Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, and other tax havens — than to ask non-affluent people to spend a little less on their children.

(NB – If this comment is off-topic, please ignore.)


Janet 02.03.16 at 10:33 pm

Thanks for writing this.

One of the things that frustrates me about the narrative is that, although the guardians more or less ultimately agree that buying slave children was a bad choice for how to set things up, nobody (with a couple of exceptions) seems to question whether treating children as blank slates to be indoctrinated is in itself ethical. You could argue that all parenting is a form of indoctrination (I would disagree), but I think what happens in the Just City is fundamentally different. The children aren’t just being taught and molded, but forced to give up their belief systems, their religions, and in many cases their names and native languages. The guardians are convinced that this is justifiable, because their belief system is obviously superior, which of course is what “civilized” peoples that conquer “primitive” peoples always assume.

I, too, wanted Kebes’s viewpoint to be taken more seriously, and I’m troubled by the way that he ultimately becomes a Great Big Irredeemable Villain, because it seems like his whole perspective is being demonized. The other characters are always criticizing him for not trying to be his “best self” as they define it, and I don’t know whether we as readers are supposed to see this as an actual character flaw. All of the narrators and the other sympathetic characters seem to think so.

The only time the issue of cultural domination is raised is near the very end of The Philosopher Kings, when a minor character says, of the locals that the Lucians want to rescue, “What right have we to impose our ideas of art on them instead? Perhaps they have religions and philosophies that are equally valuable….What right have we to judge and to say what is better or worse?” This is the ONLY time this issue comes up.

This is a tangent, but I disagree with you that Ikaros’s gift of the book is the “sorry-not-sorry” moment. That’s one of two scenes in the books in which he seems to me to be genuinely remorseful (the other is the scene near the end, when Maia is reading Job to him). When he gives her the book, he’s showing that he understands her well enough to get her something that she will treasure. Also, one of the things they discuss just before he rapes her is Botticelli’s Madonnas, so it may even be a sort of “I wish I could go back and fix things” gesture. That’s my reading, anyway. And then (still my reading), the gift of the book doesn’t make everything all better, so he has a choice between a) admitting to himself that he raped her and b) acting like she’s making a big deal over nothing. Of course he chooses b.

No, the real “sorry-not-sorry” scene is the one in The Philosopher Kings, which I summarize thus:

Ikaros: Yeah, I did a bad thing to you more than 20 years ago, and now I want something from you, so I have to apologize. Oh, did I happen to startle you when you’re naked and wet? Anyway, I did a bad thing, but I’m not going to call it what it was. Here’s a bullshit explanation for my behavior. Hey, did you know your ex has been saying mean things about you to his new lover? Also, somebody made the mistake of telling me about Freud, whose ideas I will now use to explain to you why you are so emotionally stunted. Please say you forgive me.
Maia: [sighs] Okay, I guess I forgive you. [mutters “anything to get out of here”]
Ikaros: Great! Now both of us can pretend it never happened! Here’s what I want from you […]
Maia: Nope.
Ikaros: [laughs] That’s okay, I didn’t really want it anyway.


pnee 02.04.16 at 4:14 am

The kidnapped children are just the beginning of the epigenetic turn to perfection.

Sorry, but I don’t understand what an “epigenetic turn” is. Epigenetic is a highly technical term with no obvious (to me) metaphorical meaning.


Lydy Nickerson 02.04.16 at 4:20 pm

While most abused children do not grow up to be abusers, a large number of abusive adults were, in fact, abused as children. I see Kebes as one of these. I also think it important to note that Kebes was damaged before he ever came to the Just City. When Simmea first meets him, he kicks her because he is angry at being taken captive and cannot reach the people he is angry with, so he hurts the person closest to hand.

Over and over again, throughout the narrative, we see Kebes as refusing to accept that other people have equal significance. He is an example of someone who has a good ability to think and reason, who has skill and talent, but who can’t ever get past his own issues to see anyone else as real. His refusal to use Simmea’s preferred name, because he hates the way she was given it, is notable. His raping her is all of a piece, here. Kebes viewpoint is not a good critique of the Just City. He is angry, entitled, and selfish, and being exposed to the very very best that the Just City has to offer doesn’t fix that. Which is an indictment of the Just City, and also an indictment of Plato’s truly nutty idea that ten year olds are blank slates. I think it would have been interesting to see another one of the Children have a critique of the strange situation that they find themselves in, but the function of Kebes as a character is, I think, to not to show the damage the scheme did but to show how the scheme cannot, of itself, redeem.

Ikaros rape of Maia is fascinating. If a woman can’t say yes to sex, then she also cannot say no. I find it very interesting that Walton (and myself) can forgive Ikaros, but never Kebes. Ikaros is aware that Maia is a real person, with desires of her own. He screws up, and he’s embarrassed by it. He would very much like to pretend it hasn’t happened. But he does know she’s a person, with her own preferences and desires. He’s very bad at listening, very bad at dealing well with people whose understandings and desires are contrary to his own. Kebes, though, entirely projects his own feelings and desires on Simmea, up to and including denying her chosen identity and name.

The Just City is one of the most interesting and nuanced examinations of rape I’ve seen, and for that alone I would love it. But there’s so much else there, too. Gods, I love this book.


LizardBreath 02.04.16 at 5:12 pm

Something that I found puzzling about the books, in which rape is a definite theme, is how, and I’m not sure how to put this, nice, and sincerely deluded, all the rapists are — I’m not clear on what Walton was going for there. (And this sort of sounds as if I’m meaning to condemn her for being easy on them — I really don’t, I’m just feeling as if I’m not getting something.)

Apollo, in his initial attempted rape of Daphne, literally does not understand that she might be intending to genuinely object. All he needs to learn is that real non-consent is possible, and then he wouldn’t dream of disregarding it. Ikaros, by the end of the second book, seems to be pretty much in the same position: while he does rape Maia as she resists and objects, he’s written as genuinely failing to understand that she really does mean her objections and that she perceives what he’s done as hostile and injurious. It takes him longer to figure it out, but like Apollo, he just needed to learn the truth about some things he was sincerely mistaken about, and then he was a perfectly decent person who wouldn’t have done anything wrong if he’d known.

And Kebes seems to be in sort of the same position. Different in that he doesn’t seem to ultimately get his head straight, but the way the scene where he rapes Simmea is written, it seems clear to me that there is a sense in which he sincerely does not know or believe that she genuinely does not want to have sex with him.

These are the three big rapes in the books, right? So having them all be similar in this regard: genuine confusion/non-communication, even if the confusion is culpable (and other characters do perceive all three as culpable), rather than conscious, intentional disregard of the interests and desires of the woman being raped, seems like it has to be driving some kind of point. But I don’t get the point at all.

Did what Walton was doing there click for anyone else? I was puzzled.


Neville Morley 02.04.16 at 6:54 pm

@LizardBreath #9: yes, you’ve put your finger on something that had bothered me. One thought I had was ‘trolley problem’, in the sense that the moral issues are made less complex and hence less interesting if the villain is too unambiguously villainous – but then, why three more or less identical cases? Attempt at historical veracity, on basis that all three men would be conditioned by environment and upbringing not to worry about female consent? Metahistorical comment on fact that such things happen, again and again and again, regardless of whether one individual man/god comes to know better? Even commentary on way that Apollo’s attempted rape of Daphne is part of classical mythological template, aestheticised in Renaissance? Dunno.


Maria 02.04.16 at 6:55 pm

Hi everyone, thanks for the comments. I will respond – just on a deadline right now.


Janet 02.04.16 at 9:20 pm

@Lydy Nickerson “I think it would have been interesting to see another one of the Children have a critique of the strange situation that they find themselves in, but the function of Kebes as a character is, I think, to not to show the damage the scheme did but to show how the scheme cannot, of itself, redeem.”

I agree with this. In fact, I would go further and say that putting this critique in the mouth of the one character who is eventually proven to be evil beyond redemption, is tantamount to implying that it’s an invalid critique. Other people are troubled by the actions of the Masters to varying degrees, but not explicitly about their goals. We never hear anything directly from the people of Sokrates, or from the members of the Goodness Group other than Kebes. Aristomache seems to have become a religious fanatic, and Auge and Nikias never talk about their reasons for joining the Goodness Group or their rejection of the Just City.

Comments 9, 10, and 11: As to the whole issue of rape , I read the three “major” rapes (or in the case of Apollo, attempted rape) as being somewhat different. We see the story of Daphne from Apollo’s point of view, so his story, his attempt to understand and become better, is I think pretty clear and can be taken at face value. Kebes is a young, damaged, sexually inexperienced man. I don’t think he wants to hurt Simmea, but he ignores her as a person. His insistence that she belongs to him seems to horrify her more than the rape itself. I think, for him, it goes somewhat deeper than just a good guy gone wrong. As for Ikaros, he never comes across to me as a perfectly decent person. More below.

I think one thing that Jo Walton does well is to portray the different ways that individuals can react to being raped. For Maia, the effect is profound and long-lasting, but it doesn’t destroy her life. She’s angry and mistrustful, but not ashamed. She repeatedly affirms that her life in the Just City has been better and more fulfilling than the life she could have had in any other place or time, and when Ikaros apologizes for “destroying all her joy,” she says “I’ve had plenty of joy.” Simmea, even from the beginning, manages her experience and witness of rape like a philosopher. Of her experiences with the pirates, she concentrates on working things out: this happened to me, I have certain emotions as a result, how can I manage things so as to have a good sexual experience? I found her scene with Aeschines in the first Festival of Hera quite touching. We never find out much about Simmea’s reaction to the rape by Kebes, but we can infer a lot. I appreciate that both of these avoid some of the standard elements of the rape plot (despair, damaged goods, my life is ruined forever, self-harm, revenge…).

But then, some pieces of these plots fall into such well-worn grooves: concealment, accommodation, an effort not to make trouble, and particularly to conceal everything from the lover or husband lest he become violent. Much of The Philosopher Kings is devoted to Apollo’s quest for revenge, which he knows Simmea wouldn’t want him to take. So it devolves into a battle between two men.

I find the Maia/Ikaros story line extremely troubling, not because she forgives him, and not because he isn’t sufficiently punished (although I won’t lie: I would enjoy seeing him put in the stocks and publicly humiliated, since the thing that seems to worry him most is the idea of anybody else knowing what happened; maybe I will write a fanfic). The thing that frustrates me is that Ikaros’s verbal apology, halfway through The Philosopher Kings isn’t consistent with his earlier behavior or hers, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, and so what I thought was the fundamental problem, the thing that made him think he was in the right, is never really addressed.

Of course, it’s impossible to say what a fictional character is “really” thinking if we never get inside the character’s head, but my reading of the rape scene is that Ikaros knows very well that Maia’s resistance is sincere, but that he feels justified in overcoming it because a) he thinks her reasons for resisting were invalid (Christian morality), and b) because he knows she’s attracted to him, and because she responds physically. It’s possible that during the rape he thinks she’s merely “making a show of modest protest,” although I made myself reread the scene, and according her account she’s not only screaming and struggling, but crying, which is hard to fake. But even if that was his initial assumption, it seems ridiculous that he could persist in this belief given her behavior immediately afterward, her cutting off their friendship, and her later explicit statement that he had raped her.

After all, Maia is angry, and Ikaros knows it; clearly, she doesn’t react the way he expected her to. Maybe he doesn’t understand why she’s angry, but he makes no attempt to find out. He knows that she confided in Klio, and he could go to her at any time and say “Klio — wait, don’t slam the door in my face! — Maia is angry at me, and I don’t understand why. Would you please explain it to me?” But he doesn’t do this. He makes no attempt to understand what went wrong.

Maia writes that the personal sexual morality of the masters is never publicly discussed during the time the city is being constructed, but by the time Ikaros gets around to apologizing, he has been having sexual relationships with women from many different backgrounds and historical periods for 20+ years, and he’s had plenty of opportunity to learn about consent. Not only that, but he’s actively involved in the government of the City of Amazons, which we are told has made rape a capital crime; presumably that would include a thorough discussion of what constitutes rape! (As an aside, making rape a capital crime sounds hard line, but in fact it’s a good way to ensure that rape is rarely reported and even more rarely punished.)

So to summarize, it looks to me as though Ikaros has been actively avoiding trying to understand what happened between him and Maia for 20 years. He says that he values her and regrets the loss of her friendship, but it doesn’t seem to really matter to him until he needs her as an intellectual foil because all of his best debate partners have died. And the way he apologizes is so tone-deaf and manipulative. It’s not so much “I’m sorry” as “I want you to forgive me so I can feel better about myself.” Honestly, by the end of that scene I detested him even more than I had before.

It seems to me that the central issue is that historically, rape has not always been defined by consent, at least not in the way that we now understand it. Rape was a violation of a woman’s honor that could be “solved” by the rapist marrying his victim. It wasn’t rape if the woman exhibited any sexual response. I think that this, if anything, is the point of confusion with Ikaros: she responded physically, she “enjoyed” it, therefore tells himself that deep down she really wanted it.

But I also think that Ikaros is an arrogant, entitled, self-centered, irresponsible jerk. Maia tells us that he has many good qualities, but we see so little of them that I, at least, can’t forgive him.

However, if we agree that all three rape plots are essentially similar, in that all of them are based on ignorance and misunderstanding, rather than villainy, then I think any of Neville Morley’s suggestions (comment 11) are valid. It could also be an attempt to push back at the idea that there’s nothing we can do about rape, because rapists can’t be reformed, so the only thing to do is lock them up and throw away the key.


Neville Morley 02.04.16 at 9:45 pm

@Janet #13: yes, and yes; at least as far as I’m concerned, Kebes gets a somewhat raw deal as a character – in the first book he’s a human being, even if an angry and marginalised one, in the second he’s a monster who legitimises everything that gets done to him – and Ikaros gets a lot more of a free pass than one might expect. I think that we’re expected to take Maia’s word for it about his brilliance, and go from there; or, we’re all going to rush off and Google Pico della Mirandola the moment we read the name, and feel suitably impressed.


Sam Dodsworth 02.05.16 at 9:15 am

LizardBreath @10 having them all be similar in this regard: genuine confusion/non-communication, even if the confusion is culpable (and other characters do perceive all three as culpable), rather than conscious, intentional disregard of the interests and desires of the woman being raped, seems like it has to be driving some kind of point.

I offer this with some diffidence as I’ve not read the books, but this sounds a lot like an examination of rape culture. Could that be the point?


LizardBreath 02.05.16 at 5:52 pm

Probably, something like that? But I had trouble narrowing it down to anything more pointed.


clew 02.06.16 at 12:43 am

¿The strain between rape culture and philosophy, resolved by wayyyy too many men Not Knowing something because if they did they would have to (as philosophers) give up manhood (as seen by rape culture)?


praisegod barebones 02.07.16 at 6:40 pm

Janet @ 13:

‘the one character who is eventually proven to be evil beyond redemption’. I’m not sure I agree with this. He’s treacherous and a plagiarist, as well as a rapist. On the other hand, unlike any of the groups from the Just City, he and the people he leads are the one group to translate their Platonic education into a program of action for improving the lives of people from outside the Just City (and at least on my reading, successfully so.)

That being the case, I don’t think his critique of the Just City is undercut, either by the author, or in fact. (Even if it seems that way to Apollo and Arête, who are – I suggest – potentially unreliable narrators.)

I’m inclined to think that one theme of the book is that people are rarely all one thing. Simmea is, of course, and Pytheas almost (but being a God makes him a special case, and his vengeful treatment of Kebes, who gets flayed, undermines that): but I think that we’re supposed to think that Ikaros’ rape of Maia neither undermines nor is excused by what is genuinely excellent in him. Similarly with Kebes. (And maybe the idea that we’re not all one thing is also a critique of Plato.)

I’m also tempted to think that we might be expected to think similarly about the lives of another group of social experimenters, whose lives didn’t always live up to the best understanding of what their principles committed them to: namely the Founding Fathers. (What manner of government? A Republic, if you can keep it.) But perhaps that’s too derailing to follow up on here.


Janet 02.09.16 at 7:23 pm

I know the conversation has moved on, but I had a couple of thoughts in response to praisegod barebones @ 18.

I think we must disagree about Kebes. The way it reads to me is as a relentless piling up of evidence of Kebes violating personal and civic mores to the point that his own people want him dead in the most awful way possible: he’s a despot, a torturer, an oath-breaker, a violator of guest-frienship. The way the other leaders of the community immediately disavow him is striking. We’re led to assume that whatever virtues the Goodness Group have are traceable not to him, but to people like Aristomache and Auge.

I do wonder about the issue of unreliable narrators. On the one hand, there’s nothing to suggest deliberate falsification by any of the narrators. But nobody’s memory is perfect, and nobody sees things the exact same way as the people around them. I tend to think that the basic description of events is reliable, but the discussion of emotions and motives may not be.

In any case, I like your idea of the theme of people rarely being all one thing.

While reading The Philosopher Kings I spent a lot of time worrying how I was supposed to interpret things, because I felt like the author was taking things in directions that confounded me. Was I meant to accept a particular viewpoint or conclusion? Was I meant to sympathize with this character or that one, or both? I have belatedly decided that the only thing I am supposed to do with this text is debate it.

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