Plato's homeric dialogue: Homeric quotation, paraphrase, and allusion in the “Republic”

Patrick Gerald Lake, Fordham University


In the Republic, Plato engages in a meta-dialogue with Homer, one that overlays the dramatic one between Socrates and his interlocutors. To carry out this dialogue, Plato cites Homer frequently. This study identifies 93 citations of the poet, the most complete and accurate catalogue of these citations to date. It is also the first study to examine these citations as a whole, both at a textual and interpretive level. Plato quotes Homer in the Republic with considerable textual accuracy. His text is about 95 percent in accord with our text – a finding with important implications for the Homeric Problem. Most of the textual infidelities in Plato’s Homer are innocuous, though some are not. Some misquotations alter or eliminate a word or phrase in Homer for the purpose of parody or censorship. The vast majority of Plato’s misquotations of Homer, however, do not have a textual basis. In order to turn Homer’s poetry into an effective educational tool, Plato “philosophically revises” it: he misrepresents and misinterprets it; he takes Homer’s words out of their poetic context and incorporates them into a new philosophical one in order to make them consistent with his own philosophical aims, arguments, and values. In this way, Plato strikes a beneficial harmony between philosophy and poetry, like that which exists in a just soul or polis between reason, emotion, and appetite. In the Republic, Plato criticizes not only the content and style of Homer, but also his contemporaries’ reception of the poet. Unlike those who uncritically accept Homer as an authority on all matters, Plato engages in an active dialogue with him and shows how dangerous or inconsistent views can easily be extracted from his poetry. He also imitates and thus parodies certain professionals’ misuse of Homer: like the bards, he recites and interprets Homer; like the allegorists, he finds “deeper meanings” in Homer; and like the rhetoricians and Sophists, he misappropriates Homer’s authority for his own ends. Yet his own false mimesis or misrepresentation of Homer is noble, according to Plato, as it aims toward the Good rather than just what is pleasurable, expedient, or persuasive.

Subject Area

Ancient languages|Classical studies|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Lake, Patrick Gerald, "Plato's homeric dialogue: Homeric quotation, paraphrase, and allusion in the “Republic”" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3474142.