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Glaucon Before Lachesis

Mark Piper unveils the long-lost epilogue to Plato’s Republic.

And so I died, and found that in fact Socrates’ tale of Er was true. To my infinite relief, I was judged fit to go up to heaven with the sign of my deeds upon my chest. And when my time above had come to an end, I descended through the door in the heavens with my brother Adeimantus. Cephalus and Polemarchus and Cleitophon were also there, and many other just persons besides, all of us still dazzled by the fine and beautiful sights with which we had been graced. We were also joined by a forlorn band of souls covered with dust and dirt emerging from the door in the earth. Our two groups went to the meadow together, and there made camp.

I saw that there were some amongst the ragged whom I had known in life; Thrasymachus was one of them. We exchanged greetings, and told the tales of our journeys. As it had been described long ago by Socrates, so it was: those of us who traveled above had been rewarded tenfold for our good deeds in life, and those who had gone below had suffered tenfold.

The Three Fates
The Three Fates by Guilio Romano 1559. Lachesis is in the middle

We spent seven days in the meadow, and on the eighth we were made to travel again. On the fourth day of that journey we saw the great Column of Light; and on the fifth we came to the Light itself, indeed to its very center, where the great Spindle of Fate turns on the lap of Necessity. At once we were taken to the spinner of destinies, the disposer of lots, the Lady Lachesis.

The Speaker who arranged us before the Fate found us to be a quiet company, full of wonder and expectation. While we were in line the Speaker took a number of lots, and models of lives from the lap of Lachesis, then mounted a high pulpit, from where he spoke Lachesis’ message: “Ephemeral souls, this is the beginning of another cycle that will end in death. Your daemon [guiding spirit] will not be assigned to you by lot; you will choose him. Virtue knows no master; each will possess it to a greater or less degree, depending on whether he values or disdains it. The responsibility lies with the one who makes the choice; the god has none.”

The lots were then thrown amongst us, and models of lives were placed on the ground before us. Looking at my lot, I first saw, that a central aspect of my next life had already been determined: that I would be philosophical by nature. This surprised me, for this sort of determination had not been foretold. And it was not given to me to know whether the others had been similarly determined. Yet it gave me happiness, for I had long admired philosophers. But my joy was short-lived, for upon further inspection I found that I had received the very last place amongst all the assembled to choose a life; and though there were far more models of lives to be chosen than choosers, I despaired at my fortune, for I believed that the best lives would surely be taken before I could choose. Thrasymachus gave out a great groan, having received a similar lot. Adeimantus, who stood beside me, had also been given a late lot, though his good spirit remained. He spoke words of comfort to me: ‘‘Take heart, brother,’’ he said placatingly, ‘‘Good choices will remain. And consider this: our late lots give us all the more time to prepare ourselves for the great choice we have to make.’’ My inward lamentation was stilled, for I saw the wisdom in his words.

I settled into my memory, and sought to recollect the vision of the life I would be most wise to choose. I clearly recalled Socrates’ insistence that the life of justice makes for more happiness than the life of injustice. Yet I struggled to remember why he believed this to be the case, and how it would apply particularly to the philosophical nature I was fated to possess… I rose from the depths of reflection, dazzled by my memory of Socrates’ vision of justice, as I had earlier been dazzled by the memory of the fine and beautiful sights in heaven. Coming out of my trance, I looked about me, and found that the company of souls who had yet to choose their model of life had become considerably smaller. Besides myself, only Thrasymachus, Adeimantus, an old woman, and a lion remained.

From Adeimantus I learned of the choices of some of our old companions. Cleitophon had received one of the first lots. When his time came he quickly, and unwisely, chose the life of a successful but grasping merchant. He discovered, upon further inspection of his future life, that although he was to be rich, he was also to be friendless, spurned and envied by his associates. He mumbled that he had been tricked before shuffling bitterly towards Lachesis.

Cephalus had been the next of our old company to choose. He also hadn't examined the great array of models of lives for very long before placidly selecting the life of a draft horse. Inspection had shown him that he was to have a long, productive, and uneventful life of providing manual labor for a farmer in return for shelter and food. Cephalus had gone away at peace with his decision.

Polemarchus had only just recently made his choice. He had taken his time, considering as many models of lives as his patience would allow, before eventually choosing the life of a politician in a fledgling democracy. Adeimantus said that a confused look of anxiety and hope characterized his reaction to further inspection of his life-model, though he did not discover what occasioned it.

The old woman now made her choice – an owl.

Thrasymachus's turn had come. At once he gave out a great cry of triumph, and shouted ‘‘It's mine!’’ before running to the model of life he had been coveting: he was to be a famous tyrant destined to lead a long life of undisturbed power and debauchery, and to found a powerful religion. "The hell I have been through these past thousand years can suffocate on itself!" Thrasymachus shouted. "With this life I'll be able to outmaneuver them all!". He did not give the life he had chosen any further inspection. Striking an imperious posture, he made his choice and sealed his fate. He went forward to Lachesis and received his guardian daemon in silence, before proceeding on to the Plain of Forgetfulness.

Only Adeimantus and I remained. He embraced me and said, ‘‘Farewell, brother. Perhaps we shall meet again. May the Logos be with you!’’ and he stepped forward to examine the remaining lives. His deliberation was careful. After long pondering, he chose the life a warrior who was destined to lose one of his legs in battle, and afterwards become a well-respected architect.

And so the responsibility came to me. I was seized with trembling out of fear that I would choose wrongly, despite all that Socrates had taught me. I implored Lachesis to make the decision for me; but she, like the Forms, was radiant yet unmoving, and heeded me not at all.

At last I came forward and cast about for the most choiceworthy fate left. After long and painful searching, my choice was narrowed to two. On my left hand was the life of a relatively poor philosopher living in a stable and wealthy democracy and minding his own business. On my right hand was the life of a guard dog owned by the Captain of the Auxiliaries serving in a perfectly just polis. I had not forgotten that I was destined to be philosophical by nature; but I had also remembered that Socrates had said that guardian natures can themselves be philosophical, in a way, insofar as they can conceive of what is a friend and what is an enemy in terms of knowledge and ignorance.

I stood in indecision for I know not how long. When the blazing presence of Lachesis became too much for me to bear, I made my choice. And I chose the right one.

© Dr Mark Piper 2022

Mark Piper is Professor of Philosophy at James Madison University, Virginia.

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