Virtue in the Republic and the Odyssey
In Plato’s Republic, the ideas of virtue are expressed in regards to the soul. Socrates says that the four main virtues—wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice—are found in different parts of the ideal city. Wisdom, courage, and moderation are easily defined, but justice is a bit more tricky. Wisdom is found in the guardians of the city, and they need to have wisdom in order to have the best judgement on how to protect the city. Courage is found in the auxiliaries, who are essentially the footsoldiers. They need courage because they are the one’s policing the city and protecting it: they are the ones involved in combat. Moderation is found amongst the civilians and lower class, because these people should live within their means. Moderation could also imply that there is a balance of wealth in the city, nobody is in poverty and nobody is filthy rich. This idea of balance leads to the last virtue, which is the most difficult one for Socrates to define. Justice is must be found throughout the city when there is a balance between the other virtues. “A city seemed to be just when each of the three classes of natures present in it minded its own business and, again, moderate courageous, and wise because of certain other affections and habits of these same classes.” Socrates continues by making the virtuosity of man analogous to that of a city. “Then it’s in this way, my friend, that we’ll claim that the single man—with these same forms in his soul—thanks to the same affections as those in the city, rightly lays claim to the same names.”
Odysseus, the main character from Homer’s Odyssey, is the quintessential figure of a hero in ancient Greek literature. As with all heroes, Odysseus has many virtues, but Homer’s idea of virtue is quite different from the outline of virtue in Plato’s Republic. The only Platonic virtue that Odysseus embodies is courage. He is a fearless man that is unshaken by any of the challenges thrown at him. As for the other virtues, Odysseus may be smart, but he is not wise, he has no idea what moderation is, and without a balance of the former three virtues, he cannot be just.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus demonstrates his incredibly unfazed courage.On the cyclops’ island, he is not afraid of the cyclops and stabs him right in the eye, while even further insulting the cyclops as he sailed away by shouting his name. It certainly took some cunningness to bail him and his men out of the cyclops’ cave, but it was his poor judgement and unwise decision that led his men there in the first place. Announcing his identity as Odysseus was another unwise decision, as there was no benefit in doing so except to satisfy his ego. At Circe’s place, Odysseus showed no fear and threatened to kill Circe. Once Circe won him over, however, Odysseus showed no moderation and stayed for years just eating food and wine.
Odysseus does, however, have the important traits of loyalty and faith, which are characteristics perhaps overlooked by Plato. His loyalty to his wife and some kept his drive to get home burning for so many years, and he gave up many opportunities to start new lives with other women (although sometimes it took him a while to leave these women). His faith in the gods gave him a big helping hand, and it paid off for him because he would’ve never made it home without their help It seems that Plato, as a philosopher, has a much more objective approach to what virtue is, while Homer, the poet, has a much more subjective idea of virtue.