In defense of Socrates’ City of Sows (370b7-372d3) : the pedagogical role of prefiguration in the Republic
Shannon Elaine Zander
May 8, 2019
Department or Program
There is a notable lacuna in Plato scholarship concerning Socrates’ first city, the City of Sows; scholars have long dismissed this city, calling it a “false start” or claiming that it “adds nothing” to the Republic. I argue that the City of Sows is a dramatic prefiguration of the Ideal City. The City of Sows contains key elements which are further developed in the Ideal City: the lack of specialization based upon gender, moderation, education, justice, specialization, and unity. Glaucon objects to the City of Sows to reconcile the city in speech with Athens. Plato has Socrates move on to the Luxurious City and the Ideal City for pedagogic purposes. Part of the pedagogy is not to educate by force. Plato depicts Glaucon’s criticism of Socrates to display how to handle an unreceptive interlocutor. Plato has Socrates repeat his ideas through prefiguration. Repetition allows for multiple instances of receptivity, and prefiguration allows for the use of attenuated versions of an idea to gauge the interlocutor’s receptivity. Socrates’ ultimate task is to teach Glaucon to desire Justice for himself, and Plato’s task, to teach his readers. The City of Sows is an instance of Socrates gauging his interlocutors’ receptivity to his teachings on justice; seeing that they are unreceptive initially, Socrates sets down a longer path.