Ring of Gyges

The Ring of Gyges is a mythical magical artifact mentioned by the philosopher Plato in book 2 of his Republic (2.359a–2.360d). It granted its owner the power to become invisible at will. Through the story of the ring, Republic discusses whether a typical person would be moral if he did not have to fear the consequences of his actions.


The legend

According to the legend, Gyges of Lydia[1] was a shepherd in the service of King Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where Gyges was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, Gyges discovered that it was in fact a tomb with a bronze horse containing a corpse, larger than that of a man, who wore a golden ring, which Gyges pocketed. He discovered that the ring gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it. Gyges then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, Gyges used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself. King Croesus, famous for his wealth, was Gyges' descendant.

The role of the legend in Republic

In Republic, Plato puts the tale of the ring of Gyges in the mouth of Glaucon, who raises the issue as to whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered. Glaucon suggests that morality is only a social construction, the source of which is the desire to maintain one's reputation for virtue and honesty. Hence, if that sanction were removed, one's moral character would evaporate.

Glaucon posits:

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.
For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
— Plato's Republic, 360b-d (Jowett trans.)

Socrates, however, explains that justice does not derive solely from this social construct: the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has become morally bankrupt and suffered irreparable failings of character, while a man that chose willingly not to use it is at least at peace with himself.(Republic 10:612b)


The story has been cited as one of the sources to J. R. R. Tolkien's One Ring, especially to the behavior of Gollum, as bearer of the Ring and his misdeeds in his original village.[2]

H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man had as its basis a retelling of the tale of The Ring of Gyges.[3]

See also


  1. ^ In Republic book 10, Socrates refers to the ring as belonging to Gyges himself, not his ancestor, as Glaucon states in Book 2. For this reason, the story is simply called "The Ring of Gyges".
  2. ^ Philosophy Essay: Lord of the Rings
  3. ^ http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/57/holt57art.htm

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gyges — (griechisch Γύγης) war ein historisch belegter, zudem sagenumworbener König des kleinasiatischen Lydien, welches er vermutlich von 680 v. Chr. bis 644 v. Chr. regierte. Er gilt als Begründer der Mermnaden Dynastie, die fünf Generationen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gyges — can be: * A figure from Greek mythology, one of the Hecatonchires * King Gyges of Lydia In the second book of Plato s philosophical work The Republic , Socrates encounters a man named Glaucon who uses a mythological story to prove a point about… …   Wikipedia

  • Gyges of Lydia — Gyges (Γύγης) was the founder of the third or Mermnad dynasty of Lydian kings and reigned from 716 BC to 678 BC (or from c. 680 644 BCE [List of Kings of Lydia] ). He was succeeded by his son Ardys II.Authors throughout history have told… …   Wikipedia

  • GYGES —    a young shepherd of Lydia, who, according to classic legend, possessed a magic ring of gold by which he could render himself invisible; he repaired to the Court of Candaules, whose first minister he became, whose chamber he entered invisibly,… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Gyges — Gyges, 1) erster König von Lydien aus der Dynastie der Mermnaden, Sohn des Daskylos, ursprünglich Günstling des Königs Kandaules aus der Dynastie der Herakliden. Letzterer rühmte gegen G. die Reize seiner Gemahlin und verbarg ihn in deren… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Ring [1] — Ring (hierzu die Tafel »Ringe«), ein Reif, meist von edlem Metall, bisweilen auch von Eisen, Horn, Elfenbein etc., der, gewöhnlich an einem Finger getragen, zum Schmuck dient, oder auch eine symbolische Bedeutung, wie die einer Verbindlichkeit,… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Gyges — /juy jeez/, n. Gk. Myth. 1. Also, Gyes /juy eez/. one of the Hecatonchires. 2. a shepherd who found a ring making its wearer invisible. Invited by the king of Lydia secretly to view his beautiful wife naked, Gyges was incited by her to kill the… …   Universalium

  • Gyges — /juy jeez/, n. Gk. Myth. 1. Also, Gyes /juy eez/. one of the Hecatonchires. 2. a shepherd who found a ring making its wearer invisible. Invited by the king of Lydia secretly to view his beautiful wife naked, Gyges was incited by her to kill the… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Magic ring — A magic ring is a ring, usually a finger ring, that has magical properties. It appears frequently in fantasy and fairy tales. Magic rings are found in the folklore of every country where rings are worn,[1] and they endow the wearer with a variety …   Wikipedia

  • One Ring — The One Ring is a fictional artifact that appears as the central plot element in J. R. R. Tolkien s Middle earth fantasy novels. It is described in an earlier story, The Hobbit (1937), as a magic ring of invisibility. The sequel The Lord of the… …   Wikipedia

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