Glaucon (Greek: Γλαύκων) (born circa 445 BC) son of Ariston, was the
philosopher Plato's older brother. He is primarily known as a major conversant with Socratesin the "Republic", and the questioner during the Allegory of the Cave. He is also referenced briefly in the beginnings of two dialogues of Plato: "Parmenides" and the "Symposium".
Glaucon was the older brother of Plato and like his brother was amongst the inner circle of Socrates’ young affluent students. Although little is known about his life, some information can be extrapolated from his brother’s writings and from later Platonic biographers.
He was born in
Collytus[Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato. Translated by C.D. Yonge] , just outside of Athensmost likely before the year 445 BC (as he was old enough to serve in the Athenian army during the Battle of Megara in 424 BC).
His father was Ariston and his mother was
Perictione. According to Diogenes Laertius’ "Life of Plato", Plato and Glaucon had a sister named Petone, and a brother named Adeimantus[Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato. Translated by C.D. Yonge] . In the dialogue "Parmenides", a half-brother named Antiphon is also referenced.
According to the
OxfordGreek Dictionarythe name “Glaucon” is derived from the adjective"glaukommatos" (γλαυκόμματος) meaning “bright-eyed”, “owl-eyed”, or “grey-eyed” [Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, entry "γλαυκόμματος"] . This is generally considered to be a devotion to Athena, the goddessof wisdomand namesakeand guardian deityof the city of Athens. It is not clear whether “Glaucon” was a name given at birth, an epithetfor adoration of the goddess, or a nickname given for “looking for wisdom”. The use of epithets was not uncommon: for example, Plato’s birth name was Aristocles, but he was called the “wide” ("platon") due either to his physical build or the breadth of his virtues.
Glaucon and at least one of his brothers fought against the Megarians in the
Battle of Megarawhere the Athenians were defeated in 424 BC. This was during the heights of the Peloponnesian Waragainst Spartaand their allies. The brothers are commended for their “godlike” virtues in battle and for the famed strength of the bloodline by Socrates in the "Republic" [Plato, "The Republic" 368a.] .
It is not clear what Glaucon did for a living (if anything, as theirs was an aristocratic family), however, Socrates does say that Glaucon is a musician and thus can correctly answer questions about musical theory and harmonic proportion [Ibid., 398e] . This may also imply that like many Athenians at the time, Plato included, Glaucon studied the musical and mathematical theories of
Pythagorasat some point.
Information on Glaucon’s life after the death of Socrates is unknown. As Plato’s dialogues of Socrates do not refer to Glaucon’s passing, he most likely died in or around Athens sometime after Socrates’ death in 399 BC.
In Plato’s Dialogues
Glaucon is featured in several of Plato's dialogues (e.g., "Parmenides", "Republic" and "Symposium") and is widely considered to be one of Socrates' more sophisticated interlocutors (note: this assertion may be a factual error - see Discussion page for specific remarks). Like fellow vulgarian
Aristophanes, he often provided comic relief, but with an astute populist perspective that the patricianplaywright lacked.
Glaucon is referenced briefly in the opening lines of this dialogue, along with his brother Adeimantus. They are visiting the
"agora"of Athens, when they greet Cephalus, who is searching for their half-brother Antiphonbecause he supposedly has memorized the famous conversation between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenidesyears before [Plato, "Parmenides" 126a-c ] .
In the prologue of this dialogue,
Apollodorusis speaking to Glaucon on the road to Athens about the drinking party (i.e. the Symposium) a few days before in which Socrates and his fellows championed human and divine Love. Glaucon says that he was not in attendance that day, and the two talk about the event in order to “pass the time” on their way to Athens. [Plato, "Symposium" 172b]
In the "Republic"
The dialogue begins as Socrates, Glaucon, and several others are on their way to make devotions to Athena [Plato, "The Republic" 327a-d] (note: this assertion is an error of fact - see Discussion page for more information). As the conversation ensues, the nature of
Justiceis being discussed, and Socrates questions Glaucon on his opinions [Ibid. 347a-e. ] . Glaucon opposes the statement of Thrasymachuswho says it is more profitable for a ruler to be unjust rather than fair and virtuous.
Glaucon goes on to tell Socrates that he is willing to “lend a hand” in “building” (by philosophical discussion) a city where justice and injustice are in their proper places [Ibid. 427e] . For the majority of the remaining discourse, Glaucon will act as a philosophical
foilto Socrates. As Socratic methodrequires both a questioner and one questioned to move forward, Glaucon, who is the most honest about his ignorance amongst the friends, will help “build” the ideal philosophical city by engaging Socrates without fighting his ideas.
Socrates questions Glaucon about
animal husbandry, as related to the breeding of just individuals. It is mentioned that Glaucon is particularly knowledgeable in this topic as “you have in your house a number of hunting dogs and a number of pedigreed cocks.” [Ibid. 459a] Further along, Socrates mentions that Glaucon is a great lover of finery, and this leads to their conversation about the attributes and limitations of human love for beauty. [Ibid.474 c-e]
Glaucon continuously asks Socrates to describe in detail various topics of discussion, such as: the rearing and education of the Just City’s “Guardian Class” [Ibid. 450a-b] , the nature of beauty and ugliness [Ibid. 506d] , the qualities of the most evil type of man [Ibid. 576b-c] , and the subjects of thought in the immortal mind of
Zeus[Ibid. 608b-d] .
The most famous discourse between Glaucon and Socrates is the
Allegory of the Cavein the beginning of Book 7. Glaucon has become completely receptive to Socrates by this point in the dialogue, and simply agrees to each of the increasingly unusual situations in the story.
Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato". "Translated by [http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlplato.htm C.D. Yonge] ".
Perseus Project: [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Rep.+toc Paul Shorey's (1935) translation. Annotated and hyperlinked text (English and Greek)]
**At Libertyfund.org: [http://oll.libertyfund.org/Home3/HTML.php?recordID=0345 Benjamin Jowett's final (1892) translation] (with running comments & Stephanus numbers)
Project Gutenberg: Benjamin Jowett's translation (with Introduction): [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1497 e-text]
Plato, "Plato: The Collected Dialogues including the Letters", edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Pantheon Books, 1961.
*“Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary”
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