Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ship of State

Conceive of something of this kind happening either on many ships or one. Though the shipowner surpasses everyone on board in height and strength, he is rather deaf and likewise somewhat shortsighted, and his knowledge of seamanship is pretty much on the same level.

The sailors are quarreling with one another about the piloting, each supposing he ought to pilot, although he has never learned the art and can’t produce his teacher or prove there was a time when he was learning it. Besides this, they claim it isn’t even teachable and are ready to cut to pieces the man who says it is teachable. And they are always crowded around the shipowner himself, begging and doing everything so that he’ll turn the rudder over to them. And sometimes, if they fail at persuasion and other men succeed at it, they either kill the others or throw them out of the ship.

Enchaining the noble shipowner with mandrake, drink, or something else, they rule the ship, using what’s in it; and drinking and feasting, they sail as such men would be thought likely to sail.

Besides this, they praise and call "skilled sailor," "pilot," and "knower of the ship’s business" the man who is clever at figuring out how they will get the rule, either by persuading or by forcing the shipowner, while the man who is not of this sort they blame as useless.

They don’t know that for the true pilot it is necessary to pay careful attention to year, seasons, heaven, stars, winds, and everything that’s proper to the art, if he is really going to be skilled at ruling a ship. And they don’t suppose it’s possible to acquire the art and practice of how one can get hold of the helm whether the others wish it or not, and at the same time to acquire the pilot’s skill.

So with such things happening on ships, don’t you believe that the true pilot will really be called a stargazer, a prater and useless to them by those who sail on ships run like this?

* * * *

[But] blame their uselessness on those who don’t use them and not on the [true pilots]. For it’s not natural that a pilot beg sailors to be ruled by him nor that the wise go to the doors of the rich. The man who invented that subtlety lied. The truth naturally is that it is necessary for a man who is sick, whether rich or poor, to go to the doors of doctors, and every man who needs to be ruled to the doors of the man who is able to rule, not for the ruler who is truly of any use to beg the ruled to be ruled. You’ll make no mistake in imagining the statesmen now ruling to be the sailors we were just now speaking of, and those who are said by them to be useless and gossipers about what’s above to be the true pilots.

The Republic of Plato, Book VI/488-89 (A. Bloom trans.)

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