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This excerpt is from Book II, concerning Plato's reasoning for censoring a certain story of Hesiod's:

The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.

Is the sacrificing of the pig metaphorical or literal? Of what significance is the word Eleusinian? Who is the huge and unprocurable victim? What is the connection between the bolded portion with the rest of Plato's argument?

  • Who was the translator for the passage? It is perhaps not that important, but it provides some additional context for the question. – Frank Hubeny Jun 30 '18 at 22:49
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    Benjamin Jowett, c. 1856 – Judicaël Jun 30 '18 at 23:41
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    Here is some information on the Eleusinian mysteries from UPenn, see information about the pig on day 2. classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/hymns/index.php?page=eleusis – Gordon Jul 2 '18 at 0:39
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Plato would prefer to censor the story completely and eliminate it from circulation because it projects a morally incorrect image of the gods. However, he recognises that the story, so firmly entrenched in traditional religion, may need to be retained.

The sacrifice of a pig was standard at proceedings of the Eleusinian mysteries, which are not named explicitly in the text but aporreton ('secret') strongly suggests the Eleusinian mysteries and the reference to a pig clinches it. What the Gk text says is that if it is necessary to retain the story it should be related only under a pledge of secrecy and 'after sacrificing, not a pig, but some huge victim that would be extremely difficult to get [mega kai aporon thuma]' (378a). (Tr. combines Shorey and Lee.) This would ensure that very few indeed ever got to hear about it.

Your quotation from Jowett supports this reading but one suspects some humour on Plato's part since under the conditions prescribed the story would be unlikely to survive in traditional religion or anywhere else.

References

Paul Shorey, The Republic, Loeb tr., 1930, I, 377.

Desmond Lee, The Republic, Penguin, 2nd ed., 1974, 132.

James Adam, The Republic of Plato, CUP 1902, 2nd ed. 1965, ed. D.A. Rees, I, 112 fn.

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In this part of Book II, Plato is describing the early education of the Guardians. In Waterfield's translation, this passage appears in Chapter 4, "Primary Education for the Guardians". Plato, Republic (Oxford University Press 1994)

Shall we, then, casually allow our children to listen to any old stories, made up by just anyone, and to take into their minds views which, on the whole, contradict those we'll want them to have as adults? [p. 71, 377b]

No. And the primary defect in the old stories is

Using the written word to give a distorted image of the nature of the gods and heroes, just as a painter might produce a portrait which completely fails to capture the likeness of the original. [p. 72, 377e]

The quoted passage about Cronus is an example of a defective story. [p. 72, 378a]

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