The Republic

Significance of the "Myth of Er"

The so-called “Myth of Er” has long puzzled Plato’s readers. Socrates, whose teachings and conversations Plato chronicles, tells the story of Er, who journeyed to the afterlife and came to life again to tell his story. The tale is not found in any source except Plato and is obviously fictional. Earlier in The Republic, meanwhile, Socrates argues against telling stories that are untrue (377d), and even bans any falsely imitative writing from his imaginary republic (595a). Moreover, the philosophical system which he presents is based entirely upon reason, as made evident through his method of using deductive questioning to teach his students. Why, then, does Plato choose this clearly fantastic and apparently trivial tale to conclude his seminal work? Through examining the mythical nature of the tale and its purpose in The Republic, the true significance of the story of Er becomes clear, showing that this tale is the culmination of Plato’s work.

The very title “myth of Er” is a serious misnomer. The text of The Republic never refers to the account as a myth, but rather as a “story” or “tale.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a myth is “a traditional story concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural...

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