Dionysius I and Sicilian theatrical traditions in Platos Republic: Representing continuities between democracy and tyranny

S Sara Monoson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


In the Republic Books 8 and 9 Socrates addresses the implications of the philosophical arguments developed earlier in the dialogue for the assessment of familiar regimes. At the center of this part of the Republic is the critique of tyranny. Socrates argues that tyrannical rule is, contrary to common understanding, inevitably brutal and that the inner life of a tyrant is necessarily miserable. There is no room in his account for the notion of a benevolent or happy tyrant. His arguments challenge his readers to be alert citizens, not easy marks for a would-be tyrant's duplicitous propaganda, and urge them to develop their capacities to resist their own inner tendencies to desire great power and, however secretly, envy the tyrant. To convey these points Socrates presents a theoretically driven model of a tyrant's political and inner rule that features winged drones and wolves. Though it is not a historical portrait of any tyrant in particular, allusions to recognizable empirical examples enliven the account, giving it an added layer of fascination. Specifically, the portrait of tyranny in the Republic appears to be based on the rule of Dionysius I of Syracuse. In this essay I review the usual evidence cited to support this identification, introduce considerably more, and argue for its substantial theoretical significance. In particular, I argue that this identification is a central part of Plato's presentation of a key theme in his political thought – the continuities between tyranny and democracy. In addition, I find that patterned allusions to Sicilian theatrical traditions and to Dionysius I's ambitions as a dramatist figure importantly in Plato's critique of dramatic poetry, including its eviction from the ideal city. I also find that recognizing the importance of Sicily in Plato's imaginary reveals new layers of meaning in the dramatic setting of the Republic. Finally, I review supporting evidence for this reading from the Gorgias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTheater Outside Athens
Subtitle of host publicationDrama in Greek Sicily and South Italy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139032377
ISBN (Print)9780521761789
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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