In a discussion with one of his interlocutors, Adeimantus, regarding guardians and education in the ideal city that they are hypothetically forming to determine the nature of justice, Socrates states:
For the young cannot distinguish what is allegorical from what is not. And the beliefs they absorb at that age are difficult to erase and tend to become unalterable. For these reasons, then, we should probably take the utmost care to ensure that the first stories they hear about virtue are the best ones for them to hear. (Republic, 378d)
In order to assure the greatest education of the city’s youth, Socrates suggests an almost complete reformation of certain aspects of Greek theology, specifically regarding the bad characteristics of gods, their changing of forms, telling of lies, and the afterlife. Because the aspects that are reformed can also be found in parts of the Hebrew Bible, Socrates would likewise find it necessary to reform its teachings and stories to fit into his and his interlocutors’ ideal city.
Socrates believes that the storytellers in the city must be supervised, and that they should only tell stories that will positively affect, rather than harm, the city’s youth. He asks, “Shall we carelessly allow our children to hear any old stories made up by just anyone, then?” (Republic, 377b). Socrates is especially critical of Homer, Hesiod, and other poets, who he claims create falsehoods without good features in their stories and poems. Just as television and movies can have an extremely large, generally negative impact on youth today, Socrates believed that poems and stories could also negatively affect the youth of his time. Socrates says, “But even if these [negative] stories were true, they should be passed over in silence…and not told so casually to the foolish and the young” (Republic, 378a). Socrates is concerned about which stories the youth are receiving during this especially important time of their development.
One such falsehood that Socrates believes Homer, Hesiod and other poets tell about the gods is concerning their negative characteristics. Because gods are considered truly good beings, Socrates argues, they must not do bad things and must be the cause of only good things. Socrates says, “No young person should hear it said that if he were to commit the worst crimes, he would be doing nothing amazing…[and] would only be doing the same as the first and greatest of gods” (Republic, 378b). Instead, Socrates proposes to indoctrinate the youth that “no citizen has ever hated another, and that it is impious to do so” (Republic, 378e). More appropriately, perhaps, Socrates could instead propose that because no gods have hated another, hatred is impious, as it would be nearly impossible for no citizen to hate another. One example that Socrates wants excluded from the education of youth is the warring of the gods found in Homer’s Iliad. Certainly, he would also exclude a specific scene from Book 14 of the Iliad,...