2 : something that misleads or deceives
5 : possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals
The very thought of a noble lie is contradictory, yet Plato uses it as the basis for stability within his perfect republic. The concept that a lie so deeply ingrained in society will allow it to remain peaceful is generally thought to be unique to Plato. This is because Plato’s idea of the noble lie is one that is at the very root of society – one that is accepted as a truth. What makes Plato’s Noble Lie such a hallmark of knowledge is that it has never been tested, although the idea of it, presented by Socrates, makes perfect sense in the context of his republic. However, when the noble lie is translated to actual cities, or presented in a realistic way in literature, we see how it does not live up to its expectation.
To introduce a noble lie to the Iliad would require thinking as a Trojan or Achaean would: believing in the supreme-power of immortals and predetermined fate. For the two warring sides to achieve peace, a lie undermining the power the immortals hold over the mortals would need to be introduced. The core of the lie is actually quite simple:
Immortals are no more powerful than mortals.
This statement, blatantly untrue in the context of the Iliad, allows mortals to make choices for him or herself without being influenced by godly power. This would stop interaction between the mortals and immortals, and with it, the warring between mortals. Plato’s logic of the noble lie – that a city with it in place will live in harmony ...
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As Plato says, the lie is, “one that requires a great deal of persuasion” (414c). With this persuasion, the mortals of Achaea and Troy could learn to live in peace and without fear of godly intervention. The gods, as well, could learn to live in peace, because they would no longer see mortals as ‘toys’ to play with, causing some to rise up and strike pain in their immortal hearts.
Throughout the poem there are many chances for the noble lie to take root and allow peace to reign once again. Time after time it fails to take hold, and immortals attempt to influence mortals knowing full well they will abide by their whims because of their awesome power.
Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. Penguin Books: New York, 1990.
Plato. The Republic of Plato. Trans. Allan Bloom. Basic Books, 1968.
The Iliad’s Noble Lie 1
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