Day Eighteen of the A-to-Z Challenge in April 2017. Let’s do this.
This year there’s no linky list or form to fill out to sign up. It might be too late to join at this point (unless you were double posting), but you can always cheer/comment on participants (and find awesome bloggers) at the A-to-Z’s official blog.
Now I should warn, that I didn’t stick to the common sense rule of writing short, pithy posts. Mine are long and bloated, but I’m having fun with it. And if you wanna skim, that’s absolutely cool with me!
Leave a comment down below with your blog so I can visit I’m thrilled to be making new friends. 🙂
As part of my Greek mythic figures, places, and things theme, my “R” post will talk the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s Republic.
As Shmoop will tell you, there’s nothing LOTR here…although there is the same madness circling the ring. For the same reason Frodo hesitates to destroy the ring, I imagine some people wouldn’t be rushing to vanquish the Ring of Gyges (if the jewelry and its powers existed).
The same reason the Gem of Amara is so important to vampires in Buffy. Or the invisibility cloak comes in handy in the Harry Potter series, or that same cloak is super handy with the soldier in the Grimm fairy tale, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”.
And there are a multitude of other references I’m sure…not the first time a powerful item has swayed our human minds.
Back to the Ring of Gyges. It’s referenced in Plato’s The Republic because the character, Glaucon, wonders if humans can be morally good outside the laws of civilization. Glaucon uses a “thought-experiment” to pose his question to Socrates.
Glaucon’s example is the tale of King Gyges, a historical Lydian king believed to have been ruling from the late 700s BCE to mid-600s BCE.
Which makes this story interesting…
Did this guy actually have this powerful ring?
Oh, yeah, and what IS this ring?
The Ring of Gyges supposedly granted invisibility to its wearer. Though I’m not sure if Sauron’s eye followed you, or if the worst you had to fear was your finger turning green…
None of which Gyges worried about, because he took the ring off a corpse.
Yeah, you read that right. Dude was a grave robber.
Gyges the Grave Robber:
But he was really a shepherd before that, governed by the then ruler of Lydia when an earthquake and a ferocious thunderstorm ripped open the Earth near where Gyges was tending his flock. Curious, Gyges the shepherd went to investigate. Inside the hole he found many “wonderful things” and also a large, hollow horse with “windows in the side”. Gyges peered in and saw a “larger than human” corpse with “nothing on but a gold ring on the hand”.
And I’m sure you pieced this together, but he takes the ring.
Now there’s a monthly meeting that all the shepherds of Lydia attend with each other, gathering reports to present to the king about the kingdom’s flocks. Guess wool was important here…
Anyways, while at this meeting, Gyges was twisting the ring around his finger. Whenever the collet was grasped in his palm, or turned inward, he became invisible to the party of shepherd as they wondered aloud where Gyges had went so suddenly. When he turned it outward, he was visible to them once again.
Suffice to say, Gyges spent the rest of the meeting not talking sheep and confirming what he came to suspect – the true power of the strange, gold ring.
The Power of the Ring:
With this new power, Gyges aimed for a loftier position than He Who Roamed With Sheep All Day. Eventually rising to become one of the King’s messengers (whatever that meant), Gyges seduced the King’s wife and together they plotted to kill the King. Doing that, Gyges seized the throne and Lydian empire.
The story ends there, but Glaucon goes on to ponder that “no one is just willingly but only under compulsion”. If there were “two such rings” and one was given to a just man and the other gifted to an unjust man, then the just man would become unjust as well. And even if he remained just, he would be “thought a miserable fool by any who perceived it”. A miserable fool because he would be dumb not to steal, is what he means.
And if this extremely just man got praise for not acting on his baser instincts, Glaucon surmises, then his neighbors would be deluding themselves by praising him – really fearing that they would be robbed themselves (so it’s the fear of karma that shuts their mouths).
It’s a bleak painting of humanity, but Plato’s argument is focused on “power gained without accountability” (source). No one challenged Gyges, and that’s the problem.*
Remember how Donald Trump boasted about the loyalty of his voters. He says, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay – it’s like incredible!” (That video is here.) Well, it’s that kind of power that’s dangerous.
What if our leaders, our bosses, our principals or deans, our law enforcement – heck, our parents, could gun us down without any fear of retaliation?
Funny thing, I’d usually answer the “what one superpower would you want to have?” question with invisibility, until I realized I could be shot – and it would be my crappy luck that a stray bullet hit me while I tried escaping with my invisibility cloak.
MORAL: Check yourself, every day.
My sources for this post:
*All quotes during my summary of Glaucon’s tale is taken from Great Dialogues of Plato: Complete Texts of The Republic… from publisher, Mentor (1956, 1984).
Check them out when you can.