Gorgias Explains the Cave

Gorgian Cave

[Upon seeing the perplexed expression of his disciples, Gorgias continued.]

Now the cave, or den, is the world as it is, the ever-living Fire is power, the shadows are the visions that those with the power create, the chains are those ideas which would keep our minds subject to the conventions of mores and virtues and norms, the way upwards is the path of folly, and in the emptiness at the mouth of the cave are the virtues of the void.

He who pursues the virtues of the void journeys in vain; he is unwilling to descend into political assemblies and courts of law because his mind is still prisoner to the chains of fantastic ideals. He wishes to remain in the realm of those who have never in their lives understood the relation of the shadow to the substance.

Visions come in two ways; they are either that which is forced upon us or that which we force upon others. A man of sense will distinguish between them.

The man whose visions are foisted upon those of the prisoners we deem powerful, and pity the other.

There is a further lesson taught by this parable of ours. Some persons fancy that instruction is like giving eyes to the blind, but we say that the faculty of sight was always there, and that the soul only requires to be turned round towards the truth.

Other strengths are almost like bodily habits, and may be acquired in the same manner, but he who has true power is divine and is indestructible, returning either to bondage or to freedom according to the direction given.

Did you never observe how the mind of an intelligent man peers out of his eyes, and the more clearly he sees, the more greatness he achieves? This is because he is not bound in the way of others – he is free. He is such a person who has been cut away from those leaden weights of virtue which keep his eyes transfixed on the shadows, whose intelligence has been turned round. He has beheld the truth as clearly as he now discerns his meaner ends.

Then now comes the question: How shall such a man become their rulers; what way is there from weakness to power?

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