“…of course they must have a relish-salt, and olives, and cheese, and they will boil roots and herbs such as country people prepare; for a dessert we shall give them figs, and peas, and beans; and they will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.”
- Plato, The Republic
The classical Greek philosopher Socrates (469 BC–399 BC) did not write his own philosophical texts. Our knowledge his life and philosophy is given to us through records made by his students and contemporaries: the most notable come from Plato (424 BC – 347 BC) and Xenophon, his pupils (this, of course, complicates the matter of knowing if we’re reading Socrates’ philosophies or his student’s idealized versions). Plato’s Republic grapples with issues of justice, injustice, the ideal city-state, the soul, and the nature of forms. It is presented as a dialog between Socrates, Glaucon (Plato’s half-brother), Thrasymachus (a ‘Sophist’), and a host of other minor figures. In “Book II” of the Republic, Socrates’ puts forth his conception of the ideal republic; Glaucon and Adeimantus challenge his configuration, leading to the design of the city-state discussed throughout the rest of the Republic.
In his first model of the ideal republic, Socrates begins with the premise that the State arises “out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants… and many persons are needed to supply them.” The citizens work as farmers, carpenters, shepherds, and merchants, but the city has no need for soldiers or guardians: having met the basic needs of its people, the city embodies justice. This conception of justice undermines Glaucon’s early claim that humans are inherently rapacious and competitive individuals. Socrates presents justice as based in our nature, rather than “the artificial outcome of an arbitrary contract.”
Glaucon argues that because the first city lacks any luxuries, it is better fit for pigs than people. Socrates submits to Glaucon’s claim, and formulates a “State with fever heat,” full of “dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes,” and inhabited by musicians, artists, actors and poets. The members of this city eat meat and drink heartily, thus, they need more land to raise their cattle and doctors to address their health concerns: competition and professionalization develop. For Glaucon, this demonstrates that justice is a contract made necessary by competition: “people value [justice] not because it is a good but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity.”
While it may seem as though Glaucon has bested Socrates in this discussion, Socrates has set up an important basis for his theory of the tripartite soul, that is, the soul made up of three parts: the appetitive, the rational, and the spirited. The luxurious city provides the “irrational appetite” of the soul with objects to desire; the rational part of the soul resists those objects. The spirited part of the soul is responsible for the anger that is felt when the appetite is indulged: essentially, reason and spirit govern the appetite. Desire for luxury allows for balance, and the balanced soul rejects acts of injustice (e.g. robbery, betrayal, adultery, and impiety). Hence, justice is in our nature: it is grounded in the health and perfection of soul.
Or at least, I think that’s what the Republic is getting at: I’m no classical Greek scholar. Furthermore, even though I’ve used the pea reference for this week’s post, peas don’t show up in many translations of Plato’s text: in many versions the “pea” is a chickpea, in some versions it’s a bean, and sometimes it doesn’t show up at all. For my purposes, the pea is a pea, and it’s not just any pea: it’s a wasabi pea. Okay, so there’s no way that Plato’s pea was a wasabi pea, but I have been obsessed with the idea of mixing wasabi and chocolate for a while now, and given that there aren’t too many peas in literature (at least to my knowledge), I’m opting to take liberties with the text.
Wasabi is Japanese horseradish. The root of the wasabi plant is grated into dishes or made into a paste. Wasabi is SPICY; when eating wasabi, most people feel a burning sensation in their nose, rather than in their mouth or the back of their throat (the kind of burn associated with chilies). I used this chocolate shortbread cookie recipe as a base, added a heaping teaspoon of wasabi paste to the batter, dipped the baked cookies into melted bittersweet chocolate, and then dusted the flowers with crushed wasabi peas. I’m not going to lie: these were pretty darn good, primarily because that shortbread recipe is amazing on its own. I would definitely make the wasabi version again but amp up the wasabi by another teaspoon and find a way to work it into the chocolate dip, too. This batch was justbarely spicy: my nose wasn’t tingling, and what fun is wasabi anything without the nose tingle?
Healthy appetite? Check. Healthy spirit? *Cough* Check. Healthy sense of reason? Hmm…
I’m gonna go steal the last cookie.