HomeΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Bousiou Chaido - "A Temptation of a Psychoanalytic Interpretation on The Cave’s Myth"

Bousiou Chaido - "A Temptation of a Psychoanalytic Interpretation on The Cave’s Myth"


Bousiou Chaido

The seventh book of Plato’s Republic begins with a picture which, according to Socrates, represents the human nature in relation to the education and the lack of it.

It is the myth of the cave, a narration that could be characterized as "a psychic adventure", since it dramatizes what Sigmund Freud defines as regression during the psychoanalytic process. As we read the myth, we become viewers of a painful trip which, with its completion, leads to a revelation. This revelation confirms the attitude of S. Freud that "the poet and the philosopher were always the precursors of the science and the scientific psychology, as they turn to the unconscious, attend carefully its evolution and express it artistically".

Let’s read the myth:

In an underground cave, with a passage open to the daylight, there are men who have lived there since their childhood, with their legs and necks in fetters. Behind them, higher and in a long distance, a fire is burning and among the prisoners and the fire there is a track with a  wall built along it, like the parapets of the magicians.

Behind this wall, there are men passing along the track, carrying several manufactured objects and statues – effigies of human beings and animals overstepping the height as well.

Their shadows appear because of the firelight in the depth of the cave, which is prisoners’ only field of vision.

As they cannot move and are restricted to their natural vision, the imprisoned men consider that the voices of people who walk behind the wall are the voices of the shadows.

The cave world and everything that happens in it is taken for granted and there is no doubt that it is real.

Confined in the same position, the prisoners can only see shadows and they tend to believe that they are authentic objects. There is no possibility of movement, action and extension of the field of vision. There is no personal action at all. There is only vision, but this vision is nothing but passive observation, unquestioned acceptance of the sensible facts, ignorance and delusion. In the cave world there is an absolute uniformity. No prisoner distinguishes from the other, because noone has consciousness of their uniqueness.

There is not self-knowledge and there is lack of knowledge as far as the other human beings are concerned as well. The reason is obvious, since the prisoners cannot see anything else except their own shadows and the shadows of their fellow men.

Later, one of them finally manages to escape and ascends on the daylight world. So, he rises, turns his neck, walks, looks up toward the firelight and then at the objects which pass along the wall.

The passage from the shadow to the sensible is the first step at the beginning of a painful and tiring route to knowledge and truth.

The prisoner comes closer to the being (on) and to the objects that are more real. There is also someone near him, a man who guides him tactfully, discusses with him and asks him about all these things that he observes.

At this moment, the prisoner becomes perplexed (aporein) and he is unable to answer about what he can see. This commotion represents not only his spiritual confusion, but also the awareness of his ignorance. The prisoner must compare the sensible objects with their shadow and he has to decide which of the two elements is more real. The way to the world of the light includes many obstacles and pain.

When the platonic hero turns his eyes towards the fire’s place he feels pain and he is unable to see those objects of which the shadows could see before. Later on, when he stares at the exit of the cave, he suffers and his pain is enlarged as he comes closer to the intelligible world.

Automatically the prisoner reacts, defends himself. He insists on considering the shadows more real than the objects and he tries to come back to his initial situation.

What causes his resistance is paradoxically what urges him to come out of the cave. It is his perplexity (to aporein), that brings him in the hover between two opposite situations, that is, the present of the shadows’ world and the unknown future of a new world. The prisoner does not want to risk the safety of his delusion for a truth that does not guarantee, from the outset something better. The refusal of cave life and the beginning of a new march, which, until it is completed, leaves him defenceless, entails without doubt pain. This is of course a great psychical cost which he will try to avoid.

His resistance will gradually be reduced, when he starts to get used to the new situation. So, when he ascends on the world of sunlight, he will be gradually able to see the shadows of the ideas and their reflections on the water. Moreover, he can see the ideas themselves and the Good, which Plato calls "the Sun", the guardian of the visible world and the cause of everything.

Every step the prisoner makes changes the quality of this vision. The natural vision, which is equivalent with the perception of the senses, changes into an active sight movement, it becomes doubt when he looks at the fire and at the sensible objects. Later on, at the first level of the intelligible, is an attempt to conceive the ideas via his personal thinking.

At the end of his "journey", his vision has the meaning of revelation. The prisoner experiences the idea of the Good with his soul’s eyes. This is what Plato calls theasis.

But who is the man who releases the prisoner and what is the nature of his guidance?

Education, as Plato says, brings the most noble part of the psyche back to the view of the perfect idea. It also helps the psyche to turn from gignomenon to the being (on).

The platonic education is the dialectic, the art of dialogue, which disengages the man from the self-deception and the shadows delusion. Speech, counter-speech, communication with the other man, the expert.

The person who releases the prisoner is the teacher-philosopher. His the man who, via the question and answer method, turns the eye of his students’ souls to the ideas. The philosopher does not give him a prefixed knowledge. He just stands by him, helps him to defeat his inner resistance and dare that ascend which reveals him the forgotten vision of ideas that he has in his soul.

The ascend is tiring and painful, but when it ends, it compensates the hero for all the pain he suffered. When he looks at the Good he understands the substance of his existence and of his world. The revelation of the supreme idea of the intelligible world has as a result the total reformation of his life, the re-examination of his previous self-consideration and of the world’s consideration as well. Henceforth, the liberated prisoner is able to act according to his own values, since he is responsible for his decisions, he can resist to every external imposition. He is able to recognize that the shadows are not authentic and – when he returns to the cave – to fight against the beliefs and the idols.

The prisoner’s ascend to the world of the Sun constitutes a march which starts from a negative knowledge – that is the knowledge of "what is not" – to the self-knowledge and the knowledge of gignesthai.

The cave world depicts the persistence of the soul to the sensible objects, the whole domination of the senses and of the passionate part (epithymiticon) of the soul against the rational (logisticon). Sticking to the world of becoming provokes psychical confusion, disease (noson), as Plato says. On the other hand, theasis of beings brings the internal balance, that means the harmonization of the soul parts. It also brings the strengthening of the rational part, which henceforth chooses the most beneficial desires for each person.

For Plato, the request of self-knowledge is essential. Even if the king-philosopher, who will govern the ideal state won’t be found, every man separately will seek at least to regulate his own soul’s system of government.

Light-darkness, true-untrue, knowledge-ignorance, are the main motives on which the platonic cave is built.

A dark place, the cave is a grave, the truth’s prison in the chains of the sensible, as the body is sima – the psyche’s grave – which "pins" it o the delusion of the senses. The prisoner will gain his life and his liberty when he comes in the process of the philosophical death. In other words, he turns aside of the space and the present time and passes to another world. There, he will regain the forgotten knowledge of the ideas and the Good. Under the light of the truth, the cave changes automatically into a world of life, as the prisoner returns in order to live in it without yielding to the enchantment of the phainomenon any more.

The myth of the cave is nothing but the illustration or – even more – the dramatization of the platonic recollection (anamnesis) and of the dialectic’s role in the particular process.

At the moment that the prisoner turns his eyes towards the visible objects, the vision of the ideas "wakes up" in his soul faintly, confusedly.

The objects of the sensible world constitute the first, but decisive step in the approach of the intelligible. The sensible objects are imperfect reflections, incomplete depictions – like the symptom which represents the repressive – they are a bridge that connects fainesthai with einai and help the association to operate.

This is the connection of pictures, the sequence of images. In the world of the Sun, the prisoner achieves to distinct the shadows and the idols of the intelligible objects because of their relation to the sensible objects. The philosopher’s questions will help him to criticize the facts of the senses, to go over them, to look at the Ideas and at the Good. The prisoner does not know, but he recognizes what his soul had met before its mixture with the body.

His leaving the cave is leaving a recurring present which is recycled and ends to shadows reflected on the wall. Indeed, shadows are facts without any perspective of change or evolution, so, it is an exit of a static life that is deprived of memory.

Plato says that the prisoners can only see things that are in front of them. This means that they do not have the ability of a vision of their past. The only man who dares to break his chains, achieves to extend his field of vision by looking behind him. Then he tries to walk behind, from the depth of the cave to its exit, and further, to the world of the Sun. What could such a movement mean, if not a regression in a space-time which precedes and preexists of the cave?

Platonic anamnesis is a dynamic course of returning to the past, which happens gradually, thanks to the connection of the present facts with the forgotten knowledge that exists in the soul. It is a psychical-intellectual trip to the paths of the memory.

The cave, beyond the political-social macrocosm, mainly depicts every man’s own world, the way that each of us perceives himself and his position in the world where he lives. In other words, the cave is an idiopolis, similar to that of a neurotic person, who, totally surrendered to the symptom and its consequences, lives in a terrible delusion.

To remain in the shadows world is considered to be a personal choice. It is also a personal choice to stare at the sunlight and undertake the psychic cost of a journey in the world of the truth.

 True and untrue coexist, are alternated, are perplexed. Someone must search profoundly the truth in his soul, in order to get rid of his thoughtlessness (afrosyni). This truth will provide him a second vision, similar to that of the initiated prophet of the greek tragedy. It is a vision which is opposed to the natural one, surpasses it and eventually revokes it, by making it blindness.

In my opinion, the platonic cave urges the reader and audience to reject the obvious and finally to find the being, so as to reform his existence.

The philosophical myth is an odd and enchanting narration at the same time, it is a code of communication between the initiated person and the uninitiated. It expresses the alogon that is not the irrational, but something that the person is not able to understand and accept, unless they have experienced it previously.

The philosophical myth is similar to the dream, that conceals its real meaning skillfully behind its obvious context. It is a symbolic speech, which appears and covers up at the same time a truth that exists in the human soul.

As an expression of the irrational (alogon) element and of the procedures that take place in the psychic world, the myth of the cave redefines the meaning of the true and untrue. It presents necessarily the request of man’s liberation of the delusion as well.



[1]                 Andreadis Giangos, Antigone, "Livanis", Athens 1994.

[2]                 Chen Ludwig C.H., Acquiring Knowledge of the Ideas, Franzsteiner Verlag Stuttgart 1922.

[3]                 Cross R.C. – Woozley A.D., Plato’s Republic. A Philosophical Commentary, St. Martin’s Press, N. York 1996.

[4]                 Freud S., An Introduction to Psychoanalysis, "Epicouros" Publications, Athens 1996.

[5]                 Freud S., Practical Psychoanalysis, "Epicouros", Athens 1975.

[6]                 Freud S., Psychoanalysis and Literature, "Epicouros", Athens 1994.

[7]                 Freud S., The Technique of Psychoanalysis, "Epicouros", Athens 1985.

[8]                 Freud S., Studies of Psychoanalysis, "Epicouros", Athens 1979.

[9]                 Theodorakopoulos I., An Introduction on Plato, "Estia’s Bookshop", Athens 1941.

[10]             Lear Jonathan, "An Interpretation of Transference", International Journal of Psychoanalysis, v.74, Yale University, New Haven 1993.

[11]             Maragianou – Dermoussi E., Platonic Questions, " Kardamitsas ", Athens 1994.

[12]             Plato’s, Republic.

[13]             Plato’s, Phaedon.

[14]             Ramfos Stelios, Ilaron Fos tou Cosmou, "Tinos", Athens 1990.

[15]             Ramfos Stelios, Poetic Philosophy. Platonic questions, "Armos", Athens 1991.

[16]             Rigopoulou Kalliopi, "The cave as Birth- and Death-place", Archaeology, v.15, May 1985.

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