Monday, November 01, 2004

The origin of the 'Lord of the Rings' moral fable

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is one of the best movie series of recent years, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's homonymous trilogy of books. Every age needs a mythology, and Western Man is fortunate to have his own mythology, even if it takes the form of a pop cultural product. As a Platonist, I am not the greatest admirer of the dramatic arts, recognizing their potential for ill use. The Lord of the Rings presents a wonderful reworking of a Platonic theme, the myth of the Ring. Unlike other works of modern and postmodern art with a nihilist and relativist mindset, the Lord of the Rings is an uplifting story, which turns the mind away from the fallen world in which we find ourselves and turns it upward, towards Justice, Love, Friendship, and the Good. As a supplement to Rings, I encourage readers to take a look at Book II of the Republic where the Platonic myth of the Ring is first narrated:

'According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom. Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other;,no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.'

The Internet Classics Archive | Plato, The Republic, Book II


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