The Poetic Rhythms Correlated with the Five Constitutions in Plato’s Republic

HomeArticlesThe Poetic Rhythms Correlated with the Five Constitutions in Plato’s Republic


In the Republic, Socrates holds that there are correlations among the poetic rhythms and the constitutions of state and soul. He does not explicitly tell us what the correlations are. So it is challenging to determine which rhythms correlate with which constitutions. The goal of the paper is to determine, as best the evidence allows, which poetic rhythms correlate with which constitutions. To help achieve the goal, I divide the discussion of poetic rhythm (399e–400d) in three sections.[1] In Sections A (399e8–400a3) and C (400b1–400c6) Socrates leads. Glaucon leads in Section B (400a4–400a7). Though these sections are brief, I argue that they are pregnant with implications. Socrates names certain rhythms and metric feet. Socrates implies which rhythms and poetic feet he thinks are good. Glaucon implies a complete taxonomy of the feet. Putting the pieces together shows that Socrates implies certain preferences among the rhythms and feet. The preferences imply a ranking from best to worst. Socrates refers to each of the five constitutions during his discussion of rhythm. He explicitly ranks the constitutions from best to worst elsewhere in the Republic (Bk., IX, 580a–b). I fit the preferences among the rhythms and feet with the preferences among the five constitutions.


A. [Socrates] Then let’s purify the rest. The next topic after musical modes is the regulation of rhythm (ρὐθμоϛ). We shouldn’t strive to have subtlety or great variety of metric feet (βάσιϛ). Rather, we should try to discover what are the rhythms of someone who leads an ordered and courageous life and then adapt the foot (πоὐϛ) and the tune to his words, not his words to them. What these rhythms actually are is for you to say, just as in the case of the modes. (399e8–400a3)

This passage moves from the subject of musical modes to poetic rhythm. Socrates has just finished correlating the musical modes with the five constitutions (398b–399e). In Section A, he turns to the poetic rhythms and their correlations with five constitutions. The passage implies an analogy between the musical modes and the poetic rhythms. As the modes are to music, so the rhythms are to poetry. Socrates warns against rhythms that employ “subtlety” or “great variety” in the metric feet. He offers this warning more than once during the discussion (399e and 400e). This warning urges us to stay within a rhythm and to avoid embellishments (397b).

A rhythm has feet as its parts. Socrates uses the terms “foot” (πоὐϛ) and “metric foot” (βάσιϛ). Some classical writers, however, use the terms technically, such that “foot” refers to the parts of a “metric foot.” A dipody, for example, is a “metric foot” that has two “feet.” In such contexts a “metric foot” functions as a metron. Socrates use of the terms is consistent with a distinction between them. It may be that he uses “metric foot” as a general term tending to refer to a set of metron, or a metron. It may be that he uses the term “foot” with reference to a metron or a particular foot. Though it is consistent with Socrates’ usage to take “metric foot” as a more general term than “foot,” it is more likely that Socrates uses the terms as synonyms. This would be in accord with the common Greek usage. This common usage renders both terms ambiguous between a set of metron, a metron, or a foot. Even the classical authors that use the terms technically, at some point in their writing, tend to use the terms ambiguously elsewhere.[2]

A foot has syllables as its parts. There are two types of syllable, long ( ¯ ) and short ( ˘ ). A single syllable cannot make a foot. So, the smallest foot has two syllables (bi-syllabic). For example, an iambus has a short syllable followed by a long syllable (i.e.,  ˘  ¯ ). Other feet have more than two syllables. For example, the dactyl has a long syllable followed by two short syllables (i.e., ¯ ˘ ˘ ). A metron refers to a set of feet. A single foot counts as a metron in dactylic rhythms, but in other rhythms the term refers to a dipody. For example, a single iambic metron is a dipody that has the iambus twice (i.e., ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ).

Classical musicologists tell us that there was disagreement about whether all short syllables are equal, whether all long syllables are equal, and whether short syllables are commensurate with long syllables. Aristides Quintilianus, for example, distinguishes the two positions.[3] The metrici develop an account of the syllable by first accounting for the letters. The types of letters are then placed in two types of syllable, the long and short. The syllables are then placed in a rhythm. One result of this account is that all short syllables are the same length and all long syllables are the same length. In addition, the relation between short and the long is rigid. Two short syllables equal one long syllable. The metrici establish a commensurate poetic measure.

The rhythmici take the other position.[4] They hold that there is variety in the length of short syllables and that there is variety in the length of long syllables. The rhythmici do not accept a commensurate relation among short syllables, or among long syllables. They develop an account of the syllables by placing them in the context of a rhythm. In this context, a rhythm is a combination of feet and times in groups of arsis and thesis.[5] Fitting syllables into rhythms results in irrational relations among the syllables. Since the rhythmici hold that the relations among the syllables are incommensurate, some interpreters attribute a doctrine of “irrationality” to them.

In the Cratylus, Socrates employs a position on poetic measure that is indicative of the metrici. He suggests that an account of the syllable comes from an account of the letters and that an account of rhythm comes from an account of the syllable. He rhetorically asks:

“. . . would it not be most correct for us to divide off the letters of elements first, just as those who set to work on speech rhythms first divide off the forces of powers of the letters or elements, then those of the syllables, and only then investigate rhythms.” (Cratylus 424b–c2)

The passage is not decisive, but it gives good reason to accept that Socrates adopts the metrici position. In addition, Socrates never argues against the metrici and he never argues for the rhythmici. It is more than likely that Socrates adopts the metrici position.[6]

In Section A Socrates sets a goal for the discussion. He aims to distinguish the rhythms of an “ordered” and “courageous” person. Here Socrates indicates that there is a correlation between certain rhythms and certain constitutions. He names two character traits, “orderliness” and “courage.” These traits imply two constitutions. Socrates uses the term “orderly” to describe doing well, or some other good. Concerning love, he says that the best forms of it are orderly (403a7). Concerning the philosophic part of a person’s nature, he says that when properly arranged it is an orderly part (410e3). The best sort of person is orderly (443d4) and he consorts only with what is orderly (500c9). Finally, the philosopher king makes the city orderly (540b1, 587b3). The orderly constitution is the best constitution, or the aristocracy.

The auxiliary is the military class. It provides courage in the kallipolis (395c4). Initially the rulers and auxiliary are discussed as one group. Subsequently, the auxiliary are set apart as the natural helpers of the rulers. Distinguishing the auxiliary from the rulers involves a distinction between two parts of the soul. The rational part governs the aristocrat and the spirited part of the soul governs the timocrat (357a9, 410d7, 442b11). Courage is related to the spirited part and the spirited part is related to the timocrat. The timocratic constitution is the courageous constitution. Socrates implies the two best constitutions, the aristocracy and the timocracy. He holds that certain rhythms correlate with these constitutions, but he does not tell us which rhythms correlate with which constitutions. He concludes the section by inviting Glaucon to make the correlations among the rhythms and the constitutions clear.


B. [Glaucon] I really don’t know what to say. I can tell you from observation that there are three basic kinds, out of which the metric feet (βάσιϛ) are constructed (πλἑκω) just as there are four in the case of the modes. But I can’t tell you which sort imitates which sort of life. (400a4–400a7)

Section B starts with Glaucon seeming not to know much about rhythm and it ends with him admitting that he cannot make clear the requested correlations. He does, however, have an important observation concerning metric feet and music. Glaucon tells us that there are three basic types of metric feet and there are four types of musical mode.[7]

Glaucon’s use of the verb “constructed” (πλἑκω) is instructive. The verb concretely refers to the binding of strands to make a rope.[8] Usually, strands are woven together to make a rope. Turning to a metric foot, at the most particular perspective its strands are syllables. The foot binds together the syllables. Glaucon’s language indicates that there are three ways to bind short and long syllables in a foot. Aristides helps us specify Glaucon’s reference. Aristides distinguishes the three types in question by distinguishing the mathematical ratio into which each type divides metric foot.[9] The first type divides the foot in equal parts; for example, the ratio 1:1 (i.e., ˘ ˘ ). The second type divides the foot rationally; for example, the ratio 1:2 (e.g., ˘ ¯ ). The third type divides the foot irrationally; for example, the ratio 2:3 (e.g., ¯ ˘ ¯ ). I take these three types, the equal, the rational, and the irrational to be the three types that Glaucon implies.[10]


C. [Socrates] Then we’ll consult with Damon as to which metric feet (βάσιϛ) are suited to illiberality, hubris, madness, and the other vices and which are suited to their opposites: I think I’ve heard him talking about an enoplion (ἐνόπλιον), which is a composite (σὐνθετιον) (although I am not clear on this), and also about dactylic and the heroic, which he arranged, I don’t know how, to be equal up and down, in interchanging of long and short, I think he called one an iambus and another a trochee, assigning a long and a short to both of them. In the case of some of these, I think he approved or disapproved of the tempo of the foot (πоὐϛ) as much as of the rhythm itself, or of some combination of the two—I can’t tell you which—but, as I said, we’ll leave these things to Damon, since to mark off the different kinds would require a long argument. Or do you think we should try it?

[Glaucon] No, I certainly don’t. (400b1–400c6)

Since Glaucon doesn’t know the correlations, Socrates refers to Damon.[11] According to Socrates, Damon has already correlated the rhythms with certain virtues and vices. Socrates and Glaucon are in the process of correlating certain vices with the constitutions. So with Damon’s help, Socrates can identify which rhythms correlate with which constitutions. In Section C, Socrates holds that certain metric feet correlate with illiberality, others with hubris, and still others with madness. He does not tell us, however, which metric feet correlate with which vices.

A look at the list of vices reveals that they are not random. The first vice is “illiberality” (ἁνελευθερíα),” which is also translated as “slavishness” or “a lack of freedom.” Socrates argues that the illiberal man is not fit to study philosophy (486a4, b3, b6). It is illiberal and money loving, Socrates argues, to strip the corpse of a dead soldier (496d6). Illiberality coupled with a love of money is a single disease of the soul (391c5), according to him. He cites poverty as a cause of illiberality (422a2). He tells us that the money loving appetites govern in the illiberal man (590b6). Illiberality involves desires for money and a love of wealth. These desires are indicative of the oligarchic constitution. The illiberal constitution is the oligarchic constitution.[12]

Socrates places the democrat between the illiberal man (the oligarch), and the lawless man (the tyrant) (572d2). Socrates describes the democratic man as having hubris (560e2). Then at 560e4 he tells us that the democratic man mistakenly calls hubris “good breeding.” He ties hubris to the unnecessary desires and he ties the unnecessary desires to the democrat (560e–561a). Finally, at 572c7 the democratic man is described as “indulging every kind of hubris.”[13] The vice of hubris refers to the democratic constitution.

The vice of “madness” can apply generally. It is a cause of wrongdoing (382c8), and no mad man is fit to study philosophy (496c7). Socrates describes a child first learning to use argument as engaging in a sort of sophistic madness (539c6). Madness is specially related to one constitution. The tyrant adopts madness as his bodyguard (573a8) and his soul is filled with madness (573b4). Socrates goes so far as to say that madness is implied by the “precise sense of the term ‘tyrannical” (573c). When the term “madness” refers to a constitution, it refers to the tyrannical constitution. Socrates’ reference to the three vices of illiberality, hubris, and madness adeptly implies three constitutions. Let’s add the reference to the aristocracy and timocracy in Section A. Socrates refers to all five constitutions in his discussion of poetic rhythm.

In Section C Socrates offers specific information about certain rhythms and certain metric feet. His focus is on the enoplion. Classical sources disagree about the anatomy of the enoplion.[14] Not surprisingly, interpreters of this passage in the Republic disagree along similar lines.[15]

Fortunately, Socrates specifies the term “enoplion” in a series of references. He describes the enoplion as the “dactylic and the heroic.” The term “κα í” translated as “and” may serve to specify the first term with the second. In such cases the term “κα í” translates to the English “as.” In this way we may interpret the term “heroic” to specify the term “dactylic.”

The “dactylic as heroic” names the epic-heroic rhythm (or Homeric). This form has dactyls as its main component. There is one foot in each metron. The heroic rhythm is in hexameter, or six metron. Certain rules govern the form. A long syllable may substitute for two short syllables, but not vice versa. The ultimate metron must be a spondee, or two long syllables.[16] The Heroic does not contain a word-division that divides the line in half.[17] Instead, a word-division, or caesura, occurs in one of three places. The male (strong) caesura occurs after the first syllable in the third metron. The female (weak) caesura occurs after the second syllable in the third metron. A caesura rarely occurs after the first syllable of the fourth metron. I will use these symbols to place the word-divisions, male ( ↓ ), female ( ‡ ), and the third ( ‌ ) caesura.

Socrates describes the enoplion as a certain composite or complex foot (σὐνθετον). Aristoxenos refers to a set of metron in certain rhythms as a composite foot (πоὐϛ ξὐνεθετοϛ).[18] This conception of a composite foot divides the hexameter line in two equal complex feet. The first foot has the metron one through three, the other composite foot has the metron four through six. Here is a chart of the heroic rhythm and its variations:

First Complex FootSecond Complex Foot

¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ↓ ˘ ‡ ˘


¯ ‌ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ¯


¯ ¯


¯ ¯


¯  ¯


¯ ¯


( ¯ ¯ )[19]


The first composite foot tends to have dactyls throughout. This complex foot has more possible variance than the second complex foot. The second complex foot has two dactyls followed by a spondee. The second complex foot highlights a distinctive feature of the heroic rhythm. The line concludes with a dactyl followed by a spondee.

Socrates tells us that the dactylic as heroic is arranged somehow to be “equal up and down in interchanging of long and short.” The first complex foot is not equal in its interchange of long and short. There are three long and six short syllables. The second complex foot, in contrast, is equal in its interchange of long and short. It has four long and four short syllables. The description directs our attention to the second complex foot.

He finishes the long sentence by recalling that Damon “called one an iambus and another a trochee, assigning long and short to both of them.”[20] The trochee is a long syllable followed by a short. The iambus is a short syllable followed by a long. The description of the iambus and trochee as having long and short assigned to “both of them” is apt. The division of the enoplion into iambus and trochee is not apt. The dactyl has three syllables, but the iambus and trochee have two syllables.[21] Heroic metron have one foot, but iambic and trochaic metron are dipody. Socrates has switched perspectives. He has divided the syllables in the complex foot into groups of two. He has divided two dactyls into a trochee, an iambus, and so on. When we apply the dipody division to the first and second complex feet we get a trochee, an iambus, and a pyrrhic. The complex feet differ thereafter. By naming the iambus and the trochee, Socrates implies the pyrrhic.

Though we can apply the trochee and the iambus to both complex feet the division is problematic in the first foot. The first complex foot has nine syllables. The division applied to the first complex foot generates a trochee, an iambus, a pyrrhic, and a dactyl. The dactyl is odd here.[22] The dactylic metron have one foot, but an iambic metron has two feet. It is not the set of short and long syllables that is odd. It is the division that generates the oddity. In contrast to the first complex foot, the dipody division applies to the second complex foot without such difficulties. This complex foot has eight syllables, four sets of two. The division distinguishes a trochee, an iambus, a pyrrhic, and a spondee. The second complex foot is better divisible along the lines suggested by Socrates’ dipody division.

When we gather Socrates’ comments together we have most reason to think that they specify the enoplion as the second complex foot of the heroic hexameter. The second complex foot is a composite foot. It is equal in interchange of long and short. It is divisible by dipody. Here is the enoplion expressed as the second complex metric foot in the heroic:

Enoplion as Heroic



¯  ˘ ˘


¯  ˘ ˘


¯ ¯



Here is the enoplion as divided by the imabus and the trochee:

 Enoplion as Dipody



¯  ˘


˘ ¯


˘ ˘


¯ ¯



Through his description of the enoplion, he has named or implied the dactyl, the spondee, the iambus, the trochee, and the pyrrhic. We saw that Glaucon mentions the three kinds of metric feet. The dactyl and the spondee are both in the equal class, since each divides the foot in the ratio 2:2. The pyrrhic is in the equal class, since it divides the foot in the ratio 1:1.[23] The iambus and the trochee are in the rational type, each divides the foot in the ratio 2:1. Socrates does not name, or imply, an irrational foot.

In terms of long and short it makes no difference whether we divide by the enoplion as heroic or as dipody. So it may seem to make no difference whether we consider the enoplion as heroic or as dipody. It does make a difference. Socrates places the enoplion in the context of the heroic. Dipody is not an acceptable scan for the heroic. Also, by dividing the enoplion as dipody we divorce it from the context in which Socrates places it. Such a divorce makes it easy to confuse the dactyl as heroic with the dactyl as lyric. The lyric dactyl differs from the heroic in specific ways. The substitution of a long for two short syllables is less frequent. The dactyl may be a rising dactyl. Also, the end of a series need not be a dactyl followed by a spondee.[24] The third difference is important, since it allows the lyric dactyl to be other than the enoplion as Socrates describes it.

The dactyl as lyric differs in form from the heroic in additional ways. The lyric form may take pure sets of three or four dactyls, instead of the enoplion. The lyric form employs the sets in rounds. Each round tends to have a word-division at its end. Suppose we have two enoplion. Put them in the context of the dactyl as lyric. There would be a word-division in the middle of the two sets. The same two sets in heroic hexameter would not have a word-division in the middle of the line.[25] Such a word-division is out of place in the heroic rhythm. The enoplion is not just a set of long and short syllables in a certain order, it is a certain set of complex feet in the heroic rhythm.

Socrates introduces the enoplion to help show which virtues and vices are concerned with which rhythms and metric feet. If he can establish the correlations between the constitutions and the virtues, then he can correlate the constitutions with the rhythms and metric feet. Socrates wonders which metric feet are suited for the vices. Then he wonders which are suited for their opposites, the virtues. He offers the description of the enoplion as a metric foot suited for the virtues. He mentioned two virtues in Section A, orderliness and courage. The discussion of the enoplion is an account of the metric feet suitable for orderliness and courage. Socrates does not explicitly discuss the specific metric feet suitable for the vices of illiberality, hubris, and madness.

The concluding remarks in Section C add that Damon “approved or disapproved of the tempo (ἀγωγή) of the foot (πоὐϛ) as much as of the rhythm (ρὐθμоϛ) itself.” He adds that possibly Damon meant that the tempo must fit with some combination of foot and rhythm. Tempo is difficult to specify, but it is not musical time (e.g., 4:4 time). Whatever it is, Socrates holds that it must fit with the foot and the rhythm. Socrates appears willing and able to make the correlations clear. He warns that it “would require a long argument,” and he asks Glaucon if he would like to pursue the subject. Glaucon would rather not.


Socrates’ discussion gives direction in determining his preferences about rhythm and metric feet. He offers general guidelines about rhythm. The words should dictate the rhythm. The rhythm should fit the tempo. The foot and tempo should fit together. The rhythm should fit the musical mode. Socrates warns against rhythms employing subtlety or great variety. He prefers that one pick a rhythm and stick with it, allowing only a few minor variations (397b). The rhythm should be overt and regular.

In addition, Socrates implies specific preferences concerning the rhythms and metric feet in the kallipolis.

1.The heroic rhythm is preferable.

2.The enoplion is preferable.

3.Equal feet are preferable.

4.Rational feet are permitted.

It is as important to notice what is not included in the discussion of rhythm as it is to notice what is included. Socrates implies a prohibition through his purposeful omission of any irrational foot. No irrational foot is included in the discussion of the virtuous rhythms and feet. The irrational rhythms and feet indicate vice. So, the irrational rhythms and feet are not in the kallipolis:

5.The irrational feet are not permitted.

These preferences and prohibitions collect Socrates’ warnings, descriptions, and advice about rhythm.

Recent interpretations of Greek rhythm help us determine the objects to which the Socratic preferences apply. Here is a brief catalog of the basic types of feet, organized by the ratios into which they divide the foot:


˘ ˘ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘ ¯


¯ ˘˘



Here are the basic rational feet:


˘ ¯


˘ ˘ ¯ ¯


¯ ˘



Here are the basic irrational feet:



¯ ˘ ¯



˘ ¯ ¯



¯ ˘ ¯ ¯



˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ ¯



The following feet are ingredients of poetic lines, but they are not the basis of any rhythm. Here is a set of equal ingredients:


˘ ˘ ˘ ˘


˘ ˘


¯ ¯



Here are the basic rational ingredients:


¯ ¯ ¯


˘ ˘ ˘



Here are the basic irrational ingredients:

PalimbacchiusFirst PaeonFourth Paeon

¯ ¯ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘ ˘


˘ ˘ ˘ ¯



Socrates prefers equal ratios to all others and he banishes irrational ratios. The best feet are the anapaest, choriamb, and dactyl. The second best feet are the iambus, ion, and trochee. The worst feet are the cretic, bacchius, epitrite, and dochmius. These feet are not permitted. Concerning the ingredients of rhythms that are not the basis of any rhythm, the best are the proceleusmata, pyrrhic, and spondee. The second best ingredients are the molossus and the tribrach. The worst ingredients are the palimbacchius, first paeon, and the fourth paeon. These elements are not permitted.

Recent interpreters also identify certain complex meters. Most prominently, they identify the iambo-trochaic, the ionic, the aeolic, and the dactylo-epitritic meters.[26] These complex meters admit of subtlety and variety. They allow the substitution of either one long or one short in certain positions, an anceps, which the symbol “x” indicates. Some forms admit of equal and rational ingredients. The iambo-trochaic complex meter includes such ingredients:

Iambo-trochaic IngredientsAnatomyRatioRatio type
Cretic¯ ˘ ¯3:2Irrational
Bacchiac˘ ¯ ¯3:2Irrational
Lecythion (base)¯ ˘ ¯ x ¯ ˘ ¯VariableIrrational
Lecythion 1¯ ˘ ¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ ¯7:5Irrational
Lecythion 2¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯6:5Irrational
Ithyphallic¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯5:5Equal


There is only one ingredient of the iambo-trochaic complex meter that divides the foot equally, the ithyphallic. The other three ingredients, the cretic, bacchiac, and lecythionic make irrational divisions.

The aeolic complex meter also admits of equal and irrational ingredients. There are three basic ingredients in the aeolic complex meter, the glyconic, pheracratean, and hipponactean. Here is the Glyconic base and its four instantiations:

Aeolic IngredientsAnatomyRatioRatio Type



x x ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯

Glyconic 1¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯7:6Irrational
Glyconic 2¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯6:6Equal
Glyconic 3˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯6:6Equal
Glyconic 4˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯6:5Irrational


Two glyconic ingredients are equal and two are irrational. Here is the pheracratean base ingredient and its four instantiations:

Aeolic IngredientsAnatomyRatioRatio Type
Pherecratean (base) 

x x ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯

Pherecratean 1¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯6:6Equal
Pherecratean 2¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯6:5Irrational
Pherecratean 3˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯6:5Irrational
Pherecratean 4˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯5:5Equal


Two of the pheracratean ingredients are equal and two are irrational. Here is the hipponactean base ingredient and its four instantiations:

Aeolic IngredientsAnatomyRatioRatio Type
Hipponactean (base) 

x x ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯

Hipponactean 1¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯8:7Irrational
Hipponactean 2¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯7:7Equal
Hipponactean 3˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯7:7Equal
Hipponactean 4˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯6:7Irrational


Two of the hipponactean ingredients are equal and two are irrational.

Unlike the iambo-trochaic and the aeolic complex meters, the ionic complex meter admits of equal, rational, and irrational ingredients:

Ionic IngredientsAnatomyRatioRatio Type
Ion˘ ˘ ¯ ¯2:4Rational
Choriamb¯ ˘ ˘ ¯3:3Equal
Anaclast˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯7:5Irrational


The complex meters admit of subtlety and variety. According to the Socratic preferences all the complex meters are forbidden from the kallipolis. Still, the Socratic preferences have implications among the complex meters. The ionic complex meter is better than the other two, since its forms are predominantly equal or rational. Also, the aolic is better than the iambo-trochaic, since its forms have as many equal types as irrational types. Some ingredients of these forms are better than others. Among the iambo-trochaic ingredients, the ithyphallic is better than the cretic, the bacchiac, and the lecythion. Among the aeolic complex meters, the second and third instantiations of the glyconic and the hipponactean are better than the first and fourth instantiations of the respective types. The first and fourth instantiations of the pheracratean are better than the second and third. In the ionic complex meter the choriamb is best, the ion is second best, and the anaclast is worst.

Certain rhythms have features that render them preferable or not. The dactylic odes give a hieratic, stately, and solemn mood. The dactyl is statelier than the imabus, and the iambus is statelier than the trochee. So we can rank these meters from best to worst; dactyl, iambus, trochee. The dochmias meter, of all the meters, most evokes emotion. This meter is used for evoking lamentations, fear, and despair.[27] This meter is not permitted in the kallipolis. This meter will correspond to the worst constitutions of state and soul.

In early Greek poetry the mixing of meter is rare. Subsequent periods show much more subtlety and variety. So, Socrates’ preferences imply that early Greek poetry is preferable to later Greek poetry. Epic poetry differs from tragic and comedic. Epic poetry is the poetry of Homer and it is the oldest form of Greek poetry. Epic poetry allows that one long syllable may substitute for two short syllables. It does not allow that two short syllables may substitute for a long syllable. Tragic poetry allows that two short syllables may substitute for a long syllable. Comedic poetry takes more license than either epic or tragic poetry.[28] The dithyramb is a semi-dramatic form of poetry, developed in the fifth century BCE. This form took great freedom in its use of metrical units.[29] Socrates’ preferences imply that epic poetry is preferable to tragic poetry, tragic poetry is preferable to comedic poetry, and comedic poetry is preferable to the dithyramb.


This final section of the paper puts the Socratic preferences among the rhythms and feet together with the preferences among the constitutions. Socrates mentions the aristocratic and the timocratic constitutions separately from the others. As we saw, the aristocratic and timocratic constitutions are related to each other. The timocratic constitution is initially represented as part of the aristocratic constitution, insofar as the rulers and auxiliary are represented as one group. The timocracy is distinguished by distinguishing the rational part of the soul from the spirited part. Socrates identifies the enoplion as part of the heroic rhythm. The rhythm sets the order, or kosmos, in which the enoplion is a natural part. The enoplion is the natural helper of the heroic rhythm. So, the heroic rhythm correlates with the aristocratic constitution and the enoplion correlates with the timocratic constitution. The enoplion is a complex foot, but the heroic is a rhythm. What is the rhythm of the timocratic constitution? One form of the heroic has the enoplion fully expressed throughout the form. Such a heroic rhythm has the enoplion in both the first and second complex feet. This form of the heroic rhythm correlates with the timocratic constitution.

It will help to demonstrate the differences between the heroic rhythm and the enoplion heroic rhythm. We saw that the heroic rhythm allows three locations for word-divisions. The male and female word-divisions occur in the third metron. Rarely is there a word-division in the fourth metron. Here is the heroic rhythm set against the enoplion heroic rhythm:

1st Complex Foot2nd Complex Foot
Heroic  Hexameter 

¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ↓ ˘ ‡ ˘


¯ ‌ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ¯

Double Enoplion 

¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ↓ ¯


¯ ‌ ˘ ˘


¯ ˘ ˘


¯ ¯


The enoplion heroic rhythm practically forces a male word-division.[30]

It will help to illustrate the difference between the aristocratic and timocratic rhythms. A heroic rhythm that has a female word-division correlates with the aristocratic constitution and not with the timocratic constitution. The first line of the Odyssey (1.1) is just such a line:

Ἂνδρα μоι  ἒννεπε  Μοὐσα    πολὐτροπον ὂϛ μἀλα   πоλλἀ

¯        ˘     ˘   ¯   ˘  ˘       ¯  ˘ ‡    ˘  ¯    ˘  ˘   ¯     ˘   ˘    ¯     ¯

This line is aristocratic. The aristocratic rhythm also includes the male word-division. The timocratic rhythm, in contrast, is the enoplion heroic rhythm. It requires the male word-division. The Greek term for courage (ἀνδρεῐоϛ) also translates as “manly.” So it is not surprising to find that the courageous constitution insists on the manly word-division. The first line of the Iliad (1.1) is just such a line:

Μῆνιν ἄειδε   θεἀ    Πηληἴαδεω   ‘Aχιλῆοϛ

¯ ˘   ˘ ¯   ˘    ˘¯ ↓     ¯   ¯ ˘  ˘ ¯  ˘  ˘ ¯ ¯

This line concretely illustrates the enoplion heroic rhythm of the courageous constitution.

We have an account of the rhythms fit for the aristocratic and timocratic constitutions. So, we may turn to the other constitutions. These constitutions as a group differ from the other two as a group. The three remaining constitutions are all governed by the irrational part of the soul, the appetite. There are three forms of appetitive desire. The oligarchic constitution is governed by the necessary desires (558d). These desires go after what is required to live and they are beneficial. The oligarchic constitution is a wealth-loving constitution. The democrat is governed by unnecessary desires (559a–b). These desires go after what is not required to live and what is not beneficial. The democratic constitution is a freedom-loving constitution. The tyrannical constitution is governed by the lawless desires. These desires go after what is not lawful (571b–d). The tyrannical constitution is a lawless-loving constitution.

The oligarchic constitution is measured, in a way. As the wealth-loving constitution, it requires restraint in expenditures. This constitution uses wealth to make more wealth. It admires only wealth and wealthy people. This constitution must involve some irrational element(s), since it has an irrational part of the soul as governor. It allows the equal and the rational feet, as well as the irrational feet. It probably does not employ the irrational feet as often as the democratic or tyrannical constitutions. One place to find irrational elements interspersed among equal and rational elements is the mixed rhythms. The oligarchic constitution would allow the ionic, the aeolic, and the iambo-trochaic rhythms. The ranking of complex rhythms in section five of this paper helps to specifically identify the styles that correlate with the oligarchic constitution. The oligarchic constitution would allow the heroic, tragic, and comedic styles. It would indulge in subtlety and variety of rhythm, insofar as it builds wealth or the potential for wealth.

The democratic constitution is peculiar among the other constitutions. Every other constitution establishes a ruling part that directly rules the other parts. For example, the aristocracy establishes the wise as the ruling class in the state, and the aristocrat establishes reason as the ruling part of the soul. Likewise, the other constitutions of state and soul establish some part of society, or the soul, as fit to directly rule the other parts. The democratic constitution values the freedom to let any part rule the others. The democratic state holds that no part of it is naturally fit to rule. Turning to the democratic man, the unnecessary appetites govern the democratic soul. The unnecessary appetites rule indirectly. They allow the other parts of the soul to rule. In the democratic person any desire is fit to govern:

“He . . . puts his pleasures on equal footing. And so he lives, always surrendering rule over him self to whichever desire comes along, as if chosen by lot. And when that is satisfied, he surrenders rule to another, not disdaining any but satisfying them equally.” (561b1-5)

The democratic constitutions gives rule to whichever desires or social class is momentarily strongest. The freedom at issue is the freedom to satisfy every part of society and every desire.

So, the democratic constitution will allow all rhythms and metric feet. This constitution allows the equal, the rational, and the irrational metric feet. It allows the rhythms that resemble lamentation, fear, and lust. Specifically, these constitutions allow the dochmius, cretic, bacchius, and epitrite. The constitution also allows the irrational ingredients, the palimbacchius, first paeon, and the fourth paeon. The democratic constitution does not fully give way to the worst rhythms and metric feet. The democratic constitution does allow the worst types of rhythms to rule, at times. It allow these rhythms to rule only as much as the other rhythms. The better rhythms rule, only as much as any others. The liberty of the democrat in poetic rhythm is limited only by its refusal to prefer any rhythm overall.

The tyrannical constitution remains. This constitution loves lawlessness. The lawless forms of metric feet are the irrational. It correlates with the cretic, bacchius, epitrite, and dochmius. The dochmius is especially important. It has highly emotive qualities that imitate lamentation and fear. Socrates applies lament and fear to the tyrannical constitution:

What about fear? Aren’t a tyrannical city and man full of it?


And do you think that you’ll find more wailing, groaning, lamenting, and grieving in any other city?

Certainly not.

Then, are such things more common in anyone besides a tyrannical man . . . ? (578a)

So the irrational ingredients, such as the palimbacchius, the first paeon, and the fourth paeon govern the tyrant. The tyrannical constitution makes the greatest use of the irrational rhythms and feet. It makes the least use of the equal and the rational feet. The irrational forms distinguish the tyrannical constitution.

So we have completed the correlations among the rhythms and the constitutions. I conclude with a chart that collects the results:

Constitution of State or SoulRhythms

and Styles

RatiosRhythmic FeetRhythmic IngredientsComplex Metric Ingredients
AristocraticHeroic Epic, Dactylic RhythmsEqual








TimocraticHeroic Enoplion












Subtlety & Variety
















Glyconic 2 & 3

Pherecratean 1 & 4

Hipponactean 2 & 3

DemocraticAll forms

Subtlety & Variety




All forms equallyAll forms equallyAll forms equally








First Paeon

Fourth Paeon


Glyconic 1 & 4

Pherecratean 2 & 3

Hipponactean 1 & 4





[1] All references to the English texts are from Plato, Complete Works, J.M. Cooper, ed., Indianapolis: Hackett, (1997). All references to the Greek text are from Plotonis Opera, vol. 4., Burnet ed., New York: Oxford (1978).

[2] Adam tells us that some writers use the term “metric foot” technically. Such writers use it with reference to metric feet that have two parts. The Republic of Plato, with critical notes, commentary, and appendices, J. Adam ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1902), 161, nt. 35.

[3] See Chapters on Greek Metric, Goodell, New York: Yale University Press (1901), 9.

[4] Ibid., 11–12. Aristoxenos represents a third position, the so-called musicos. The musicos construct a hybrid between the metrici and the rhythmici. The musicos are a subset of the rhythmici.

[5] The terms arsis and thesis apply to the rising and falling of the foot. The arsis is the rising foot and it applies to the long syllable. The thesis is the falling foot and it applies to the short syllable. In the dactyl the rising foot comes before the falling foot. So the dactyl is sometimes described as a falling foot. The terms are not used much in contemporary discourse.

[6] See Goodell (1901), 17.

[7] See Republic, Vol.1, Books I–V, Shorey ed., Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1982), 251. On the musical modes see Modes of Ancient Greek Music, Monro, Montana: Kessinger Publishing (2004). Also see “The Musical Modes in Plato’s Republic,” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 17, No. 3/4 (Jul–Oct., 1923), 125–136.

[8] See, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott ed., New York: Oxford University Press (1990), 645.

[9] See Goodell (1901), 210.

[10] If Glaucon distinguishes the poetic ratios that are equal, rational, and irrational and his analogy is strong, then the four types from which the musical modes are constructed are four mathematical ratios. They are neither four modes nor four notes. The four types from which the musical modes are constructed are the four essential ratios in the scale. They are the ratios 1:2 or the octave; 2:3 or the perfect fifth; 3:4 or the perfect fourth; and 9:8 or the whole step. The mathematical ratios establish the types, from which the musical modes are constructed.

[11] We do not have any text from Damon.

[12] Some uses of the term “illiberal” do not imply any constitution, in particular (395c6, 401b5, and 540d6). In one instance Socrates describes the tyrant as enslaved (illiberal) to is his lawless desires (577d3). This reference to the tyrant, however, does not call him illiberal simply.

[13] At 403a2 he uses the term “hubris” once with reference to the effect of erotic desires.

[14] See Adam (1902), 162, nt. 12.

[15] Goodell suggests a form to cover the range of possibilities:[X] ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ [X]. Some syllables may be long, short, or absent. I bracket an “x” to mark such syllables. The symbol “[X]” should not be confused with the ancepts. The ancepts is either long or short. See Goodell (1901), 187.

[16] The last foot of the Homeric hexameter is a spondee.  Since brevis in longo is permitted in the sixth metric, the sixth metric may appear as ¯  ˘.

[17] When the metron has two feet, the equal division would be after the second foot of the third metron.

[18] Ibid., 189.

[19] It is uncommon to have a spondee in the fifth metron of a dactylic hexameter.

[20] The sentence begins at 400b1 and goes to 400c1. There is a semicolon/colon at b4, and all the other breaks are commas. In the English translation, the sentence begins with “Well then we’ll consult” and ends with “short to both of them.” The translation in this paper puts a period, where the Greek has a semicolon/colon, and it retains the punctuation elsewhere.

[21] Ibid., 190. Socrates is not the only classical source that notes this oddity about the enoplion.

[22] There are complex and mixed meters.

[23] The metrici hold that all bi-syllabic feet are equal or rational. The rhythmici do not. Even the feet that count as equal are not equal for the rhythmici.

[24] See The Metres of Greek and Latin Poetry, revised edition, Halporn, Ostwald, and Rodenmeyer, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. (1994), 17–18.

[25] So I disagree with Adam’s position in his commentary on the Republic. He cites examples of the form that he calls the enoplion and he includes two sources that name the enoplion as he does. See Adam (1902), 162–163, nt. 12. In the light of Goodell’s discussion it appears that Adam adopts one of the forms called an enoplion in the context of the dactyl as lyric, not as heroic. See Goodell (1901), 196–199.

[26] Ibid., 3–4.

[27] See Halporn (1994), 51.

[28] See Greek Metre: An Introduction, D.S. Raven, London: Faber and Faber (1962), 30.

[29] See Halporn (1994), 52.

[30] See Raven (1962), 45.


This chapter was originally published in Technology, Science, and Democracy, Lee Trepanier, ed. (Southern Utah University Press, 2010)

Kirk Fitzpatrick

Written by

Kirk Fitzpatrick is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView, Associate Professor of Philosophy, and former Director of the Grace A. Tanner Center at Southern Utah University (2012-16). He is author of A Philosophical Reader on Moral Weakness: Akrasia, Weakness of Will, and Practical Irrationality (Linus, 2009).