Back Mouth Cave. Photo source: Sam West from his wrx900 site.
PLATO'S ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE
“Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets…
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent... Like ourselves… they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?”
LINK TO FULL TEXT OF THE BENJAMIN JOWETT TRANSLATION OF PLATO'S REPUBLIC
The Latin name Homo troglodytes refers to Plato's Allegory of the Cave.
In Roman times the Troglodytes were a tribe of barbarian cave dwellers on the Aethiopean shore. A third reason for appropriating this particular name is that Pans troglodytes just happens to be the correct scientific name for our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees.
The Homo discens project unashamedly is a footnote to Plato. The overall approach to important questions about human nature and the human condition pondered in Homo discens was inspired by Plato’s great Allegory of the Cave, in Book Seven of The Republic.
We are embodied and self aware. Our animal nature is only partially genetically determined. Our contingent, finite predicament is to be born into a specific social context in a particular place and time. From the random chance of birth to the certainty of death we have much to learn. Our senses, language, reason, memory, intuitions and emotions are powerful ways of knowing, but they are fallible as well as capable. And we cannot perceive things in themselves. Picturing, in the mind’s eye, the denizens of Plato’s Cave evokes the human condition in its inherent capability and fallibility.
In the Jowett (1873) translation of chapter seven of The Republic: 514a, Plato illustrates “how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened.” Alternatively, in both the Lindsey (1935) and the Bloom (1968) translation of the same introductory passage to the Allegory, Plato makes an image of “our nature in its education and want of education.”
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (c.1820-1823) Great He-Goat or Witches Sabbath (El aquelarre). Mural transferred to canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Mara Lea Brown (2005) Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Ink on paper.
Bosch, Hieronymous (1475-80) The Extraction of the Stone of Madness. Oil on board. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Since Plato, lesser giants have also emphasized that we dwell in the shadows partway between ignorance of beasts and the sublime possibility of angels. Francis Bacon’s “deep rooted vanities and false idols that beset the human mind”; and Francisco Goya’s “sleep of reason produces monsters” are examples of other profound commentaries on the nature of human folly.