Ring of Gyges

The Ring of Gyges /ˈdʒaɪˌdʒiːz/ (Greek: Γύγου Δακτύλιος) is a mythical magical artifact mentioned by the philosopher Plato in Book 2 of his Republic (2:359a–2:360d).[1] It grants its owner the power to become invisible at will. Through the story of the ring, Republic considers whether an intelligent person would be just if they did not have to fear any bad reputation if they committed injustices.

The legends

Gyges of Lydia was a historical king, the founder of the Mermnad dynasty of Lydian kings. Various ancient works—the most well-known being The Histories of Herodotus[2]—gave different accounts of the circumstances of his rise to power.[3] All, however, agree in asserting that he was originally a subordinate of King Candaules of Lydia, that he killed Candaules and seized the throne, and that he had either seduced Candaules' Queen before killing him, married her afterwards, or both.

In Glaucon's recounting of the myth, an unnamed ancestor of Gyges[4] was a shepherd in the service of the ruler of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where he was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, he discovered that it was in fact a tomb with a bronze horse containing a corpse, larger than that of a man, who wore a golden ring, which he pocketed. He discovered that the ring gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it. He then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, he used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself.

The role of the legend in Republic

In Republic, the tale of the ring of Gyges is described by the character of Glaucon who is the brother of Plato. Glaucon asks whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of killing, robbing, raping or generally doing injustice to whomever he pleased if he could do so without having to fear detection. Glaucon wants Socrates to argue that it's beneficial for us to be just apart from all considerations of our reputation.

Glaucon posits:

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.

Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.

For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

— Plato, Republic, 360b–d (Jowett trans.)

Though his answer to Glaucon's challenge is delayed, Socrates ultimately argues that justice does not derive from this social construct: the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has in fact enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy. (Republic 10:612b)

Cultural influences

  • H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man has as its basis a retelling of the tale of the Ring of Gyges.[5]
  • Alberich's Ring in the Richard Wagner's opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
  • The One Ring from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings grants invisibility to its wearer but corrupts its owner. Although there is speculation[6] that Tolkien was influenced by Plato's story, a search on "Gyges" and "Plato" in his letters and biography provides no evidence for this. Unlike Plato's ring, Tolkien's exerts an active malevolent force that necessarily destroys the morality of the wearer.[7]
  • Cicero retells the story of Gyges in De Officiis to illustrate his thesis that a wise or good individual bases decisions on a fear of moral degradation as opposed to punishment or negative consequences. Cicero follows with a discussion of the role of thought experiments in philosophy. The hypothetical situation in question is complete immunity from punishment of the kind afforded to Gyges by his ring.[8]
  • Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz includes a modified subplot in his novel Arabian Nights and Days.

See also


  1. ^ Laird, A. (2001). "Ringing the Changes on Gyges: Philosophy and the Formation of Fiction in Plato's Republic". Journal of Hellenic Studies. 121: 12–29. doi:10.2307/631825. JSTOR 631825.
  2. ^ Herodotus 1.7–13
  3. ^ Smith, Kirby Flower (1902). "The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia". American Journal of Philology. 23 (4): 361–387. JSTOR 288700.
  4. ^ Republic 359d: "τῷ [Γύγου] τοῦ Λυδοῦ προγόνῳ". In Republic, Book 10 (Republic 612b), Socrates refers to the ring as "the ring of Gyges" (τὸν Γύγου δακτύλιον). For this reason, the story is simply called "The Ring of Gyges".
  5. ^ Holt, Philip (July 1992). "H.G. Wells and the Ring of Gyges". Science Fiction Studies. 19, Part 2 (57). JSTOR 4240153.
  6. ^ "Plato: Ethics - Ring of Gyges". Oregon State University. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  7. ^ Tolkien, The Lord of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 2, "The Shadow of the Past".
  8. ^ De Officiis 3.38–39

External links

Atticus (philosopher)

Atticus (fl. c. 175) was an ancient philosopher. All that is known of him comes from the fragments of his book preserved in Eusebius' Preparatio Evangelica. Atticus was vehemently anti-Peripatetic. His work was a polemic, possibly originating from the first holder of the Platonic philosophy chair at Athens under Marcus Aurelius.

It is not clear whether the polemic had a philosophical or a political motivation. Atticus insisted that Aristotle was an atheist, that he denied the existence of the soul, and that he rejected divine providence.

Atticus' position represents a version of Platonism according to which deviation from the literal word of the master means irredeemable heretical opposition. This version turns up occasionally in contemporary scholarship, as much in the writings of Aristotle's defenders as in those of Plato's defenders.

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Axiochus (Greek: Ἀξίοχος) is a Socratic dialogue attributed to Plato, but which has been considered spurious for over 400 years. The work dates from the Hellenistic era, c. 1st century BC. The author was probably a Platonist, or perhaps a Neopythagorean. It forms part of the consolation literature which was popular in Hellenistic and Roman era, although it is unusual in being addressed to someone who is close to death, rather than someone who has lost a loved-one.In the dialogue, Axiochus has come close to death, and is scared by the experience, despite his familiarity with the arguments which were supposed to make him scorn the fear of death. Socrates is summoned to his bedside, and consoles him with a wide variety of teachings to help Axiochus welcome death as the release of the soul to a better place.

Chariot Allegory

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Commentaries on Plato

Commentaries on Plato refers to the great mass of literature produced, especially in the ancient and medieval world, to explain and clarify the works of Plato. Many Platonist philosophers in the centuries following Plato sought to clarify and summarise his thoughts, but it was during the Roman era, that the Neoplatonists, in particular, wrote many commentaries on individual dialogues of Plato, many of which survive to the present day.

Cultural influence of Plato's Republic

Plato's Republic has been influential in literature and art.

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Demodocus (; Greek: Δημόδοκος) is purported to be one of the dialogues of Plato. The dialogue is extant and was included in the Stephanus edition published in Geneva in 1578. It is now generally acknowledged to be a fabrication by a late sophist or rhetorician.

It appears to be a combination of two separate works. The first part is a monologue (addressed to Demodocus) which argues against collective decision-making. There then follows a trilogy of dialogues (with anonymous participants) which raise three elements of doubt against common sense.


The Epinomis (Greek: Ἐπινομίς) is a dialogue attributed to Plato. Some sources in antiquity began attributing its authorship to Philip of Opus, and many modern scholars consider it spurious. The dialogue continues the discussion undertaken in Plato's Laws.

Eryxias (dialogue)

Eryxias (; Greek: Ἐρυξίας) is a Socratic dialogue attributed to Plato, but which is considered spurious. It is set in the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, and features Socrates in conversation with Critias, Eryxias, and Erasistratus (nephew of Phaeax).The dialogue concerns the topic of wealth and virtue. The position of Eryxias that it is good to be materially prosperous is defeated when Critias argues that having money is not always a good thing. Socrates then shows that money has only a conventional value. In an argument addressed to Critias, Socrates concludes that money can never be considered useful, even when it is used to buy something useful. The final conclusion of the Eryxias is that the most wealthy are the most wretched because they have so many material wants.


Gyges can refer to:

One of the Hecatoncheires from Greek mythology

King Gyges of Lydia


Ring of Gyges

Halcyon (dialogue)

Halcyon (Greek: Ἀλκυών) is a short dialogue with the distinction of being attributed in the manuscripts to both Plato and Lucian, although the work is not by either writer. Favorinus, writing in the early 2nd century, attributes it to a certain Leon.

Invisibility in fiction

Invisibility in fiction is a common plot device, found in both the science fiction and fantasy genres. In fantasy, invisibility is often invoked and dismissed at will, with a magic spell, a potion or a ring. In science fiction, invisibility is often conferred on the recipient as part of a complex process that is difficult or impossible to reverse, so that switching back and forth at frequent intervals is less likely to be done in science fiction.

On Justice

On Justice (Greek: Περὶ Δικαίου; Latin: De Justo) is a Socratic dialogue that was once thought to be the work of Plato. In the short dialogue, Socrates discusses with a friend questions about what is just and unjust.

On Virtue

On Virtue (Greek: Περὶ Ἀρετῆς; Latin: De Virtute) is a Socratic dialogue attributed to Plato, but which is considered spurious. In the short dialogue, Socrates discusses with a friend questions about whether virtue can be taught. To answer this question, the author of the dialogue does little more than copy out a few passages from the Meno almost word for word.

Philosopher king

According to Plato, a philosopher king is a ruler who possesses both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Such are the rulers of his utopian city Kallipolis. For such a community to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" (The Republic, 5.473d).


Plato (; PLAY-toe Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn, pronounced [plá.tɔːn] PLAH-tone in Classical Attic; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

He is widely considered the pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek and Western philosophy, along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle. Plato has also often been cited as one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality. The so-called Neoplatonism of philosophers like Plotinus and Porphyry influenced Saint Augustine and thus Christianity. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."Plato was the innovator of the written dialogue and dialectic forms in philosophy. Plato also appears to have been the founder of Western political philosophy. His most famous contribution bears his name, Platonism (also ambiguously called either Platonic realism or Platonic idealism), the doctrine of the Forms known by pure reason to provide a realist solution to the problem of universals. He is also the namesake of Platonic love and the Platonic solids.

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Plato's political philosophy

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