Female Guardians in Proclus’ Republic Commentary
Abstract: We have exactly one sustained, ancient treatment of what modern interpreters take to be Plato’s greatest work: the Republic. The pagan Neoplatonist Proclus (d. 485 CE) wrote a series of essays on topics in Plato’s dialogues, including two essays on the question of women Guardians in Republic V. Proclus takes the recommendation that there should be both male and female Guardians as a serious and desirable political proposal. Indeed, he is even more explicit than Plato is in insisting that there will be female Auxiliaries and perhaps even female Workers who will share the same occupation as men. Apart from these generalities, however, Proclus says very little about women’s political participation in the ordering of the ideal city. But a recurring theme in Proclus’ commentary is that political arrangements are just to the extent that they effectively mirror the political order of the cosmos. The administration of justice to disincarnate souls that is described in the Myth of Er is thus not merely an adornment at the end of the dialogue, according to him, but important information about the cosmic paradigm to which the just human polis should assimilate itself. This paper will consider the role of female guardians in Proclus’ interpretation of the Republic by looking at the cosmic paradigms for women’s administration of justice in the Myth of Er. One point to emerge from this investigation is that the female Guardians are likely to be subordinated to their male counter-parts if they play a role in the ideal polis analogous to the female divinities in the Myth of Er. A second point is that there are aspects of their role that seem to resemble some features of the ethic of care.