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Plato: Ze Girugameshu (2/2)

Rating: 6 votes, 5.00 average.
4. A society of specialization and the value of the unique

As described above, Plato’s ideal society is a stratified divided between three classes, as well as one where every individual is in his rightful place based on his natural talents. Harmony and justice are what occurs when there is no overlap in roles, no conflict between the classes, when each man has his own duty that he sets out to accomplish.

The theory could be taken as an explanation for Gilgamesh’s plan to cull humanity in Fate/Stay Night. Recall, if you will, his explanation to Shinji regarding the difference between the modern world and his own era:

"It happened a long time ago. I chose ten servants and tried to kill the one that I did not need. What do you think happened, Shinji?"
"Huh? They were all slaves, right? Then didn't you kill them all?"
"No. I actually could not kill anybody. None of the laborers were meaningless in the old world."
"But this world is filled with extras. I believe there would not be a single meaningful person even if I sought through a thousand people. Man, this world has gotten so friendly to humans."
"…? I don't get it. What do you want, Archer? You want the Holy Grail because you have something you want, right? Then-"
"It is a simple thing. A lot of something is ugly by itself."
The problem isn’t about any difference in strength and talent, seemingly, but rather about overlap and redundancy in skills; there isn’t really any individual in modern society that can be said to be essential for its survival.

Naturally, Plato’s city does not include only one person for each job, but it does not include more people for a single task than are required, as the very purpose of jobs is to fill a need. But what if there were more people doing a single task than necessary?

If I am the only one able to do what I must do at the right time, my role is obvious; I do my task without worrying about what others are doing, because only I can do this. Harmony is preserved easily. However, what if you introduced a second individual who can also accomplish my task at the right time?

I would then find myself confused; should I accomplish my task? I still could, hypothetically, but there doesn’t seem to be a need for me to do it anymore since someone else can/will do it. But if I do it (or if my equivalent did), what then would the one with no task to accomplish do? It seems natural that he would then turn to other functions in an attempt to fill my time. However, they too would be taken by others, and I most likely would lack the talent to fulfill them anyhow. Left with no other option, he would either then become a parasite that contributes to nothing, or seek to create some new task for himself, a task that fulfills no need. In either case, harmony is disturbed.

Thus, the simple existence of redundancy can be said to cause strife (and therefore injustice) in society.

This might seem like simply an association without proof, but there is actually some evidence that point in that direction in the source material itself. Recall Gilgamesh’s explanation for why he opposes the Shadow in Heaven’s Feel.

“It should not be surprising. I do not like it when people are killed by someone besides me. People will lose their way with such boring crimes and punishment.”

While he phrases it in his usual manner of talking about things in terms of entertainment value, his actual concern doesn’t seem to be that the Shadow is boring or against his fun (recall that in UBW he intended to allow the curse to do the selection), but rather that the people will become confused if someone besides him, the rightful ruler, is allowed to freely punish.

In other words, the Shadow is doing what Gilgamesh would want it to do, but it’s overstepping its bounds by acting without the authorization of the one who has the right to deliver death sentences, and in doing so is breaking the harmony; an executioner that kills people that haven’t been sentenced to death yet is unacceptable even if those people would later have been sentenced.

In light of this, and taking for granted a ‘just’ society is ideal regardless of morality, Gilgamesh’s assessment that most people should be removed becomes understandable. This seems further supported by the fact that the two people he shows the most respect to (Enkidu and Hakuno) both receive an acknowledgement that they are ‘the one and only’ that can fill their role. Amusingly, he opens both acknowledgements with the same derogatory comment.

Living together, conversing together, fighting together―――
That is neither a person nor a tool. That is called a friend, Enkidu.”
“You do have worth. You alone have this worth.
I hereby declare.
In all this world, only one shall be my friend.
Thus―――not for all eternity shall his worth ever change.”
I know of no one in my past who bore the slightest resemblance to the likes of such a buffoon.
You are you alone.
Stop making me repeat such tripe.”
Somewhat unrelated but still worth nothing I believe, to go back to the matter of the Shadow. It might seem ridiculous for me to argue that Gilgamesh is trying to preserve order by never letting anyone kill another without his assent; surely even Gilgamesh would think that sometimes justice is obvious?
About that...

This was before the Code of Ur-Nammu.
Later Hammurabi established his with further delineation, but the basic idea is law for humans to prosecute humans.
I lived by my standards.
I collected riches, bedded women, fought with my friend, and purged the earth of banes.
Back in Gilgamesh's time, there was no established law for humans to prosecute humans. Therefore, only someone beyond human would have the right to justly deliver punishment. As such, no matter how justified (or not) an act might seem, if you kill someone without the king's assent, you're always in the wrong and thus Angra Mainyu's wild killing is just if Gilgamesh grants it the right to do so, but not if it starts before he does.

5. Gilgamesh, Socrates and Death

An interesting aspect of Socrates, or at least of Plato’s representation of Socrates, is that he believed that a philosopher should never kill themselves, but would inevitably desire death. The first part is simple; he judges that since people are possessions of the gods, they have a duty to live to serve the gods and don’t have the right to damage what belongs to the gods (themselves).

Note that the goal and duty of a philosopher is to seek truth, but that truth cannot be found in physical body (more on this in the following section) as physical bodies are susceptible to change. According to Socrates, it is only when the soul is separated from the body by death that it becomes possible for one to access the truth directly, without the limitations and chains inflicted by the body. As long as one possesses a physical body, they are endless distracted by hunger, desires and other such things, and thus cannot fully dedicate themselves to reasoning.

Therefore, death is the ideal state that a philosopher pursues throughout their entire life; cutting themselves off from physical desires as much as possible without resorting to self-harm in order to become detached from all distractions.

With that logic, Socrates concludes that only a foolish man motivated by physical desires and slave to his passion would fear death, while the wise man would wish to seek it instead.

This view makes for an interesting contrast with Gilgamesh’s own realization about death,

I loathed, feared the death that took him away.
For the first time since birth, I was frightened of my own life.
The journey from that point could be summed up in a single word: a farce.
It was said that there was a man in the underworld who had overcome death.
For the same length of time as I had lived up to that point,
I wandered the wilderness, seeking the underworld.
Well? Just as in the epic, no?
I groveled along pathetically, with no thought in my mind but wanting only not to die.
The same motive as you all.
Not even a child of the gods was different in any way whatsoever when faced with death.
However, even my idiocy exceeded that of humans.
......Revoltingly, I continued to wallow in my own baseness.
Without knowing even for what purpose, for whose sake, was I attempting to overcome death.
Only glaring at the sky, determined to be unfading.
In this first passage, Gilgamesh is very much the foolish man conceived of by Socrates; without even knowing why, he seeks immortality simply because he fears death instinctively, not out of any thoughts of his own but simply acting out of the instinct born from his body.

…Or is he?

I don’t have proof, but I can say firmly that that’s not it.

No doubt he couldn’t forgive himself, abandoning his role.

He had determined to be the discerner.
He had determined to be the adjudicator of the people.

He had determined to see through to the very end,
not the everyday contentment, but the deeds, the future of the people,.

That was his kingship.
And that’s why―――

To witness their end,
he had sought an enduring body that would last until the end of this world.
According to Hakuno, Gilgamesh’s flight from death wasn’t out of fear, but rather out of a refusal to fail in the duty he considered his. If that’s the case, then Gilgamesh isn’t the fool who obeys his feelings blindly; he’s closer to the philosopher who desires death but can’t harm himself because of his duty and responsibilities.

However, a disagreement seemingly appears when Gilgamesh faces Utnapishtim and realizes the truth of his immortality.

A farce indeed.
The sage had half become a plant.
That is what it means to join the ranks of the gods.
I had to be immortal with the desires of a human intact.
What would come of living eternity in a body with no appetition?
Unlike Socrates, who affirms that appetites are only chains that one should seek to cast off, Gilgamesh considers life without appetite pointless. Those two views are seemingly contradictory, but if you think about it from another way, it’s established that gods cannot rule the way Gilgamesh does, and cannot understand humanity. And, as we’ve previously established, the gods in the Nasuverse sense can’t reach the truth that Gilgamesh can as he is, so joining them would be equivalent to throwing away the final goal In exchange for standing at the starting line forever.

From that point of view, “joining the ranks of the gods” would be a failure of his duty. If anything, Gilgamesh’s refusal of immortality here reaffirms Hakuno’s interpretation of his quest; if it was just out of fear, it would make no sense for him to add a condition to his immortality.

However, Gilgamesh was not truly wise at that time.

Returning above ground, I could not help but smile at my accomplishment.
With this I could overthrow death.
With this I could avenge my friend, I thought.

And I imagined the voices of the people of Uruk.
If I brought back immortality, the acclaim of the people
would reach unprecedented levels.

In the end, I too was but the child of a human....
The rashness of youth, as it is called.
Here we can see that he could still be blinded by things like a desire for the approval of others; as discussed above, this is a breach from wisdom, because the common people will acclaim anything they approve of, and not everything they approve of is good.

I was set free from everything.
Burdened with no doubts, no fears, no fixations, no duty,
I quivered in the overwhelming sensation of omnipotence.
This was élan vital. This was the reward of selfish desire.
I reveled in the belief that, for all eternity, I could do as I pleased with this joy.
Having accomplished what he sought, an ephemeral desire, Gilgamesh rejoiced in ignorance; like someone who eats good food, a temporary satisfaction that anyone can feel when they accomplish some action. Indeed, Gilgamesh himself notes that he was truly human at that moment. This affirmation of desires would seem to be contradictory with Plato’s theory, but really Plato never argued that desires didn’t bring a form of satisfaction (obviously, otherwise he would be hard pressed to explain why they’re so hard to resist); his argument is that that satisfaction isn’t something should be sought.
As if to confirm this view, it was temporary and the snake stole the herb, and it’s here that the comparison affirms itself.

This was the world of humanity.
This was what I must observe.
What would I understand of this unique appeal in an undying body?

Immortality is but the incompleteness of the common fool.
The dream of the mongrels who cannot face the end.

I had no need for immortality.
These eyes foresee the future to begin with.
There had been no reason whatsoever to fear death.

Existing in that era, unfading in that moment,
even without experiencing the passage of time,
I’ll nevertheless gaze at the distant future.
In the end, the fulfillment that Gilgamesh finds is through reason alone; without physical cravings, simply accepting the results as they will be even after he dies.

So both Gilgamesh and Socrates deride the fear of death as something that only fools have, but while Socrates affirm that death is something to be desired, Gilgamesh says nothing on the matter. Why is that? Well, I would argue that it’s because Gilgamesh achieved at that moment what Plato considers can only happen to humans once they’ve died; the ability to judge by reason alone, without the distractions of cravings or desires.

6. Theory of form

The theory of form is an interesting part of Plato’s theory. It’s considered that the changing, ephemeral, can’t truly be known, because it’s always changing. So no matter how much you study, you’ll never know the thing itself at the precise moment because by the time you’ve studied it, it’s already changed. So how can you know that something is a ‘table’, if you can never know that thing?

Plato suggested the existence of forms or ideas (often capitalized) that transcend our reality, and that everything in the physical world (not only physical objects, but also attributes like courage) are reflection, pale shadows of those ideal forms that are each perfect in themselves. Therefore, when you see a table, you recognize it as a manifestation of the ideal table that is transcendent to the world at large. A beautiful person is beautiful because they express a facet of the transcendent idea of beauty. In that way the ephemeral physical objects can be known, because they are manifestations of the eternal, and thus intelligible, forms.

As well, Plato considered that shadows, imitations, are always inferior to the true objects; a mountain is less than the mountain form it expresses a part of, the shadow of that physical mountain is less than the mountain itself, and a drawing of the shadow is even less than the shadow. The reason for this continual degradation is because the imitation cannot exist without the existence of what it imitates; if the shadow hadn’t been there, there would be no drawing, without a mountain there would be no shadow, and without form there would be no mountain. (The form, being ideal and transcendent, does not imitate anything.)

This brings us Gate of Babylon, and its original Noble Phantasm. In a way, Gate of Babylon can be said to be an interpretation of the theory of form in which the forms are physical. Consider what Gilgamesh says about Merodach vs Caliburn:

“Children cannot defy their parents. An imitation that deteriorates every time it is renewed cannot match the original model!”

Ignoring the hypocrisy of that first sentence coming from him, the specification of “deteriorating every time it is renewed.” is key. While in some cases the weapons from Gate of Babylon might have been literally passed down, and only some of them were inspiration, what matters is that they are “the original model”, and anything created afterward will be inspired by them; the mountain to the mountain form; they can recognized as themselves only because that original model exists.

This is further reinforced in CCC:

Although paradoxical, if Gilgamesh, the original Hero, did not possess it, then the later Heroes would not have their Noble Phantasms passed down to them, as they were extensions of Gilgamesh's original legend.

Like a painting, later Noble Phantasms can only exist because they came from somewhere, and only the original model, unchanging within Gate of Babylon, can be that inspiration.

And that's why even your super special NP of awesomeness has an original somewhere in the Gate.


  1. YeOfLittleFaith's Avatar
    GoB as a retroactive Noble Phantasm is funny like that.

    Seriously though, interesting read. Nicely done Siriel.
  2. castor212's Avatar
    This is one of the most awesome read I ever have the pleasure to read..