AND now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is
enlightened or unenlightened: --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.
  I see.
  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.
  You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
  Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or
the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall
of the cave?
  True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they
were never allowed to move their heads?
  And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would
only see the shadows?
  Yes, he said.
  And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not
suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
  Very true.
  And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from
the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the
passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing
  No question, he replied.
  To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the
shadows of the images.
  That is certain.
  And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the
prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when
any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn
his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer
sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see
the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows;
and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before
was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to
being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a
clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine
that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and
requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not
fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the
objects which are now shown to him?
  Far truer.
  And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not
have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take
in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will
conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now
being shown to him?
  True, he now
  And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and
rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of
the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When
he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be
able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
  Not all in a moment, he said.
  He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper
world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of
men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves;
then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the
spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better
than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
  Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections
of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place,
and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
  He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season
and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible
world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his
fellows have been accustomed to behold?
  Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about
  And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den
and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would
felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
  Certainly, he would.
  And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves
on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to
remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and
which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw
conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such
honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not
say with Homer,

  Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,

and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after
their manner?
  Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than
entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
  Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the
sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to
have his eyes full of darkness?
  To be sure, he said.
  And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring
the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den,
while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become
steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit
of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men
would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes;
and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any
one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only
catch the offender, and they would put him to death.