Plato’s ‘Ring of Gyre’
When it comes to philosophy, I certainly don’t have all the answers and when it comes to Plato, I even struggle with the questions! But the one thing Plato and I have in common is our passion for telling stories. And as all good storytellers know, there is no better way to engage a group of children and get them thinking, than spinning a good yarn. And Plato’s stories are thousands of years old. That’s impressive!
This afternoon, through the magic of storytelling
we gathered around the fire (okay so there was no fire!) but we huddled in our discussion circle, as I retold Plato’s story, ‘The Ring of Gyre’. In this story, Gyre, a shepherd, finds a ring with the powers of invisibility and uses this power to overturn the King and become ruler of the Kingdom. Email me if you would like a copy of this story.
When I asked the group what they thought of this ancient tale, they had plenty of burning questions which I hastily wrote down on the whiteboard. Some of the questions allowed our imagination to roam. Some required some scientific explanations such as the cave’s temperature and the Earth’s core. And some questions required a little chasing around, like whether the ring was good or evil. The ring was powerful – we all agreed on that.
Here’s our list of questions:
Did Gyre ever go back to the cave?
Did the ring have other powers?
Who was the corpse and where did it come from?
Was the cave hot because it was closer to the Earth’s core?
What was the origin of the ring? Where did it come from?
What does the horse symbolise?
How did they kill the King?
Why did Gyre want to kill the King?
Was the ring good or bad?
Why did the Queen believe the Gyre?
Can you see yourself when you are invisible? Can you walk through doorways and walls?
After a lengthy discussion, we wrote a summary of our understandings – these are the things we agreed on.
Our Understandings About the Ring:
The ring is powerful.
The ring gave Gyre opportunities he wouldn’t normally have had as a shepherd.
The ring itself is neither good nor bad. It is the person wearing the ring who determines its power.
You would need a strong mind to resist the temptation of doing the wrong thing if you were invisible.
The ring I had used to tell the story sat in the middle of our discussion circle. So far our discussion had centred on Gyre. “Suppose you leave tonight,” I say “and you are now in posession of the ring. What would you do?”
There is a flurry of ideas. You could get into stuff, like the movies, for free. You could get out of stuff, like school. (But wouldn’t someone notice that?) You could take what you wanted. We decided to write our ideas down in our journals.
But Hayden, who is usually quick to start writing, sat quietly, looking at the others. “I’m finished”, he said. “I know exactly what I would do.”
Then those that wanted to, shared their ideas.
Many of our reflections revolved around food. Becoming invisible suddenly meant that chocolate fountains and donuts and drinks were there for the taking. But was it right to take things? Even if no one got hurt in the process? You could do good things like helping others and solving crimes. Then Hayden spoke up. “I wouldn’t touch the ring. I wouldn’t even pick it up and try it on. It could change your life forever.” We tossed ideas back and forth. There seemed to be ‘layers’ when it comes to good and bad. Taking a book, for example, wasn’t as bad as murdering someone.
“So why did Plato tell this story? What is he saying about people and their behaviour?” I ask.
“Is he saying that people do bad things if they don’t get caught?” Someone asks.
I throw it open to the group. Do we do the right thing because we are scared of the consequences?
At first, the group nod in agreement. Being in trouble is really bad. They all have anecdotes about the consequences of making poor decisions!
But then a voice pipes up…I’m not sure. I think sometimes we do the right thing because we want to.
“Yeah,” another boy agrees, “sometimes I lend things to people just because I can and I like to.”
“You might do the right thing for the feeling it gives you. It’s like …um..a fresh start.”
“It’s a warm feeling,” someone says, “in here,” and points to her heart.
We are still talking when the parents arrive and it’s time to say goodbye.
But somewhere in the universe, I imagine Plato, perched under a tree, listening carefully to this group of kids trying to untangle his ancient story. He would be smiling. I’m sure of that.
What about you? What would you do if you found the ring?