The Myth of Er - Synopsis

Story by Plato, from The Republic, Book X 614-621, Jowett translation
Adapted by Leigh Barrett; Music selected by Leigh Barrett

The Myth of Er concludes Plato’s Republic, and is the account by a soldier, Er, who dies in battle.  To everyone’s surprise, when the bodies of the dead are recovered, they find Er’s body has not decomposed.  Two days later, on his funeral pyre, he rises and tells those gathered of the extraordinary journey he has witnessed through the afterlife.  He describes how those who have lived a moral life, are rewarded with a choice of how they live their next life, while those who have been found guilty of horrific crimes are punished after death.

After his death, Er came across a wondrous scene – where two openings appear into and out of the earth, and another two into and out of heaven.  Judges sat between these openings, ordering the souls which path to follow.  Those who appeared out of heaven were clean, and told stories of beautiful sights, while those who appeared from the earth were filthy, and crying, telling awful tales of how they were punished tenfold for the deeds committed when they were alive.

Some – those who were truly wicked and had committed terrible deeds – were never released, but instead subjected to terrible torture before being cast to a dark eternity.

All the souls gather in a meadow, exchanging their stories before starting a journey that leads them to the Spindle of Necessity.  The three Fates, Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos, sit on their thrones, and supervise the distribution of lottery tokens.  As their lottery ticket is called, the souls came forward to select their new life, whether man or animal.  Many decisions are opposite to the life they had already lived – a man who had only experienced the wonders of heaven, chooses a soul and is horrified to discover it requires him to eat his children. Others, like Orpheus who had been killed by women and chooses to be a swan, select animals as their next, possibly easier, incarnation.

The souls are assigned a guardian to guide them through their new life, and begin their long journey to the River of Forgetfulness (on the Plain of Lethe), where they drink and forget their past.  As they sleep, their souls are lifted up into the night, completing their journey.  Er awakens to recount the story and warn people to live their best possible life to avoid such horrible punishment that might otherwise await them, and virtues honestly lived will be rewarded.

Duration: 42 minutes


The music selected draws from modern world music genres. While the artists come from various parts of the world, there is a cohesiveness in both the sound and instruments that can easily be interpreted into dance form.

To the best of our knowledge, this story has never been told in this way, and since it is such a vivid and wonderful tale, perhaps Plato should finally get his moment on stage.

Music features: Deepak Ram, Kristi Stassinopoulou, Alien Soap Opera, Jaya Lakshmi, Ashish Joshi, Kabul Workshop, and Pops Mohamed.