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Notes for
"The Allegory of the Cave"
by Plato (360 B.C.)
[For the text of the allegory, click here.]

     These exercises were developed primarily for an experiment in my college Freshman composition course. Most of my students begin that course unable to recognize "is" as a verb or "of" as a preposition. It is, therefore, extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to help these students learn what they probably should know about sentence structure, especially since most of the course is not about grammar. But in addition to writing problems, many of the students have difficulty understanding essays such as Plato's "Allegory." My intention, therefore is to try to use some of the key passages in the "Allegory" as introductory and exercise material for their work on syntax. 

Exercise # 1 AK  

     This is a somewhat long passage for an exercise, but my intention is to use it as both an illustration and an exercise. I intend to give the students the instructional material for KISS Levels One and Two, and the Level Two analysis key for this passage. They will be asked to study the answer key, and then do the exercise, with, if they wish, the answer key in front of them. My hope here is that by actually marking the text, the students will be more attentive to the phrases and S/V/C patterns than they would be if I simply asked them to "study the answer key." Simultaneoulsy, of course, they will be working with the initial literal description of the cave.

Exercise # 2 AK  

    I'm not sure if or how I will use this passage. I was fascinated by the oxymoron in "liberated and compelled," and I select passages for this site before I analyze them in detail. This selection may be too complex for introductory work, and later in the semester we focus more on the students' own writing.

Exercise # 3 AK  

     In addition to making a fairly simple early exercise, this passage suggests that learning is a process, a series of steps.

Exercise # 4 AK  

     The last two main clauses would create some serious frustration for students who still have problems recognizing subjects and verbs, but this might make a good exercise on prepositional phrases and S/V/C patterns for students who are reading the "Allegory." In this passage, of course, Plato spells out the primary symbolism of the allegory.

Exercise # 5 AK  

     The substance of this passage explains the primary purpose of the allegory, but the complex clause structure in it make it far too advanced for most of my students. As the notes indicate, many grammarians will disagree about how it should be explained. It is, by the way, a very interesting example of ellipsis. I wonder how it would work as a de-combining exercise?

     An allegory is a symbolic story that can be read systematically on a number of different levels. It achieves that ability because of the relationships among the symbols in the story. This symbolism starts on the literal level, so it is very important to picture the physical relationships among the things that are being described. To help yourself understand these relationships, study the following drawings that were made by two previous students in my ENL 121 course: