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Larding the plain

It seems Shakespeare coined the phrase ‘larding the plain’ in King Henry V, Act IV, in the description of the death of the Duke of York. The language carries both physical and symbolic meaning, showing honor in the loss of death; nobility and sacrifice:

In which array, brave soldier, doth he lie,
Larding the plain; and by his bloody side,
Yoke-fellow to his honor-owing wounds
Benjamin Jowett made the choice to use the phrase in his translation of Plato’s description of what a tyrant is not in The Republic, Book VIII, 566c-d:
And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not “larding the plain” with his bulk, but himself the overthrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute.
The Greek passage is as follows:
ὁ δὲ δὴ προστάτης ἐκεῖνος αὐτὸς δῆλον δὴ ὅτι “μέγας” [566δ] “μεγαλωστὶ” Hom. Il. 16.776 οὐ κεῖται, ἀλλὰ καταβαλὼν ἄλλους πολλοὺς ἕστηκεν ἐν τῷ δίφρῳ τῆς πόλεως, τύραννος ἀντὶ προστάτου ἀποτετελεσμένος.
Plato, as indicated, is quoting Homer’s description of the death of Hector’s charioteer Cebriones in the Iliad 16.750:
ὃ δ᾽ ἐν στροφάλιγγι κονίης
κεῖτο μέγας μεγαλωστί, λελασμένος ἱπποσυνάων.
In Murray’s translation, that is: “But he in the whirl of dust lay mighty in his mightiness, forgetful of his horsemanship.”

So Paul Shorey translates the Plato, VIII 566c-d, as follows:
“And then obviously that protector does not lie prostrate, “‘mighty with far-flung limbs,’”Hom. Il. 16.776 in Homeric overthrow, but overthrowing many others towers in the car [i.e. ship] of state transformed from a protector into a perfect and finished tyrant.”
The phrases ‘larding the plain’ and ‘mighty in mightiness’ convey a certain kind of death. This is not a death that is littering, but awesome: the great human cost in war. This symbolism is reversed in Plato’s description of the tyrant, who is faithful to none, ready to die for nothing yet ready to kill; who does not fall from the chariot – as would be indicated by the Iliad reference, but rather drives the car forwards. But why the choice of metaphor about a brave Trojan, and not an Achaean? Is it to further equate the tyrant with the enemy?

Jowett may have chosen to substitute the Iliad with a ‘popular equivalent’, from Shakespeare, as the Shakespearean phrase would have been known by most readers at the time – but, the Shakespearean meaning of the word notwithstanding [1], the word ‘lard’ in this context has a rather strange ring to it, given that the description of how democracy becomes tyranny largely points to the problem of people’s increasing appetites. Rulers no longer give to the land of themselves, but take it over.

Once ‘transformed [into a] finished tyrant’, the tyrant smiles – but in the context of Plato’s Republic, not only is he not happy, but the most miserable of men.

The problem of the tyrant is part of a larger riddle in The Republic surrounding numbers (introduced in VIII 546). The number of the tyrant is 729 (IX 587e). Calculations are made of divinity, the state, the ‘baffling calculation … of the difference between the just and the unjust man in respect of pleasure and pain’ (IX 587e-588a)… According to Jowett in the Introduction:
divine creation is perfect, and is represented or presided over by a perfect or cyclical number; human generation is imperfect, and represented or presided over by an imperfect number or series of numbers … Plato believes in a power of number far beyond what he could see realized in the world around him, and he knows the great influence which ‘the little matter of 1, 2, 3’ exercises upon education.
The tyrant demonstrates the disorder that emerges when (invisible) values are not grasped and cultivated. By reminding us that not even all deaths ‘weigh’ the same (the tyrant was ‘not’ even equivalent to a brave enemy), Plato indirectly asks whether we know how to measure life.

[1] Shakespeare largely used the verb ‘lard’ in his works to mean ‘garnish’.

Afterword: Thank you to Dahai for the excellent question that led to this post.

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