The Republic

Gyges and the ring

[Gyges' territory]Gyges was a shepherd. One day while he was out shepherding, there was a storm, which caused a huge hole to open up in the ground. Gyges boldly climbed down into it. He saw a giant bronze horse. The horse had doors. Gyges went in and saw a corpse of a man of more than human dimensions. There was a gold ring on his finger. Gyges took it and put it on.

Later he went to the usual shepherds' meeting. Idly he sat twisting the ring. Then he discovered something amazing. When he turned the bezel of the ring towards his palm, it was as if he'd become invisible! His mates were talking about him as if he wasn't there. A little experimentation was enough to convince him that he did become invisible, every time he twisted the ring. A delegation of shepherds went regularly to report to the king. Gyges got himself included. Using the ring he seduced the queen. She helped him murder the king. Gyges was king now.

Don't ask whether this story is true, that's not the point, says Cicero when he discusses it (some centuries later). But if you had the power to become invisible and could get away with murder, would you be tempted? If so, you do not believe in doing good for its own sake - you're just too scared of getting caught.

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