Plato Essay, Research Paper
Plato attacks poetry on two main fronts, claims to knowledge and as imitations. The poet as Plato knew him was a religious being, who was divinely inspired by the muse. It is therefore futile to attempt an analysis of the modern poet in comparison with the mythic poet. Instead, we must search our society to find a group which best resembles the mythic poet. And then, explore whether Plato’s attacks still holds true against are new modern foe of philosophy, if any foe exist at all.
The mythic poetry exiled from Plato’s republic expresses a way of communicating history and emotion, unlike today’s poetry , which expresses and communicates only emotions. The modern reader commonly interprets Plato’s expulsion of poets as an attack on the emotional part of are being. However, this attack was not on poets as we understand the meaning of poetry it was on a form of thinking and communicating important information. During Plato’s era written communication and conceptual thinking was just beginning to come into existence on a mass scale. The Greek alphabet was created well before Plato came onto the seen; however, history moves slowly and a writer needs a literate society as an audience. In short the literacy , which a writer can exploit, depends on whether the educational system creates a reader. Plato was not trying to simply exile poets as an attack on art he was trying to change the way people viewed the world. Plato moved thought towards a conceptual form of thinking, which is the form of thinking the modern person uses most. Our entire modern educational system is built on conceptual thinking today. Plato was a catalyst for an evolution in thought to a superior form of thinking, and he was not the first to begin this evolution many of what we label as pre-Socratics began this movement. Plato was not the beginning of the Greek enlightenment he is more the climax or water shed in that period of history.
The transition from oral to literate habits of communication in Greek culture begins with Hesoid. Hesoid used poetry himself while questioning the accepted epic poems of Homer. It is important to understand that Homer’s works were not simply pretty stories to be enjoyed, they existed as a bible for Greek thought. In a sense Hesoid began the questioning of accepted thought and Plato had the solutions to the problems in Greek thought. During Hesoid’s era oral verse was the instrument of a cultural indoctrination, the ultimate purpose of was the preservation of a group identity. Hesoid’s works are best described as encyclopedias of Greek culture. His first work Theogony in superficial terms is a catalogue of the names of Greek gods and their functions arranged in families. We must not over look the fact that Hesoid did use Homeric verse in his writings. Homeric verse must be viewed as a necessity for any writings during this period since catalogue in its pure or isolated form was not likely to survive in a wholly oral medium that existed in Greek society. However, Hesoid’s cataloguing was a movement in the evolution of thought towards a conceptual form of thinking. The Works and Days is a catalogue of exhortations, parables, proverbs, aphorisms, sayings, wise saws and instances, interlard with stories ( Havek 295). Hesoid’s writings had to be in the form of a narrative context, phrased with a maximum of active verbs and adjectives in order to dress up the information as action, in order for the writings to have a place in living memory or Greek mythic thought. Hesoid himself thought in mythic terms his cataloguing was a step towards conceptual thought, meaning Hesoid did not have the ability to write like a modern thinker he was a man of his age as we all are. Genius allows a man to move his age ahead, but he cannot leapfrog the natural steps of evolution. Hesoid was beginning the philosophical concept of thinking of things in spatial terms.
In between Plato and Hesoid is Socrates a figure of paradox as contradictory as any of his predecessors. Socrates’ methodology was of the oral tradition learning through dialogue, yet defiantly struggling to achieve a set of non-poetic syntactical relations and a non-poetic vocabulary. Socrates’ discussion with the rhapsode Ion claims that the majority of people in Athens neither know themselves or poetry. Ion, the reciter of Homer, claims to be an expert interpreter of poetry making him a man of great wisdom and common sense. Socrates shows Ion to be an imitator of poets who are imitators of the muse, making him thrice removed from the pure form of beauty. Socrates admits that Ion is very skilled at manipulating the emotions of his audience, but shows him to be nothing more than an unintelligent fool. At this point we have left what was a conversation between Ion and Socrates, and Plato is entering his own ideology into Socrates. Plato’s purpose in doing so is to give the reader a prime example of the evils of poetry. It allows men or women of little intelligence to be perceived as great wise men because of their ability to move the audience’s emotions.
The core of Plato’s objection to poetry is in its ability to manipulate human emotion. The attacks on poetry based on it being an imitation is an attack. Plato admired poetry in some ways; however, he was more afraid of its effect in the hands of fools, such as Ion. Imitation is something we all do on everyday, it is our natural tendency as imperfect beings. The forms are perfect standards on which we base everything. Imagine drawing a circle the circle you draw will be only an imitation of the perfect form of a circle. Any activity one undertakes is an imitation, so why does poetry need to be exiled for this common offense? The mythic poet’s claim to knowledge is one of ignorance and not deception. Homer’s epic poems were the Greek’s written bible, the claims in these poems were not taken lighthearted by Greek society. They were interpreted similarly to how a Christian interprets the bible. Socrates was executed for violating and attacking these beliefs. The poets were connected and inspired by the muses who have a connection to the gods. History has shown in our own more modern era the danger of people following unethical religious beliefs. The crusades, Mohammed’s rise to power, and the handling of the Incans’ by the Catholic church and Spain are all examples of otrasidies committed for the sake of a zealous belief. In modern terms Plato was arguing for the separation of church and state and not the separation of art and state. The form of beauty is the form that poetry attempts to imitate. Historically beauty was the foundation of Greek or Hellenistic society. People who viewed as not having beauty were exiled from main stream society, such as lepers or people born with physical defects. It is easy to romanticize Greek society for all of its art and beauty; however, the Greek people had not yet began to advance in the field of ethics. Right and wrong was interpreted through the gods, gods that valued human life like a child values a toy. Plato was not exiling poetry from his republic he was exiling organized religion. Similarly, Communism exiled religion from its republic in Russia for similar reasons that led Plato to exile poets.
The veil that blurred or modern mind from understanding why Plato exiled poets has now been removed. It is humorous to view the rift between philosophy and poetry that has existed since Plato’s works have resurfaced in western civilization. Modern poets have taken offense to an attack that was not directed towards them at all. Poets no longer are viewed as having religious significance, or any direct connection with a god. The poet may still have the ability to move are emotional senses and sway our thought, but they do not have the same effect as a poet swaying our emotions with a religious fever. Modern society has generally accepted analytical thought or conceptual thought. A southern Baptist preacher, or an evangelist has more in common with a mythic poet than modern poets due. Poetry is still an imitation of beauty; however, the effect these imitations have on society are not similar to the effect mythic poets had on Greek society. Plato’s quarrel was not with humans exploring beauty and emotion. He quarreled with living a life not guided by reason. Plato would insist that we have a balance of emotion and spirituality in our being, in order to have a healthy soul. Otherwise, why did he not simply exile all forms of art and emotion. If his quarrel were truly with poetry on the basis it simply made us emotional banning all emotional behavior would have been the more logical conclusion.
Would Plato exile southern Baptist or evangelist from his republic? Yes, these religious zealots place faith above reason. Claims to knowledge on how a society should exist and what is the best way to live life are commonly made by religious enthusiast. Evangelist commonly state they can heal with a touch, while they hoop and holler before an audience using many skills and techniques to manipulate their captive audience’s emotional state. This form of religion may be a minority in our society but it is a large minority. Football stadiums full of these zealots form in the name of blind faith. The verse that preachers use is poetic in its nature. Inspiration is used to make their claims to knowledge, much like the claims to knowledge mythic poets professed.