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Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Terry Webb was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in , Poetry To God Volume 2: No Fault Found by [Webb, Terry ].
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- Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry
I will discuss them in that order, and in the final section of the essay shall briefly examine the famous question of the poetic and rhetorical dimension of Plato's own writings. I shall look for connections between our four dialogues, though I do not believe that our chosen texts present a picture of poetry and rhetoric that is altogether unified indeed, this could not be claimed even of the Republic taken by itself.
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The debate about which assumptions are best is an ongoing one, but not germane to the present discussion. In referring to Socrates, I shall mean only the figure as represented by Plato; nothing follows, for present purposes, about the historical accuracy of Plato's depiction. Further, it is not the case that the views Plato puts into the mouth of his Socrates are necessarily espoused by Plato himself; they may or may not be those of Plato. Since Plato did not write a treatise in his own voice, telling us what his views are, it is impossible to know with certainty which views he espouses at least on the basis of the works he composed.
In several cases, one of which will be examined in the final section of this essay, it seems reasonably clear that Plato cannot be espousing without qualification a view that his Socrates is endorsing. With these principles firmly in mind, however, I shall occasionally refer as I already have to Plato as presenting this or that view. For as author of all the statements and drama of the dialogues, he does indeed present the views in question; and on occasion it is convenient and simpler to say he is advocating this or that position for example, the position that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry.
He is a performer but not a stage actor.
Poetry To God Volume 2: No Fault Found: wesatimunogo.cf: Terry Webb: Libri in altre lingue
Ion is depicted as superb at making the Iliad and Odyssey come alive, at communicating their drama to his audience and at involving them intimately. As he puts it in the dialogue that bears his name: But Ion thinks himself capable of yet more, for he also claims to be an expert in explaining what Homer means. He's an exegete see a7 or interpreter par excellence, and this claim especially intrigues Socrates. He does not permit Ion to actually exhibit his skills as a rhapsode, and instead insists that he engage in give-and-take about the abilities Ion claims to possess.
This is typical of Socrates' method; he forces his interlocutor to give an account of his commitments and way of life. As both reciter and exegete, the rhapsode has no exact analogue today. Nonetheless, the implications of the Ion are broad; while Ion is not a poet himself, he bears important traits in common with the poet. The thrust of Socrates' initial questioning is revealing. Essentially, he attempts to show that Ion is committed to several theses that are not compatible with one another, unless a rather peculiar, saving assumption is introduced. Ion claims that he is a first rate explicator of Homer; that he is a first rate explicator only of Homer, and loses interest as well as competence if another poet such as Hesiod is brought up a3—4, b8—c2; c4—8 ; and that Homer discusses his subjects much better than do any other poets d4—11, a4—8.
Notice that Socrates's first order of business is to get Ion to agree that a number of claims are being made by him; while this may seem obvious, it is an essential condition for Socrates' inquiry, and is a distinctive characteristic of the sort of thing Socrates does as a philosopher. If Ion is an exegete or explicator of Homer's poems, he must surely understand what the poet means, else he could not explain the poet's thoughts. This seemingly commonsensical point is asserted by Socrates at the start c1—5 , and happily accepted by Ion.
However, if Ion understands what the poet says about X , and judges that the poet speaks best about X , he must be in a position to assess other poets' pronouncements about the subject in question. For example, Homer talks a great deal about how war is waged; as an expert on Homer who claims that Homer spoke beautifully about that subject in the sense of got it right , Ion must be in a position to explain just how Homer got it right and how Hesiod, say, got it wrong, as a series of simple analogies show.
If you can knowledgeably e10 pick out a good speaker on a subject, you can also pick out the bad speaker on it, since the precondition of doing the former is that you have knowledge of the relevant subject matter. But this seems to contradict Ion's assertion that he can explain only Homer, not the other poets. Let us recapitulate, since the steps Socrates is taking are so important for his critique of poetry it is noteworthy that at several junctures, Socrates generalizes his results from epic to dithyrambic, encomiastic, iambic, and lyric poetry; e5—a7, b7—c7.
To interpret Homer well, we have to understand what Homer said; to do that, and to support our judgment that he spoke superlatively well, we have to understand the subject matter about which Homer speaks just as we would in, say, evaluating someone's pronouncements about health. Further, Homer himself must have understood well that about which he speaks. As interpreters or assessors, we are claiming to be experts judging a claim in this case Homer's to expertise, just as though we were members of a medical examination board considering an application to the profession. So as interpreters we are making claims about the truth of Homer's teachings about XYZ ; and thus we are assuming that Homer sought to state the truth about XYZ.
Given that he discusses the central topics of human and godly life c1-d2 , it would seem that Homer claims to be wise, and that as his devoted encomiasts we too must be claiming to be wise d6-e1. But claims to wisdom are subject to counter-claims the poets disagree with each other, as Socrates points out ; and in order to adjudicate between them, as well as support our assessment of their relative merits, we must open ourselves to informed discussion both technical and philosophical. It is but a step from there to the proposition that neither Ion nor Homer can sustain their claims to knowledge, and therefore could not sustain the claim that the poems are fine and beautiful works.
In passage after passage, Homer pronounces on subjects that are the province of a specialized techne art or skill , that is, a specialized branch of knowledge. But neither the rhapsode nor Homer possesses knowledge of all or indeed perhaps any of those specialized branches generalship, chariot making, medicine, navigation, divination, agriculture, fishing, horsemanship, cow herding, cithara playing, wool working, etc. Ion attempts to resist this by claiming that thanks to his study of Homer, he knows what a general for example should say d5.
To this might be added the claim that the poets and their exponents know the nature of the cosmos and of the divine. In the Republic Socrates in effect allows them comprehensive claims to knowledge along those lines, and then attacks across the board, seeking to show that the poets have got it wrong on all important counts. So when Ion claims that Homer speaks beautifully about X, he just means that Homer speaks beautifully in a rhetorical sense even though he Homer does not necessarily know what he is talking about. By extension, the poet would on this interpretation make the same claim about himself.
This would seem to reduce them to rhetoricians, which in effect is what Socrates argues in the Gorgias , with the further proviso that rhetoric as popularly practiced is not even a techne. Poetry-as-mere-rhetoric is not a promising credential for authority either to educate all of Greece or to better one's audience; b. Ion would be liable to the question as to how he knows all that , however; and in any case would at best shift Socrates' attack to the real target, viz.
It consists in the thesis that Ion recites and Homer composes not from knowledge but from divine inspiration. Neither knows what he is saying, but is nonetheless capable of speaking or composing beautifully thanks to the divine. They are like the worshippers of Bacchus, out of their right minds b4—6. This creative madness, as we might call it, they share with other Muse-inspired artists as well as prophets and diviners b7-d1. This is supposed to explain why Ion can recite only Homer beautifully; he's been divinely inspired only in that area, and that is all he means when he says that Homer is better than his rival poets.
The spark is generated by the god, and is passed down through the poet to the rhapsode and then to the audience. In Socrates' unforgettable simile, the relationship of the god to poet to rhapsode to audience is like a magnetized sequence of rings, each of which sticks to the next thanks to the power of the divine magnet at the start e7—b4 , as though they were links in a chain as we might put it.
This simile helps to answer an important question: Socrates' answer is that as the last link on this chain of inspiration, we are capable of being deeply affected by poetry.
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In the Ion he doesn't offer a further explanation of how this effect is supposed to happen—for that, we will turn to the Republic —but the important point is that it does happen. It would seem that the audience is transformed by the experience in a way that momentarily takes them out of themselves.
Perhaps it does not leave them as they were, for their understanding of what properly elicits their grief or their laughter would seem to be shaped by this powerful experience, an experience they presumably repeat many times throughout childhood and beyond. None of this would matter much if superb poetry left us unmoved, or in any case as we were. Plato's critique depends on the assumption that poetry can and does shape the soul. One problem is indicated by the last few lines of the dialogue, where Socrates offers Ion a choice: How easy it would be to confuse divine and human madness to borrow a distinction from the Phaedrus a5—c4!
And not all of the contenders for the prize Ion has won could be equally worthy of promotion to divine status. For Plato, this means that they must be held accountable. It is philosophy's mission to force them to give an account of themselves, and to examine its soundness. This would mean that they are required to engage philosophy on its turf, just as Ion has somewhat reluctantly done. The legitimacy of that requirement is itself a point of contention, it is one aspect of the quarrel between philosophy and poetry.
In order to respond to the famous challenge put to Socrates by Glaucon and Adeimantus, it is necessary to define justice. It turns out that philosophic guardians are to rule the polis, and the next question concerns their education e2. The concern in book II is very much with the proper education of a citizen, as befits the project of creating a model city. From the outset, Socrates treats the poems those by Hesiod and Homer are singled out, but the critique isn't meant to be confined to them as though they contained not just falsehoods, but falsehoods held up as models of good behavior.
The poems are taken as educational and thus broadly political texts; persuasion see c7 of a class of the young is very much at stake. The young cannot judge well what is true and false; since a view of things taken on at early age is very hard to eradicate or change, it is necessary to ensure that they hear only myths that encourage true virtue d7-e3.
Thus while the critique of poetry in book II and beyond is in this sense shaped by the contextual concerns, it is not limited to them. The scope of the critique is breathtaking. Along the way Socrates makes yet another point of great importance, namely that the poets ought not be permitted to say that those punished for misdeeds are wretched; rather, they must say that in paying a just penalty, bad men are benefited by the god b2—6.
Socrates is starting to push against the theses that bad people will flourish or that good people can be harmed. The cosmos is structured in such a way as to support virtue. In book III Socrates expands the argument considerably. The concern now is squarely with poetry that encourages virtue in the souls of the young. Courage and moderation are the first two virtues considered here; the psychological and ethical effects of poetry are now scrutinized. The entire portrait of Hades must go, since it is neither true nor beneficial for auditors who must become fearless in the face of death.
Death is not the worst thing there is, and all depictions of famous or allegedly good men wailing and lamenting their misfortunes must go or at least, be confined to unimportant women and to bad men; e9—a3. The poets must not imitate see c3 for the term gods or men suffering any extremes of emotion, including hilarity, for the strong souls are not overpowered by any emotion, let along any bodily desire. Nor do they suffer from spiritual conflict c.
He does so in a way that marks a new direction in the conversation. The issue turns out to be of deep ethical import, because it concerns the way in which poetry affects the soul. Up until now, the mechanism, so to speak, has been vague; now it becomes a little bit clearer. The notion of mimesis , missing from the Ion , now takes center stage.
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For then the poet is likening himself to this character, and trying to make the audience believe that it's the character speaking. Some poetry comedy and tragedy are mentioned proceeds wholly by imitation, another wholly by simple narration dithyrambs are mentioned , and epic poetry combines the two forms of narrative.
What follows this classificatory scheme is a polemic against imitation. The initial thesis is that every person can do a fine job in just one activity only. Consequently, nobody can do a fine job of imitating more than one thing for example, an actor cannot be a rhapsode, a comic poet cannot be a tragic poet, if any of these is finely done. Imitation is itself something one does, and so one cannot both imitate X say, generalship well and also do the activity X in question eb.
It has to be said that this thesis is set out with little real argument. In any case, the best souls the guardians, in this case, in the city in speech ought not imitate anything. And were they to imitate anything, every care must be taken that they are ennobled rather than degraded as a result. Unlike simple narrative, mimesis poses a particular psychic danger, because as the speaker of the narrative one may take on the character of literary persona in question. There is no airtight barrier between throwing yourself especially habitually into a certain part, body and soul, and being molded by the part; no firm boundary, in that sense, between what happens on and off the stage.
By contrast, Socrates argues, a simple narration preserves distance between narrator and narrated. Before passing onto critiques of music and gymnastic, Socrates concludes this section of his critique of poetry with the stipulation that a poet who imitates all things both good and bad in all styles cannot be admitted into the good polis. This critique of mimetic poetry has struck not a few readers as a bit strange and obtuse, even putting aside the question of the legitimacy of censorship of the arts.
It seems not to distinguish between the poet, the reciter of the poem, and the audience; no spectatorial distance is allowed to the audience; and the author is allowed little distance from the characters he is representing. All become the speakers or performers of the poem when they say or think the lines; and speaking the poem, taking it on as it were, is alleged to have real effects on one's dispositions. In book II the critique of poetry focused on mimesis understood as representation; the fundamental point was that poets misrepresent the nature of the subjects about which they write e.
They do not produce a true likeness of their topics. The renewed criticism leads up to the famous statement that there exists an ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy.
Book X starts us off with a reaffirmation of a main deficiency of poets: Socrates posits that there are Forms or Ideas of beds and tables, the maker of which is a god; there are imitations thereof, namely beds and tables, produced by craftsmen such as carpenters who behold the Forms as though they were looking at blueprints ; thirdly, there are imitators of the products of the craftsmen, who, like painters, create a kind of image of these objects in the world of becoming.
The tripartite schema presents the interpreter with many problems. Let us focus on one of the implications of this schema, about which Socrates is quite specific. The poets don't know the originals of i. The fundamental point is by now familiar to us: Even putting aside all of the matters relating to arts and crafts technai such as medicine , and focusing on the greatest and most important things—above all, the governance of societies and the education of a human being—Homer simply does not stand up to examination ce.
And what, apart from their own ignorance of the truth, governs their very partial perspective on the world of becoming?
Socrates implies that they pander to their audience, to the hoi polloi b3—4. This links them to the rhetoricians as Socrates describes them in the Gorgias. At the same time, they take advantage of that part in us the hoi polloi are governed by; here Socrates attempts to bring his discussion of psychology, presented since book III, to bear.
The ensuing discussion is remarkable in the way in which it elaborates on these theses. How would a decent person respond to such a calamity? Socrates sketches the character of the decent and good person this way: This may be a sketch of Socrates himself, whose imitation Plato has produced. By contrast, the tragic imitators excel at portraying the psychic conflicts of people who are suffering and who do not even attempt to respond philosophically. Since their audience consists of people whose own selves are in that sort of condition too, imitators and audience are locked into a sort of mutually reinforcing picture of the human condition.
Both are captured by that part of themselves given to the non-rational or irrational; both are most interested in the condition of internal conflict. Onlookers become emotively involved in the poet's drama. Another remarkable passage follows: So the danger posed by poetry is great, for it appeals to something to which even the best—the most philosophical—are liable, and induces a dream-like, uncritical state in which we lose ourselves in the emotions in question above all, in sorrow, grief, anger, resentment. That is why poetry, with its throbbing rhythms and beating of breasts, appeals equally to the nondescript mob in the theater and to the best among us.
But if poetry goes straight to the lower part of the psyche, that is where it must come from. He does not separate knowledge of beauty and knowledge of good. It is as though the pleasure we take in the representation of sorrow on the stage will—because it is pleasure in that which the representation represents and not just a representation on the stage or in a poem —transmute into pleasure in the expression of sorrow in life.
And that is not only an ethical effect, but a bad one, for Plato. These are ingredients of his disagreements on the subject with Aristotle, as well as with myriad thinkers since then. The poets help enslave even the best of us to the lower parts of our soul; and just insofar as they do so, they must be kept out of any community that wishes to be free and virtuous. Famously, or notoriously, Plato refuses to countenance a firm separation between the private and the public, between the virtue of the one and the regulation of the other. What goes on in the theater, in your home, in your fantasy life, are connected.
Poetry unregulated by philosophy is a danger to soul and community. The conclusion is the same: All in a moment through the gloom were seen Ten thousand Banners rise into the Air [ ] With Orient Colours waving: Anon they move In perfect Phalanx to the Dorian mood [ ] Of Flutes and soft Recorders; such as rais'd To hight of noblest temper Hero's old Arming to Battel , and in stead of rage Deliberate valour breath'd , firm and unmov'd With dread of death to flight or foul retreat, [ ] Nor wanting power to mitigate and swage With solemn touches, troubl'd thoughts, and chase Anguish and doubt and fear and sorrow and pain From mortal or immortal minds.
Thus they Breathing united force with fixed thought [ ] Mov'd on in silence to soft Pipes that charm'd Thir painful steps o're the burnt soyle ; and now Advanc't in view, they stand, a horrid Front Of dreadful length and dazling Arms, in guise Of Warriers old with order'd Spear and Shield, [ ] Awaiting what command thir mighty Chief Had to impose: He through the armed Files Darts his experienc't eye, and soon traverse The whole Battalion views, thir order due, Thir visages and stature as of Gods, [ ] Thir number last he summs.
And now his heart Distends with pride, and hardning in his strength Glories: For never since created man, Met such imbodied force, as nam'd with these Could merit more then that small infantry [ ] Warr'd on by Cranes: Thus far these beyond Compare of mortal prowess, yet observ'd Thir dread commander: Dark'n'd so, yet shon Above them all th' Arch Angel: He now prepar'd [ ] To speak; whereat thir doubl'd Ranks they bend From wing to wing, and half enclose him round With all his Peers: Thrice he assayd , and thrice in spight of scorn, Tears such as Angels weep , burst forth: O Myriads of immortal Spirits, O Powers Matchless, but with th' Almighty, and that strife Was not inglorious, though th' event was dire, As this place testifies, and this dire change [ ] Hateful to utter: For mee be witness all the Host of Heav'n , [ ] If counsels different, or danger shun'd By me, have lost our hopes.
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But he who reigns Monarch in Heav'n , till then as one secure Sat on his Throne, upheld by old repute, Consent or custome , and his Regal State [ ] Put forth at full, but still his strength conceal'd , Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our fall. Henceforth his might we know, and know our own So as not either to provoke, or dread New warr , provok't ; our better part remains [ ] To work in close design, by fraud or guile What force effected not: Space may produce new Worlds; whereof so rife [ ] There went a fame in Heav'n that he ere long Intended to create , and therein plant A generation, whom his choice regard Should favour equal to the Sons of Heaven: Thither, if but to pry, shall be perhaps Our first eruption, thither or elsewhere: But these thoughts Full Counsel must mature: Peace is despaird , [ ] For who can think Submission?
Warr then, Warr Open or understood must be resolv'd. There stood a Hill not far whose griesly top [ ] Belch'd fire and rowling smoak ; the rest entire Shon with a glossie scurff , undoubted sign That in his womb was hid metallic Ore, The work of Sulphur. Thither wing'd with speed A numerous Brigad hasten'd. Mammon led them on, Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell From heav'n , for ev'n in heav'n his looks and thoughts [ ] Were always downward bent , admiring more The riches of Heav'ns pavement, trod'n Gold, Then aught divine or holy else enjoy'd In vision beatific: Soon had his crew Op'nd into the Hill a spacious wound And dig'd out ribs of Gold.
Let none admire [ ] That riches grow in Hell; that soyle may best Deserve the precious bane.
And here let those Who boast in mortal things, and wond'ring tell Of Babel, and the works of Memphian Kings Learn how thir greatest Monuments of Fame, [ ] And Strength and Art are easily out-done By Spirits reprobate, and in an hour What in an age they with incessant toyle And hands innumerable scarce perform. Nigh on the Plain in many cells prepar'd , [ ] That underneath had veins of liquid fire Sluc'd from the Lake, a second multitude With wondrous Art found out the massie Ore, Severing each kind, and scum'd the Bullion dross: A third as soon had form'd within the ground [ ] A various mould , and from the boyling cells By strange conveyance fill'd each hollow nook, As in an Organ from one blast of wind To many a row of Pipes the sound-board breaths.
Th' ascending pile Stood fixt her stately highth , and strait the dores Op'ning thir brazen foulds discover wide Within, her ample spaces, o're the smooth [ ] And level pavement: The hasty multitude [ ] Admiring enter'd , and the work some praise And some the Architect: Nor was his name unheard or unador'd In ancient Greece ; and in Ausonian land Men call'd him Mulciber ; and how he fell [ ] From Heav'n , they fabl'd , thrown by angry Jove Sheer o're the Chrystal Battlements: As Bees In spring time, when the Sun with Taurus rides, Pour forth thir populous youth about the Hive [ ] In clusters; they among fresh dews and flowers Flie to and fro, or on the smoothed Plank, The suburb of thir Straw-built Cittadel , New rub'd with Baum , expatiate and confer Thir State affairs.
So thick the aerie crowd [ ] Swarm'd and were straitn'd ; till the Signal giv'n. Thus incorporeal Spirits to smallest forms Reduc'd thir shapes immense, and were at large, [ ] Though without number still amidst the Hall Of that infernal Court. But far within And in thir own dimensions like themselves The great Seraphic Lords and Cherubim In close recess and secret conclave sat [ ] A thousand Demy-Gods on golden seats, Frequent and full.
Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry
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