Plato on establishing poetry as art
Plato’s attitude on Art has always been hardly debated among scholars, and in recent times the interest on ancient Aesthetics in general and Plato’s attitude in particular has been even increased in the philosophical debate. The problem with Plato’s position is twofold. On the one hand he expresses hard criticism against poetry and he even banishes the poets from the ideal state he envisages in the Republic. That has been usually regarded as an illiberal, totalitarian position. On the other hand, the criticisms he makes of poetry seem to present inconsistencies among the Platonic corpus and they could prima facie appear to the modern reader odd, paternalistic or moralistic. Throughout my work I suggest to adopt a new approach, based both on historical and theoretical grounds, according to which it will be possible to resolve the problems that Plato’s objections to poetry give rise to. The historical and cultural context will be the focus of the first chapter. It consists of the following points. On the one hand I will first focus on different features that characterize Greek poetry, and on the other I will emphasize the pre-literacy of Plato’s contemporaries. I will also highlight how the ethical and political role, along with the educational function, made poetry the privileged source of information and education, and the ultimate reference for everyone in the Athens of the fifth B.C. In the second section of the first chapter I will analyze Plato’s teleologism, which I regard to be a fundamental entity in his stance on art. Such a notion, although not as much emphasized by scholars, plays a pivotal role in Plato’s arguments on poetry, I contend. This is especially evident in the Republic, where Plato’s criticism regards the flaws of poetry in teaching (Resp. II and III) first, and secondly as the main source of knowledge (X). In the third and last section of chapter one, I will face the complex issue of the alleged existence of the concept of beauty in antiquity. In this occasion I argue in favour of the existence of such an entity, both among average Greeks and for Plato, even though in different ways and degrees of awareness. After having provided the historical and theoretical frame of my approach, I will then move to textual examination of the Platonis Opera. In the second and third chapter I will analyse the so-called ‘early dialogues’, in order to single out the recurrent features of Plato’s stance on poetry. In fact, one of the main goals of my study is to retrace an overall, consistent view on art in general and poetry in particular among the Platonic corpus. While the second chapter is mainly focused on the Apology and the Protagoras, a special emphasis deserves the Ion, which is the object of the third chapter. I argue indeed that for the first time in this early dialogue we find a clear theoretical expression of a key-concept of Plato’s stance on art. In fact, Plato bases his criticism toward the eponymous rhapsode pointing out that the rhapsode on the one hand lacks the knowledge of the things he (demands to be able to) talk(s) about. On the other hand, the rhapsode lacks the knowledge of what poetry, as well as his trade, is. Such a ‘twofold ignorance’, as we will see, it is a recurring pattern in Socrates’ pupil. While the fourth chapter is mainly devoted to the analysis and comment of the Symposium, the fifth, sixth and seventh chapter present the detailed examination of the Book II, III and X of the Republic. They are respectively devoted to the analysis and criticism of the ‘middle dialogues’, the Republic and the ‘late dialogues’. Because of its capital importance for the purpose of my argument, I will analyze Plato’s criticism in the Republic in details and I will face different approaches to the subject. Afterwards I will confront them with my own theory in order to show that adopting my approach the apparent discrepancies regarding Plato’s aesthetics within the Republic itself as well as in others Platonic dialogues disappear. (And, on the contrary, this does not happen if the reader accepts the mainstream interpretation on the subject at issue). In essence: I propose to take Plato’s criticism of poetry not as an aesthetic attitude, but rather as a justified concern about the pursuit of truth through poetry, as if it were the main source of teaching, moral value, knowledge and information in the ancient Greek society. That is the core of my argument. The eighth chapter analyses the ‘late dialogues’, in particular The Laws, given the abundant of relevant passages on the matter. Finally, the ninth and last chapter faces Popper’s notorious judgement of Plato as totalitarian scholar. In this section of the study I will contend that Popper’s notorious reading of Plato’s political system is fallacious. Further, I will reveal that Plato and Popper’s stance on mass media essentially correspond. It is my understanding that such a fundamental passage will give the ultimate proof of the rightness of my revolutionary reading of the vexata quaestio of the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry in Plato. Finally, the outcome of my investigations will show that Plato does not banish poetry because he is attacking it as a dangerous, free, “fine” Art. On the contrary, I propose to take his attack as the only way to release poetry from its educational and political context and to baptize it into the realm of Fine Art.