Category: Plato in 80 entries

The Banishment of the Poets from the Platonic City

In many of his dialogues, Plato charges vehemently against poets and their work. Most compellingly, poetry is decidedly banished from the ideal city of the Republic. However, Plato's repudiation is contested by his own debated tendency to claim the title of the poet for himself - especially on account of the theatrical style adopted in his dialogues.

The fact that poetry can imitate persons and things regardless of their intrinsic truth incurs Plato's denouncement. The copies produced by the poet are replicating the objects of experience, which, in turn, are representing their congruent Forms. The great distance, thus opened, between the works of poetry and the truth of beings attests to the poet's ignorance, and to the low ontological value of his work. The power to create poetry is not an expertise, for the poet does not possess knowledge of the object of his work; instead, the object is given to him by divine inspiration, and in a state of divine rupture (cf., Ion 533e-534d; Meno 99c-d; Apology 22c; Laws 719c-d). Ignorance and a talent for mimesis render the poet's work hazardous both for himself and for its perceivers (Republic 601d-e, 602). Because of its ability to present the simulacrum as the original, mimetic poetry deceives its audience, while in addition it stirs passions and psychological conflicts (Republic 603a, 605b-c). Even the poet himself is threatened to be caught into moral dissension, particularly when he impersonates wretched characters (Republic 393c).

Plato attacks poetry in an attempt to protect his ideal city from its influence. Poets portray a way of life that is diametrically opposite to Plato's ethics - an ethics that is based on reason and knowledge. The banishment of poetry from the ideal city entails Plato's aspiration to assign to his philosophy the task of educating and shaping the moral standing of the youth. The key to this task is the accurate imitation of what is edifying. Accordingly, the philosophers, as the lawgivers in the platonic city, are, at one and the same time, poets who project the best life into the life of the city. As against common poetry, Plato promotes philosophical poetry. The antagonism between Plato and poetry is represented in the form he gives to his work. His dialogues, developed like theatrical plays, represent the truth that only the philosopher has a hold of. Plato is the alternative poet; a poet whose right to be such is granted by the fact that he is also a philosopher.

Author: Denny Konstantinidi
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