Plato’s Insanity

Plato gives a dialogue between Ion and Socrates. Compared to other dialogues of Plato, this one is fairly straightforward, easy to understand. And you can clearly see Plato’s insanity from it.

Ion is a renowned Homerian orator. Through “logic,” Socrates proves Ion’s work is divine rather than artistic. Something artistic would be the work of Ion, hence, man. Ion’s oratory, however, is straight from God.

Plato (Or Socrates, I can never figure out whose ideas these actually are. The translators insist they are Plato’s who simply uses Socrates as an avatar. I guess.) doesn’t seem to like art. In his description of the correct republic, he argues that the artists—painters, orators, musicians, poets—are imitators. They imitate reality. Back then that was probably true. What with punk rock, Jackson Pollack, and reality TV, I don’t think he could make that same claim today. At any rate, Socrates/Plato feels the arts are second in importance in human thought to philosophy. I’m not sure there’s an actual difference there, but Plato and Socrates felt that everything was lesser than philosophy anyway, so that’s not surprising.

In the perfect city, Socrates argued that children would not be allowed to read any mythology that depicts the gods as being imperfect. Children are too impressionable he feels. Better to serve them dogma.

Makes sense, I suppose. We don’t want kids thinking it’s alright to go around pretending you’re a swan in order to get laid, right? Yeah, they’re definitely going to be scarred from that story. It’s so easy to make people believe you’re a swan.

Socrates makes a good case for not allowing art of any kind into the City. Only truth should be allowed. Only philosophy. He has a weakness, though, and it is Homer. He admits Homer is imitative, false, but he can’t help himself. He loves Homer. Homer is sublime. His work is divine as is Ion’s in his interpretation of it.

Ion of course, is a mere orator. He is not a philosopher, he can’t argue a wit that his excellence is in fact due to his own diligence and hard work and, god forbid, talent. At one point Socrates has Ion declaring himself to be a fine general and that of all the generals in Athens he should be the one running the city. Laughs all around. It’s all good fun, and in the end Ion admits he must be channeling god as he channels Homer. Ion’s work is divine. Not Ion himself of course. He couldn’t be. He’s only a friggin’ mortal.

It’s always cathartic when the Socrates wins the argument. It takes days and weeks sometimes, and when it’s over, you feel such release and the world is surely now rebalanced properly. With this particular argument, though, I’m left with the feeling that something is left undone. The world’s overtilting. Sure the work is divine, but Plato never reconciles his love of Homer’s writing with his hatred of Homer’s stories. It must irk him to no end, those illicit thoughts he has in the middle of the night when he wakes up in a cold sweat from nightmares borne of such illogicality.

Reminds me of serial killers that are so pious, so rigidly religious, they mush punish and kill anyone who incites lustful thoughts in their little peckers of sin. Is it my imagination or is Plato nuts like that?

When they say our culture was influenced by the Greek Philosophers, is that what they’re talking about?


Sue Lange

The Textile Planet




Plato’s Insanity — 2 Comments

  1. You know that Plato wrote a play? But then he showed it to Socrates, whose critique was so pointed that Plato decided to switch to philosophy. So perhaps this is the zeal of the convert.

  2. I was at a panel at WisCon last year where people were talking about theory — particularly feminist theory — and I ventured a comment from the audience that art trumps theory. Everyone laughed, as if I didn’t really mean it.

    But I did mean it. And taking theory as a subset of philosophy, I’d be inclined to say art trumps philosophy, too. Art jumps to the heart of the matter.

    Of course, I never studied Plato very thoroughly, since I dropped my philosophy class because the professor was a bully with microphone (it was a big class) who would cut off a college sophomore working out a complex idea by making a nasty comment on some minor point and not letting the student finish. It was annoying, and it left me with the impression that Socrates used the same method to slap down ideas in progress. I’m probably being unfair to Socrates. Or Plato.

    I find truth in art. It’s interesting to read theoretical and philosophical responses to art and sometimes it helps you get to the truth inherent in the story or painting. But the truth comes from the art, not the theory.

    And Brenda could be right: Maybe Plato is just a failed artist, or at least, one who couldn’t stick with art in the face of rejection.

    BTW, I’ve read a lot of Greek plays, and I would defy someone to show me how Aristophanes, for example, is derivative. Of course, there are plays that didn’t survive, so perhaps he is. There are a lot of Roman plays derivative of the Greeks, and Shakespeare certainly stole a great deal from both the Greeks and Romans. On the other hand, I’d say Shakespeare did some highly original things with his thefts.

    Damn. I have a hundred things to do, and here Sue got my juices flowing and made me spend time playing with ideas!