But what is striking about this deus ex machina that explains poetry's attractiveness is what it does not say. In other dialogues the magic of poetry is attributed to one version or another of divine inspiration. Odd that the Republic makes no reference to inspiration when dialogues as different as the Apology and the Laws mention it and the Ion and the Phaedrus spell out how it works.
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Odder still, Plato almost never cites imitation and divine inspiration together the lone exception Laws c , as if to say that the two are incompatible accounts of poetry. Will inspiration play a role ancillary to imitation, or do the two approaches to poetry have nothing to do with one another? At lucky moments a god takes them over and brings value to the poem that it could not have had otherwise.
Inspiration of that kind is a common idea. Either a divine source provides the poet with information needed for writing the poem information about past events or the gods' lives, for example ; or more generally the source gives the poet the talent needed for writing anything. In this case, by contrast with that of imitation, Plato finds a new use for an idea that has a cultural and religious meaning before him Ledbetter , Murray , Tigerstedt Plato's version of the idea, however, has proved to be durable and influential.
The topic occurs throughout Plato's corpus. Platonic characters mention inspiration in dialogues as far apart—in date of composition; in style, length, content—as the Apology and the Laws , though for different purposes. Socrates on trial tells of his frustrated effort to learn from poets. Their verses seemed excellent but the authors themselves had nothing to say about them Apology 22b. The opposition between wisdom and inspiration does not condemn poets.
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They write by some nature phusei tini , as if inspiration were a normally occurring human instinct. For its part Laws c links the effects of inspiration to the nature of drama and its multiple perspectives:. As in the Apology , inspiration means the poet has no truths to transmit. When the god's power comes the poet's goes. Lawmakers work differently from that. And this contrast between inspiration and the origin of laws—occurring in a dialogue devoted to discovering the best laws for cities—hardly suggests an endorsement for inspiration.
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But it is also true that the passage puts the poet on a tripod, symbol of Apollo's priestesses. Whatever brings a poet to write verse brings divine wisdom out of priestesses; and Plato regularly defers to the authority of oracles. Even supposing that talk of inspiration denies individual control and credit to the poet, the priestess shows that credit and control are not all that matters. She is at her best when her mind intrudes least on what she is saying. Her pronouncements have the prestige they do, not despite her loss of control, but because of it.
For more on this passage see Pappas Another passage in the Laws says as much when it attributes even reliable historical information to poets writing under the influence of the Muses and Graces a. The Meno makes inspiration its defining example of ignorant truth-speaking.
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In the passages from the Apology , Laws , and Meno , which are his minor or tangential comments about inspiration, Plato seems to be affirming 1 that inspiration is really divine in origin, and 2 that this divine action that gives rise to poetry guarantees value in the result. It may remain the case that the poet knows nothing. But something good must come of an inspiration shared by poets and priestesses, and often enough that good is truth. Plato's shortest dialogue, the Ion is the only one that most readers would clearly situate within aesthetics. It does not address poetry alone. Gorgias c, Protagoras d.
Nevertheless the Ion belongs in aesthetics by virtue of its focus on artistic inspiration, and the question it provokes of what inspiration implies about poetry's merits. As a rhapsode Ion travels among Greek cities reciting and explicating episodes from Homer. Between the dramatic recitation and the interpretation, these performances offered much latitude for displays of talent, and Ion's talent has won him first prize at a contest in Epidaurus.
His conversation with Socrates falls into three parts, covering idiosyncrasy a—c , inspiration c—d , and ignorance d—b.
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Both the first and the third sections support the claims made in the second, which should be seen as the conclusion to the dialogue, supported in different ways by the discussions that come before and after it. The idiosyncrasy in Ion's attachment to Homer shows that Homer, and Ion because of him, function thanks to a divine visitation. But because Ion resists accepting a claim according to which he is deranged in his performances, Socrates presents a fall-back argument. Ion is unqualified to assess any of the factual claims that appear in Homer, about medicine, chariot racing, or anything else.
When Socrates compels him to choose between divine inspiration and a very drab brand of knowing nothing, Ion agrees to be called inspired. This is to say that although poets' and their readers' ignorance is indeed a fact for Plato, it is a fact in need of interpretation. Whether it means as in the Ion that gods inspire poetry, or as in Republic 10 that imitative poetry imitates appearance alone, ignorance matters less than the implications drawn from it. Moreover, ignorance alone will not demonstrate that poets are possessed by the gods. The proof of Ion's ignorance supports inspiration but does not suffice to generate that doctrine.
Even if Ion's ignorance takes up the last part of the dialogue, it is not Plato's last word about poetry. The idiosyncrasy treated in this dialogue's opening section, by comparison, is for Plato irrational on its face. The word denotes both a paying occupation and the possession of expertise. In Ion's case Socrates specifies that the expertise for a rhapsode includes the ability to interpret poetry c. Ion rates himself superior at that task to all his competitors but concedes that he can only interpret Homer a. Even though Homer and other poets sometimes address the same subjects, Ion has nothing to say about those other poets.
He confesses this fact without shame or apology, as if his different responses reflected on the poets instead of on his talents. Something in Homer makes him eloquent, and other poets lack that quality. Socrates argues that one who knows a field knows it whole e—a. This denial of the knowledge of particulars in their particularity also appears at Charmides e; Phaedo 97d; Republic a, d. It is not that what is known about an individual thing cannot transfer to other things of the same kind; rather that the act of treating an object as unique means attending to and knowing those qualities of it that do not transfer, knowing them as nontransferable qualities.
This attitude toward particulars qua particulars is an obstacle to every theoretical expertise. It may well be that what Ion understands about Homer happens to hold true of Hesiod. But if this is the case, Ion himself will not know it.
Diotima's speech in the Symposium supplies a useful comparison. Ion's investment in Homer, like the lover's lowest grade of attachment, reveals and also causes an unwillingness to move toward understanding. And so Ion presents Socrates with a conundrum.
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Although the man's love for Homer prohibits him from possessing expertise, Socrates recognizes how well Ion performs at his job. How to account for success minus skill?
Socrates needs to diagnose Ion by means of some positive trait he possesses, not merely by the absence of knowledge. Socrates therefore speaks of poets and those they move as entheous. He elaborates an analogy. Picture an iron ring hanging from a magnet, magnetized so that a second ring hangs from the first and a third from that second one. Magnets are Muses, the rings attached to them poets, the second rings the poets' interpreters, third the rhapsodes' audiences.
Plato's image captures the transferability of charisma. By being made of iron each ring has the capacity to take on the charge that holds it. But the magnetism resides in the magnet, not in the temporarily magnetized rings. No ring is itself the source of the next ring's attachment to it. Homer analogously draws poetic power from his Muse and attracts a rhapsode by means of borrowed power.
The analogy lets poets and rhapsodes appear charismatic without giving them credit for their appeal. Inspiration now additionally means that poets are irrational, as it never meant before Plato. This superadded irrationality explains why Ion rejects Socrates' proposal, in a passage that is frequently overlooked. He is not unhinged during his performances, Ion says; not katechomenos kai mainomenos , possessed and maddened d. Inspiration has come to imply madness and the madness in it is what Ion tries to reject.
What went wrong? The image of rings and magnets is slyer than it appeared. While the analogy rests transparently on one feature of magnetism, the transfer of attraction, it smuggles in a second feature.watch
Socrates describes iron rings hanging in straight lines or branching: Although each ring may have more than a single ring dependent upon it, no ring is said to hang from more than one. But real rings hang in other ways, all the rings clumped against the magnet, or one ring clinging to two or three above it.
Why does Socrates keep the strings of rings so orderly? Here is one suggestion. Keeping Homer clung only to his Muse,and Ion clung only to Homer, preserves the idiosyncrasy that let Socrates deny expertise to Ion. For otherwise a magnet and rings would show how genuine knowledge is transmitted.
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Suppose you say that a Muse leads the doctor Hippocrates to diagnostic insights that he tells his students and they tell theirs. That much divine help is all that the image of magnet and rings strictly implies, and it is no threat to a profession's understanding of itself. But no one would claim that a doctor can learn only from a single other doctor, or that a doctor treats a unique group of adulatory patients.