Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ion by Plato

"The poets are nothing but the gods' interpreters, possessed each by whatever god it may be."

This very short dialogue of Plato's explores the difference between art (understood here as human skill or talent) and divine inspiration in poetry.

Socrates approaches a renowned reciter, Ion, who specializes in Homer. This specialty allows Socrates to question Ion about his ability, which he quickly acknowledges is limited to Homer, rather than applying to all poets equally. Using his famous questioning technique, Socrates is quickly able to lead the reciter to admit that one who is truly skilled and knowledgeable in the art of poetry would be able to assess the relative skill of poets and thus be able to speak on any poet, not just one.

Additionally, while Ion can recite passages from Homer that refer to chariot racing, fishing, and medicine, he admits that a driver, fisherman, and a doctor would be better able to speak to the truth of those passage than he. After having bragged about his own knowledge and skill, Ion is backed into a corner whereupon Socrates asks him to choose whether he is a liar and cheat or has been divinely inspired through Homer.

Had Ion been less sure of his own skill or been better able to discuss other poets, he would not have served Plato's purpose. Instead, he is nearly idiotic in all things save Homer. This allows Plato to make the point that all truly great poetry is divinely inspired and thus has the ability to inspire

          Such as there is in that stone which Euripedes called the Magnesian, but most people call it
          the Heracleian stone. This magnet attracts iron rings, and not only that, but puts the same 
          power into the iron rings, so that they can do the same as the stone does; they attract other 
          rings, so that sometimes there is a whole long string of these rings hanging together and all 
          depend for their power on that one stone. So the Muse not only inspires people herself, but 
          through these inspired ones others are inspired and dangle in a string.

When one considers Ions near idiocy (seriously, reading his "contribution" to the conversation is almost painful), this could lead to an interesting conversation on Platonic forms and their imperfect earthly copies, but as Plato saves that for another dialogue, it is more of a mental exercise that this short work almost asks for.


Randy said...

Has it occurred to anyone else that Socrates would make a terrible dinner guest?

"The weather was nice today."

"Good heavens, Randy! Is your knowledge of nice things and weather so very exact, that supposing the circumstances to be as you state them, you are not afraid lest you may be too nice in claiming the weather's niceness?!"

"I mean, I guess...I'm just saying the weather was nice today. I don't know about any of that other stuff."

"I am desirous of becoming your disciple. For I observe that no one appears to notice the weather as you have. Therefore, I adjure you to tell me the nature of nice weather and not nice weather, which you seem to know so well. Nice weather, what is it? Is not all weather nice? And, not nice weather, is that always the opposite of nice weather?"

Dani said...

Bahahaha. This is the truth. Unless you love debating things. And are smart enough not to get caught in a didactic web of questions.

Christopher said...

Unless you were serving Hemlock cocktails.

Randy said...

"Socrates, stop talking long enough to take a sip. Fuck it, I'll drink yours."