Ion

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The Ion, like the other earlier Platonic Dialogues, is a mixture of jest and earnest, in which no definite result is obtained, but some Socratic or Platonic truths are allowed dimly to appear.

The elements of a true theory of poetry are contained in the notion that the poet is inspired. Genius is often said to be unconscious, or spontaneous, or a gift of nature: that 'genius is akin to madness' is a popular aphorism of modern times. The greatest strength is observed to have an element of limitation. Sense or passion are too much for the 'dry light' of intelligence which mingles with them and becomes discoloured by them. Imagination is often at war with reason and fact. The concentration of the mind on a single object, or on a single aspect of human nature, overpowers the orderly perception of the whole. Yet the feelings too bring truths home to the minds of many who in the way of reason would be incapable of understanding them. Reflections of this kind may have been passing before Plato's mind when he describes the poet as inspired, or when, as in the Apology, he speaks of poets as the worst critics of their own writings--anybody taken at random from the crowd is a better interpreter of them than they are of themselves. They are sacred persons, 'winged and holy things' who have a touch of madness in their composition (Phaedr.), and should be treated with every sort of respect (Republic), but not allowed to live in a well-ordered state. Like the Statesmen in the Meno, they have a divine instinct, but they are narrow and confused; they do not attain to the clearness of ideas, or to the knowledge of poetry or of any other art as a whole.

In the Protagoras the ancient poets are recognized by Protagoras himself as the original sophists; and this family resemblance may be traced in the Ion. The rhapsode belongs to the realm of imitation and of opinion: he professes to have all knowledge, which is derived by him from Homer, just as the sophist professes to have all wisdom, which is contained in his art of rhetoric. Even more than the sophist he is incapable of appreciating the commonest logical distinctions; he cannot explain the nature of his own art; his great memory contrasts with his inability to follow the steps of the argument. And in his highest moments of inspiration he has an eye to his own gains.

The old quarrel between philosophy and poetry, which in the Republic leads to their final separation, is already working in the mind of Plato, and is embodied by him in the contrast between Socrates and Ion. Yet here, as in the Republic, Socrates shows a sympathy with the poetic nature. Also, the manner in which Ion is affected by his own recitations affords a lively illustration of the power which, in the Republic, Socrates attributes to dramatic performances over the mind of the performer. His allusion to his embellishments of Homer, in which he declares himself to have surpassed Metrodorus of Lampsacus and Stesimbrotus of Thasos, seems to show that, like them, he belonged to the allegorical school of interpreters. The circumstance that nothing more is known of him may be adduced in confirmation of the argument that this truly Platonic little work is not a forgery of later times.

ION

by

Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Ion.

SOCRATES: Welcome, Ion. Are you from your native city of Ephesus?

ION: No, Socrates; but from Epidaurus, where I attended the festival of Asclepius.

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