Plato's Ion and the Ethics of Praise

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Plato's Ion and the Ethics of Praise
  2010145. Destree. 04_Capuccino. 1st proofs. 2-12-2010:10.36, page 63. 󰁣󰁨󰁡󰁰󰁴󰁥󰁲 󰁦󰁯󰁵󰁲 PLAO’S  ION   AND HE EHICS OF PRAISEC󰁡󰁲󰁬󰁯󰁴󰁴󰁡 C󰁡󰁰󰁵󰁣󰁣󰁩󰁮󰁯Mypaperaimstoestablishtwothings:()whatexactlyisthemainsubjecto Plato’s Ion, and accordingly () or what purpose Plato wrote it. ()In my view, and contrary to the mainstream interpretation, Plato’s Ionis not a dialogue about poetry and the poet as a proessional 󿬁gure:Socrates’ interlocutor,Ion oEphesus,is actually nota poet,but themostamous o Homeric rhapsodes. His proper task, according to Plato, isto communicate to the audience Homer’s thought and, in this way, tobecomehis‘mediator’( hermeneus ):therhapsodeis,ontheonehand,theauthorized depository o Homeric wisdom and, on the other, the living voice able to transmit it. His mediation is worthy o Plato’s philosophicalinterest or it is not an exegesis o Homer’s verses (aiming to establishwhat Homer really said), but a praise o his paideutic value and o themodelolie heproposes:Ionisthenapraiser( epainetês )oHomer,whorecognizes and promotes his authority in both ethical and political lie,by inciting the audience to emulation with his meaningul praise o thepoet.()Plato’s purposeistoshowhowtheethicsunderlying thiskind o praise—apraisenotonlyoamodeloliebutaboveallotheauthorityo such a model—is dangerous (i) because persuasive but groundless (oneis praised not because he is wise, but is wise, because he is praised) and(ii) because it promotesa dogmatic and passive style o lie and thought.Te ethics o praise is then essentially incompatible with philosophy.I. Te  palaia diaphora  between philosophy and poetry has posed, untilour days, several difficulties to the interpreters o Plato, who have at-tempted, on the one hand, to ascertain its srcin and historical develop-ment, and, on the other, to 󿬁nd some point o equilibrium in the ‘innerquarrel’betweenPlato thephilosopherand Plato thewriterortheartist. 1 1 Pl.  Rep . X, b–. Whether it is an  ancient quarrel   or only an  old   one, on thebasis o two possible acceptations o   palaios ,the typical scholarly attemptis to trace back its srcin and undamental stages, and the different positions can be located betweentwo opposites: on the one hand the denial that any real quarrel between philosophy andpoetry every existed beore Plato’s work (rom Collingwood [], , to Nightingale[], –) and, on the other, the recognition o such a quarrel in the history o    󰁣󰁡󰁲󰁬󰁯󰁴󰁴󰁡 󰁣󰁡󰁰󰁵󰁣󰁣󰁩󰁮󰁯 2010145. Destree. 04_Capuccino. 1st proofs. 2-12-2010:10.36, page 64. Wherever its roots might lie, and independently o any inner con󿬂ict,the criticism o poetry occupies, as a matter o act, a non-trivial part inPlato’s philosophical re󿬂ection: onecan consider, or instance, its impor-tanceinthe Republic ,wherethecriticismopoetryoccupiesthreebooks,andamongthem,signi󿬁cantly,the󿬁nalone.Plato’sanalysisistwoold:ontheonehand,itconcernsthe nature opoetry,especiallyinthecaseothephilosophicalre󿬂ectionsinthetenthbookothe Republic ;ontheother,ithastodowithits value ,withregardtotheroleopoetryinhumanlieandits unction within the  polis . Tis second aspect is the object o the eth-ical re󿬂ections on poetry in the dialogues; paradoxically, Plato devoteshis long preliminary inquiry to this aspect: until the tenth book o the Republic  he never asks himsel ‘What is poetry?’, but he investigates itseffects by re󿬂ecting on its utility; as or its nature, he limits himsel toshowing what poetry, as a matter o act, is not. 2 I will devote my paper to this  preliminary inquiry  , starting rom the Ion . I believe that this short dialogue can be a good starting point, sinceestablishing its main theme is a quite controversial question which isstrictly related, as we shall see, to the value o poetry according to Plato.In particular, I shall try to answer two questions. Te 󿬁rst one concernsprecisely the dominant theme, the ‘hidden heart’ 3 o the dialogue: is or philosophy until Plato, as a kind o thread which concerns various levels: on this c.the recent work o F.M. Giuliano, the most complete and, in my opinion, best availablestudy o Plato’s poetics (Giuliano [], especially –); I do not agree, however,with his traditional interpretation which makes the  Ion  a dialogue on poets and poetry,attributing too little importance to the 󿬁gure o the rhapsode, who remains actually theonlyinterlocutoroSocratesinthedialogue.GiulianoalsoaddressesPlato’salleged‘innerquarrel’, showing that the ambiguity is not in the attitude o the philosopher towardspoetry, but in the nature itsel o the latter (–); Maruˇsiˇc (), cap.  and p.  reaches the same result independently. But c. also, beore them, Verdenius (), –. 2 Unlike whathappensinthecaseso rhetoric( Gorg  . d, e–d) andsophistic( Soph . c–d), o whichthenatureis inquired inthe󿬁rstplace.It is interestingtonoticethat, whereas or the ethical virtues the starting question is ‘what is it?’ (e.g.  La . d–), in the case o the alleged  technai  the question concerns initially the  technitês  ( Gorg  .d), to know what is his art (e–a), and only later the art itsel, to know itsobject (c–d). On the  nature  o poetry, c. Giuliano (), cap. III; the topic istackled by Plato starting rom a question about the nature o mimesis ( Rep . X, c),to reach the conclusion that  all   poets are imitators according to the general de󿬁nition o  mimesis  whichollows romit (eff.). Temoresigni󿬁canttextsconcerningthe value o poetryareinsteadthe  Apology  (a ff.),the Ion ,the Gorgias  (b ff.),andbooks II–IIIo the  Republic . 3 Verdenius (), . I am glad to acknowledge my debt to W.J. Verdenius, withwhom I share the initial question ‘pourquoi et avec quelle intention Platon a écrit l’ Ion [?]’ (p. ) and some general theses about the  Ion  (c. Capuccino ).  󰁰󰁬󰁡󰁴󰁯’󰁳  󰁩󰁯󰁮   󰁡󰁮󰁤 󰁴󰁨󰁥 󰁥󰁴󰁨󰁩󰁣󰁳 󰁯󰁦 󰁰󰁲󰁡󰁩󰁳󰁥  2010145. Destree. 04_Capuccino. 1st proofs. 2-12-2010:10.36, page 65. is not the  Ion  a dialogue on poetry and poets, which as such sets thephilosopher (Socrates) in opposition to the poets, thus enacting a new stage o the  palaia diaphora ? Te second question concerns, instead, thedominant character o Plato’s inquiry on poetry, starting again rom the Ion : is it, at the end o the day, a criticism or a praise? 4 II. Let us begin with the 󿬁rst question: i by ‘poet’ we mean  narrowly  someone who composes or recites verses proessionally, or composedor recited them in the past, the answer to this question is  no , or theollowing two reasons.. First o all, Ion o Ephesus, Socrates’ interlocutor in the homony-mous dialogue, is not a poet. Moreover, he is presented in the dia-logue itsel as a well-determinedproessional󿬁gure, therebydistin-guished rom the poet: Ion is a renowned Homeric  rhapsode . Tisis a  matter of fact  , then, which we can extrapolate rom the  mise enscène  o the dialogic 󿬁ction and rom the choice and characteriza-tion o the interlocutor (a–c).. Te second reason  is an  exegetical   one,and concernstheposition o the rhapsode in the chain o divine inspiration, which in the way it works resembles a magnetic chain o iron rings attracted by amagnet: just as the magnetitsel in virtue o its strengthattracts the󿬁rstringothechain andthesecondonethroughit,and soonuntilthe last one, so the Muse attracts to hersel the inspired poet,  e.g  .Homer, who in turn attracts the rhapsode, who 󿬁nally captures theaudience, closing the chain o enthusiasm.  I.e . every ring turns outto exercise the Muse’s power, on her own concession,by a  principleof transitivity   o inspiration borrowed rom that o magnetism:the poet is attracted by the Muse and attracts the rhapsode, therhapsodeisattractedbythepoetandattractstheaudience(dff.).Tese two reasons are, as a matter o act, strictly related. Several doubtshave been advanced concerning the choice o Socrates’ interlocutor, anitinerant Homeric rhapsode who proclaims to be amous, and indeedthe best, but is otherwise unknown to us; and i we trust Xenophon’s judgment—whether it depends on Plato or not—it seems that in the 4 C. Giuliano (), : ‘[...] corre l’obbligo di conciliare le contrastanti concezioniche [Platone] elabora sulla poesia. Le soluzioni proposte sono tanto varie quanto nume-rose, per un problema tuttora aperto’.   󰁣󰁡󰁲󰁬󰁯󰁴󰁴󰁡 󰁣󰁡󰁰󰁵󰁣󰁣󰁩󰁮󰁯 2010145. Destree. 04_Capuccino. 1st proofs. 2-12-2010:10.36, page 66. V–IV century 󰁢󰁣 rhapsodes did not enjoy, at least among educated peo-ple, a particularly good press. 5 Consequently, according to the prevail-ing interpretation, the real object o Plato’s inquiry would be poets andpoetry,whichenjoyed muchmoreprestigein Greekcultureatthattime. 6 Tetypical argumentothosewhosupportthisinterpretationisan afor-tiori  one: the rhapsode and the poet are both, in act, rings o the samemagneticchain(unlike,  e.g  .,thesophist,withwhomsomehavealsotriedto identiy Ion). 7 Andtheactthattherhapsodemightrepresentthepoetis justi󿬁ed on the basis o the aorementioned principle o transitivity. Inthis senseboth intermediate rings, poet and rhapsode, exercise the samepower o inspiration by divine dispensation, respectively on the rhap-sode and on the audience, and thereore they are interchangeable; butthe poet—and this is the strongest argument—remains nonetheless thedirectinspirerotherhapsode,andsotheormerappearstoenjoyapriv-ileged position vis-à-vis the latter. 8 Actually, there is an essential difference between the positions occu-pied by the rhapsode and the poet in the chain (and so we come back tothesecondreason),adifferencewhichallowsustore-evaluatehisdignity as a Socratic interlocutor: although they are both intermediate rings, theobject they are conjoined to is not the same. One extremity is in com-mon, namely their connection point, that, as we have said, determinesthe superiority o the poet over the rhapsode, even in space (the poetis  above ). Te other extremity is different: as or the poet it is the supe-rior one, the Muse, and this close contact with the divine srcin wouldseem to guarantee, once again, the dominant role to the poet. As or therhapsodeitisinsteadtheineriorextremity, i.e .theaudience,theelementwhich closes the chain. I would like to demonstrate that, despite appear-ances, this,  i.e . the position o the rhapsode and not that o the poet, isthe real privileged position, and that, consequently, the rhapsode (andnot the poet) is the  direct   object o Plato’s interest in the dialogue. 9 5 X.  Mem . IV , –;  Symp . III . Notice that Xenophon’s negative judgementdoes not necessarily re󿬂ect the commonsense one on the rhapsodes, and consequently does not attest to their loss o prestige in the common opinion: Xenophon’s criticismso the rhapsodes could belong to an intellectual  élite , be independent, or derive rom a(super󿬁cial) reading o Plato’s  Ion . 6 So Murray (), . 7 C. especially the long commentary in Flashar (). 8 C. Giuliano (), : ‘Argomentodello  Ione  èil rapportotrapoesiae conoscen-za’, n. : ‘[s]volto sulla doppia direttrice, che il ponte del rapsodo Ione riuni󿬁ca, dellapoesia e della sua interpretazione’. 9 Scholars have ofen maintained that the theory o inspiration concerns primarily   󰁰󰁬󰁡󰁴󰁯’󰁳  󰁩󰁯󰁮   󰁡󰁮󰁤 󰁴󰁨󰁥 󰁥󰁴󰁨󰁩󰁣󰁳 󰁯󰁦 󰁰󰁲󰁡󰁩󰁳󰁥  2010145. Destree. 04_Capuccino. 1st proofs. 2-12-2010:10.36, page 67. Tis second, exegetical reason in support o the thesis that the subjecto the  Ion  is not the poet as normally understood (i.e. the  professional  poet) is actually a  cluster of reasons  which attempt to de󿬁ne who Ion o Ephesus is and in what his rhapsodic activity consists. On this subject,we can get all the necessaryinormation in the proem, or more precisely in the second part o it, which is a sort o   main proem  which ollowsthe meeting or greetings between the two interlocutors. 10 Here Socratesdeclares thatheenviesoradmires( ezêlôsa )Ion’sactivity, andwe discoverthat,besidesreciting theHomericversesatestivalslike thePanethenaics(or which he has to  ekmanthanein  [...]  ta epê ), the rhapsode has alsoanother activity, which is not attested by any source outside the Platonic corpus . 11 Ion himsel presents it at c as a verbal activity whichconsists in  legein peri , i.e. in speaking  of   or  about   Homer, and cannotcoincidewiththesimpledeclamation( saying   Homer);thisactivityseemstobehispropertask,whatmakeshimagoodrhapsode.TeGreekphrase legeinperi describesonlysuper󿬁ciallytheaspectothisrhapsodicsaying,whose unction had already been introduced in the previous words:the task o the Homeric rhapsode is to become  hermêneus  o the poet’sthought or his audience.Te standard interpretation o what the rhapsodic activity describedin this passage is relies on the  modern  meaning 12 o the term  hermêneus , the poet (about ten reerences to the  poiêtês , against only a couple to the  rhapsôidos ),and since they believe that it is the thematic core o the dialogue, the poets and poetry becomeimmediatelyitsmainsubject-matter(c.nn.,).Itisofenoverlooked,however,that the theory is introduced by Socrates to explain to Ion the excellence o his  legein peri Homêrou , and in the same way it ends with a reerence to the rhapsode’s activity (c. n. ). Giuliano notices the initial reerence, but not the 󿬁nal one (, ): sincehe identi󿬁es the relationship between the poet and the rhapsode with the one betweenpoetry and its interpretation, it is understandable that he avours the ormer. He doesnot differ rom the traditional view, as ar as he does not manage to see in Ion’s activity enough autonomy to justiy Plato’s interest in him, except as secondary to his interest inthe poet. 10 Te proem o the  Ion  can be divided into a short initial part which presents themeeting o the two interlocutors ( minor proem , a–b) and a second longer partwhich introduces the rhapsode’s activity ( main proem , b–a). 11 For a reconstruction o the rhapsodic activity attested by our extant sources I reerthe reader to Capuccino (), app. B. What is especially difficult to pin down is thepraising aspect beside declamation, which characterizes the 󿬁gure o the rhapsode inPlato: o this crucial aspect we have no testimony outside the  Ion . Te only scholars whorecognise its importance are Verdenius () and Velardi (). 12 I reer to the unwarranted attribution o the meaning o modern words, such as‘hermeneut’, ‘exegete’, ‘interpreter’, to the Greek   hermêneus  in its Platonic acceptation.
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