Ancient History & Civilisation


This part has the appearance of an appendix, written to justify against anticipated or actual criticism the attack on the poets in Books II and III (Part III). It has sometimes been suggested that it should not be taken too seriously. But the claims made for the poets by Greek opinion were often extravagant. They treated the works of Homer and the poets as their Bible, and in Plato’s Ion Homer is claimed as a teacher of everything from carpentry to morals and generalship. It is such claims that Plato has primarily in mind, but there is nothing to suggest that he is not serious, though he is often characteristically ironical; and the general contention in section 1 that poetry is illusion fits well into the scheme of the Divided Line (Part VII, section 6, above). See Cross and Woozey, ch. 12.

1. Art and Illusion

The Greek word mimesis, ‘representation’, used in Part III to describe dramatic as opposed to narrative poetry, is now used to describe artistic creation as a whole, and interpreted to mean a rather literal imitation. 1The productions both of the painter and the poet are imitations of a life which has itself only secondary reality, and neither painter nor poet have any knowledge of what they imitate. Pictures and poems are secondhand, unreal, and tell us nothing about life.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘among all the excellent features of our ideal BK X state, there’s none I rank higher than its treatment of poetry.’ 595 (a)

‘Why exactly?’

‘Because it excluded all dramatic representation.2 Now that we have distinguished the various elements in the mind, we can (b) see even more clearly how essential it is to exclude it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Between ourselves – and you mustn’t give me away to the tragedians and other writers of the kind – such representations definitely harm the minds of their audiences, unless they’re inoculated against them by knowing their real nature.’

‘What exactly have you in mind?’

‘I must tell you, I suppose; yet the love and respect I’ve always had from a boy for Homer makes me hesitate – for I think he’s (c) the original master and guide of all the great tragic poets. But one must not respect an individual more than the truth, and so, as I say, I must tell you.’

‘You must,’ he said.

‘Listen, then; or, rather, answer my questions.’

‘Ask away.’

‘Can you tell me in general terms what representation is ? I’m not sure that I know, myself, exactly how to describe its purpose.’

‘Then it’s not very likely I shall!’

596 (a) ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It isn’t always the sharpest eyes that see things first.’

‘True enough,’ he replied. ‘But with you here, if I did see anything, I shouldn’t much want to say so. You must use your own eyes.’

‘Then shall we start by following our usual procedure? You know that we always postulate in each case a single form for each set of particular things, to which we apply the same name?’3

‘Yes, I know.’

(b) ‘Then let us take any set you choose. For example, there are many particular beds and tables.’


‘But there are only two forms, one of bed and one of table.’


‘Then we normally say that the maker of either of these kinds of furniture has his eye on the appropriate form when he makes the beds and tables we use; and similarly with other things. For no craftsman could possibly make the form itself, could he?’


‘Well now, I wonder what you would call a craftsman of the following kind.’

‘Describe him.’ (c)

‘One who can make all the objects produced by other particular crafts.’

‘He would be a wonderfully clever man.’

‘Just a minute, and you’ll be more surprised still. For this same craftsman can not only make all artificial objects, but also create all plants and animals, himself included, and, in addition, earth and sky and gods, the heavenly bodies and everything in the underworld.’

‘An astonishing exhibition of skill!’ he exclaimed. (d)

‘You don’t believe me?’ I asked. ‘Tell me, do you think that a craftsman of this sort couldn’t exist, or (in one sense, if not in another) create all these things? Do you know that there’s a sense in which you could create them yourself?’

‘What sense?’

‘It’s not difficult, and can be done in various ways quite quickly. The quickest way is to take a mirror and turn it round in all directions; before long you will create sun and stars and (e) earth, yourself and all other animals and plants, and furniture and the other objects we mentioned just now.’

‘Yes, but they would only be reflections,’ he said, ‘not real things.’

‘Quite right,’ I replied, ‘and very much to the point. For a painter is a craftsman of just this kind, I think. Do you agree?’


‘You may perhaps object that the things he creates are not real; and yet there is a sense in which the painter creates a bed, isn’t there?’

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘he produces an appearance of one.’

‘And what about the carpenter? Didn’t you agree that what 597 (a) he produces is not the form of bed which according to us is what a bed really is,4 but a particular bed?’

‘I did.’

‘If, then, what he makes is not “what a bed really is”, his product is not “what is”, but something which resembles “what is” without being it. And anyone who says that the products of the carpenter or any other craftsman are ultimately real can hardly be telling the truth, can he?’

‘No one familiar with the sort of arguments we’re using could suppose so.’

‘So we shan’t be surprised if the bed the carpenter makes is a (b) shadowy thing compared to reality?’


‘Then shall we try to discover just what the activity of representation is, on the basis of this example?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘We have seen that there are three sorts of bed. The first exists in nature, and we would say, I suppose, that it was made by god. No one else could have made it, could they?’

‘I think not.’

‘The second is made by the carpenter.’


‘And the third by the painter?’


‘So painter, carpenter, and god are each responsible for one kind of bed.’


(c) ‘God, then, created only one real bed-in-itself in nature, either because he wanted to or because some necessity prevented him from making more than one; at any rate he didn’t produce more than one, and more than one could not possibly be produced.’


‘Because, suppose he created two only, another would emerge whose form the other two shared, and it, not the other two, would be the real bed-in-itself.’

‘That’s true.’

(d) ‘And I suppose that god knew it, and as he wanted to be a real creator of a real bed, and not just a carpenter making a particular bed, produced in nature a single bed-in-itself.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Then do you think we might call him author of its nature or some such name?’

‘We could do so with justice; for it and all other things in nature5 are his creation.’

‘And what about the carpenter? Doesn’t he manufacture a bed?’


‘And what about the artist? Does he make or manufacture?’


‘Then what does he do?’

‘I think that we may fairly claim that he represents what the (e) other two make.’

‘Good,’ said I. ‘Then you say that the artist’s representation stands at third remove from reality?’

‘I do.’

‘So the tragic poet, if his art is representation, is by nature at third remove from the throne of truth; and the same is true of all other representative artists.’

‘So it seems.’

‘We are agreed about representation, then. But, tell me, which does the painter try to represent? The thing-itself as it is in 598 (a) nature or the things the craftsman makes?’

‘The things the craftsman makes.’

‘As they are, or as they appear? There is still that distinction to make.’

‘I don’t understand,’ he said.

‘What I mean is this. If you look at a bed, or anything else, sideways or endways or from some other angle, does it make any difference to the bed? Isn’t it merely that it looks different, without being different? And similarly with other things.’

‘Yes, it’s the same bed, but it looks different.’

‘Then consider – when the painter makes his representation, (b) does he do so by reference to the object as it actually is or to its superficial appearance?6 Is his representation one of an apparition7 or of the truth?’

‘Of an apparition.’

‘The art of representation is therefore a long way removed from truth, and it is able to reproduce everything because it has little grasp of anything, and that little is of a mere phenomenal appearance. For example, a painter can paint a portrait of a shoemaker or a carpenter or any other craftsman without (c) understanding any of their crafts; yet, if he is skilful enough, his portrait of a carpenter may, at a distance, deceive children or simple people into thinking it is a real carpenter.’

‘Yes, it may.’

‘In all such cases,’ I went on, ‘we should bear the following considerations in mind. When someone tells us that he has met (d) someone who is a master of every craft and has a more exact understanding about all subjects than any individual expert, we must answer that he is a simple-minded fellow who seems to have been taken in by the work of a charlatan, whose apparent omniscience is due entirely to his own inability to distinguish knowledge, ignorance, and representation.’

‘Very true.’

‘We must go on to examine the claims of the tragedians and their chief, Homer. We are told that they are masters of all (e) forms of skill, and know all about human excellence and defect and about religion; for – so the argument runs – a good poet must, if he’s to write well, know all about his subject, otherwise he can’t write about it. We must ask ourselves whether those who have met the poets have, when they see or hear their works, failed to perceive that they are representations at the third remove from reality, and easy to produce without any know-599 (a) ledge of the truth, because they are appearances and not realities; or are they right, and do good poets really know about the subjects on which the public thinks they speak so well?’

‘It’s a question we should certainly examine.’

‘Suppose, then, a man could produce both the original and the copy. Do you think he would seriously want to devote himself to the manufacture of copies and make it the highest object in life?’ (b)

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Of course not. If he really knew about the things he represented, he would devote himself to them and not to their representations; he would try to leave behind him the memory of many deeds well done, and be more anxious to be praised himself than to write in praise of others.’

‘I agree; his reputation and effectiveness would both be greater.’

‘We won’t, then, expect Homer or any of the poets to explain medicine or any similar skilled activity to us; for example, if (c) they claim to be real doctors and not merely to imitate doctors’ talk, we won’t ask them to name any poet, ancient or modern, who has performed cures like Aesculapius, or founded a school of medicine to follow him as he did. But we have a right to cross-question Homer when he tries to deal with matters of such supreme importance as military strategy, political administration and human education. “My dear Homer,” we shall say, (d) “if our definition of representation is wrong and you are not merely manufacturing copies at third remove from reality, but are a stage nearer the truth about human excellence, and really capable of judging what kind of conduct will make the individual or the community better or worse, tell us any state whose constitution you have reformed, as Lycurgus did at Sparta and others have done elsewhere on a larger or smaller scale. What city attributes the benefit of its legal system to your skill? Italy and Sicily owe theirs to Charondas, we owe ours to Solon. Tell (e) us who is similarly indebted to you.”’

‘I don’t think,’ said Glaucon, ‘that Homer’s most devoted admirers could claim there was anyone.’

‘Well, then, is there any record of a successful war being 600 (a) fought in Homer’s day either under his command or with his advice?’


‘Then had he any practical skill? Is he said to have invented any ingenious technical or practical devices like Thales of Miletus or Anacharsis the Scythian?’8

‘He did nothing of that sort.’

‘Well, if he did no public service, do we hear of him founding a school of his own, where enthusiastic pupils came to hear him while he lived and to hand on a Homeric way of life to their (b) successors? That was how Pythagoras got his great reputation, and his successors still talk of a Pythagorean way of life which distinguishes them in the eyes of the world from other people.’

‘We hear nothing of that sort about Homer. Indeed, if the stories about Homer are true, his friend Creophylus is an even more absurd example of education than his name9 suggests, as e is said to have paid very little attention to Homer in his own (c) day, when he was still alive.’

‘Yes, that’s the story,’ I said. ‘But do you think, Glaucon, that if Homer had really been able to bring men the benefits of education, instead of merely representing it, he would not have had many enthusiastic followers and admirers? Protagoras of Abdera and Prodicus of Ceos10 and a whole lot of other individual teachers have managed to persuade their contemporaries (d) that no one who has not studied under them is fit to manage either private or public affairs; and they are so admired for this expert knowledge that their pupils are almost ready to carry them about shoulder-high. Would the contemporaries of Homer and Hesiod have let them continue as wandering minstrels, if they had really been able to make them better men? Wouldn’t they have clung to them like solid gold and tried to keep them at home, and if they wouldn’t stay, gone to school with them (e)wherever they were till they had learnt what they could from them?’

‘I think that’s perfectly true, Socrates.’

‘We may assume, then, that all the poets from Homer downwards have no grasp of truth but merely produce a superficial likeness of any subject they treat, including human excellence. For example, as we said just now, the painter paints what looks 601 (a) like a shoemaker, though neither he nor his public know about shoe-making, but judge merely by colour and form.’


‘In the same way the poet can use words and phrases as a medium to paint a picture of any craftsman, though he knows nothing except how to represent him, and the metre and rhythm and music will persuade people who are as ignorant as he is, and who judge merely from his words, that he really has something to say about shoemaking or generalship or whatever it may be. So great is the natural magic of poetry. Strip it of its poetic colouring, reduce it to plain prose, and I think you know (b) how little it amounts to.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed that.’

‘Like a face which relied on the bloom of youth for its charm, and whose lack of beauty is plain to see when youth deserts it.’


‘Now to another point. The artist who makes a likeness of thing knows nothing about the reality but only about the appearance – that was what we said, wasn’t it?’(c)


‘But that is only half the story. Let us look at it more fully.’

‘Go on.’

‘The painter may paint a picture of bridle and bit.’


‘But aren’t they made by the harness-maker and smith?’


‘Then does the painter know what the bridle and bit ought to be like? Isn’t this something that even the makers – the harness-maker and the smith – don’t know, but only the horseman who knows how to use them?’


‘Isn’t the same thing always true?’

‘Your meaning?’

‘You always have the three techniques – use, manufacture, (d) and representation.’


‘And isn’t the quality, beauty and fitness of any implement or creature or action judged by reference to the use for which man or nature produced it?’


‘It must follow, then, that the user of a thing has the widest experience of it and must tell the maker how well it has performed its function in the use to which he puts it. For example, the flute-player reports to the flute-maker on the performance of his flutes, and will give specifications for their manufacture (e) which the flute-maker will follow.’

‘Of course.’

‘The player, in fact, knows about the merits and defects of his instruments, and the manufacturer will rely on the player’s judgement?’


‘The maker of an implement, therefore, has a correct belief11602 (a) about its merits and defects, but he is obliged to get this by associating with and listening to someone who knows. And the person with the relevant knowledge is the user.’

‘That is so.’

‘What about the artist and his representations? Has he the user’s direct experience of the things he paints to enable him to know whether or not his pictures are good or right? Or has he the correct opinion that springs from enforced acquaintance with and obedience to someone who knows what he ought to paint?’

‘He has neither.’

‘So the artist has neither knowledge nor correct opinion about the goodness or badness of the things he represents.’

‘Apparently not.’

‘So the poet too, as artist, will be beautifully ill-informed about the subjects of his poetry.’


(b) ‘None the less he’ll go on writing poetry, in spite of not knowing whether what he produces is good or bad: and what he will represent will be anything that appeals to the taste of the ignorant multitude.’

‘What else can he do?’

‘Well,’ I concluded, ‘we seem to be pretty well agreed that the artist knows little or nothing about the subjects he represents and that the art of representation is something that has no serious value; and that this applies above all to all tragic poetry, epic or dramatic.’

‘Yes, entirely agreed.’

We have in this section (Part X, section 1) two trios: three ‘makers’, God who makes the Form, the craftsman who makes, e.g., the bed ‘with his eye on the form’, and the artist who copies what the craftsman has made; three skills, that of the user, of the maker, and of the artist. The two trios are not entirely consistent with each other: in the one the craftsman-maker has his ‘eye on the form’, in the other he takes his instructions from the user, whose knowledge of the true function of what is made is presumably equivalent to the knowledge of its form. The parallel with Parts VII–VIIIIs again not exact. But we have (a) the realm of Forms which is the object of knowledge, (b) the realm of ordinary experience in which we have true belief ( pistis ) or true opinion ( doxa ) and on a lower level the copies, images or ghosts (note 7 above) made by the artist, which recall the images of sub-section D of the Line and the shadows seen by the prisoners in the Cave. Compare Crombie, vol. II, pp. 103–4 .

2. The Appeal of Art and Poetry

Art and poetry appeal to, and represent, the lower, less rational part of our nature.

‘Now, look here,’ I said; ‘we have said that this process of [602] (c) representation deals with something at third remove from the truth, haven’t we?’


‘Then on what part of the human being does it exercise its power?’

‘What do you mean by part?’

‘Something like this. The apparent size of an object, as you know, varies with its distance from our eye.’


‘So also a stick will look bent if you put it in the water, straight (d) when you take it out, and deceptive differences of shading can make the same surface seem to the eye concave or convex; and our minds are clearly liable to all sorts of confusions of this kind. It is this natural weakness of ours that the scene-painter and conjuror and their fellows exploit with magical effect.’


‘Measuring, counting, and weighing have happily been discovered to help us out of these difficulties, and to ensure that we should not be guided by apparent differences of size, quantity and heaviness, but by calculations of number, measurement, and weight.’

‘Of course.’

‘And these calculations are performed by the element of (e) reason in the mind.’

‘Yes, that’s true.’

‘Yet when reason informs us, as the result of frequent measurements, that one thing is greater than or less than or equal to another, it may be contradicted by appearances.’

‘It may be.’

‘Yet we said that the same part of us cannot hold different opinions about the same thing at the same time.’

‘And we were quite right.’

603 (a) ‘So the part of the mind which contradicts the measurements cannot be the same as the part which agrees with them.’


‘But the part which relies on measurement and calculation must be the best part of us.’

‘Of course.’

‘So is not the part which contradicts them an inferior one?’


‘That was the conclusion I had in mind when I said that the work of the painter and of all other representative artists was far removed from the truth and associated with elements in us (b) equally far removed from reason, in a fond liaison without health or truth.’

‘Absolutely true.’

‘So representative art is an inferior child born of inferior parents.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And does this apply to the visual arts only, or also to the art which appeals to the ear which we call poetry?’

‘I should think it probably applies to poetry too.’

‘We mustn’t rely on probabilities drawn from painting,’ I said, ‘but consider the part of the mind to which dramatic poetry (c) appeals, and ask what serious worth it has.’

‘Yes, that’s what we should do,’ he agreed.

‘Then let us put it like this,’ I went on: ‘drama represents human beings in action, either voluntarily or under compulsion; in that action they fare, as they think, well or ill, and experience joy or sorrow. Is that a fair summary?’


‘And does a man remain at unity in himself in all these experiences? We saw that there could be conflict and contrary (d) opinions about the same objects in the realm of vision; isn’t there a similar conflict and internal struggle in the realm of action? There is really no need to ask the question, because, as I remember, we have already earlier in our discussion12 agreed well enough that our mind is full of innumerable conflicts of this sort.’

‘We were quite right about that.’

‘Yes, but there’s an omission we must now make good.’ (e)

‘What is it?’

‘Didn’t we then say13 that a good man who loses his son, or anything else dear to him, will bear the misfortune more equably than other people?’


‘Now consider: is it because he will feel no grief? Or is that impossible, and is it because he will moderate his sorrow?’

‘The second alternative is nearer the truth.’

‘Then tell me, will he be more inclined to resist and fight 604 (a) against his grief when his fellows can see him, or when he is alone by himself?’

‘Much more inclined when others can see him.’

‘On the other hand, when he is alone he will not mind saying and doing things which he would be ashamed to let other people hear or see.’

‘That is true.’

‘Reason and principle demand restraint, while his very feeling of sorrow prompts him to give way to grief.’(b)


‘And the simultaneous presence of opposite impulses about the same thing implies that there are two elements in his nature.’

‘Of course.’

‘Of these, one is prepared to obey the direction of principle.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, of course, custom and principle say that it is best, so far as we can, to bear misfortune patiently and without complaint; (c) for we cannot tell whether it will turn out well or ill, and nothing is gained by impatience, nor is anything in human life of great consequence; besides, grief prevents us getting just the help we need.’

‘And what is that?’

‘That of deliberation,’ I said, ‘which reflects on what has happened and then makes what reason picks as the best move that the fall of the dice allows. We must learn not to hold our (d) hurts and waste our time crying, like children who’ve bumped themselves, but to train our mind to cure our ills and rectify our lapses as soon as it can, banishing sorrow by healing it.’

‘That is the right way to deal with misfortune.’

‘And the highest part of us is ready to follow this reasoning.’

‘Yes, obviously.’

‘The other part of us, which remembers our sufferings and is never tired of bemoaning them, we may, I think, call irrational and lazy and inclined to cowardice.’

‘Yes, we may.’

(e) ‘And this recalcitrant element in us gives plenty of material for dramatic representation; but the reasonable element and its unvarying calm are difficult to represent, and difficult to understand if represented, particularly by the motley audience gathered in a theatre, to whose experience it is quite foreign.’

605 (a) ‘Very true.’

‘The dramatic poet will not therefore naturally turn to this element, nor will his skill be directed to please it, if he wants to win a popular reputation; but he will find it easy to represent a character that is unstable and refractory.’


‘Then we can fairly take the poet and set him beside the painter. He resembles him both because his works have a low (b) degree of truth and also because he deals with a low element in the mind. We are therefore quite right to refuse to admit him to a properly run state, because he wakens and encourages and strengthens the lower elements in the mind to the detriment of reason, which is like giving power and political control to the worst elements in a state and ruining the better elements. The dramatic poet produces a similarly bad state of affairs in the mind of the individual, by encouraging the unreasoning part of (c) it, which cannot distinguish greater and less but thinks the same things are now large and now small, and by creating images far removed from the truth.’

‘I agree.’

3. The Effects of Poetry and Drama

Poetry, dramatic poetry in particular, has a bad effect on its audiences, who learn to admire and imitate the faults it represents. We cannot, therefore, allow poets in our ideal state.

‘The gravest charge against poetry still remains. It has a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions.’

‘It is indeed terrible if it can do that.’

‘Then listen. When we hear Homer or one of the tragic poets representing the sufferings of a hero and making him bewail them at length, perhaps with all the sounds and signs of tragic (d) grief, you know how even the best of us enjoy it and let ourselves be carried away by our feelings; and we are full of praises for the merits of the poet who can most powerfully affect us in this way.’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘Yet in our private griefs we pride ourselves on just the opposite, that is, on our ability to bear them in silence like men, and we regard the behaviour we admired on the stage as womanish.’ (e)

‘Yes, I’m aware of that.’

‘Then is it really right,’ I asked, ‘to admire, when we see him on the stage, a man we should ourselves be ashamed to resemble? Is it reasonable to feel enjoyment and admiration rather than disgust?’

‘It seems most unreasonable,’ he said.

‘Particularly,’ I added, ‘if you look at it in this way.’ 606 (a)


‘If you consider that the poet gratifies and indulges the instinctive desires of a part of us, which we forcibly restrain in our private misfortunes, with its hunger for tears and for an uninhibited indulgence in grief. Our better nature, being without (b) adequate intellectual or moral training, relaxes its control over these feelings, on the grounds that it is someone else’s sufferings it is watching and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in praising and pitying another man with some claim to goodness who shows excessive grief; besides, it reckons the pleasure it gets as sheer gain, and would certainly not consent to be deprived of it by condemning the whole poem. For very few people are capable of realizing that what we feel for other people must infect what we feel for ourselves, and that if we let our pity for the misfortunes of others grow too strong it will be difficult to restrain our feelings in our own.’

(c) ‘That is very true.’

‘Does not the same argument apply to laughter as to pity? For the effect is similar when you enjoy on the stage – or even in ordinary life – jokes that you would be ashamed to make yourself, instead of detesting their vulgarity. You are giving rein to your comic instinct, which your reason has restrained for fear you may seem to be playing the fool, and bad taste in the theatre may insensibly lead you into becoming a buffoon at home.’

‘It may indeed.’ (d)

‘Poetry has the same effect on us when it represents sex and anger, and the other desires and feelings of pleasure and pain which accompany all our actions. It waters them when they ought to be left to wither, and makes them control us when we ought, in the interests of our own greater welfare and happiness, to control them.’

‘I can’t deny it,’ he said.

(e) ‘And so, Glaucon,’ I continued, ‘when you meet people who admire Homer as the educator of Greece, and who say that in the administration of human affairs and education we should study him and model our whole lives on his poetry, you must 607 (a) feel kindly towards them as good men within their limits, and you may agree with them that Homer is the best of poets and first of tragedians. But you will know that the only poetry that should be allowed in a state is hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men; once you go beyond that and admit the sweet lyric or epic muse, pleasure and pain become your rulers instead of law and the rational principles commonly accepted as best.’

‘Quite true.’

‘Our defence, then, when we are reminded that we banished (b) poetry from our state, must be that its character was such as to give us good grounds for so doing and that our argument required it. But in case we are condemned for being insensitive and bad mannered, let us add that there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry. One can quote many examples of this ancient antagonism: remarks about the “bitch that growls and snarls at her master”, and “a reputation among empty-headed fools”, or “the crowd of heads that know too much” and the (c) “subtle thinkers” who are “beggars” none the less.14 However, let us freely admit that if drama and poetry written for pleasure can prove to us that they have a place in a well-run society, we will gladly admit them, for we know their fascination only too well ourselves; but it would be wicked to abandon what seems to be the truth. I expect you feel the fascination of poetry (d) yourself, don’t you,’ I asked, ‘especially when it’s Homer exercising it?’

‘I do indeed.’

‘It is only fair, then, that poetry should return, if she can make her defence in lyric or other metre.’


‘And we should give her defenders, men who aren’t poets themselves but who love poetry, a chance of defending her in prose and proving that she doesn’t only give pleasure but brings lasting benefit to human life and human society. And we will listen favourably, as we shall gain much if we find her a source (e) of profit as well as pleasure.’

‘Yes, we shall gain a lot.’

‘But if they fail to make their case, then we shall have to follow the example of the lover who renounces a passion that is doing him no good, however hard it may be to do so. Brought 608 (a) up as we have been in our own admirably constituted15 societies, we are bound to love poetry, and we shall be glad if it proves to have high value and truth; but in the absence of such proof we shall, whenever we listen to it, recite this argument of ours to ourselves as a charm to prevent us falling under the spell of a childish and vulgar passion. Our theme shall be that such poetry has no serious value or claim to truth, and we shall warn its (b) hearers to fear its effects on the constitution of their inner selves, and tell them to adopt the view of poetry we have described.’

‘I entirely agree.’

‘Yes, my dear Glaucon,’ I said, ‘because the issues at stake, the choice between becoming a good man or a bad, are even greater than they appear, and neither honour nor wealth nor power, nor poetry itself, should tempt us to neglect the claims of justice and excellence of every kind.’

‘I agree,’ he said; ‘your argument convinces me, as I think it would anyone else.’

There is a parallel to Plato’s treatment of poetry and art in Tolstoy, What is Art? (p. 50). ‘To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having invoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colours, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art. Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others the feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings, and also experience them.’

Both Plato and Tolstoy think that the poet and artist in some way infect those who read or see their productions with the feelings which those productions portray, and since the feelings portrayed are often morally questionable, such portrayal must be treated with the greatest caution. Both, in consequence, make a pretty clean sweep of the traditionally great artists and writers. Plato eliminates Homer and the tragedians; Tolstoy’s list is even more detailed and comprehensive, ranging from Sophocles to Shakespeare, and including Beethoven and Wagner (ibid., pp. 122–3). Plato adds(605c606d) a further criticism based on his analysis of the mind (opening note to Part V, section 2 above), as he considers that poetry and art appeal to the mind’s lower elements.

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