Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece II: Caging the Muses | Main | from The Republic

November 16, 2005


Plato. “Ion.” Plato on Rhetoric and Language. Ed. Jean Neinkamp. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 1999. 23-35

The dialogue between Socrates and Ion is significant because it demonstrates that Greek thought in this period located inspiration outside of the author:

In this more than anything, then, I think, the god is showing us, so that we should be in no doubt about it, that these beautiful poems are not human, not even from human beings, but are divine and from gods; that poets are nothing but representatives of the gods, possessed by whoever possesses them. To show that, the god deliberately sang the most beautiful lyric poem through the most worthless poet (534e).
And you know that the spectator is the last of the rings, don’t you — the ones that I said take their power from each other by virtue of the Heraclian stone? The middle ring is you, the rhapsode or actor, and the first one is the poet himself. The god pulls people’s souls through all these wherever he wants, looping the power down from one to another (536a).
The author described by Socrates is the antithesis of Woodmanee’s Romantic author. Instead of finding original inspiration within himself, he is instead at the mercy of the Muses and the gods to the extent that he can’t even choose his own topic (as evidenced by Ion’s inability to expound on any text other than Homer’s). Since this inspiration requires an external force, it is not created strictly in solitude. And if the author cannot take credit for the inspiration, then his proprietary claims may be weakened as well.

Posted by at November 16, 2005 6:06 PM | Constructs | Dialogues | Greek