Plato and Poets

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  • 7/27/2019 Plato and Poets


    Loyola University Chicago

    Loyola eCommons

    Master's Teses Teses and Dissertations


    Plato and PoetsVincent G. SavageLoyola University Chicago

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    Tis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Aribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

    Copyright 1940 Vincent G. Savage

    Recommended CitationSavage, Vincent G., "Plato and Poets" (1940).Master's Teses. Paper 358.hp://
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    August# 1940

    A thesis submitted in partial fulfillmentof the requirements for the degree ofMaster of Arts in Loyola University.

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    Part I Plato, the Moralist, and Art

    Chapter I Strictures upon Art on Moral Grounds 1

    Chapter II Plato's Doctrine of Good Art, Morally 12

    Part II Plato, the Metaphysician, and Art

    Chapter III Poets' Lack of Trutha) Reality and man's knowledge

    17b) Knowledge and virtuec) Theory of knowledge and moralityd) Poets' immorality

    Chapter IV The Poet of Platoa) The ideal poet 35b) The possible poetc) Censorship of poetryd) Canons of legitimate art

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    Vita Aucto.risVincent Gerard Savage was born in Chicago, I l l inois, November 6, 1910.

    He attended St. Lucy's Parochial School and St. Ignatius High School fromSeptember, 1917 unti l June, 1929. He entered St. Mary's College in Kansasin September, 1929, and Milford :Novitiate one year la ter . He received hisdegree of Bachelor of Literature from Xavier University in 1934. In Augustof the same year he entered West Baden College. After completing his threeyear course in Philosophy he was sent in August, 1937 to teach at LoyolaAcademy in Chicago.

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    STRICTURES uPON ART OlJ :iviORAL GRotJNDSIn language that only a poet has at his disposal Plato severely cr i t i -

    cized poetry even to the extent of excluding much of Homer and of other mas-ters from his ideal state. He saw in poets universal teachers and guideswhose words most men take as divinely inspired. The apparent contradictionsand errors of poets men either do not perceive or they blindly accept. ToPlato, however, falsehood is falsehood in poet or anyone else, and must neverbe tolerated. The poet, i f he be a teacher, should be among the f i rs t toprevent error from creeping into the minds of his hearers. As a teacher heshould be a model of virtue; consequently, his writings must be noble. Heshould not lower himself by such indignities as lying. Yet, the greatestof poets, Homer, is guilty above a l l others of l ies . He pictures the gods1as they can not possibly be. How can the gods change i f they are gods? Toact thus would be to deceive. Can truth i t se l f deceive? What could i t gainfor i t already possesses all? Homer's representation of the gods as cheats,adulterers, drunken l iars is not only blasphemous but also absurd. Imaginegods, courtiers of Zeus, being compelled to descend even to the slightestundignified action; a god bribed by mere man to deceive another god; or ta -king sides in heaven with one faction against another. Even man has a con-tempt for anyone who takes or gives bribes. Would gods, who in their om-niscience know everthing, ignore such conduct in one another? Someone, per-haps, would in disgust at Plato's stupidity maintain that the reader or l i s -

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    2tener easily distinguishes act rom able, and does not or one moment takeHomer or the other poets seriously in such matters. Plato not only declaresthat the poetry in question ails to have any evil efect on the readers orl isteners, but he insists that i t can be the ruination o souls. Men, Platosays, hear these ables in childhood at a time when they are most impression-able. I f they eventually throw o childhood !mpressions, they do so ater2the damage has been done. Thereore, thei r morals, even i men see throughthe poets' ictitious pictures o the gods, are already founded on an un-sound basis. Plato's contention is more forcefully brought out by the evileffects of the poets' descriptions of heroes. They are men l ike ourselves.Consequently, they influence us more strongly. What will children see wrongin irreverence or unmanly conduct i f they read that Achilles spurned the ri-3 4ver god? that he carried on in womanish fashion a t the death of Patroclus?5that he brutally dragged the body of Hector about the plains of Troy? I fyouths are to have any sense of decorum, then out with pictures of gods or

    6brave men giving way to excessive sorrow or girl ish laughter. How will ayoung man who has heard that Achilles preferred serfdom on earth to kingship7in Hades count death as l i t t le? Will he consider i t noble to die for hiscountry? I f the poet be allowed to paint the next world as a gruesome pri-son full of horror, i t will be hard to persuade men to face death ratherthan submit to cowardice or sin.

    Although l ies such as these could easily be removed from writings, thereis s t i l l another difioulty. Plato maintains that the poet can do har.m notonly by what he writes, but also by how he writes i t . In fact poetic imita-tiona are ruinous to the understanding o the hearers. Poets are only imi

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    8tators; they copy images of a ll things without reaching the truth. Themerit of their work is judged not by truth but by i ts external G & ~ b . Theirpoems have no substance for: "strip the stories of poets of the music whichwords and rhymn put upon them and what a poor appearance they make when reci-9ted in prose." In other words the poet strives to please the ear and theeye; he makes no appeal to the in te l lect . In fact by his own admission thepoet professes to be appealing not to the intel lect of man but to his passions10alone. As a result whoever gains the most applause from the multitude,which judges in terms of the sense-pleasure derived from a poem, he is thegreatest ar t i s t .

    In these passages Plato is speaking of imitative poetry, imitative.inthe narrower sense. He and Aristotle understood 'mimesis,' in a twofoldsense. I t may be rendered in i t s broader sense as: "a portrayal by means ofan;/ art" ; in i ts narrower as: "impersonation," that is , imitation. Now a l lpoetry must be imitative, but a l l need not be such because i ts essential con-stituent is impersonation. Plato condemns only the type that consists essen-t ial ly of impersonation because he says: " T ~ M. Y\ f q M :1 7T ctfJ.. r:')( c rt'J-cJ. l11 L '\

    He has in mind poetry thatportrays men in their moments of strong passion. Poetry as seen in tragedy.Such poetry has two dangerous defects. First of al l , i t demands that thepoet to a degree assume another's character. Secondly, i t strongly tends toimitate men given over to their passions because , like tragedy, i t strives12to give pleas1.,re and gratification. Both these fS:ults are sufficient tocondemn anything according to Plato. They can not be tolerated as they are

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    4too much of an impediment to the soul in i ts struggle for virtue.

    How is impersonation. such as a poet employs, an impediment to virtue?To understand this one must f irs t understand Plato's condeption of virtue.In the Republic Plato shows us What virtue is . and how the soul attains i t .The virtue of citiz-.ens forms the keystone of the ideal s ~ a t e . With i t thestate possesses virtue in i tself and i s . therefore, possible. Plato f i rs tshows us virtue in the whole. the s t a t e ~ and then in the members. the ci t i -13zens. The state is composed of three classes of people. There are the ru-lers, the soldiers. and the craftsmen. Suoh a state. i f properly good. and. consequently. possesses the four cardinal virtues. Wisdom is14plainly the virtue of good counsel. which the rulers possess. Bravery isthe quality that under a ll conditions preserves the conviction that things15to be feared are precisely those that the lawgivers have taught. This vir-tue is embodied in the warrior class. Temperance is a harmony a right orderin the state or in the soul. I t may be called self-mastery or self-control.In the individual, i t means that the higher faculties dominate the lower; in16the state. i t insures the supremacy as rulers of the proper class. I t isthe virtue that maintains the harmony of a ll three classes of citizen in rea-pact to the seat of authority both in the individual soul and in the whole17state. Justice is the universal principle wtich is found in the l ife of18a ll three classes. I t is the one virtue that makes a ll other virtues pos-sible; i t insures their thriving once they are implanted. both in the stateand in the individual soul. Justice is present in the soul i f each facultyperforms i ts own tuaction properly. I t is found in the state i f each class