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Plato's Objection to Poetry

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He was the first systemic critic who inquired into the nature of imaginative literature and put forward theories which are both illuminating and provocative. He was himself a great poet and his dialogues are full of his gifted dramatic quality. His Dialogues are the classic works of the world literature having dramatic, lyrical and fictional elements.
According to him all arts are imitative or mimetic in nature. He wrote in The Republic that ‘ideas are the ultimate reality’. Things are conceived as ideas before they take practical shapes. So, idea is original and the thing is copy of that idea. Carpenter’s chair is the result of the idea of chair in his mind. Thus chair is once removed from reality. But painter’s chair is imitation of carpenter’s chair. So it is twice removed form reality. Thus artist/poet takes man away from reality rather than towards it. Thus artist deals in illusion.
1. Plato’s objection to Poetry from the point of view of Education:
a. In ‘The Republic’ Book II – He condemns poetry as fostering evil habits and vices in children. Homer’s epics were part of studies. Heroes of epics were not examples of sound or ideal morality. They were lusty, cunning, and cruel – war mongers. Even Gods were no better. (Troy-Achilles beheding Apollo’s statue, oracles molested… insults of Gods, Gods fight among themselves, they punish instead of forgiveness…Ahaliya-Indra, Kunti’s children, Narad’s obsession to marry, Hercules son of Zeus and Alcmene, Hera’s jealousy-snakes-fenzy to kill children…)
b. Plato writes: “if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarreling among themselves as of all things the basest, no word should be said to them of the wars in the heaven, or of the plots and fighting of the gods against one another, for they are not true…. If they would only believe as we would tell them that quarreling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarreling between citizens…… these tales (of epics) must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have allegorical meaning or not.”
c. Thus he objected on the ground that poetry does not cultivate good habits among children.
2. Objection from Philosophical point of view:
a. In ‘The Republic’ Book X: Poetry does not lead to, but drives us away form the realization of the ultimate reality – the Truth.
b. Philosophy is better than poetry because Philosophy deals with idea and poetry is twice removed from original idea.
c. Plato says: “The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearance only …. The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior and has inferior offspring.”(Dorothea’s ideal in Middlemarch shattered, Kshtriya dharma – not to hit enemy without weapon, Tess’s providence, evil wins & God is silent, unrewarded virtue…)
3. Objection form the Moral point of view:
a. In the same book in ‘The Republic’: Soul of man has higher principles of reason (which is the essence of its being) as well as lower constituted of baser impulses and emotions. Whatever encourages and strengthens the rational principle is good, and emotional is bad.
b. Poetry waters and nourishes the baser impulses of men - emotional, sentimental and sorrowful.
c. Plato says: “Then the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by nature made, nor is his art intended, to please or to affect the rational principle in the soul; but he will prefer the passionate and fitful temper, which is easily limited …. And therefore we shall be right in refusing to admit him into a well-ordered state, because he awakens and nourishes and strengthen the feelings and impairs the reason … Poetry feeds and waters the passion instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.”

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