Literary Criticism Plato’s Views on Poetry
Plato’s objection on Poetry
Plato was a great disciple of Socrates. Being a philosopher, Socrates was deeply worried about the decline in national character and the standard of the social and public life. He was always in quest of truth. He challenged many old belief and conventions. Plato followed him and discussed the value of literature to society its nature, and its function also in his work “The republic”. In Book 10 of “The Republic” Plato takes up the idea of imitation in art ad literature.
The poet before Plato believed that they were inspired by God. A poet speaks the divine truth. He is divinely inspired like prophets. Poetry is not a craft which can be learnt and practiced. It is the result of inspiration. He is not in his right sense when he writes a beautiful lyric. He believes that he is powerless and unable to write anything unless he is inspired. The implication is that poetry is not rational. Even the poet himself does not know what he writes in a moment of ‘Frenzy’
v Ultimate Reality:-
But Plato, as a philosopher, had no faith in this doctrine. He wanted to make a strong and ideal state. For that he wished to develop and mould the life and character of a citizen. Like Euripides he believed that based on truth, justice and human sense. The artist’s main purpose should be the welfare toe the society. He should be moral and instructive. The Plato accepted the realistic view of life rather than the imaginative. He did not believe in aesthetic transport, but in transport of reason. His concept of literature, painting and sculpture is based on his theory of ideas. In “The Republic’ He says that ideas are ultimate reality or the Absolute Truth. All things on earth are merely copies of that Reality. The Ultimate Reality knows no change, this things pass. Therefore his world is an unsubstantial thing.
Plato attracts poetry on this intellectual ground. His first charge against poetry is that a thing itself is copy of the idea about it. He says that there is an idea of bed, the Real Bed as God imagines it. When a carpenter makes a bed, he imitates the idea of bed. That way, the carpenters’ bed is once removed from Reality. It is not Real. Now when a painter paints a bed, he imitates the bed may by the carpenter. So it is an imitation of an imitation. It is twice removed form. Reality. In the same way poetry is twice removed from Reality. There are three kinds reality:
(1) the Ultimate Reality – the ideas,
(2) the secondary reality –the visible world, and (
3) the shadow – the poetical creation which imitates the secondary reality.
Hence art is mimetic. It is an imitation of an imitation. That way, Plato condemns all arts as twice removed form the Absolute Reality. There are many appearance which we redthing but one Absoulte Redness..
Plato’s next charge against poetry arises from its appeal to the emotions. Being a product of inspiration, poetry affects emotions rather than reason, the heart rather than intellect. Poetry appeals to the emotions which are the inferior part of the human soul. Such emotional effect blurs reason. As a result, men lose serenity which is the highest value in Plato’s opinion. He further remarks that an imitative is the highest virtue in Plato’s opinion. He further remarks, that an imitative art is like an inferior who marries an inferior and has an inferior offspring. Emotions are merely impulse of moment and therefore, they are not safe guides like reason which examines everything coolly and logically. He says, “Poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them and let them rule interest of ruling them as the as they out to be ruled with a view to the happiness and virtue of mankind.”
v Lack of Morality:-
Finally Plato attacks poetry for its lack of morality. It treats virtue and vice alike. Sometime virtue triumph over vice and sometimes vice triumphs over virtue. He points out that virtue often comes to grief in the epics of Homer, the narrative verse of Hesiod, the odes of Pindar and the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
In “The Republic” Plato says, “In literature many evil livers are happy and many righteous mean are unhappy; and wrong doing is often profitable while honest dealing is beneficial to one’s neighbor, but damaging to one’s self”. Homer, Hesiod and their followers misrepresent Gods by calling them revengeful, lustful and cruel. They give Gods imaginary shapes also. Thus their teachings are immoral. So we should condemn tragedies and comedies, because they imitate unworthy think. As a moralist, Plato disliked poetry because it is immoral and as philosopher, he hates it because it is based on falsehood. Thus poetry is false, trivial and harmful. Here Plato suggests that mere pleasure can not be the sole object of poetry. A poet is a good artist only if he is a good teacher. In “The Republic” he say,
“Really great artists should be able to trance the nature of beauty and perfection and there and then only our young men may be influence by them”’
Thus Plato attacks poetry on intellectual, emotion, utilitarian and moral ground and shows its uselessness and its corrupting influence. He ends his charges against poetry by saying that in an idea state such poets have no place and they should be banished. Tragedy and comedy should go.
Plato is not quite free from weaknesses. When he says that the poet produces less than reality, he forgets that he also produces something more than reality. Art is not a photographic imitation of Nature of Reality. In every art, there is an element of idealization. The artist communicates his own vision, and not a mere imitation of reality. Thus art idealizes Nature. Art imitates Nature not as Nature is but as it ought to be. Art is something less than life, but it is also something more than life. This ‘more’ is the contribution of the artists.
Again, Plato is not justified on the issue of art and morality. Morality teaches, art does not attempt to teach. It merely suggest. The artist says, “This is my bit of reality take it or leave it draw any lesions you like from it.” That way, Plato confuses the study of poetry with the study of morals.
Thus Plato is the first great figure in the history of literary criticism. He raised question, but hid not give correct answer. He presented his own observation on the art of writing, According to him; the function of literature is to elevate the mind and uplift the soul to their highest lever and to nourish all that is best in the moral nature of man. That way, Plato serves an irritant in the development of critical thought. He associated literary criticism with serious philosophical enquire. HE believed that every great art should elevate the mind, uplift the sould and nourish the moral nature of Man.
Towards the close of the Book-10, Plato against speaks of virtue and justice. He advocates justice for its own sake. The immortality of soul is the supreme reward of virtue. But the rewards of justice can be enjoyed even in the earthly life,. HE says, “If the righteous man is affricated with pervert or sickness, all this will come to some good for him in the end either in this life or after death.”
Plot discuses the reward of the just and the punishment of the unjust after death. Here he explains how the souls live a new life under the supervision of the Tree Fates- Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropo. Lachesis represents the past, and allots give joy or sorrow; Clotho represent the present and spins the fate and Atropo represent the future remain immovable.