Ion (dialogue)

Ion (dialogue)

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Ion (dialogue)'
Start a new discussion about 'Ion (dialogue)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
In Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Ion (Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

: ) Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 discusses with Ion, a professional rhapsode
Rhapsode
A rhapsode or, in modern usage, rhapsodist, refers to a classical Greek professional performer of epic poetry in the fifth and fourth centuries BC . Rhapsodes notably performed the epics of Homer but also the wisdom and catalogue poetry of Hesiod and the satires of Archilochus and others...

 who also lectures on Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, the question of whether the rhapsode, a performer of poetry, gives his performance on account of his skill and knowledge or by virtue of divine possession. It is one of the shorter of Plato's dialogues.

Ion's Skill: Is It Genuine? (530a-533c)


Ion has just come from a festival of Asclepius
Asclepius
Asclepius is the God of Medicine and Healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia , Iaso , Aceso , Aglæa/Ægle , and Panacea...

 at the city of Epidaurus
Epidaurus
Epidaurus was a small city in ancient Greece, at the Saronic Gulf. Two modern towns bear the name Epidavros : Palaia Epidavros and Nea Epidavros. Since 2010 they belong to the new municipality of Epidavros, part of the peripheral unit of Argolis...

, after having won first prize in the competition. Socrates engages Ion in a philosophical discussion. Ion admits when Socrates asks, that his skill in performance recitation is limited to Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, and that all other poets bore him. Socrates finds this puzzling, and sets out to solve the "riddle" of Ion's limited expertise. He points out to Ion that art critics and judges of sculpture normally do not limit themselves to judging the work of only a single artist, but can criticize the art no matter who the particular artist.

The Nature of Poetic Inspiration (533d-536d)


Socrates deduces from this observation that Ion has no real skill, but is like a soothsayer or prophet in being divinely possessed:

"For a poet is a light and winged and sacred thing, and is unable ever to indite until he has been inspired and put out of his senses, and his mind is no longer in him: every man, whilst he retains possession of that, is powerless to indite a verse or chant an oracle. Seeing then that it is not by art that they compose and utter so many fine things about the deeds of men— as you do about Homer—but by a divine dispensation, each is able only to compose that to which the Muse has stirred him, this man dithyrambs, another laudatory odes, another dance-songs, another epic or else iambic verse; but each is at fault in any other kind. For not by art do they utter these things, but by divine influence; since, if they had fully learnt by art to speak on one kind of theme, they would know how to speak on all. And for this reason God takes away the mind of these men and uses them as his ministers, just as he does soothsayers and godly seers, in order that we who hear them may know that it is not they who utter these words of great price, when they are out of their wits, but that it is God himself who speaks and addresses us through them."[534b-d]

Socrates offers the metaphor of a magnet to explain how the rhapsode transmits the poet's original inspiration from the muse to the audience. He says that the god speaks first to the poet, then gives the rhapsode his skill, and thus, gods communicate to the people. Socrates posits that Ion must be out of his mind when he acts, because he can weep even though he has lost nothing, and recoil in fear when in front of an admiring audience. Ion says that the explanation for this is very simple: it is the promise of payment that inspires his deliberate disconnection from reality. Ion says that when he looks at the audience and sees them weeping, he knows he will laugh because it has made him richer, and that when they laugh, he will be weeping at losing the money (535e).

Ion's Choice: To be Skilled or Inspired (536e-542a)


Ion tells Socrates that he cannot be convinced that he is possessed or mad when he performs (536d,e). Socrates then recites passages from Homer which concern various arts such as medicine, divining, fishing, and making war. He asks Ion if these skills are distinct from his art of recitation. Ion admits that while Homer discusses many different skills in his poetry, he never refers specifically to the rhapsode's craft, which is acting. Socrates presses him about the exact nature of his skill. Ion maintains that his knowledge makes him a capable military general but states that when he recites passages concerning military matters, he cannot tell whether he does it with a general's skill, or with a rhapsode's. Socrates notices that Ion changes his occupation. He was first an rhapsode and then has become a general. He gently berates the rhapsode for being Protean, which after all, is exactly what an rhapsode is: a man who is convincingly capable of being different people on stage.

Through his character Socrates, Plato argues that “Ion’s talent as an interpreter cannot be an art, a definable body of knowledge or an ordered system of skills,” but instead must come from the divine inspiration of the Muses.

Commentary


Plato’s argument is an early example of a so-called genetic fallacy
Genetic fallacy
The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from...

 since his conclusion arises from his famous lodestone (magnet) analogy. Ion, the rhapsode
Rhapsode
A rhapsode or, in modern usage, rhapsodist, refers to a classical Greek professional performer of epic poetry in the fifth and fourth centuries BC . Rhapsodes notably performed the epics of Homer but also the wisdom and catalogue poetry of Hesiod and the satires of Archilochus and others...

 “dangles like a lodestone at the end of a chain of lodestones. The muse inspires the poet (Homer in Ion’s case) and the poet inspires the rhapsode.” Plato’s dialogues are themselves “examples of artistry that continue to be stageworthy;” it is a paradox that “Plato the supreme enemy of art is also the supreme artist.” Plato develops a more elaborate critique of poetry in other dialogues such as in Phaedrus
Phaedrus
Phaedrus , Roman fabulist, was probably a Thracian slave, born in Pydna of Macedonia and lived in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius...

 245a, Symposium
Symposium
In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

 209a, Republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

 398a, Laws 817 b-d.