Monday, February 15, 1999 05:21:36

Ray Nayler

Response to the Ion

Earl Jackson, Jr.

In 523C of the Ion, Socrates states “ . . . it is plain to everyone

not from art and knowledge comes your power to speak of Homer.“ this

statement is confusing as it elides art and knowledge, (rational

knowledge) two areas of discourse seen in the modern period as

antithetical. to a modern reader, this statement makes very little sense,

taken out of its historical context. However, art in the Periclean age

was seen not as antithetical to knowledge, but belonging to its realm.

Where art today, as can be seen in the „action paintings“ and the German

expressionist movements, is regared as expressive of emotion and as

coming from „inspiration“ and an artist’s „passion,“ in the Periclean

Period it was regarded as highly intellectual, a balanced marriage of

knowledge and human emotion.

Poetry, on the other hand, Socrates regards with an attitude

similar to that of modern discourse about painting, from those textbook

promotors of the „genius school“ of art appreciation. Socrates argues

that poetry comes from divine inspiration, and is separate from art–even

antithetical to it, at least in its mode of production. When Ion states

that he is an expert only on Homer and not on the other poets, Socrates

uses this opportunity to cross-examine the statement, and to demonstrate

that therefore Ion must be inspired. If he were simply knowledgeable

therefore like the artist) he would be able to appreciate the works

all poets, rather than just one, with an even and critical eye.

The conclusion that Socrates draws is that Ion’s „speaking

well on Homer“ is not an art (533d). After demonstrating this, Socrates

hypothesizes a structure of inspiration which is similar to that of

magnet charging successive steel rings with attractive power. he brings

Ion to admit that as a rhapsode he is an „interpreter of interpreter“

(535a), and compares the task of a rhapsodist to that of an actor (536a).

An important point about the discourse of the Ion in relation to our

modern discourse inside the space of the seminar, is that there is no

mention in the Ion of philosophy, or of its being superior to poetry.

Socrates does not demonstrate or allude whatsoever to his own superior

ability to interpret poetry, he simply dismantles the idea that the

is an artist, and through argument causes Ion to admit that he is not

knowledgeable, but divinely inspired. It seems to me that in the past

weeks, as we have gotten further away from the primary reading of the

text early in the term, we have forgotten that this argument does not

take place, and have, as aneffect of our own discourse, added it to

material of Plato’s text. If anyone is posited by Socrates as being

superior to the rhapsode in the interpretation of Homer’s poem, it is

those disparate people who have mastered the arts, crafts and trades

which are present everwhere in Homer’s text, and the last part of the

dialogue is almost wholly devoted (539-542) in demonstrating how only

these individual artists would have the knowledge which Ion has proposed

that he possesses. As usual, in this dialogue, Socrates make few concrete

statements, and deconstructs another’s argument rather than constructing

one of his own. Interestingly, however, we seminarians seem to have

constructing an argument for him of the superiority of literary

interpretation over poetry, and have managed to inject this modern

argument into our ideas of the original text, solidifying what we

percieve to be the argument of Socrates, and inventing for him a more

solid and modern method of discourse. We have done in class precisely

what he would never do, and then attributed it to him.



A final note–maybe it seems strange to bring up our discussion of Ion

my response to the Ion, but I could not help but observe some rathe

disturbing tendencies–in myself as well as others, toward expansion

the arguments in these dialogues, which seems to me to be a reductive

particularly modern way of going about things. Since I assume that a

primary goal of this course is to grapple with our own tendencies toward

viewing ancient text in modern context, I thought that this

self-reflexive example might be a good place to start the debate.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with any direct quotes to support

argument about what has been occuring in seminar–I can only offer my

fluid–and certainly flawed–perceptions of our continuing conversation.