Plato

Michael A. Case

For more time than artists would like to admit we have been fighting a man who haunts us from a grave long forgotten, and for just over 600 years we have paid great respect to a man whose marble tomb lies in Florence. Since the dawn of time people have passed on traditions and myths to teach us things in ways that capture our interest and make us want to pass those traditions on. It is those life lessons that we learn best when they are not being beaten into our heads with a preacherís bat. It is through the use of hidden meaning or allegory in the text that we can see this. Plato argued that the literature is mimetic and that all Poetry is a failed replication of the world, just what you would see if you just spun a mirror round and round; Dante, on the other hand, saw that literature was far more than just that which was presented on the page. He saw that literature was the means by which we could learn the hidden teachings of great writers and philosophers.
Plato is without a doubt the father of Western Society, and we are the great-great-great grandchildren of that father. It is necessary to review the precepts of Platoís ideal world. There existed, for Plato, a world of ideas where all things exist in the perfect form. That ideal place is where all ideas that we have and that appear in material form originate. Thus the paper you read this essay off of is an imitation of the idea of paper, that idea of paper is paper in its quintessential paper perfection. This sets up two layers of import, the first, or perfect, layer; and the second, or imperfect, layer where we all live and construct things. But now where does literature fit into all of this? According to Plato it is yet further from the truth. For literature is an imitation of the world. It was Plato who originated the idea that the poet is but an imitator of something already imitated in its form. Making poetry a third layer thus two removed from perfection. That is to say what the poet writes is but mimicry of the real thing and not of worth in a society where people value contributions which enhance the community(Plato 21-29). Platoís ideal state is such a society. The tenth book of the Republic is a "refusal to admit the imitative kind of poetry(Plato 21)" into the ideal state. Only those poets who used their skills to extol the events of the state would be permitted to stay, but those poets who practiced the arts of tragedy and comedy would indeed be banned. Why? Because they present to us a flawed view of the world so far removed from the ideal that it must be shunned.
To Plato and the classic people, the greatest and the highest form of Poetry was tragedy, and the greatest tragedian was Homer. Plato deduced, from his mimetic idea of the poetry, that "if the tragic poet is an imitator, he too is thrice removed from the king and from the truth"(Plato 23). Here is the crux of the argument. Plato considers the art of writing to be a mimetic one, that is, as we have said, it is but a mimicry of the real world. Now what one must ask is, is literature really an imitation of the world? Plato has clearly argued the case, in his logic. Yet in Homer, the greatest poet according to Plato himself, we are told of the many adventures of the Classic Hero Odysseus who visits the land of the "goggle-eyed" Cyclopsians(Homer 100-111). These one eyed monsters could move rocks that "not two and twenty good carts with four wheels could have lifted"(Homer 104-105). Or the adventures of Odysseus in the land of the dead(Homer 125-137). As we all know these are things that must happen every day. "Wasnít it just yesterday we saw that 10 foot, one eyed behemoth walking downtown with a zombie??" and isnít it every manís right to have the Nymphs of Zeus send down a flock of goats for dinner(Homer 103)? So truly we can see by the example of how the literature of Homer