Penetrating The Heart Of Life: Ambiguous In Thought, Ambivalent In Feeling

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His reaction to his surroundings is filled with terror, but in spite of his awe he is not intimidated to the extent of ceasing his pillaging. His reverence, however, is demonstrated in the fact that he believes in the power of the mask. The conquistador will soon have no choice but to unequivocally respect indigenous rituals, since he will form part of them, as his flirtation with the sacred becomes a permanent engagement.

The conquistador's reaction is a mixture of repulsion toward the images of death that surround him and attraction toward the gold that he idolizes:. As the conquistador's attraction increases, so does his repulsion. To accede to his lust for gold and pursue the mask is to embrace his own mortality. Mictlantecuhtli offers to let him keep the mask if he will only put it on, while his female consort, the mistress of Mictlan, reminds him that he already agreed to wear the mask. The seduction is consummated when the mask magically floats in the air and adheres to the conquistador's face.

As this happens, he feels his lips sealed but hears his own voice entreating that he to be allowed to don the mask. He lurches backward, afraid that the mask will burn him, but he is unable to avoid it, as it becomes permanently melded to his flesh. In Aridjis's rendering, it is also haunted by its original inhabitants who died during the battles of conquest, but still roam the city.

Here, the cruelest of the conquistadors will become a ruthless encomendero. He permits Gonzalito to be raised in his home, but does not recognize him publicly. Like his father and namesake, Gonzalito is cruel and heartless with those he deems his racial and social inferiors. Branded as a slave by his father to ensure that he will never claim his inheritance, as a child Gonzalito sleeps with the dogs and is himself animal-like, barely aware of his surroundings or able to communicate.

When his mother takes him to visit Mictlan, the land of the dead, he suddenly transforms into a large and imposing, yet morally weak youth. Verbally and physically abusive, Gonzalito tortures animals and slave children and rapes a young girl. Here the mestizo youth represents a monstrous hybrid of the sort examined by Robert Young in Colonial Desire , since Gonzalito embodies the worst of the Spanish culture with which he largely identifies.

Surrounded by sacrificial priests, he is watching a Tlaxcalan and an Aztec fight to the death as a form of entertainment. His neighbors further say that he possesses a smoky obsidian mirror like that of the god Tezcatlipoca in which he can see hidden things and hear what is said of him. Consistent with Young's theory of colonial desire, rather than being a source of unadulterated gratification, the gifts derived from the indigenous belief system provide the conqueror with mixed pleasure:. Rather than bring him pure satisfaction, the magical powers he possesses are also a source of consternation for the conquistador, who becomes anxious when he sees himself in different stages in the mirror.

As with other forms of colonial desire, here terror is mixed with fascination, even as he contemplates his own death. Like cannibalism and sodomy, syphilis is an emblem of alterity whose origin is always purported to be elsewhere. While cannibalism has been the quintessential mark of otherness in the Western world from its earliest recorded history, and sodomy was said in Spain to have been imported from France or Italy -the English called it ' le vice ' and the Italians ' il vizio inglese '- likewise, syphilis was called the morbo gallicum 'French disease' and alternately said to have been exported from the New World to the Old or from Old to New.

Scholar Francisco Guerra draws a connection between syphilis and sodomy in that both are perceived as diseases of the Other:. This political connotation tainted sodomy and bestiality in the eyes of the Spaniards with an alien nature very similar to that already described by the medical historians in the case of syphilis; the Spaniards called it the French disease, the French the Neapolitan malady, the Germans the Spanish scabies and the rest bubas from the Indies and so every nation cursed its neighbour or enemy with the provenance of the venereal disease.

Likewise the Spaniards refused to acknowledge among themselves the existence of sodomy and blamed the foreigners for its importation. So they called it the French sickness. The French thought that since it was in Naples and from those of that land they had caught it, they called it the Neapolitan illness. The Germans seeing that they were infected through intercourse with the Spanish, called it the Spanish sarna , and others called it measles from the Indies, and with much truth, for the illness came from there. Its source perpetually deferred from one place to another, syphilis, like sodomy and cannibalism, is always believed to have come from elsewhere, and to this date it remains disputed whether it originated in Europe or the Americas.

Modern scientists have been unable to pinpoint the precise origins of this venereal disease, whose appearance in Europe coincides almost exactly with the time of the discovery of America. This, combined with the fact that the Amerindians had greater resistance to the disease than Europeans, has led some medical historians to believe that it may have been transmitted from the New World to the Old.

According to the narrator, syphilis had become so commonplace in the colony that a man who did not bear inscribed upon his body the visible marks of having had the disease could not be considered truly masculine. When his Spanish niece becomes lovesick, the conquistador initially sends for a Spanish doctor, who fails to cure her, then he turns to an indigenous curandero who gives her native remedies. The epitome of the ruthless encomendero , he rules his household with an iron hand. Although he disappears for days on end, the members of his staff remain in terror of him in his absence, since upon his return he must find everything in the same place or will punish those responsible for breaking the household rhythm.

His mestizo son, Gonzalito, is equally violent and also becomes engaged with the sacred. She is said to dismember animals while casting spells to regain the amorous attention of her master. Gonzalito, like his father, seeks out the company of the sacrificial priests and participates in their idolatrous rituals and is even rumored to eat human flesh. As the novel's most salient example of mestizaje , Gonzalito represents the most violent possibilities of both Spanish and indigenous cultures -his father's greed and cruelty and the native belief in human sacrifice.

His formerly bright eyes are dark and cast a shadow over the rest of his face. His body is adorned in indigenous fashion with stones inserted in his nose and lower lip, and rings on his fingers. In his hand he holds the smoking mirror with a hole in the middle for the god Tezcatlipoca to look out upon the world.

Gonzalo remains somber in spite of the efforts of the four maidens to cheer him up. As he realizes by now, when humans impersonate gods in the Aztec ritual it is because they are about to be sacrificed. The conquistador-turned-god passes through several stages of denial before accepting the inevitability of his fate. But it is too late to reject Mictlantecuhtli's gift, since he has already accepted the golden mask along with the explicit and implicit conditions that accompany it. But it is impossible to undo what has been done: the conquest of Mexico is an irreversible act.

The conquistador cannot go back to Crossing these same mountains with the youthful enthusiasm of arriving in the New World full of dreams of wealth and glory, since he has already attained these, and in the process has learned something of the culture of the original inhabitants of this land at whose expense his earthly treasure was obtained.

Earlier in the novel, during the conquest of Tenochtitlan, the conquistador had encountered a sacrificial victim dressed as Huitzilopochtli. Now that the conquistador himself is the intended sacrificial victim he hopes in vain that his life will be spared. Like those he conquered, he is now an object of colonial desire, one to be strangely revered for his strength and mistrusted for his greed and cruelty.

The conquistador has already been marked as a sacrificial victim, and thus he sees that the apocalypse is no longer alien to him, but is within himself. He is now inseparable from the cycle of the Fifth Sun:. While he is alone in the mountains, the former warrior's mind starts to play tricks on him.

Hearing the sound of drums and conch shells, in an impotent gesture he draws his sword and brandishes it in the air against an invisible enemy. Still believing he can elude his captors, when the priests overtake him in the mountains he threatens to kill them in the name of eradicating idolatry in the land.

Although throughout Memorias he has shown little interest in the Christian religion, he now prays to Jesus not to let him die right away, since his soul is black. When four priests approach him with obsidian knives, he escapes into a cave where he finds other victims slated for sacrifice. There is much more flexibility in the use of these terms than is often allowed for by modern interpreters.


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This is a passage from a chapter of his De officiis ch. I 4 , where the author talks of the origin in human nature of our appreciation for what possesses moral value. It is in this way, he concludes, that there arises our sense for what has moral value honestum. One can see from this passage that the sense for what has moral value is supposed to find a source in our sense for aesthetic beauty, since this is disinterested free from passion and since this consists in an appreciation for qualities such as order and harmony, which are constitutive of moral value as well.

The choice of literary contents is manifestly greatly determined by ethical considerations. The same however can be said of music and of the other arts only to a limited extent. To a large extent the effect that they produce is through the gracefulness and harmony of their products and consists in establishing a similar gracefulness and harmony in the soul. Hence it would be erroneous to suppose that, since music and the other arts are given a great role to play in education, thus in the formation of the character of young persons, no recognition is given to aesthetic experience as such.

Music includes something more because of its emotional impact hence its centrality in education. If we leave out what is peculiar to music, the conclusion has to be drawn that he has in mind qualities or characteristics which are mainly formal and which are not restricted to the products of the arts This is restated a little later, in e quoted above, ch. In fact it is sufficiently clear that qualities such as measure and symmetry or proportion which explain gracefulness cannot be restricted to the products of the arts. In this connection it has to be remarked that the parallel between the beautiful animal and the beautiful poetic work which we have found is adopted by Aristotle goes back to Plato.

However it is clear, from the same dialogue, that Plato is willing to extend the parallel to the beautiful animal. He says in fact of tragedy that it is something more than short or long passages including speeches that are piteous or frightening, for it must be a composition sustasis of them which are put together so as to fit prepousa both each other and the whole cf.

Clearly tragedy here is just an example of a poetic work, and the way in which it is characterized recalls what he had said of speech in the former passage, where the parallel with the animal is explicit. Further, what is true of human techne is also supposed to be true of divine techne , which is treated as parallel to it for instance in Sophist , b ff. In this connection it may be remarked, finally, that the world as a whole, taken as the production of a divine artisan, is said to be particularly beautiful cf. Timaeus , 30b and c , and that even the geometrical figures by which the bodies which belong to it are constituted are said to be the most beautiful among all geometrical figures cf.

Republic VII, ca. Rather than talking of a contradiction, as it is done by some interpreters, one should admit that he adopts different points of view, for in the first group of passages he seems to be concerned with the formal characteristics which are instantiated by a good painting rather than with its being a reproduction of some physical object. One may establish a connection between this passage and the passage of the Philebus in which he admits that there are beautiful shapes and colours which give rise to pleasures that are particularly pure cf. It is true that in that dialogue he thinks that beauty is realized in the fullest way and gives rise to the purest pleasure when what is contemplated are not paintings that are seen in relation to something else clearly the physical object that is reproduced but geometrical figures one may recall that beauty is attributed to certain of them also in the above mentioned passage of Timaeus 53ea.

However, those other passages show that Plato is willing to concede that one may, in contemplating a painting, appreciate its formal qualities rather than fidelity to some given physical object. Poetics 4, b [quoted above, I, ch. This explicitness is certainly not found in Plato.

Sophist , d ff. What is not usually noticed about this passage of the Sophist is that Plato is assuming that the objects imitated are themselves beautiful, and beautiful because they realize symmetry or proportion, so that their beauty can be preserved in the reproduction only if this remains faithful to the symmetry or proportion which is instanced by the original, otherwise it is somehow impaired. One may question his concern with faithfulness to the original, which cannot be defended in this way if the original is not itself beautiful, but one cannot say that the aesthetic point of view is left out of consideration by him.

He tends to summarise the techniques of illusionism under the term skiagraphia , which is probably used by him in a generic way to cover them all the sense of depth due to perspective seems to be suggested more by skenographia than by this other term, which initially must have alluded to the use of shading to give relief to the figures in pictures As we shall see in connection with his treatment of tragedy, he uses that term to suggest the recourse to some form of deception, which for this very reason is to be rejected.

To those developments in Greek art he opposes in Laws II, d ff. Egyptian art in that passage is appreciated for having remained the same across the centuries and possibly also for its hieratic character, but it is not clear whether he had any precise idea of its technical nature and wanted to commend it also from this point of view. It can only be remarked that these, just as the other criteria that have been mentioned, are not apt to put in evidence the originality of the works that are submitted to judgement or the creativity of the artist.

Already from the presentation of these works it is evident that symmetria he renders the Greek word with a transliteration was a central notion in architecture as well cf. Another term of which he makes use, eurythmia , is treated by him as venusta species cf. It would thus seem that all the terms he uses as permitting us to give a judgement of the value of a building are to be considered as forms or criteria of beauty.

I cannot enter into an examination of the definitions he gives of these terms, but it is sufficiently clear that there is some adaptation to architecture particularly evident in the introduction of distributio of terms that, as we have seen above, were commonly used to make evident the requirement that any object must satisfy in order to be said to be beautiful.

This he suggests somewhat confusedly by expressly using the term proportio as an equivalent of the Greek analogia cf. III, ch. There is some confusion, because this term is also the equivalent of the Greek summetria , and Vitruvius is unable to keep them well distinct. It is manifest that he depends on some Greek writer on architecture who maintained that the summetria that is realized by the human body and the summetria that is realized by a building such as a temple show the existence of an analogia between them.

The temple thus tends to be conceived symbolically as an extended reproduction of the human body just as the Christian temple tends to be conceived as an extended reproduction of the cross , but clearly it would be out of place to talk of mimesis in this connection. It does not seem, however, that any distinct account of its beauty is given either by Plato or Aristotle. Thus in the passage of the Timaeus quoted above ch. In the Republic he admits as was also seen in ch. Since virtue is made to depend on order and harmony in the soul, these two accounts are complementary to one another.

Pleasure in the refined form is reserved to those who appreciate music which conforms to those formal characteristics and have a grasp of the intelligible structure they reveal, while irrational pleasure is reserved to those who appreciate music which involves emotional excesses and are deprived of any such grasp. Plato does not usually talk of beauty in this connection. However in the passage of Phaedrus , c to which reference was made in ch.

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If tragedy, in spite of this, becomes an object of condemnation, it is one can reasonably presume because these formal qualities cannot compensate the morally negative contents it presents. While in music there may be a reciprocal integration between the images of virtue it offers and the formal characteristics it presents, this does not happen in the case of tragedy, for the images of virtue it offers are deceptive as we shall see below, esp.

A similar contrast between form and contents is also presented by comedy, but what it represents is less harmful than what tragedy represents for reasons to be given there , so that it can be tolerated within certain limits. This leads him to stress the composition and arrangement of the tragedy as a whole and its parts, by concentrating his attention on the plot or story muthos and on those crucial moments such as recognition and reversal which determine the way in which a plot develops.

Though some features thus considered are rather typical of tragedies, this sort of approach does not serve much to clarify what is peculiar to a tragedy. The category of the tragic is even absent in his Poetics. He has more to say on drama in general, for he shows some recognition of its nature as pointed out above, esp. One question which remains open is how a tragedy or a comedy can be beautiful in spite of having some ugly contents. I come back to this issue below, ch.

About the parallel that Plato propounds there between painting and poetry it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is rather unsatisfactory. This problem of recognizing who is truly virtuous by distinguishing him from whom is not so does not arise in the case of painting, for the painter has no difficulty in recognizing the couch he wants to paint.

The restriction that is proper to the first position must be that which is applicable to the poet according to the account given in Republic X. This restriction concerns any other Idea, but concerns in particular the idea of beauty, as the account of the Symposium suggests. Its splendour in this world makes it most loved in addition to being most manifest cf.

In the Symposium he notoriously describes the gradual ascent from the many beautiful things, which are first beautiful bodies one body, then more than one, then many bodies , then beautiful souls, then beautiful institutions and laws, etc. It is in this connection that he makes the distinction between the one who begets true virtue and the one who begets images of virtue. And this has been taken as an indication of the fact that Plato has no consciousness of this sort of beauty as distinct from other sorts which are deprived of aesthetic meaning.

But, in approaching these texts with the expectation to find a recognition of aesthetic beauty, they adopt a point of departure which is not justified.


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Aesthetic experience may be thought of as leading to eroticism as I suggested above, Part I, ch. Its object, when the ascent towards the Idea of beauty takes place, only apparently is identical with the object of aesthetic experience. It is true that this is always constituted by what is beautiful, but in one case this is the beauty of the Idea which manifests itself as something identical in a variety of different entities that are said to be beautiful. For instance when one has experience of the beauty of beautiful bodies what one has to grasp is that the beauty the kallos which is present in all of them is one and the same hen kai tauton cf.

Symposium b. On the other hand those who, like the lovers of beautiful sights, cultivate an aesthetic experience, do not grasp an identical beauty in many different entities if they grasped it, they would already have some grasp of the idea of beauty, what for them is explicitly excluded , but see those entities as being beautiful on many different grounds because of their colours, which are not identical in all of them, because of their figures, which again are not identical, and so forth, or because of a combination of colour and figure, etc.

What they see are different things which are beautiful in quite different ways, without any identical beauty being detected in them. This is for them a completely satisfying experience, which, precisely for this reason, does not lead them in any way to accomplish an ascent towards the Idea of beauty. Aesthetic experience, far from opening the road to the contemplation of the ideas, is an obstacle to it, since it encourages those who cultivate it to find their happy realization in the world of the many beautiful tones and beautiful colours and shapes, thus in the empirical world around us.

Cultivating aesthetic experience and cultivating philosophy are alternatives, and this is one reason why there is a quarrel between poetry and philosophy on this quarrel see below, ch. But it is sufficiently clear, from what he says of the lovers of beautiful sights towards the end of book V of the Republic , that their experience is limited to the sphere of the many beautiful things and excludes any contemplation of the Idea of beauty cf.

But this is to admit that their position is in some manner an alternative to that of the philosopher and to let it be understood that it offers satisfactions of its own. That this contemplation exists and offers satisfactions of its own cannot be denied. In book X this alternative is even more in the background, but if Plato did not have it in mind there would have been little point on his part in referring to the ideas it would have been sufficient to suggest that the imitator produces imitations of such things as the products of the artisans and to lay stress on the existence of a quarrel between poetry and philosophy.

And the three levels distinguished in the case of painting find no correspondence in the allegory of the cave. The poet, together with the sophist and the rhetorician, contributes to the creation of that deception by which men are induced to regard the reality which falls under our senses as the only reality. The operations he accomplishes are restricted to the sphere of the perceptible, and he encourages men to find themselves at home in this sphere, by getting pleasure from his beautiful imitations. These imitations do not offer signs which can lead out of the cave.

Only philosophical knowledge can teach us to see these signs and make use of them to obtain the condition of genuine freedom. It is also for this reason, and not only because of their competition for education in the cities, that there is a quarrel between poetry and philosophy. More positively, it can be admitted that the attribution of an idealistic aesthetics to Plato is not arbitrary. In my exposition I offer a rapid synthesis, without keeping distinct the contributions of ancient authors, especially Proclus, and those of modern authors, especially Tate and Verdenius.

On the other hand, it has to be remarked at once that these three are not problematic points that are all centred on one issue, so that the interpreter can establish a convergence on the basis of one theory such as that of idealistic aesthetics. It is supposed that, at least in particularly favourable cases, poets and other artists can also make recourse to this second sort of imitation, of which Plato does talk in some contexts for instance Tate adduces passages such as Republic V, d, on which see above, ch.

Thus Proclus admitted that this happens in the case of those poets whose inspiration is truly divine, making appeal to the doctrine of the Phaedrus see above, Part II, ch. He is followed on this point by Verdenius Verdenius, op. Now there is a problem discussed above, ch.

ambivalent

Proclus and Verdenius with him solves the problem by going against the evidence. It is true that Plato attaches much value to the likeness of a work of art, but this idea should not be interpreted in modern terms. In true art likeness does not refer to commonplace reality, but the ideal Beauty. I take the passage of the Laws to concern the imitation of someone beautiful in the sense now specified, there being no reference at all to ideas in the context. What remains true, first of all, is that Plato as was suggested above, ch. Republic IV, c, also b , but these are images that are different from the images of virtue eidola aretes of which there is talk in Republic X in connection with painting and with poetry cf.

Secondly, music can be the source of a pleasure that can be evaluated in a positive way, as recognized in Timaeus , 80b also discussed above, in ch. Thirdly, it is a source of this sort of pleasure when the harmonies it realizes are an imitation of the harmonies that are realized at a cosmic level, and especially in the movements of the celestial bodies. These harmonies are clearly an instantiation of certain formal characters that in various dialogues are recognized as constituting the criteria of beauty, such as order, measure and proportion see above, ch.

In the fourth place, the requirement of satisfying these criteria of beauty can be extended even to the products of certain imitative arts like painting, when they are considered independently of what they reproduce, and to other objects that are not produced by the human hand, including the world as a whole. Thus there is a field in which beauty is instantiated without having to fall under the condemnation that is applied to the products of the imitative arts. Enneads V 9, And there is some justification in giving a positive reply to this question, for the order which is realized by perceptible reality, as described in a work like the Timaeus , clearly depends on an intelligible order.

The first is that Plato does not think there is a single idea, like the idea of beauty, which by itself constitutes the intelligible basis for that order, for this could only justify the presence of an identical beauty or whatever in all perceptible things. The objection by Plotinus that, by reference to the idea of beauty, it is not possible to conceive beauty in terms of symmetry and so forth, for in this way a plurality is involved which beauty excludes, has a justification already from the Platonic point of view and is in fact a development of certain of the objections against the various definitions of beauty that are to be found in the Greater Hippias.

It is then not a single idea which constitutes that basis, but the whole ordered world kosmos of ideas, as it is presented in Republic VI, b ff. It is similarly a whole world, manifestly always the world of ideas, that constitutes the model for the divine artisan who produces the perceptible world according to the account given in the Timaeus cf.

So it is sufficient to have an eye for the beauty that manifests itself in perceptible reality in order to be able to do the work of a good painter or a good musician. And the failure to draw this distinction leads as we have seen to dismissive judgements which concern the imitative arts without reservations. What sort of poetry is to be kept out from the well-governed city cf.

When he talks of an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, it would seem that all poetry constitutes his target. The willingness to leave a place in the best city to hymns to the gods and praises of good men cf. It was classified as particularly mimetic already in book III, in the sense that it directly brings in the speech and action by the persons represented and is not an exposition of facts or a report of words by the poet himself. It is clearly treated in this way in book X.

Concerning lyrics in particular, this is mentioned together with epic in Republic X, a, thus it is not wholly ignored. It is to be rejected in so far as it is imitative. Tragedy is most typical from this point of view, but lyrics need not be excluded. For instance Sappho gives expression to her unhappiness when her love is not returned, as if suffering an injustice, yet she clearly considers herself a virtuous person.

It is precisely this discrepancy which Plato does not admit. Tragedy exemplifies it in the fullest way, because it often consists in a story which illustrates a passage from good to bad fortune with good fortune that seems to be deserved and bad fortune not , but, in so far as any other sort of poetry illustrates it, it should be dismissed. This devaluation in itself is not without ambiguity, for Plato sometimes suggests that the whole of human life must be regarded as a sort of play see below, ch.

However awareness of this human condition is limited to the philosopher, who is the only one to possess the antidote pharmakon of knowledge cf. What he adds in what follows, as the greatest accusation against mimetic poetry 33 , is not really different from what has already been said about its effect except in stressing its attractiveness.

On the whole this negative judgement is not far from that already expressed in Protagoras , ca, where discussing poetry was said by Socrates to be similar to the hiring of girl-musicians to entertain at symposia, instead of getting entertainment from their own conversations, as truly noble and educated people would do. This appeal is made in the attempt to save Plato from giving a general and not too persuasive condemnation of imitation, by suggesting instead that what is at issue is only a misconception not shared by him about the nature of imitative poetry.

But the difficulty with this charitably meant explanation is that Plato makes it sufficiently clear that, if certain people have come to adopt this position, it is because they have been deceived exepatentai , e, also d by the poets themselves, being the victims of some sort of spell that has been cast on them by the imitator who acts like a sort of magician goes and who in this way creates the impression of being all-wise cf. See my discussion of this passage above, ch.

Longer Observations

So it is not just a matter of rejecting an exaggerated claim by some few people. And if their position were not representative of a widely held view about poetry, why bother to give an ample refutation of it? Recitation and memorization of large parts of the poems of Homer, Hesiod and other poets constituted one main feature, if not the main feature, of traditional education, as it is clear from indications given by Plato himself, by Aristophanes, etc.

This happened, to some extent at least, because there prevailed a didactic view of the function of poetry. One can raise the question whether he is always fair in doing so, but the assumption underlying this procedure, that the poets can be criticized for what they say, for the ideology they propound, cannot be seen as illegitimate against this background. Nothing in what was normally said about the poets and in the use that was made of their poems justifies this further assertion. There are only two passages by ancient authors that can be quoted and are usually quoted by scholars in this connection as offering some support, but they cannot be used without reservations.

This boast is rendered suspicious by the fact that it takes place at a party and that he is not immune from Socratic thought. Partly on the same lines is a passage in Aristophanes It is Frogs , vv. Further, this passage too does not separate competence in the arts from others sorts of knowledge and is to be understood as part of a comedy.

But in the end he admits that strictly technical information, e. Overall, this kind of information forms an exercise in general education, not the specifics of skilled performance. In fact, as already remarked above ch. Homer talks of generalship e. He talks of medicine e. This criticism, it should be noted, is quite different from a criticism concerning certain given contents, such as that concerning the view offered by Homer about the gods. This is a strong claim, but not a repetition of the claim about possession of all the arts.

So there is reason to suspect that this other claim is an invention by Plato, even if to some extent he himself may be the victim of a certain lack of distinction between technical and non technical knowledge. If it turns out that this claim is not implied, and that the poets are not doing anything more than innocuously imitate the parlance and demeanour of generals, doctors, and so forth, the argument misfires.

Of course there remain other grounds for criticism, concerning the image that the poets offer of the gods, and so forth, but these cannot be put on the same plane as the general criticism of Republic book X and of the Ion. There also remains the criticism that poets do not know what is just, what is good, and so forth, and this cannot be dismissed as being wholly without substance see on this point next ch.

However I have not met, so far, any persuasive attempt to explain away those assertions by Plato that show him dismissive of poetry. The suggestion put forward in a conversation by Maria Villela-Petit that he is giving an ironical presentation of an account of poetry that is not his own but belongs to the sophists does not seem to have any substantial basis.

As I point out in previous parts of this essay, there are passages e. Republic X, d-e, cannot be taken for reasons given above in this sense. It is also surprising that Plato should use concepts drawn from his own philosophy starting with the theory of ideas, even if in a version that cannot be taken quite seriously to expound a position that is not his own. Something about deception apate obtained by a sort of sorcery can be found in Gorgias, and I myself do think there are points of contact between his position and that adopted by Plato, but nothing in the testimonies suggests that the sophist had an account of mimesis similar to that provided in Republic X.

In the case of other sophists there are not even these partial points of contact. Nothing makes one think that such a theory was current at that time. One ground for her suggestion is that Socrates, in Republic X, states that he is willing to retract his criticism if a proper defence of poetry could be given cf.

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However, it is difficult to take this concession very seriously, in the light of what precedes it. Even in this passage there is the assertion that it would be impious to betray the truth, which suggests that what precedes is not just a theory about poetry but the truth about it. And the defence which is expected would at best show that poetry is not harmful against what had been claimed before , and would not consist in propounding a new theory of poetry. In fact the idea that dramatic poetry is imitative continues to be accepted even in the last dialogues, and is accepted by Aristotle as well, and this shows that it is too deeply ingrained to be considered as just one possible theory of poetry.

The Aesthetics of Mimesis , cit. His suggestion is not open to the same criticism as that advanced by Osborne, since he is not supposing that what Plato questions is a theory of imitation that was current in his times but admits that the theory is propounded by him. Why however should he propound a theory that he regards as inadequate and elaborate a whole argument on its basis? Further, it is not easy to get from his works an alternative to a theory which in his eyes should appear to be inadequate Halliwell thinks that a wider conception of mimesis is to be found in the Cratylus , but see discussion above, ch.

I have already pointed out that a negative attitude is evident in the Gorgias. What he says of Homer and other poets in Republic II-III has rather disastrous consequences for their poetry, since Plato cannot have been unaware that the works of these poets present some unity, so that one cannot leave out much of what is said about the gods and the heroes and still claim that what remains after all this censure is e. It is also significant that in book VIII he should say without that this topic be of importance in the context that the poets of tragedy should not be admitted in our polity i.

That he sees a connection between poetry and democracy is evident in the Gorgias and in some of the passages of the Republic has already been pointed out, so it can be concluded that the negative judgement about democracy extends to poetry and vice versa. He however, when suggesting that such a strong criticism against poetry has a justification in the existence of an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry itself, only gives illustrations of the negative attitude of poets towards philosophers by quoting some statements by them from sources unknown to us 38 , without giving illustrations of the negative attitude of the philosophers against the poets.

No doubt illustrations of this sort would not have been difficult to give one may only think of certain passages in Heraclitus and Xenophanes , and Plato must have thought that it was sufficiently obvious that his criticism of poetry belonged to an existing tradition to need illustrations. Yet the attacks by philosophers like Heraclitus and Xenophanes had, indeed, important poets like Homer and Hesiod as their targets, but need not have reflected a general explicit repudiation of poetry as such or of certain forms of it. And the same can be said by the attacks by poets against philosophers.

There was slander and caricature of certain philosophers on the part of some comic poets, of whom Aristophanes is the best known. So in fact the quarrel is to a large extent a new quarrel between philosophy as understood by Plato and poetry seen as a cultural and political influence that had to be opposed by philosophy.

This common ground can only be constituted at least primarily by ideology. As already suggested above II, ch. The points that are at the centre of the attention in Republic X are those numbered 2 and 3 in the schema offered in that chapter at p. These points as already suggested there are closely connected. One sort of atheism and of impiety that is distinguished there in d ff. The recognition of the affinity or kinship sungeneia there is between men and gods leads one to honour the gods and to admit their existence, but also to exclude that they can be the cause of bad things cf. One is induced to that sort of impiety by the experience one has of the good fortune, in the private and in the public spheres, of men who are bad and unjust, though in truth aletheia they are not happy, but are made to be happy by current opinion and by poetry that praises them in a way that is not right cf.

One is equally induced to that sort of impiety by the consideration of the many particularly impious and horrifying means that are used by some people to raise from a small beginning to the greatest power cf. In this passage the poets are taken to be encouraging and confirming the common beliefs that circulate about men, who are supposed to fare well through their badness. Giving credit to these beliefs has the consequence that, if one is intellectually honest, one is induced to maintain that the gods keep out of human affairs cf.

This passage, one can see, puts together what is represented, e. Or is it a misrepresentation that is proper to tragedy, that is to say which depends on how tragedy works, and from which other forms of poetry may be exempt? In what follows I start with the first one. How does imitation mimesis work when it is a matter of representing human beings and the condition in which they find themselves in their souls?

One can attempt to give an explanation on the basis of the analogy that is exploited by Plato between painting and poetry, making use of indications offered in previous parts especially in ch. The psychological condition in which the person portrayed finds himself is not a direct object of representation in a painting, but the external appearance of the person his face etc.

Similarly the way in which the personage e. If, however, this is the account that Plato tacitly adopts talking in a simplifying way of imitation of the soul as a whole or in its parts the question arises why should imitation be restricted to people who are not really just or virtuous and thus also are not really happy that virtue implies happiness is of course one of the basic theses of the Republic. It is not only bad traits and strong emotions that have an external manifestation, but also noble traits and moderate emotions that have it, and thus are susceptible to imitation.

It was a current view as we have seen above that certain painters imitated men of quality or men who are better than us. Why should not this be applicable to poetry?

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It is in fact applied to poetry by Aristotle. Mimesis then must not be restricted to the negative case. It is suggested, then, that there are characters which are more susceptible of imitation, because those who are taken by their passions also give them a larger external manifestation than those who are calm, so that for the poet there is more work to do. But the difference is relative, not absolute, and it is admitted that the characters who are calm and stable can also be imitated.

This suggestion is accompanied by the further suggestion that when the second sort of character is imitated, it is difficult to find a public who will appreciate the imitation, because for most people this goes beyond their understanding and of course their imagination and, it is understood, the poets want to have success with a large public and for this reason will avoid the imitation of the virtuous person.

This statement belongs to the argument, already discussed above ch. The argument, as we have seen, has a serious weakness in expecting the poet to do something different from imitating. And this also concerns the point made in our passage, for, even if the poet possessed the truth about the virtues, he could not but produce images of virtue, for he would be representing virtuous men who for instance have parts in a drama. Certainly, the argument has a sound basis in so far as it is a matter of drawing attention to the fact that, in order to do their imitations e.

That the imitator, in this case the sophist, need not have knowledge of what his imitation is about is also stated in Sophist , c and d-e. The parallel between these two cases could however give place to a significant difference, for it could be argued that, without having knowledge of virtue, one does not really know who is a virtuous man. To know who is a general, who is a legislator, who is an educator, and so forth, does not give rise to this sort of problem, because they are representatives of activities and skills which are widely recognized socially and about which the possibility to make a mistake is rather limited, though of course there are impostors.

But there can be impostors because in most cases generals are genuine ones, and so forth. They are the exception rather than the rule. And, in the end, it makes no difference whether the poet imitates a genuine general or an impostor, in so far as the impostor is a good one, who looks very like a genuine general. To be a virtuous man could be a quite different matter, for it could be maintained that most people, having no effective knowledge of the virtues because they have no effective knowledge of ideas , are not in the condition to distinguish a man who is genuinely virtuous from one who only has the appearance of being virtuous.

The argument is particularly open to criticism because his insistence on the analogy between the arts technai and the virtues aretai leads him to treat in the same way cases in which general social recognition is sufficient and imposture is rather exceptional and cases in which it is quite conceivable that the large majority of men be in error. The discrepancy between appearance and reality, between imposture and genuineness, is rather limited in the case of the arts and can be restricted to a modest number of exceptions.

In the case of virtue most of us could be unwitting impostors, believing ourselves to be virtuous men when this is not so. And the same mistaken belief can be held about other people. Plato, in this matter, seems to have remained a Socratic. This does not need many illustrations, but is sufficiently clear from various passages in these dialogues.

In the Gorgias and the Laws there are rather explicit statements to this effect cf. Gorgias bb, Laws II, ff. II, ed. Accepting the appearance instead of reality certainly implies some capacity to make a distinction between the two, but does not imply having a positive and full knowledge of virtue, for if one had this one would never be satisfied with mere appearance. The appearance consists of course in how one appears to other people or in what reputation one has. II, a-c. Since also in this work it is claimed that the poets do not offer the truth cf. IV, c-d, quoted above, ch. VII, c , it is sufficiently clear that the real poets or at least most of them are supposed to illustrate the contrary situation, in which scoundrels are happy and just persons are unhappy.

Another clear statement to this effect is to be found in X, d-e a passage which probably recalls a , where it is said that the fortunes of unjust people are not only celebrated as happy eudaimonizomenai by general opinion but are wrongly glorified in the language of the Muses. The implication is that the poets create and exploit the same sort of error when, of course, they do not just claim but illustrate in their tragedies and other poems a discrepancy between virtue and happiness.

Errors of perspective of the same sort, concerning our evaluation of what is pleasant and what is unpleasant, are taken into consideration in Republic IX, where it is let understood that most people are their victims, and that their passions are the consequence of this fact the motif of skiagraphia is introduced there too, cf. Illusionistic painting using the same word skiagraphia is mentioned in Republic X as well, though not in the context in which painting is considered as a parallel to poetry, because it is introduced to illustrate how the irrational part of the soul is liable to fall into errors of judgment cf.

But it is on this irrational part of the soul that poetry is said to exercise its appeal, so that this illustration turns out in fact to be relevant. But what he does is the expression of a certain ideology. This is an ideology shared by most people, which the poet both accepts and reinforces.

His position reflects an ignorance about the nature of the virtues and in general about values, but in his lack of awareness of his condition he is induced to make people believe that the people imitated by him are provided with virtue. On the other hand he has an understanding of the tragic vision of life, though he rejects it as false, and as a consequence rejects tragedy as an expression of that vision. This is a feature of tragedy which is notoriously stressed by Aristotle but not by Plato himself in the discussion of Republic book X, yet it must be well present in his mind because in his view a plot is enacted when tragedy illustrates the happenings by which a person who appears to be good falls into disgrace, with the effect of rousing feelings of pity and fear in the audience.

We have seen that he alludes to this situation in c and in III, b. In the discussion of Resp. II and III he shows awareness of the fact that in the case of much poetry some story mythos is told. In Resp. X, when he says, in b, that one should disdain a whole poem, he must be alluding to this aspect. The passage quoted in full in ch. Thus the important recognition it contains that there is no tragedy without conflict risks being deprived of significance. It is of course because they enter into conflict with other persons that certain heroes in a drama fall into disgrace.

And this conflict, as is sufficiently clear from the allusions in Philebus 50a-c but also in Republic X, c-d where the contrast, stasis , is extended to the soul of the single individual is supposed to be caused by the fact that in these persons there are passions such as fear, love, jealousy and envy. In talking about fatality the other aspect of tragedy, i. Concerning this other aspect, it should be noticed that, if Plato suggests in Republic X etc.

This is not asserted by Plato in an explicit way, but it is not difficult to get it from some assertions of his touching the point. This same parallel between dramas and human life is implicit in a passage of Republic X to be commented on below, for what is implied is that human life itself, with all that it involves, is just a play like a drama.


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But what is asserted in the passage is that not only in dramas but also in the entire tragedy and comedy of life pleasures and pains are mixed. Now the reason why pleasure and pain is mixed in the case of the contemplation of a tragic drama is not the same as that for which there is such a mixture in life. Plato himself there in 48a alludes clearly to the fact that, in tragic spectacles theoreseis , one contemporaneously hama cries and feels pleasure chairein , this being also what is suggested in Republic X see above, I, ch. In life however this can concern oneself, thus is not an object of contemplation, and even when this concerns other people contemporaneity is excluded, for the pain one feels for oneself or in compassion for another person is not accompanied by pleasure.

Thus the continuity between real experience and experience in the theatre, from the point of view adopted in the passage under discussion of remarking the existence of a mixture of pleasure and pain, is only apparent, and Plato must not have been wholly unaware of it. Poetry, as we have seen, is supposed by Plato to transmit a certain ideology. What the tragedian does is to suggest that a good person - one who on the stage is presented in this way by other people and who himself expresses this conviction about himself - falls undeservedly into disgrace and reacts to this situation giving vent to his pain, thus arousing in us the public our compassion.

Ambivalent Happiness and Virtuous Suffering

Thus he suggests a certain way of looking at the happening he represents on the stage. The alternative interpretation is that the person either deserves his fate, for he is not really as good as he seems to be, or, even if he does not fully deserve his fate, he should show steadfastness, without giving vent to his to some extent unavoidable feelings of pain. If what is represented on the stage were meant to show this, there would be no place any more for compassion, but rather for admiration, but this would not be a tragedy any more.

One in fact is induced to believe that there are people who are good and fall into disgrace and thus deserve our compassion and if this disgrace is caused by some person, there is also indignation for what is happening. But their goodness may be just appearance. And even if they fall undeservedly into disgrace, they should give proof of steadfastness. Hence there is no place for tragedy in real life either.

He does not want to dispute the fact that tragedy at least good tragedy offers a realistic picture of human life, for he himself on occasion points out the existence of conflicts among men. Republic IX, b , and the true philosopher cannot be in conflict either with himself or with other people because he contemplates a realm of being where conflict is excluded cf.

Republic VI, b-c. Fatality is touched upon in the final myth of Republic and elsewhere, by pointing out that certain choices by men may indeed have consequences that are irremediable and in this sense fatal, but the choices themselves are not fatal. That the image given of the gods not only in drama but in much other poetry as well is false is something that Plato notoriously tries to show in books II and III of the Republic , where the polemic against poetry has also the intent of offering a proper image of the gods and of their action, by exclusion of their being a source of ills for men see above, II, ch.

Elsewhere he treats the Oedipus of Sophocles and similar heroes of tragedies as fools who follow the appearances [cf. Dissertationes I 28, ]. Tragedy gives the false impression that it is people who are good and virtuous who fall into disgrace and adds the suggestion of inevitability to this picture, when in fact much of what is negative that happens in this world is deserved by men who bring on them their disgraces by their actions.

In so far as there is what seems to be an undeniable disproportion between what certain not fully vicious men do and what happens to them or what seems to be an undeniable success with some men that are vicious, it should be recognized that we adopt an inadequate point of view.

This point is developed in the Laws into the suggestion that we are the playthings of gods or their puppets 43 and that we should, in awareness of this, play in the best way the part that is given to each of us to play. This idea of having to play a part in a play appears in some form also in Republic X, where it is suggested that the attitude we should have in the face of what happens to us in the various circumstances of life should be similar to that of a player who throws dice cf.

This view again finds a development in the Laws , where the suggestion is advanced that we ourselves are a sort of pawn in a game of petteia that includes the whole world. What we should recognize is that we are parts of this larger whole in which we play a role and that each part of the whole is ordered in view of the whole, not of each of its parts.

This arrangement has also a providential character, for in the end virtue prevails on vice, by a proper distribution of the souls cf. X, b ff. And it is equally to be remarked that even in the passage of Laws no recourse is made to the metaphor of drama or the theatre. This is a metaphor which had a rather wide circulation in philosophy subsequent to Plato, with variations on the motif that each of us is an actor who has to play a part evidently together with other actors in a drama in which each part is assigned by a dramaturge who is made to coincide with chance or with divinity The absence of this metaphor in Plato is probably to be explained, in part, with his failure to conceive drama as the interaction between different personages.

Philosophy, on the other hand, as is already suggested in Republic VI, a-b, enables us to reach a point of view which consists in the contemplation of all time and existence and which includes both things human and things divine. He who comes to adopt this point of view recognizes that the life of man cannot be a thing of great importance, and will thus learn to despise death and all the ills that can happen to anyone of us.

But the purely human point of view which the philosopher is expected to overcome is precisely the one that is adopted by the poet who composes tragedies. It is, we have seen, the point of view which leads to the representation of conflicts among men that are motivated by their passions, such conflicts being nothing more than the fighting about shadows that is illustrated by the allegory of the cave.

It is then a point of view which takes illusions as reality and which has to be rejected on this ground. Drama certainly has to do with life, but it is the life of the people who take as important what happens in the city to which they belong because of their inability to reach a vision of the reality that is beyond it. This is not in contrast with the fact that in Laws VII, a ff. In effect, even if we leave out the metaphorical application of the word, this is not a tragedy at all in the sense I am referring to, for the constitution is said to be meant to be an imitation of the best and finest way of life, and this is the one which ensures happiness.

I take it that this way of life is that of the collectivity, not of each member of it in relation to the others, so that even in this connection the theatrical metaphor is not properly present. On the place of comedy in the Laws see below. And clearly acting involves virtue or vice. The definition seems to apply to drama, and especially to tragedy, since what is supposed to be imitated is human beings in their acting. From this definition it is evident then that the relationship between virtue and happiness is at issue in the case of mimetic poetry, and especially in the case of tragedy, which is the poetical genre that Plato has mainly in mind.

And mimetic poetry errs, as is pointed out in the passage of Republic III, b, that was quoted above ch. The illustrations that are actually considered are of behaviours responding with laments etc. But it is said that the public pities someone who has fallen into disgrace but claims of himself to be a good man cf. If this claim were regarded as wholly unjustified, pity would not arise as is explicitly pointed out by Aristotle, Poetics , ch.

On this point his attitude differs, again, from that adopted by Aristotle who does not think that a serious misjudgement is provoked in the spectator, for on his account the people represented on the scene are good men, even if not men of perfect virtue, and they fall into disgrace because of a fault an hamartia , not because of a vice that is present in their character. I would say, simplifying, that Plato hates tragedy, but has some understanding for it, knows his enemy, while Aristotle loves tragedy, but has no understanding for it, since the tragic vision of life is completely absent in his Poetics.

Yet Plato himself, while admitting the spell the poetry can exercise on us, does not make any serious attempt to understand tragedy as such, that is beyond the general account he gives of imitative poetry, presumably because he dislikes it so much. VII d ff. This is actually stated in what follows, where the norm is introduced that no citizen should learn to do comedy especially, it is understood, by writing comedies and to practise it, but this activity should be left to slaves and hired aliens cf.

Another severe restriction is introduced in the other passage, namely that no comedian should ever be allowed to ridicule any citizen whatever. In fact the parallel concerns the emotive aspect see above, ch.