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Plato's Ion: The Problem of the Author

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Nickolas Pappas
Hollins College


Today Plato's Ion, thought one of his weaker works, gets little attention. But in the past it has had its admirers–in 1821, for example, Percy Bysshe Shelley translated it into English. Shelley, like other Romantic readers of Plato, was drawn to the Ion's account of divine inspiration in poetry. He recommended the dialogue to Thomas Love Peacock as a reply to the latter's Four Ages of Poetry: Shelley thought the Ion would refute Peacock's charge that poetry is useless in a practical world.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1989

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1 See Notopoulos, James A., The Platonism of Shelley (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949), 350, 484.Google Scholar

2 Shelley, , ‘A Defence of Poetry’, in The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ingpen, Roger and Peck, Walter E. (eds) (New York: Gordian Press, 1965), Vol. VII, 233248.Google Scholar

3 See Dorter, Kenneth, ‘The Ion: Plato's Characterization of Art’, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 32 (1973), 65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Also Lodge, Rupert C., Plato's Theory of Art (New York: Russell & Russell, 1975), 284285.Google Scholar

4 Taylor, A. E., Plato (Cleveland: Meridian, 1956), 38Google Scholar; cf. Partee, Morriss Henry, ‘Plato's Banishment of Poetry’, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 29 (1970), 213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 See Gilbert, Allan, ‘Did Plato Banish the Poets or the Critics?’, in Studies in Philology 36 (1939): 119Google Scholar; also Partee, , op. cit.Google Scholar

6 Dorter, , passim.Google Scholar

7 Dorter notes (p. 77, n. 2) that in the Ion craft-ability (technē) and knowledge (epistēmē) are spoken of interchangeably. We see this at 537d–el, and 538b3–6. I will not, therefore, discuss the difference between these two concepts here.

8 Plato, Ion, Lane Cooper (trans.) in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (eds) (Princeton University Press, 1961). All citations will be of this translation.

9 The mention of gods should not automatically be taken for praise of poetry. Whatever we think of Socrates' conviction for impiety, we should not assume that we know what his attitude toward the gods was, and that it was unambiguously positive. Just as his apparent conservatism in the Euthyphro masks an effort to leave the gods out of moral discourse, so too his invocation of gods here may mean only that he associates them with all irrationality.

10 This line of argument, of course, brings to mind the Republic's dissolution of the family (Book 5). Given more space, I would argue that the two reforms—of the family and of poetry—are indeed meant to accomplish the same goals.

11 Eliot, T. S., ‘Religion and Literature’, in Essays Ancient and Modem (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1936), 104.Google Scholar