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Plato's Attack on Poetry and Function of Poetry

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

His attack on Poetry: a) Poetic inspiration: Poets write by inspiration not by a prolonged thought over the work. The Muse suddenly fills him and makes him sing the poem. He questions can such an idea have any reliability? Poetry says profound truth with no reason. Therefore, it cannot take the place of philosophy says Plato. Plato for this reason removes poets from his Ideal commonwealth which he imagined in his work, Republic. b) The emotional appeal of poetry: Poetry kindles emotions. Plato considering his age tragedies complains that the constant intake of others' grief makes people weak to carry out their own sufferings. In order to maintain the happiness and virtue of humankind, poetry should be taken away.

c) Its Non-moral character: This is an accusation of the lack of character in poetry. Through an analysis of his age literature such as the epics of Homer, the Odes of Pindar, and Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides he comes to a conclusion that art transmits a wrong message to people. In the words of Plato from his work Republic, ‘they give us to understand that many evil livers are happy and many righteous men unhappy; and that wrongdoing, …’ (they- here means art). The portraits of gods and heroes are equally objectionable because Gods are often unjust and revengeful, or guilty of other vices, and heroes are always with uncontrollable passions like anger, pride, grief, and so on. Plato strongly condemns that such literature is corrupted by both the citizen and the state. The Function of poetry: Plato suggests truth as the test of poetry: which is, ‘what contribution it makes to the knowledge of virtue?’ Poetry is a pleasure to read or hear but according to his pleasure at the highest kind is also at low ranks. In a famous passage in Republic, he says, ‘We must look for artists who are able out of the goodness of their own natures to trace the nature of beauty and perfection, that so our young men, like persons who live in a healthy place, maybe perpetually influenced for good.’ Plato wants poetic truth to be the highest truth- ideal forms of justice, goodness beauty and the like.


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