Book 10 Chapter 1

Shallow Philosophy and Religion as Poetry Icon

September 30, 2015

Imitation is Thrice removed from the truth.

Socrates One of the many excellences in our State is the rejection of imitative poetry. All poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers. The knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them. I have always had an awe and love of Homer. He is the great teacher of the poets on tragedy. But a man is not to be revered more than the truth. Whenever things have a common name, we assume them to also have a corresponding idea or form. For example, beds and tables are different. The creator of the table makes the table from the idea, and not the idea from the table. There is another Creator who makes everything= plants, animals, earth, heaven, and the gods also.
Glaucon He must be a wizard.
Socrates The Creator has many ways to create all things. But the quickest way is through reflection. Take a mirror then spin it round and round. You can make the sun, the heavens, the earth, and yourself appear in the mirror.

The Singularity of Ideas

Socrates The painter too is an example of a creator of appearances. He paints a bed, but it is not a real bed. The bedmaker makes a real bed, but not the essence or idea of the bed. He does not create true existence, but only some semblance of existence. Philosophers would then say that he is not speaking the truth because his work is an indistinct expression of truth. Let us assume that there are three beds:
  • one existing in nature, which is made by God,
  • one is the work of the carpenter,
  • one is the work of the painter.
These three beds were made by three artists. God made one bed in nature and not two. If He had made two, then those two would need a third bed to serve as their original idea. That third bed that came before the two other beds would then be the ideal one. He is the natural author of the original bed and all other creations. The carpenter is also a maker of the bed. But the painter is an imitator. He is thrice removed from the original. Therefore, imitators are thrice removed from the original The tragic poet is also an imitator. Like all imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth. The painter imitates only the creations of artists. A thing can be looked at from different angles and appear differently. A painter can paint a carpenter and may deceive children or simple-minded persons when he shows them his picture of a carpenter from afar. They will fancy that they are looking at a real carpenter. A simple-minded person might then say that the painter knows:
  • all the arts,
  • all things else that anybody knows, and
  • every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man.
Ignorant people are thus deceived by some wizard whom they see as all-knowing because they were unable to analyse the nature of knowledge and imitation. People say that the tragedians know all the arts and all things human such as virtue, vice, and divinity. They reason that those tragedians can compose well because they know such subjects. But those people are under a similar illusion. Homer is the head of the tragedians. If a person were able to make both the original and the image, he would not seriously devote himself to the image-making branch. The real artist would know the real essence of what he was imitating. He would be interested in realities and not in imitations. He would desire to leave many fair works as memorials of himself. Instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be their theme.
Socrates We must not ask Homer about medicine. We will ask him of military tactics, politics, and education. These are the chief subjects of his poems. We ask him= 'Friend Homer, what State was ever better governed by your help? You say that you are able to suggest pursuits that make men better in private or public life. This would make you only in the second remove from truth in terms of virtue, and not in the third remove like an image maker or imitator. If so, then what city have you benefited? The good order of Sparta is due to Lycurgus. Many other cities have been similarly benefited by others. But who says that you have been a good legislator to them and have done them any good? Italy and Sicily boast of Charondas. There is Solon who is renowned among us. But what city has anything to say about you?'
Glaucon= I think none.
Socrates Not even the Homerids think that Homer was a legislator. He never led nor aided any successfull war. He has no invention applicable to the arts or to human life, such as those of Thales the Milesian or Anacharsis the Scythian. But, if Homer never did any public service, was he privately a guide or teacher of any? Did he have friends who loved to associate with him and who handed down to posterity a Homeric way of life, such as was established by Pythagoras? Pythagoras was so greatly beloved for his wisdom. His followers are to this day quite celebrated. Nothing of the kind is recorded of Homer. Creophylus was the companion of Homer and was child of flesh. His name always makes us laugh.
Socrates, would Creophylus be justly ridiculed for his stupidity, if Homer were greatly neglected by him and others in his own day?
Socrates Yes, that is the tradition. If Homer could not educate and improve mankind and was a mere imitator, then he would not have had many followers. Protagoras of Abdera, Prodicus of Ceos, and others only have to whisper to their contemporaries= "You will never be able to manage your own house or your own State until you appoint us as your ministers of education." Thus, all these poets, beginning with Homer, are only imitators. They copy images of virtue but never reach the truth. The poet is like a painter who will paint a carpenter though he understands nothing of carpentry. His picture is good enough for those who know no more than he does, and judge only by colours and figures. Similarly, the poet uses words to lay on the colours of the several arts, understanding only enough to imitate them. Other people are as ignorant as he is. They judge only from his words and imagine that he speaks very well if he speaks of carpentry, military tactics, etc. in metre, harmony, and rhythm. Such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have. The tales of poets appear poor when stripped of the colours which music puts on them and recited in simple prose. They are like faces which were never really beautiful, but only blooming. Now the bloom of youth has left them. The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of its true existence. He knows appearances only. The painter will paint a saddle to be made by the leatherworker. But the painter does not know how a saddle should be. Even the leatherworkers do not know. Only the horseman who uses them knows the right form of a saddle. Thus, everything has:
  • one which uses,
  • another which makes,
  • another which imitates them.
The excellence or beauty or truth of every structure, animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to the use for which Nature or the artist has intended them. Their user must have the greatest experience of them. He must indicate to the maker the good or bad qualities which develop while in use. For example, the flute-player will tell the flute-maker which of his flutes are satisfactory. He will tell him how he should make them. The maker will attend to his instructions. The maker will only learn the correct belief from the knower by listening to him. But the imitator will not have the true knowledge of his imitations. He will go on imitating without knowing what makes a thing good or bad. He will likely imitate only that which appears good to the ignorant multitude. Thus, we agree that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates.
### Samskara or The Internal Bias of the Soul
Socrates Imitation is only a kind of play or sport. The tragic poets are imitators in the highest degree. Imitation is concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth. Imitation addresses what faculty in man? A body is large when seen near and appears small when seen from afar. The same object appears straight when seen out of the water, and crooked when in the water. The concave becomes convex due to the illusion on colours to which the sight is liable. Thus, every confusion is revealed to come from within us. This is that weakness in the inferior part of the human mind that is imposed on by illusory tricks which affects us like magic. The arts of measuring, counting, and weighing come to the rescue of the human understanding. These free us from the uncertainty of greater or less, or more or heavier. The better part of the soul to measure and calculation. The imitative art is an inferior one who marries an inferior, and has inferior offspring. This inferiority extends itself to sight and hearing with regards to poetry. Imitation imitates the actions of men, whether voluntary or involuntary. This results in a man not being in unity with himself. In our example on sight, there was confusion and opposition in his opinions about the same things. So here also, there is strife and inconsistency in his life. The soul is full of these and 10,000 similar oppositions occurring at the same time. We said that a good man who has lost his son will bear the loss with more equanimity than a man who is not good. He will moderate his sorrow. He is more likely to struggle and hold out against his sorrow when he is alone. When he is by himself, he can do many things which he would be ashamed of. There is a principle of law and reason in him which bids him to resist his sadness. But when a man is drawn in two opposite directions, to and from the same object, it implies two distinct principles in him. One of them is ready to follow the guidance of the law which would say:
  • that it is best to be patient under suffering,
  • that we should not give way to impatience, as there is no knowing whether such things are good or evil, and
  • that nothing is gained by impatience, because no human thing is of serious importance.
The other principle is grief which stands in the way of taking counsel about what has happened. This counsel is most needed. It says that when the dice has been thrown, we should order our affairs in the way that reason deems best. We should do this not like children who have fallen and waste time in crying. Instead, we should do it always accustoming the soul to:
  • apply a remedy,
  • raise up that which is sickly and fallen, and
  • banish the cry of sorrow by the healing art.
Yes, that is the true way of meeting the attacks of fortune.
Socrates The higher principle is ready to follow this suggestion of reason. The other principle inclines us to remember our troubles. The irrational, useless, and cowardly have the inferior principle. The rebellious principle furnishes many materials for imitation. The wise and calm temperament is always nearly equable. It is not easy to imitate or to appreciate when imitated, especially at a public festival when a promiscuous crowd is assembled in a theatre because the feeling represented is new to them. The imitative poet who aims at being popular does not target the rational principle in the soul. Like the painter, he instead will target the passionate temper, the inferior part of the soul, which is easily imitated. Therefore, we should ban him from a well-ordered State because he awakens and strengthens the feelings and impairs reason. The imitative poet implants an evil constitution in the soul because he:
  • indulges the irrational nature,
  • manufactures images, and
  • is very far removed from the truth.
This irrational nature has no discernment. It thinks the same thing at one time great and at another small. Our heaviest accusation is that the power of poetry harms even the good (and there are very few who are not harmed). Imagine Homer or one of the tragedians representing some pitiful hero crying in a long oration. We would give way to sympathy. But when we ourselves are sad, we pride ourselves on being quiet, patient, and manly. The man crying loudly is doing the part of a woman. We cannot praise a person who is doing a shameful thing. Our reason teaches us not to cry loudly. But poets aim for this sympathy which we get since the sorrow is from another person. We, as spectators, fancy that it is not disgraceful to praise or pity the suffering person because it means that it is not us who are suffering. The people do not think that when they think of the evil of other men, something of evil is communicated to themselves. In time, the sadness at the sight of the misfortunes of others gathers and becomes more difficult to repress. This is also true for laughter. There are jokes which you would be ashamed to make yourself. Yet when you hear them on the comic stage, or in private, you are greatly amused.You are not at all disgusted at them and so the laughter gathers strength too. There is a principle in human nature which makes us laugh. This is restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon. Comedy makes it come out again. It stimulates the humorous faculty. It unconsciously betrays you into playing the comic at home. The same may be said of lust, anger, and all the other affections, pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action. In all of them, poetry feeds the passions instead of drying them up. She lets them rule, even if they should be controlled. Therefore, Glaucon, we should love the excellent eulogists of Homer who say that:
  • he has been the educator of Hellas,
  • he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things,
  • you should read him again and again to regulate your life according to him.
Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers. But we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry allowed into our State. If you disobey this and allow the honeyed muse to enter in epic or lyric verse, then pleasure and pain will rule the State. We have previously purged bad poetry out of our State. There is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, as proven by the sayings:
  • 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,'
  • 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,'
  • 'the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,' and
  • 'subtle thinkers who are beggars after all'
Imitative poetry can be allowed to return from exile only on the condition that she make her defence in lyrical or some other metre. The lovers of poetry, but not yet poets, can speak in prose on her behalf. Let them show that she is pleasant and useful to people. We too are inspired by that love of poetry which the education of noble States has implanted in us. We want her to appear at her best and truest. But as long as she is unable to defend herself, our argument shall be a mantra to us. We will repeat it to ourselves while we listen to her strains. In this way, we will not fall into the childish love of her which captivates many. Imitative poetry does not attain the truth. People should be on guard against her seductions. They must not neglect justice and virtue from the influence of honour, money, power under the excitement of poetry.
Yes, I have been convinced by the argument.


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