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PLATO'S STATESMAN STORY: THE BIRTH OF FICTION RECONCEIVED by John Tomasi In "Plato's Atlantis Story and the Birth of Fiction," Christopher Gill wants to distinguish the story ofAdantis in the Critias from Plato's earlier stories—like diat in the Statesman.1 These stories, Gill claims, belong to different literary genres. While the Statesman story is but another example of fable, the Adantis story of the Critias represents the first example—the first in Plato and indeed the earliest in all Western written culture—of an exciting new literary genre: narrative fiction. Gill describes narrative fiction as a kind ofgame into which the author invites his audience to join. The invitation to play the game of fiction is an invitation "to share in the willing and conscious acceptance of the false as true" (p. 65). The audience is provided the opportunity to become "willfully self-deceived" about the story's truth. Perhaps the main constraint on a story's belonging to the genre of fiction is the author's ability to transmit this special invitation to his reader. Gill says one major way to do this is by a framework of introductory signals which are mixed in a certain way. The Adantis story, as Gill claims, seems to be framed with signals that a self-deception game is about to begin. Socrates says Critias is like a playwright competing in front of an audience (108a). Gill reads line 107 to mean that Critias is concerned direcdy with "the problem of giving his narrative the illusory realism which he says audiences require." Also, Gill says, "the fact that it is a game is signalled by the overt claim to historical truth in a context in which we are not disposed to accept the claim" (p. 72). Plato thus introduces the Adantis story with a delicate mixture ofconflictingclaims about the story's factual status. Gill suggests the reader should interpret this special mixture of signals as being a Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 348-358 John Tomasi349 sort of invitation to "make pretend," to play a pleasant game, to allow die reader to become willfully self-deceived. Within die Adantis story itself diere are further marks of die fiction genre. Narrative fiction can be a compelling game, and good fiction writers often slip into the game themselves, writing with a concern for detail and with a word choice so sensitive that the reader may feel that die writer too must believe in this fictional world. The Adantis story certainly exhibits this mark of fiction. As Gill puts it, in writing about Adantis Plato seems at times to have become "momentarily infatuated with the world he is creating."2 Such infatuation, exhibited especially perhaps in the detailed descriptions in the Critias of the splendors of the Adantean city and in the passionate portrayal of the growth of hubris in the citizens' hearts, is perhaps what gives the Adantis story some of its special potency, what makes it especially gripping to us (116c—ll7e; 121a-c). Clearly, it is a story with which writer as well as reader might develop an intimate relationship. In Plato's Atlantis story the framing signals are mixed with a deliberate subtlety, and the reader at times senses the writer's infatuation with his own tale. The Adantis story is thus crafted to get from the reader what Plato is after: "a willed self-deception, a chosen suspension ofincredulity for the duration of the story." Gill concludes, "This new element of intended complicity in the fictional game makes his work the first piece of deliberately fictional narrative in Greek literature" (p. 76). Gill's argumentthat the Adantis story belongs to the genre ofnarrative fiction is provocative and on the whole convincing. But is the Adantis story really the first Western instance of that genre? Is it even Plato's first attempt at fiction? I think it is not. I would like now to examine the storywithin the Statesman, a storywhich Gill says was probablywritten before the Adantis story. Might the Statesman story be a still earlier instance of narrative fiction? The signals framing the Statesman story are mixed indeed. At first, the Stranger tells young Socrates that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 348-358
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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