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Richard Patterson THE PLATONIC ART OF COMEDY AND TRAGEDY Any proposal to speak of "the Platonic art" of tragedy and comedy will probably raise some eyebrows. Socrates' own argument in the Ion that poetry is the product of inspiration rather than of art or craft {techne) already suggests that the term "art" is entirely out of place. And those who do not share Socrates' doubts about the status of tragedy and comedy as arts might still object to use of the singular "art," on grounds that these are surely two distinct technai. Nonetheless an elusive passage near the end of the Symposium does point to the existence of a single art underlying both genres. At least, Socrates is able to force the tragedian Agathon and the comedian Aristophanes to admit — albeit after a long night of drink, by an argument they are "scarcely in any condition to follow" — that "the same man should know how to compose {epistasthai poiein) comedy and tragedy, and he who produced tragedy by art {technë) would also produce comedy" (223d). Although Agathon and Aristophanes would have considered themselves genuine artists, they almost certainly would have viewed their respective arts as distinct and independent. We know of no playwright who competed in the festivals both as tragedian and as comedian. On the contrary, it was a commonplace , if an oversimplification, in fifth-century Athens that "the two genres were rigidly separate . . . tragedy was tragedy and comedy was comedy and never the twain should meet." 1 But if the two apparently separate genres in fact constitute a single art such that any of its masters would produce both comedy and tragedy, then neither Agathon nor Aristophanes would be a master of that dramatic art. Thus Socrates must "force" their assent. But that surprising conclusion only heightens the doubt expressed at the outset. If there is a single dramatic art, what is one to make of Socrates' own argument in the Ion (and, in effect, the Apology and Gorgias) that good tragedy or comedy, along with any other good poetry, does not rest on techne, or on episteme (knowledge, genuine understanding), but is the product of inspiration, native instinct, or some mere knack? 2 And even assuming that comedy and tragedy do rest on art, what reason is there to suppose that they are the same art? Further, Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 76-93 0190-0031/82/0061-0076 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Richard Patterson77 with an eye specifically to the Symposium, what might this art have to do with that dialogue's announced competition in wisdom {sophia) judged by Dionysus, god of drama and of wine, in which Socrates emerges the victor? And what, in turn, does that have to do with the dialogue's central occupation with love? All these questions point to a crucial preliminary issue, and to the larger theme advertised in the title of this paper: what, on Platonic grounds, would be involved in denying or affirming that anyone writes tragedy or comedy by technë or episteme? Discussion of this issue will bring out two distinct and textually attested Platonic conceptions of true drama, one from the Laws, another from the Philebus. Both will prove of interest in their own right and, I believe, contribute to our understanding of the Symposium. I In the afterglow of his victory at Epidaurus, the rhapsode Ion of Plato's Ion lays claim to knowledge of all the crafts of which Homer sang: as Homer is wise in all things, so also must be the master reciter and interpreter of Homer. But under questioning by Socrates he admits the absurdity of his claim to virtual omniscience, allowing, finally, that his success as a rhapsode is a matter of inspiration rather than knowledge. In Socrates' metaphor of the Muse as magnetic stone, even Homer himself is only the first in a series of suspended rings. By a power drawn from the stone, Homer attracts (inspires) Ion, who in turn inspires his audience. Through this account Socrates denies the poets (and rhapsodes ) technëand episteme: they are not themselves masters of strategy, medicine, horsemanship, statecraft, or carpentry. However convincingly they...


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