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Reviewed by:
  • Plato and the Poets
  • Catalin Partenie
Pierre Destrée and Fritz-Gregor Herrmann, editors. Plato and the Poets. Mnemosyne Supplements: Monographs on Greek and Latin Language and Literature, 328. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2011. Pp. xxii + 434. Cloth, $217.00.

This beautifully produced volume is a collection of nineteen essays, half of them being initially presented as papers given at a 2006 conference in Louvain. Seven chapters focus on the Republic and address a variety of issues: the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry (Glenn W. Most); Plato’s criticism of poetry and his negative attitude toward women (Penelope Murray); mimêsis as appearance-making (Gabriel Richardson); the meaning of mimêsis (Jera Marušič); Plato’s criticism and appreciation of poetry (Stephen Halliwell); thumos and the criticism of poetry (Pierre Destrée); painting, poetry, and the cognitive division of the soul (Rachel Singpurwalla). One chapter deals with myth, invented story, and true account in the Timaeus (Gretchen Reydams-Schils). Two are devoted to the Laws—mimetic correctness and choric poetry (Antony Hatzistavrou), and tragedy and philosophy (Susan Sauvé Meyer). The remaining nine chapters deal with other dialogues, although they are often discussed in connection with the Republic; the topics they discuss include: theia moira, enthousiasmos, and mimêsis in Gorgias (Fritz-Gregor Herrmann); divine possession, inspiration, and mimêsis in Ion and Republic (with references to Plato’s entire corpus, Catherine Collobert); the poet and the rhapsode as hermêneus in Ion (Carlotta Capuccino); the poet, the mad lover, and the mad philosopher as the true interpreter in Ion and Phaedrus (Francisco Gonzalez); inspiration and Plato’s psychology in Ion, Phaedrus, Politicus, Philebus, Timaeus (Stefan Büttner); theia moira in Ion and Meno, and the poets’ incomplete ascension in Symposium (Dominic Scott); Plato’s use of poetry and poets in Symposium (Elizabeth Bel-fiore); poetry and image-making in Republic and Sophist (Noburu Notomi); and poetry, the tripartition of the soul and the Form of Beauty in Phaedrus (Elizabeth Pender).

As Stephen Halliwell put it in his essay, there is the seemingly Platonic attitude “which criticizes, censors and even ‘banishes’ poets, and which speaks in terms of unmasking the false pretensions and the damaging influence of poetry. But there is also the Platonic stance which never ceases to allow the voices of poetry to be heard in Plato’s own writing, which presupposes not only extensive knowledge but also ‘love’ of poetry on the part of Plato’s readers, and which at certain key junctures claims for itself nothing less than the status of a new kind of philosophical poetry and art: the status, indeed, of ‘the greatest music’ [Phaedo 61a; cf. Phaedrus 248d, 259b] and even of ‘the finest and best tragedy’ [Laws 817b]” (241). All the contributors address, in one way or another, the puzzling contrast between these two views on poetry. Halliwell, for instance, claims that Book X of the Republic “offers not a simple repudiation of the best poets but a complicated counterpoint in which resistance and attraction to their work are intertwined, a counterpoint which (among other things) explores the problem of whether, and in what sense, it might be possible to be a ‘philosophical lover’ of poetry” (244). While Most argues that “there is little or no evidence for any consciousness” of a generic opposition between philosophy and poetry tout court before Plato, “this opposition may even be in the process of being constructed” in his Republic (19) (Notomi, too, discusses this topic, and refers to the view according to which the “ancient quarrel” was Plato’s invention). [End Page 291]

In reading the nineteen essays of this volume, one realizes that in Plato there is not just one poetics, or two contrasting views on poetry, but—as the editors put it—“several models of what poetry is and what the poets do” (xxii). One would have liked that these several models be explicitly discussed in a concluding chapter. The editors, however, acknowledge that neither they nor their authors aimed at achieving a unified vision of the subject: “While certain recurring themes crystallize themselves with increasing complexity in the course of the various discussions, there remain both contradictions and incompatibilities between results...