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Plato's Theory on Poetic Madness

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By Deng Banghua (from Sichuan International Studies University, China)

In plato's dialogue essay concerning poetic madness, Plato explicates through his mouthpiece Socrates on how poets are possessed by poetic frenzy that unleashes a poisonous effect on readers or audiences, which in turn account for his resolution that poets should be banished from his Ideal Public. This theory is based on Plato's preposition that a soul is composed of three dimensions of reason, volition and passion, and as passion will poison order, reason will serve as an antidote.

In reply to Ion's bewilderment why he can speak better of  Homer than of other poets, Socrates illustrates how poetic frenzy is inspired and transmitted from one to another. He sets out to bare some particular practices by "the Cirybantian revellers" and "Bacchic maidens" in festive rituals, evident examples of their being possessed by Divinity. Then he proceeds to compare the poet to "a light and winged and holy thing" who is clearly out of his right mind when he is intoning the Muse's verses. It is in this way that the Muse is adored and the poem assumes the magnetic power of God. And when it is circulated among its admirers, the poem would spellbound them quite naturally just like a magnetic stone will empower the same quality to any other iron ring in touch and consequently produce a chain of magnetic rings. This extrapolation in relation to Ion's performing better Homer's works is highly suggestive of Homer's destructive power as a popular poet; it also paves way for Plato's  unwavering decision to exile poets from his ideal kingdom.

To fulfill this purpose, Plato initiates philosophers outstanding for their reason and wisdom to administer his kingdom; he believes only his philosophers can properly prescribe order and rules and thus secure a happy living in the state.



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