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“Ion” – Plato
rhapsodists are described by Euthydemus as ‘very precise about the exact words of Homer, but very idiotic themselves.’ (Compare Aristotle, Met.) by Plato
Ion the rhapsode has just come to Athens; he has been exhibiting in Epidaurus at the festival of Asclepius, and is intending to exhibit at the festival Translated by Benjamin Jowett of the Panathenaea. Socrates admires and envies the rhapsode’s art; for he is always well dressed and INTRODUCTION:
in good company—in the company of good poets and of Homer, who is the prince of them. In the THE ION IS THE SHORTEST, or nearly the shortest, of course of conversation the admission is elicited from all the writings which bear the name of Plato, and Ion that his skill is restricted to Homer, and that he is not authenticated by any early external testimony.
knows nothing of inferior poets, such as Hesiod and The grace and beauty of this little work supply the Archilochus;—he brightens up and is wide awake only, and perhaps a sufficient, proof of its genuine-when Homer is being recited, but is apt to go to ness. The plan is simple; the dramatic interest con-sleep at the recitations of any other poet. ‘And yet, sists entirely in the contrast between the irony of surely, he who knows the superior ought to know Socrates and the transparent vanity and childlike the inferior also;—he who can judge of the good enthusiasm of the rhapsode Ion. The theme of the speaker is able to judge of the bad. And poetry is a Dialogue may possibly have been suggested by the whole; and he who judges of poetry by rules of art passage of Xenophon’s Memorabilia in which the ought to be able to judge of all poetry.’ This is con-3
“Ion” – Plato
firmed by the analogy of sculpture, painting, flute-of the poet, and for a similar reason some rhapsodes, playing, and the other arts. The argument is at last like Ion, are the interpreters of single poets.
brought home to the mind of Ion, who asks how Ion is delighted at the notion of being inspired, this contradiction is to be solved. The solution given and acknowledges that he is beside himself when by Socrates is as follows:—
he is performing;—his eyes rain tears and his hair The rhapsode is not guided by rules of art, but is stands on end. Socrates is of opinion that a man an inspired person who derives a mysterious power must be mad who behaves in this way at a festival from the poet; and the poet, in like manner, is in-when he is surrounded by his friends and there is spired by the God. The poets and their interpreters nothing to trouble him. Ion is confident that may be compared to a chain of magnetic rings sus-Socrates would never think him mad if he could pended from one another, and from a magnet. The only hear his embellishments of Homer. Socrates magnet is the Muse, and the ring which immedi-asks whether he can speak well about everything in ately follows is the poet himself; from him are sus-Homer. ‘Yes, indeed he can.’ ‘What about things of pended other poets; there is also a chain of which he has no knowledge?’ Ion answers that he rhapsodes and actors, who also hang from the can interpret anything in Homer. But, rejoins Muses, but are let down at the side; and the last Socrates, when Homer speaks of the arts, as for ring of all is the spectator. The poet is the inspired example, of chariot-driving, or of medicine, or of interpreter of the God, and this is the reason why prophecy, or of navigation—will he, or will the chari-some poets, like Homer, are restricted to a single oteer or physician or prophet or pilot be the better theme, or, like Tynnichus, are famous for a single judge? Ion is compelled to admit that every man poem; and the rhapsode is the inspired interpreter will judge of his own particular art better than the 4
“Ion” – Plato
rhapsode. He still maintains, however, that he un-nius is often said to be unconscious, or spontane-derstands the art of the general as well as any one.
ous, or a gift of nature: that ‘genius is akin to mad-
‘Then why in this city of Athens, in which men of ness’ is a popular aphorism of modern times. The merit are always being sought after, is he not at once greatest strength is observed to have an element of appointed a general?’ Ion replies that he is a for-limitation. Sense or passion are too much for the eigner, and the Athenians and Spartans will not
‘dry light’ of intelligence which mingles with them appoint a foreigner to be their general. ‘No, that is and becomes discoloured by them. Imagination is not the real reason; there are many examples to the often at war with reason and fact. The concentra-contrary. But Ion has long been playing tricks with tion of the mind on a single object, or on a single the argument; like Proteus, he transforms himself aspect of human nature, overpowers the orderly into a variety of shapes, and is at last about to run perception of the whole. Yet the feelings too bring away in the disguise of a general. Would he rather truths home to the minds of many who in the way be regarded as inspired or dishonest?’ Ion, who has of reason would be incapable of understanding no suspicion of the irony of Socrates, eagerly em-them. Reflections of this kind may have been pass-braces the alternative of inspiration.
ing before Plato’s mind when he describes the poet The Ion, like the other earlier Platonic Dialogues, as inspired, or when, as in the Apology, he speaks is a mixture of jest and earnest, in which no defi-of poets as the worst critics of their own writings—
nite result is obtained, but some Socratic or Pla-anybody taken at random from the crowd is a bet-tonic truths are allowed dimly to appear.
ter interpreter of them than they are of themselves.
The elements of a true theory of poetry are con-They are sacred persons, ‘winged and holy things’
tained in the notion that the poet is inspired. Ge-who have a touch of madness in their composition 5
“Ion” – Plato
(Phaedr.), and should be treated with every sort of The old quarrel between philosophy and poetry, respect (Republic), but not allowed to live in a well-which in the Republic leads to their final separa-ordered state. Like the Statesmen in the Meno, they tion, is already working in the mind of Plato, and is have a divine instinct, but they are narrow and con-embodied by him in the contrast between Socrates fused; they do not attain to the clearness of ideas, and Ion. Yet here, as in the Republic, Socrates shows or to the knowledge of poetry or of any other art as a sympathy with the poetic nature. Also, the mana whole.
ner in which Ion is affected by his own recitations In the Protagoras the ancient poets are recognized affords a lively illustration of the power which, in by Protagoras himself as the original sophists; and the Republic, Socrates attributes to dramatic per-this family resemblance may be traced in the Ion.
formances over the mind of the performer. His al-The rhapsode belongs to the realm of imitation and lusion to his embellishments of Homer, in which of opinion: he professes to have all knowledge, which he declares himself to have surpassed Metrodorus is derived by him from Homer, just as the sophist of Lampsacus and Stesimbrotus of Thasos, seems professes to have all wisdom, which is contained in to show that, like them, he belonged to the alle-his art of rhetoric. Even more than the sophist he is gorical school of interpreters. The circumstance that incapable of appreciating the commonest logical nothing more is known of him may be adduced in distinctions; he cannot explain the nature of his own confirmation of the argument that this truly Pla-art; his great memory contrasts with his inability tonic little work is not a forgery of later times.
to follow the steps of the argument. And in his high-est moments of inspiration he has an eye to his own gains.
“Ion” – Plato
ION: O yes; and of all sorts of musical performers.
SOCRATES: And were you one of the competitors—
and did you succeed?
ION: I obtained the first prize of all, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Well done; and I hope that you will Translated by Benjamin Jowett do the same for us at the Panathenaea.
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Ion.
ION: And I will, please heaven.
SOCRATES: Welcome, Ion. Are you from your na-SOCRATES: I often envy the profession of a tive city of Ephesus?
rhapsode, Ion; for you have always to wear fine clothes, and to look as beautiful as you can is a part ION: No, Socrates; but from Epidaurus, where I of your art. Then, again, you are obliged to be con-attended the festival of Asclepius.
tinually in the company of many good poets; and especially of Homer, who is the best and most di-SOCRATES: And do the Epidaurians have contests vine of them; and to understand him, and not merely of rhapsodes at the festival?
learn his words by rote, is a thing greatly to be envied. And no man can be a rhapsode who does not 7
“Ion” – Plato
understand the meaning of the poet. For the SOCRATES: I shall take an opportunity of hearing rhapsode ought to interpret the mind of the poet to your embellishments of him at some other time.
his hearers, but how can he interpret him well un-But just now I should like to ask you a question: less he knows what he means? All this is greatly to Does your art extend to Hesiod and Archilochus, be envied.
or to Homer only?
ION: Very true, Socrates; interpretation has cer-ION: To Homer only; he is in himself quite enough.
tainly been the most laborious part of my art; and I believe myself able to speak about Homer better SOCRATES: Are there any things about which than any man; and that neither Metrodorus of Homer and Hesiod agree?
Lampsacus, nor Stesimbrotus of Thasos, nor Glaucon, nor any one else who ever was, had as ION: Yes; in my opinion there are a good many.
good ideas about Homer as I have, or as many.
SOCRATES: And can you interpret better what SOCRATES: I am glad to hear you say so, Ion; I see Homer says, or what Hesiod says, about these mat-that you will not refuse to acquaint me with them.
ters in which they agree?
ION: Certainly, Socrates; and you really ought to ION: I can interpret them equally well, Socrates, hear how exquisitely I render Homer. I think that where they agree.
the Homeridae should give me a golden crown.
SOCRATES: But what about matters in which they 8
“Ion” – Plato
do not agree?—for example, about divination, of the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same which both Homer and Hesiod have something to themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his say,—
great argument? and does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad, ION: Very true:
skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with mankind, and about SOCRATES: Would you or a good prophet be a what happens in heaven and in the world below, better interpreter of what these two poets say about and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not divination, not only when they agree, but when they these the themes of which Homer sings?
ION: Very true, Socrates.
ION: A prophet.
SOCRATES: And do not the other poets sing of SOCRATES: And if you were a prophet, would you the same?
not be able to interpret them when they disagree as well as when they agree?
ION: Yes, Socrates; but not in the same way as Homer.
SOCRATES: What, in a worse way?
SOCRATES: But how did you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about Hesiod or ION: Yes, in a far worse.
“Ion” – Plato
SOCRATES: And Homer in a better way?
SOCRATES: Well, and in discussions about the wholesomeness of food, when many persons are ION: He is incomparably better.
speaking, and one speaks better than the rest, will he who recognizes the better speaker be a different SOCRATES: And yet surely, my dear friend Ion, in person from him who recognizes the worse, or the a discussion about arithmetic, where many people same?
are speaking, and one speaks better than the rest, there is somebody who can judge which of them is ION: Clearly the same.
the good speaker?
SOCRATES: And who is he, and what is his name?
ION: The physician.
SOCRATES: And he who judges of the good will be the same as he who judges of the bad speakers?
SOCRATES: And speaking generally, in all discussions in which the subject is the same and many ION: The same.
men are speaking, will not he who knows the good know the bad speaker also? For if he does not know SOCRATES: And he will be the arithmetician?
the bad, neither will he know the good when the same topic is being discussed.
“Ion” – Plato
SOCRATES: Is not the same person skilful in both?
those who speak of the same things; and that al-most all poets do speak of the same things?
ION: Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and SOCRATES: And you say that Homer and the other go to sleep and have absolutely no ideas of the least poets, such as Hesiod and Archilochus, speak of value, when any one speaks of any other poet; but the same things, although not in the same way; but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and the one speaks well and the other not so well?
am all attention and have plenty to say?
ION: Yes; and I am right in saying so.
SOCRATES: The reason, my friend, is obvious. No one can fail to see that you speak of Homer with-SOCRATES: And if you knew the good speaker, out any art or knowledge. If you were able to speak you would also know the inferior speakers to be of him by rules of art, you would have been able to inferior?
speak of all other poets; for poetry is a whole.
ION: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then, my dear friend, can I be mis-SOCRATES: And when any one acquires any other taken in saying that Ion is equally skilled in Homer art as a whole, the same may be said of them. Would and in other poets, since he himself acknowledges you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?
that the same person will be a good judge of all 11
“Ion” – Plato
ION: Yes, indeed, Socrates; I very much wish that SOCRATES: And did you ever know any one who you would: for I love to hear you wise men talk.
was skilful in pointing out the excellences and de-fects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but inca-SOCRATES: O that we were wise, Ion, and that pable of criticizing other painters; and when the you could truly call us so; but you rhapsodes and work of any other painter was produced, went to actors, and the poets whose verses you sing, are wise; sleep and was at a loss, and had no ideas; but when whereas I am a common man, who only speak the he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or truth. For consider what a very commonplace and whoever the painter might be, and about him only, trivial thing is this which I have said—a thing which woke up and was attentive and had plenty to say?
any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art, the enquiry into good ION: No indeed, I have never known such a and bad is one and the same. Let us consider this person.
matter; is not the art of painting a whole?
SOCRATES: Or did you ever know of any one in ION: Yes.
sculpture, who was skilful in expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the SOCRATES: And there are and have been many son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of painters good and bad?
any individual sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general were produced, was at a loss ION: Yes.
and went to sleep and had nothing to say?
“Ion” – Plato
ION: No indeed; no more than the other.
lently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving SOCRATES: And if I am not mistaken, you never you, like that contained in the stone which Euripides met with any one among flute-players or harp-play-calls a magnet, but which is commonly known as ers or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was the stone of Heraclea. This stone not only attracts able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power Orpheus, or Phemius the rhapsode of Ithaca, but of attracting other rings; and sometimes you may was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or de-from one another so as to form quite a long chain: fects?
and all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone. In like manner the Muse ION: I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Never-first of all inspires men herself; and from these in-theless I am conscious in my own self, and the world spired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, agrees with me in thinking that I do speak better who take the inspiration. For all good poets, epic as and have more to say about Homer than any other well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by man. But I do not speak equally well about oth-art, but because they are inspired and possessed.
ers—tell me the reason of this.
And as the Corybantian revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are SOCRATES: I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to not in their right mind when they are composing explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of their beautiful strains: but when falling under the this. The gift which you possess of speaking excel-power of music and metre they are inspired and 13
“Ion” – Plato
possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and another epic or iambic verses—and he who is good honey from the rivers when they are under the in-at one is not good at any other kind of verse: for fluence of Dionysus but not when they are in their not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine.
right mind. And the soul of the lyric poet does the Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners they, like the bees, winging their way from flower and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light may know them to be speaking not of themselves and winged and holy thing, and there is no inven-who utter these priceless words in a state of uncon-tion in him until he has been inspired and is out of sciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when that through them he is conversing with us. And he has not attained to this state, he is powerless Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance and is unable to utter his oracles. Many are the of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one noble words in which poets speak concerning the would care to remember but the famous paean actions of men; but like yourself when speaking which is in every one’s mouth, one of the finest about Homer, they do not speak of them by any poems ever written, simply an invention of the rules of art: they are simply inspired to utter that Muses, as he himself says. For in this way the God to which the Muse impels them, and that only; and would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to when inspired, one of them will make dithyrambs, doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, another hymns of praise, another choral strains, or the work of man, but divine and the work of 14
“Ion” – Plato
God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of SOCRATES: I wish you would frankly tell me, Ion, the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was what I am going to ask of you: When you produce not this the lesson which the God intended to teach the greatest effect upon the audience in the recita-when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang tion of some striking passage, such as the apparition the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?
of Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, recognized by the suitors and casting his arrows at his feet, or ION: Yes, indeed, Socrates, I feel that you are; for the description of Achilles rushing at Hector, or the your words touch my soul, and I am persuaded that sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam,—are you good poets by a divine inspiration interpret the in your right mind? Are you not carried out of your-things of the Gods to us.
self, and does not your soul in an ecstasy seem to be among the persons or places of which you are speak-SOCRATES: And you rhapsodists are the interpret-ing, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or what-ers of the poets?
ever may be the scene of the poem?
ION: There again you are right.
ION: That proof strikes home to me, Socrates. For I must frankly confess that at the tale of pity my SOCRATES: Then you are the interpreters of inter-eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of hor-preters?
rors, my hair stands on end and my heart throbs.
SOCRATES: Well, Ion, and what are we to say of a man who at a sacrifice or festival, when he is dressed 15
“Ion” – Plato
in holiday attire, and has golden crowns upon his SOCRATES: Do you know that the spectator is the head, of which nobody has robbed him, appears last of the rings which, as I am saying, receive the weeping or panic-stricken in the presence of more power of the original magnet from one another?
than twenty thousand friendly faces, when there is The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are inter-no one despoiling or wronging him;—is he in his mediate links, and the poet himself is the first of right mind or is he not?
them. Through all these the God sways the souls of men in any direction which he pleases, and makes ION: No indeed, Socrates, I must say that, strictly one man hang down from another. Thus there is a speaking, he is not in his right mind.
vast chain of dancers and masters and under-masters of choruses, who are suspended, as if from the SOCRATES: And are you aware that you produce stone, at the side of the rings which hang down similar effects on most of the spectators?
from the Muse. And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and by whom he is said to ION: Only too well; for I look down upon them be possessed, which is nearly the same thing; for he from the stage, and behold the various emotions of is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which pity, wonder, sternness, stamped upon their coun-are the poets, depend others, some deriving their tenances when I am speaking: and I am obliged to inspiration from Orpheus, others from Musaeus; but give my very best attention to them; for if I make the greater number are possessed and held by them cry I myself shall laugh, and if I make them Homer. Of whom, Ion, you are one, and are pos-laugh I myself shall cry when the time of payment sessed by Homer; and when any one repeats the arrives.
words of another poet you go to sleep, and know 16
“Ion” – Plato
not what to say; but when any one recites a strain SOCRATES: I should like very much to hear you, of Homer you wake up in a moment, and your soul but not until you have answered a question which I leaps within you, and you have plenty to say; for have to ask. On what part of Homer do you speak not by art or knowledge about Homer do you say well?—not surely about every part.
what you say, but by divine inspiration and by possession; just as the Corybantian revellers too have ION: There is no part, Socrates, about which I do a quick perception of that strain only which is ap-not speak well: of that I can assure you.
propriated to the God by whom they are possessed, and have plenty of dances and words for that, but SOCRATES: Surely not about things in Homer of take no heed of any other. And you, Ion, when the which you have no knowledge?
name of Homer is mentioned have plenty to say, and have nothing to say of others. You ask, ‘Why is ION: And what is there in Homer of which I have this?’ The answer is that you praise Homer not by no knowledge?
art but by divine inspiration.
SOCRATES: Why, does not Homer speak in many ION: That is good, Socrates; and yet I doubt passages about arts? For example, about driving; if whether you will ever have eloquence enough to I can only remember the lines I will repeat them.
persuade me that I praise Homer only when I am mad and possessed; and if you could hear me speak ION: I remember, and will repeat them.
of him I am sure you would never think this to be the case.
SOCRATES: Tell me then, what Nestor says to 17
“Ion” – Plato
Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of SOCRATES: And every art is appointed by God to have the turn at the horserace in honour of Patroclus.
knowledge of a certain work; for that which we know by the art of the pilot we do not know by the art of medicine?
ION: ‘Bend gently,’ he says, ‘in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right ION: Certainly not.
hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein.
And when you are at the goal, let the left horse SOCRATES: Nor do we know by the art of the car-draw near, yet so that the nave of the well-wrought penter that which we know by the art of medicine?
wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity; and avoid catching the stone (Il.).’
ION: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Enough. Now, Ion, will the charioteer SOCRATES: And this is true of all the arts;—that or the physician be the better judge of the propri-which we know with one art we do not know with ety of these lines?
the other? But let me ask a prior question: You admit that there are differences of arts?
ION: The charioteer, clearly.
SOCRATES: And will the reason be that this is his art, or will there be any other reason?
SOCRATES: You would argue, as I should, that when one art is of one kind of knowledge and an-ION: No, that will be the reason.
other of another, they are different?
“Ion” – Plato
particular art will have no right judgment of the sayings and doings of that art?
SOCRATES: Yes, surely; for if the subject of knowledge were the same, there would be no meaning in ION: Very true.
saying that the arts were different,—if they both gave the same knowledge. For example, I know that SOCRATES: Then which will be a better judge of here are five fingers, and you know the same. And the lines which you were reciting from Homer, you if I were to ask whether I and you became ac-or the charioteer?
quainted with this fact by the help of the same art of arithmetic, you would acknowledge that we did?
ION: The charioteer.
SOCRATES: Why, yes, because you