Ancient Philosophy


In analysing the topic of ancient philosophy I will go back to the creation of the cosmos and the faculty of being. “At first, the sea, the earth, and the heaven, which covers all things, were the only face of nature throughout the whole universe, which men have named Caos; a rude and undigested mass, and nothing more than inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot.” (Ovid I 5-9)With these vibrant words, Ovid tries to describe what existed before the universe. He interprets poetically the restlessness that befalls the entire human species when one questions one’s belonging and one’s position in the cosmos. Introspection  on the origin of the universe is at the heart of all religions and present in all cultures. However, it is the Greek philosophers who pose themselves in a new and radical manner not content with religious or mythological answers. Aristotle (384-322 A.C) identifies the amazement of man in front of the universe as the thrust to know and understand the strengths of that which surrounds him. “It is from a feeling of wonder that men start now and did start in the earliest times, to practice philosophy. Originally they wondered about strange things that were at hand; then, as they went forward bit by bit on this line of inquiry they got bewildered about large issues, like the changes of the moon, the sun and the stars and the origins of the universe.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, 2,928 b, 13-17) It is this wonder that encourages men to turn to terrestrial phenomena to the celestial phenomena of being, raising the question on the origin of the universe. As Aristotle clearly points out, the first Greek philosophers questioned the origin of the world in a manner that is entirely different from the theologian, or the poets who talk about gods and their genealogy (like Hesiod or Pherecydes). “…in Hesiod’s Theogony, yet in that poem, the origins of the sky, earth and ocean and all they contain are still represented as the outcome of a series of marriages and their begetting’s on the part of personal beings. The names of these beings- Ouranos (Heaven), Gaia (Earth) and so forth- may seem to indicate that they are no more than a transparent disguise for physical phenomena” (Gutherie; 1962; 28). Philosophers do not doubt the existence of a principle from which the cosmos was generated.  Some admit only one theory for its generation it can be water, air or fire, whereas others admit more than one water, air and fire or even infinite ‘seeds’ of Anassagora or the ‘atoms’ talked about in Leucippo and Democrito. They are all convinced that there is something eternal from which the universe has drawn its origin and to which the universe will return. The greatest expression on this concept is the famous fragment of Anaximander from Miletus (VI century a.C.), which is also the first text of ancient Greek philosophy. He admits a principle, identified by him as the infinite, from which beings have their origin and to which they go back finding their destruction. This inescapable process of derivation and return occurs according to necessity. Greek philosophers of the VI and V century A.C elaborate differing theories on the origins of the universe. All are based on the claim of an eternal reality, the elements, or the true being of Parmenides of a generation and corruption of the sensible universe, destined probably to repeat itself with the evolution of the cycle. This sensible universe was conceived as an order or ‘cosmos’. The substance of the universe from which the cosmos is constituted has no origin it is eternal. Such problems became particularly acute in the classical era of ancient Greek philosophy. In particular, the IV century A.C., was the period of the most well-known philosophers, Plato and Aristotle and the most influential in the entire history of occidental philosophy.


In ancient Greece, a work of art was perceived as a form of awareness in the sensible world of ideas and relationships that reside in the realm of thought. Art was considered as a delight, yet only a superficial form of pleasure. “To those who perceive how, in the progress of the human mind, all things are connected with all, it will not be chimerical to add, as an antecedent and motive to the essay at philosophical system in Greece, the study of Art itself, and the boundless admiration of its performance.” (Butler; 1858;190) The artists or critics of art go deeper in thought and speculation on the harmonious outcome of the work of art; yet are rewarded with just appreciation. The sensible object according to these thinkers is only the first part or the antechamber that would then lead to the scientific principles (i.e. symmetry) which precede the work of art and the artist. The work of art has to take place within the scientific framework in order to take form. The origins of the quarrel between philosophy and poetry can be traced back to ancient Greece.

Socrates was the one who aroused the question of philosophy. He began with a self-analysis and a realization of the importance of self-consciousness. Wisdom was born as a result of Socrates’ question of philosophy. This was the origin of the research for self-consciousness and the assessment of oneself. Socrates, also fathered the threat to the status quo, and was the leading figure of the attack on poetry. Wisdom is declared in the temple of Apollo, god of poetry.


Importance of Homer in Greek community


As in all cultures, during the Hellenistic era also ancient Greeks had a religion. This was based on the poems written by Homer: The Iliadand The Odyssey. The study of the works of the poets in the Athenian system of education was intended to stimulate the imagination, to arouse the noble deeds by the inspiration of the historical and heroic examples (Phaedr.245 A) to keep alike Greek patriotism and the hatred for the barbarian were some of the most important motives, though these were regarded as moral lessons, the gnomic wisdom of the religious teachings of the poets. “The transcendent part of Homeric study is indicated in a well-known passage from the Symposiumof Xenophon (III.5, IV 6). Niceratus is introduced as one who knows both the Iliadand theOdyssey by heart.Motion is the first aspect of the nature universally accepted by Hellenistic reflexion. Ordinary Hellenistic fancy, stimulated by the phrasing of poets, postulates as animistic projection of this feeling after something permanent and eternally vital, a realm of gods. Divine beings are pictured as being ageless and deathless. They are located at first in rushing rivers and tidal waters, sunshine and storm, by the sheer might of their minds: in accordance within this, our mysterious cave on the high places of Mount Olympus. They manifest their will to human beings through the mechanism of dream imagery and trance, or through the movement of mighty oaks, whose rustling leaves murmur and whisper messages of weal or woe. Later, the gods become located a little further off, in the sun, moon and planets: whose orbits they guide in such a way as to bestow upon human happiness a cosmic significance together with a sense of understanding and comfort, of companionship in a great venture or leadership toward a more than human purpose and destiny. Such a religion was of great inspiration for the poets’ creativity. Their hymns to Apollo or Demeter, rehearsing the attributes of this or that great nature-power, enlarging upon its beneficence to its faithful worshippers and culminating in ritual dances and ceremonial prayers for a continuance of protective communion, played by a great part in the historical evolution of Hellenistic religion.

Rhythms in nature, of sunrise and sunset of morning and evening, of waxing and waning moon, the ebb and flow of tidal waves, awoke the attention and reflective questioning to the poets. They were also inspired by the rhythms of exercise and rest, of waking and sleeping, of growth and decay, of life and death. In the new life according to nature, all individual and social norms find a pattern in the rhythms of cosmic behaviour. The study of the poets lay at the basis of the whole Greek system of education. The Greeks sought to secure the harmonious development of soul and body. The primordial function of education was to make good rather than wise citizens. Homer’s conscious purpose is to instruct in geography, strategy, agriculture, rhetoric, and eloquence. Therefore, all educated people appeal to him as an authority.


Plato’s Philosophy


Plato (427-347a.c) cherishes Parmenides’s lesson that science is conscience of necessary truths. As in the sensible world, everything changes; science has as its object of the world of ideas, or eternal specimens and beings. According to Aristotle, Plato made ideas depend on two principles: first, that of identifying oneself with the good and second, the indefinite Diade, identified as the origin of the multiplicity, for ideas and the evil and for sensible realities.

Plato defines the creature in a personal sense like something that is always the same and itself. The creature is one but has multiple entities. He divides being in two constituencies: (i) immutable being, that is such for itself and (ii) the changing being, that is only thanks to his relationship with the first.

For Plato, there are two kinds of entities: one is visible, the other invisible. The first is beauty itself or reality itself from which we provide discourse to being and the second is each of the many beautiful things that have the same name of the first and are perceived by means of the senses.


Theory of justice/ creation of the Polis


“The aim of the Republic is very simple: to discover what justice (dikaiosvne) is, and to show it is more beneficial, in a certain sense of that word than its contrary, injustice (adikia).” (White; 1994; 13) Plato has explained justice in two distinct applications, one to a polis and the other to his soul (psyche). Both cities and souls, Plato thinks, can be viewed as tripartite. The city contains a class of rulers (who turn out in Book V also to be philosophers) a class of soldiers or auxiliaries, and a class containing all other citizens, particularly farmers and artisans. In parallel fashion, the soul has three parts: reason; the spirited part, which is the seat of anger and indignation; the appetitive part, which is a motley collection of various cravings and desires. Justice is the condition in which the rulers rule, the auxiliaries perform the military parts of the task of protecting and preserving the city, and the members of the third class pursue their several occupations. “Obedience to the laws of the good state produces the right order in the soul of the citizen.”(Foster; 1951; 208) In the case of the soul, justice is the condition in which the reason rules, the spirited part is indignant and angry at whatever contravenes reason’s efforts, and the appetites exert themselves with a kind of moderation that has been developed by the supervision of reason.

Plato wants to create a city that is analogous to the soul. This is a causal ideology to the way in which societies reproduce themselves. In the Republic, the primitive city devised by Adenomatous is a city of pigs. As a response, Glaucon emphasizes the ultimate goal of spiritedness. This is a central psychological quality of the Republic. Spiritedness is a quality of soul more closely associated with the desires of honour, fame and prestige. The mode of attaining such is through the aim of distinction and the desire to be first in the race of life. It makes a man develop into being a sort of personality. The issue for Socrates is that of channelling the wild and untamed passions.

He argues that a just city can only be established through the control of music, poetry and the arts. “Plato devotes himself in the Republicmainly to discussing the ethical aspects of art, which are linked in his view with the educational values, the idea of justice, and ultimately the idea of the good.” (Stroux;1933;1328)

The birth of the Quarrel

Because both poetry and philosophy are grounded in wonder: both scrutinize, both alter our view of the universe. It is specifically the analogies between poetry and philosophy that provide energy to the quarrelsome relationship between the two. Both are dwindled by the absenteeism of the other, especially in the human endeavour to expose the truthfulness of things about the world, about us and the divine. Plato attacks poetry because he believes he corrupts the soul.

For Homer, poetry has its eternal foundations; in the heart of Socrates. Poetry is morally swept out of its fragmentary curves into the straight lines of intelligible notions. While in the encyclopedic mind of Aristotle, science branched off into all its varied forms, which have set into eternal motion the perpetually investigating spirit peculiar to man. In Plato, we have poetry, eloquence, and philosophy so intermingled as to lose their individual characteristics, and to form an unusual mental phenomena, which has often been imitated, often organically repeated, but which has never yet been explained.

It has often been asserted that Plato was hostile to all poetry, and he wished to banish poets and artists all together from his model state. “Such doctrine, from a writer who has been universally acclaimed as the artist’s philosopher κατ’ εξοχην; who clinches almost every argument with an appeal to the Muses; who has left us with the various “myths” scattered through his dialogues some of the most impressive prose-poems that exist in any language, would seem, to say the least, a little perplexing.” (Hight; 1922; 195) Plato defines the relationship between philosophy and poetry as an ancient quarrel. The quarrel depicts the synergy of philosophy and poetry and shows how one is important to understand the other at a divine level. Poetry is required for the philosopher and philosophy is required to arrive accurately to the truth. The philosophers that are at thecentreof any argument recognize the importance of poetry, the ideas of the poets are perceived as being idiosyncratic as both philosophy and poetry share the same medium that is language. “Literary devices incorporated into the Republic(…) are part of Plato’s systems of remainders that his search for the totally just and totally unjust man is in some sense an artistic performance.” (Bacon,2001,346) Plato was fearful of the fact that poets declared themselves as being inpossessionof wisdom and more importantly of the great influence these poets had on the Hellenistic Greek tradition. He reacted to this fear by questioning the validity of the poets’ assertions through philosophy. He aimed to liberate the Greek culture from the domination of poetry. He concludes, in book X with the decision of abolishing the poets from his Republic or if they were to stay to have their work censored and approved by the philosophers. “…the role of the poet must be tailored to the requirements of this image of the ideal state.”(Rucker; 1966;168) In such manner, Plato transformed philosophy into a technical skill lacking the wonder Aristotle had found to be the kick start to the search for knowledge and poetry became a language-related activity.

Wonder, according to Aristotle is at the heart of both Philosophy and Poetry as they both transform and explore our vision of the world. It is precisely the similarities between the two that lend energy to the quarrel. Many of the philosophers in history acknowledge at the very least that something important may be going on among these poets and, that the gods might be using such human voices in ways that concern the philosopher.

Under Socrates, the poets, before being abolished from the republic, were interrogated derided. Plato was himself an artist and had a poetic spirit. He attributes art to divine inspiration. He starts as a poet and writes poems such as “Love Asleep”, “Neath this Tall Pine” and “To Stella”. He was then influenced by Socrates’ teachings that made him turn to philosophy.  The reason why he viewed poetry as such a threat to his Republic is that he had experienced on his own skin the incredible force poetry had and the depths of the emotions it was able to stir.

Plato’s argument against the poets in the Republic is divided into two parts; the one contained in Books II. and III; the other in Book X. Socrates points out that the children are malleable and have a lack of mental form, therefore, the stories they hear must be controlled. He argues that humans, and especially young children can be harmed by untruths uttered by the poets, the tellers of false tales, these being Homer and Hesiod. Neither the stories of the poet and myth makers nor even the actions of the gods themselves constitute the criteria we use to shape children, for the gods’ actions must also be judged as good or evil. “The ideas contained in the poems taught the children affect their characters; so do the rhythms and tunes. Noble men can be formed only by noble themes and noble harmonies. Poetry is, therefore central to the education of the citizen, but poetry is not an end in itself. Nor is anything else, for Plato, short of the Good.”(Rucker,1966;168) However, because we can reason our way to the conclusion that, because a God is good, a God cannot be a cause of evil, we can at the outset exclude some poetic statements from Homer such as “two urns stand on the floor of the palace of Zeus and are filled with dooms he allots, one of blessings, the other gifts are evil”. Nor may the poets show the gods to be mutable or deceiving. (Rep.,381c). The poets dominated Greek society up to the archaic age. In the first part of the Republic, Socrates is critical of the poets but still tentative about whether to admit tragedy and comedy of a sort into the city. In Books II. and III. he regulates the ablution of Hesiod, Homer and all tragedians. Then, he sets the limitations on imitation by the guardians. Finally, there is the abolishment of the imitator with no principle, this being the dramatist and the epic poet.

The discussion returns at the end of Book X. Now he wants the poets gone. The Book opens with Socrates affirming that his judgment on poetry was correct: “And truly we were entirely right in our organization of the state, and especially I think in the matter of poetry.” (Rep. 595 a) He proclaims the omission of all poetry except certain forms of lyric verse. Furthermore, in the LawsPlato asks for a restraint and wise censorship of the poets’ writings. He announces that the just legislator must incline the poets to engage only in the harmonies and rhythms of level-headed and courageous men and approved by the institution of Crete that urge the poets to proclaim that the good man is in all situations happy and redeemed. The best service that can employ the poets, according to the Laws (80I A., 829 C.), as well as the Republic (607 A., 486 D.), is the composition of hymns to the gods and encomia upon good men.



The problem is with imitation. Plato shows a low regard for mimetic poets, lists them as the sixth of nine orders of lives possible for fallen souls. Homer is the first teacher, and his art is imitation. Socrates is pursuing truth and as imitation is removed from the truth, it is dangerous. “The mimetic poet imitates humans engaged in action and thinking, with attendant pain or pleasure, that they are faring well or badly. […] he tends to imitate the release of emotions, such as grief, laughter, lust and anger.” (Kraut, 1992, 356) Imitation can also distract us from the truth.

Because imitators do not have to concern themselves with the whole truth but only with this or that angle, they can appear to be masters of many things, while the one labouring to get at the truth of things seems incompetent, with starts and stops and second guessing (Rep., 598b). Plato’s argument here is that no one could name a single state or war which was profitably endured by Homer, nor any invention or public service of any kind that can be ascribed to him.

For Socrates, the poets are the ones who make truly dangerous use of imitation because they have as their material all that pertains to the virtues and vices of humans, and all things divine. “The mimetic poet sets up in each individual soul a vicious constitution by fashioning phantoms far removed from reality, and by carrying favour with the senseless element that cannot distinguish the greater from the less.” (Hall;1974;78)

The real danger is that they lay claim to wisdom, but give only an imitation of this. For Plato, “art is not knowledge, but actually requires the absence of knowledge.”(Collingwood;1925;165) What is more, they do so in the medium of language, which is the instrument of the philosopher.

For Plato, being fulfilled by Homer’s mimetic knowledge brings in us a position of ignorance that interrupts our path towards absolute truth. Plato believes the poet only knows how to imitate. He uses phrases and words from the different forms of arts, from those who are ignorant in the same manner and those who see things only through their own words that they view as being the most excellent ones. (Rep.601a) The very way in which Socrates depicts mimetic poetry is explicatory of his critique. Mimetic poetry “imitates human beings acting under compulsion or voluntarily and as a result of their actions supposing themselves to have fared well or ill, and in all this feeling of either grief or joy.” (Rep.603) Poetry that is mimetic, works by imitating human behaviour under compulsion. As a consequence they seem to have been liberated from good and evil and escaped the feeling of happiness or pain. What is fundamental for Socrates is to abolish the poet’s role as an agitator of the emotions that are believed to live with the citizen of Athens by fate.

A further claim made in rep 607b is that poetry has the power to corrupt even the best sort of person. The real quarrel is not between individual people but rather points beyond itself. “Depicting poetry as divine rapture, Plato preserves one part of what Homeric mimesis offered-its ability to enthuse the learner in the same way the Muse entered the body of Homeric reciters.” (Hasking;2000;14) Even the greatest of poets, Homer, is not identified as the focus of the dispute but as an interpreter of some independent thing-poetry as such.

The only way in which, according to Socrates, poetry could have its place in the city is that it must not distract a person with an immortal soul from righteousness, excellence and the truth. Plato concludes his attack on poetry “The poet encourages us to indulge or to admire emotions that in our more rational moments we would suppress; he thus appeals, not to reason in the soul, but to its inferior part.” (Sprague: 1976; 98) Mimetic poetry arouses our feelings of pain, anger, desire and compassion. According to Plato, knowledge can only be found within reason. Poetry cannot be created, for Socrates, unless reason has escaped the person composing it.

For a poet is an aerial and winged element, and divine, and at no time capable to construct until he has become inspired and is beside himself. The poets speak with the veritable voice of a god.

Socrates points out that to make a judgement between the superior poet and the inferior poet concerning a particular subject, the judge of the poet must already have knowledge superior to that of either poet. Ionsuggests that if Socrates heard him speak the words of Homer, he would not attribute this power of speech to madness. He argues that once the poet has raised the topics, promoting us to ask about what we know regarding the war, medicine, and so forth, the rhapsodist’s art is no longer required. Socrates acknowledges that the poets can provide starting points for philosophical inquiry, particulars among which we judge, especially of feeling. Yet, there is a difference between “feeling” and the driving force behind philosophy.

Though mythic thinkers do not question myth and through the work of poets such as Hesiod and Homer are embraced uncritically as authoritative, the philosopher incurs debt to such poets by being born into the middle of a complete world with a complete language and account of the totality of that which is, with a place even for the darkness and the vast chasm that makes the gods shudder.

During the Hellenistic era in Greece, the poets’ affirmation to supreme knowledge was accepted and embraced by all. This happened because the poets were believed to speak with the words of Gods that used their humanform to spread their teachings, hence they were accepted as true wisdom. This is what Socrates has difficulty accepting, however, he does not deny the fact that he has been educated this way himself.


Theory of Forms


The theory of forms is the belief that the material world as it seems to us is not a truthful world, just an image or copy of it. The forms, on Socrates’ account, are prototypes or abstruse portrayals of the numerous varieties of things and assets we perceive and see around us, that can only be perceived by reason, these are universal. Socrates recognized two worlds; the apparent world, continually changing, and an unchanging and unseen world of forms, which is the cause of what is apparent.

Plato claims that the poets’ inspiration takes place as a form of insanity or divine inspiration. Philosophy is created from a divine kind of love for wisdom. Socrates sees it as a trick. While talking about the differences between philosophy and poetry firstly he almost recesses in the nymph’s distortion but then he explains the true significance of things through the philosophical analysis. What is seen as the major threat to the philosopher is, in fact the similarity between philosophy and poetry. Madness arising from the muses is considered sacred in that it enables poets to be inspired. Poetry that gets to this stage will always have to achieve something that goes over poetry itself. This new poet will have to narrate only that which is terrestrial and can be made sense of through reason. They will point out that what is not reachable through reason is in this way because it is addressed only to the immortals and not to humans living on earth. In similar manner, also the philosopher receives divine authority that allows them to talk about what is below heaven. The philosopher was a God himself and uses the art of memory to recall and write about what happened before their arrival on earth. Those souls that have had the greater experience of the divine are those who will be looking for beauty and wisdom in the deepest manner. “Shall grow into a seeker after wisdom or beauty, a follower of the Muses and lovers.” (Phaed.248d). The accuracy of the philosopher’s memories is what measures his closeness to the Gods. The God’s minds are what provide reason and produce the true being that is on earth. The real being is derived from the memory of the soul’s vision of it. The poet has the ability to see yet he cannot possess reason. The philosopher that does not use poetry or at least its tool is limited to the theory or methodology and does not have the ability to see. Diotima is a female philosopher and priestess. Her ideas are the origin of Platonic love. Diotima claims that once the philosopher has seen beauty or the positive effects of inner reflection that image stays inside the lover of wisdom forever. Such vision can be achieved if reason is employed in the appropriate manner. This is what Plato writes, a new type of poetry.

If philosophy is the love of wisdom, and love is an activity of the soul, real knowledge requires a different kind of writing, a sort growing from discourse and written on the very soul of the learner. Dialectic can only emerge through the soul. The ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry created by Plato will be the metaphor that operates throughout the rest of the paper. The theme can be divided into three fundamental themes: poetry, philosophy, and the quarrelsome relationship they possess. The quarrel is what gives poets the power to compose. Yet, it impedes the philosopher to go insane or be overcome by the Gods or act in a manner that is not considered good.

Although poetry belongs to the real world, when inspired by the gods it can become something abstract and supernatural. In the theory of Forms there is no space for philosophy. Socrates states that being wise is not enough to be described a lover of wisdom. The philosopher is the embodiment of every part of the world as a poet. Both the poet and the philosopher are propellers that make us experience new beginnings. Love is what moves us towards wisdom. Love starts as a representation of what is the ultimate fixed image of love itself. The poet, in representing love, has to create a real picture of love without becoming it himself. The roles that philosophy and poetry play have allowed the existence of the quarrel only due to their divergence, even though the threat of poetry assuming the role of reality always exists. Aristotle, as Plato’s student, was enabled to critique Plato’s case only because of the triumph of wisdom and self knowledge over imitation, and poetry inspired by the divine.

Homer in Plato rather than Plato in Homer


Socrates says that most of the stories from the great poets Homer and Hesiod must be discarded because of their destructive pattern. “It is Homer’s irresponsible flippancy that has roused Plato’s indignation and provoked his inventive.” (Hight;1922;198) The quarrel outlined above is the setting in which it is argued that the imitative arts are far removed from truth and reality and have their appeal to the lower part of the soul. As Plato says, people have claimed that Homer “is the educator of Hellas and that on conduct and culture of human life, he deserves our study and devotion, and that we should regulate our entire lives by the guidance of this poet.” (Thayer;1975;6) In Homer, we find recurrent phrases or formulas. These are groups of words, which are regularly used under the same metrical condition to express a given essential idea such as: “When the young Dawn with fingertips of rose lit up the world…” (Homer, Odyssey, Book Nine, lines 307-8). “Far from being subordinated to his tradition, Homer is a complete master of it, using the device of oral poetry to attain such special effects as emphasis, foreshadowing, symmetry and contrast.” (De Jong; 1991;408) In the Iliad, the primary narrator focalized, presents fifty per cent of the total text. The internal secondary narrator focalized, that verbalizes the feelings of the characters, gives five per cent of the text and direct speech forty-five per cent. The same narrative situations are  found in the Odyssey,with the only difference that the proportion of direct speech is sixty-seven per cent. He conceives all of Homer’s mental ideas from the way we conceive them. “The mind. Or better the ego, the θυμος- was possessed by fear, the body by disease; and when the thought, which here lies in embryo, was taken hold of by the myth-making faculty, Φοβος(Fear),  Δειμος (Terror) Λειμος (Disease), became beings, demons; then at last they received definite shapes.”(Keary; 1881; 477)

The soul, for Homer, is required to assume a definite shape.

Quotations of Homer in Plato


I will continue by showing how Plato actually uses Homer’s quotations in his works. A reading of the scholiaof Homer convinces us that there were, even in early times, manuscripts of the author. Proof of antiquity of these manuscripts is found in the variants found in the papyrus fragments, some of which go back to the very old date. “There is a papyrus fragment containing Iliad 24, verses 127-804 and another, discovered recently in Egypt by Flinders Petrie. It contains portions of the Iliad II, verses 502-537.” (Howes; 1895;175) It shows remarkable divergences when set a side with the universal readings of the Iliad. The fragment that has been appointed to the third century B.C. displays the endings of four verses not found in our manuscripts of Homer between 504 and 505 νοησεν, between 509 and 510 χις ελοιντο, between 513 and 514 νοιο, and between 514 and 515 αλλους. “Plato’s manuscript(s) of the Illiadagreed line for line with Aristrachus. Some may fancy that I should say with the medieval manuscripts.”(Boiling;1955;82)

Plato gives many Homeric quotations that in the manuscripts used by their best editors show no difference from those in the best manuscripts of Homer. Fourteen of these that show no variants examples include: Phaedo112 A = 11. 8, 14; andRep 3, 388 C= Il.18,54.

Twenty-one passages in which the variants, whether in the manuscripts of Plato or Homer, are slight and such as constantly arise from the carelessness of scribes can be found. As Rep.2, 381 D = Od.17,383-384. There are nineteen passages in which the readings of Plato agree with those of the best manuscripts of Homer, although other Homeric manuscripts show that there were other readings known to the ancients. There are twenty-two passages in which Plato, while weaving a phrase or a verse of Homer into the structure of his sentence, shows that he had Homeric readings identical with ours.


Wing symbol/ Winged words


The Phaedrus is about Eros, and it is about rhetoric, and about philosophy. It argues that its critical imagery might provide a clue to Plato’s conception of philosophy and its relationship to language. Among numerous mythic and symbolic references to wings in the Phaedrus, none is as puzzling and fascinating as the poetic identification of Eros and Pteros. Plato suggests that those who are united by eurotomaniaget wings of the same feather in heaven for their love’s sake. Derrida, deconstructs Plato’s division between speech and language “The devaluation of the word “language” is the inflation of the sign itself, and the very hold it has upon us, it betrays a loose vocabulary, the temptation of a cheap seduction, the passive yielding to fashion, the consciousness of the avant-garde, in other words-ignorance- are evidences of its effect.”(Derrida;1976;6) He suggests that the primary elements for literature and philosophy are the same and that the two kinds of writings differ, chiefly in the conventions they have imposed on linguistic matter. Derrida’s deconstruction, with its aesthetic rigor, is as sure a philosophical proof against the fanaticism that comes from being mesmerized by images and offers fully present truth. Most of what we call literature is a fair game of deconstruction, whatever can be deconstructed, must be. His implicit reference to Plato both interprets Plato and explains the obscure features of “difference”. The use of the wings symbol might suggest lightness as in the Timaeus birds have their biological origin in light-headed men, or escape as in the Protagoras, or swiftness, not only of birds, but of arrows guided and made swift directly by feathers. Crusius put ‘Winged words’ down as those ‘which escape quickly from the lips’.”(Suhr;1974;169) The scores of reference to Homer in Plato’s dialogues indicate that Plato had more than a superficial acquaintance with the poet. In contrast to Plato’s winging of various objects in the Phaedrusis the conspicuous winging in Homeric writings of one particular entity: words. Recollection of the Illiador the Odysseywill bring to mind the almost monotonous repetitions of the striking expression: winged words. Winged words are used by Homer in several contextual situations: Winged words of declaration, winged words of command, winged ceremonial words, winged words of triumph, and so on. I wish to suggest that the response to the winged words is the clue to the metaphor and that the Homeric understanding of the metaphor may help to spell out Plato’s conception of philosophy. On almost every occasion in the Odyssey, the reply to the winged words of declaration is in words. On the other hand, in the Iliad, the winged words of declaration are answered in words about half the time, and on other occasions by direct action. On no occasion the winged word ignored.

Passionate speeches of triumph or derision become winged for Homer, and for obvious reasons replies are infrequent. Patroclus’s silence at the “winged words of triumph” (Il. XVI 829) shouted over him by Hector is understandable, for he is dead and when Odysseus props the annoying beggar against the wall and shouts in winged words “sit there and scare off the swine and dogs” (Od. XVII 104) there is no reply because, for one thing, Odysseus has broken his jaw.

Definitive characteristics of Homer’s winged words are spoken words, addressed to rational beings and provocative of significant response. Winged words go from mind to mind, heart to heart, feeling to feeling, they always have an effect. Wings take dead words and make them live, by transporting them to the responsive soul of the hearer, the part of the man closest to the divine. The natural property of wings is to raise that which is heavy and carry it aloft to the region where the gods dwell. Platonic terms tell us that although written words have no wings, the words of philosophy do. The true lover is the philosopher, a demonic man who saw understanding of the important things, precludes the possibility that a speech or a book could communicate his knowledge to another. ‘Friendship’ in Lord Byron’s words is “love without the wings”. It might produce a rhetorician but not a philosopher. Philosophers do not sit in lonely intellectual detachment, they love. They do not write books, they plant seeds in the soul of man and the seeds are winged words the true lovers whisper to the disciples, who as youths, feel the first stirring of growth, and in full maturity soar on their own wings and repeat the cycle of vision, love, communication, conceptualization, birth.

Therefore, the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry was Plato’s internal struggle. Philosophy is not poetry and poetry is not philosophy. Plato never abrogates the right of poetry to plead her defense anew and to return from exile. To do so, poetry would have to change its nature radically, but it would always be poetry, never philosophy. Playfulness is useful, even necessary for seriousness, but it can never be identified with gravity. For Plato true philosophy is a social activity, its language is living and responsive, its words winged. It asks and answers. This is living dialogue with a live philosopher.


In conclusion, the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry has indeed shaped the way in which we perceive both philosophy and poetry today. The quarrel has a series of inconsistencies and that Plato’s attack on poetry cannot be truly considered as being based on fundamental truths but rather it should be interpreted as something that has grown only as part of the philosopher’s subconscious, internal struggle. Contrary to the commonly acclaimed conception of Plato as the enemy of poetry, in his early dialogues we find an impassioned glorification of poetry. In Phaedrus 278 and Symposium, 205 “he sings the praises of ideal poetry with the samefervouras the high Romantics will do more than two millennia later.”(Cai; 326) In Republic X, Plato calls forth to distinguish philosophers from poets. Philosophers are supposed to be mature, manly, aristocratic, appealing to disciples. But this, is just a description of a stiff, tedious man. It is a literal-minded interpretation of a Platonic philosopher: Plato is far better. He falls into a fundamental error in judging the poets. He regards them as the adversaries of reason and abstraction. They are believed to pledge the material portrayals, which are removed from the abstract ideals. Some passages in the early part of the Republic appear to propose that he viewed works of art in a noble way, as the mediators amidst sense and ideas. Hitherto, there is no indication of this conception in Book X. Plato fell short in contemplating the idea competently that human nature is not able to accede to abstract perceptions if not through the aid of concrete representations. The senses and the emotions should be inducted on the side of reason. He did not fully appreciate the necessity, and he feared the danger of employing sensible copies that suggest the ideal, but do no portray it worthily. The Republic offers a polemic not just against poets, but against the poet within the great myth-maker, Plato. He’s turning against parts of his work that are not consistent with the way he would like to be conceived. The most poetic of philosophers is repudiating his poetic prowess at the end of his major volume and thus teaching us how to read it retrospectively: as something reasonable and detached, concerned with eternal forms, masculine and mature, attractive to disciples, the province of an elite.Plato is, after all, an artist of the first rank, one of the world’s greatest masters of prose and style and dramatic form. He was at once an artist and a philosopher, and in his early works the artist seems to be predominate. His first writings have the appearance of being dramatic sketches written by a man with a strong interest in philosophy, but an even stronger interest in the drama of philosophical discussion. It emerges into full daylight in the tenth book of the Republic, where art and philosophy reveal themselves as parties to an ancient quarrel, rivals for the supreme allegiance of making; and the violence with which Plato here rejects the claims of artists is surely proportionate to the hold that he feels art possesses over his mind.



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