(Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 341) Gabriele Cornelli - Plato’s Styles and Characters Between Literature and Philosophy-Walter de Gruyter (2016)
part – upper not rarely subjected to the inferior part′s vagaries.
Something similar is noted in this passage of the Cratylus, which surprises us
in admitting the irresistible force of desire: “Socrate – Je vais te dire mon impres-
sion. Dis-moi, quel est le lien le plus fort qui oblige un être vivant à demerer
The Philosophical Writing and the Drama of Knowledge in Plato
quelque part: est-ce la contrainte ou le désir? Hermogène – C’est de beaucoup le
désir.” (Platon, 2011b, 403c). This concern is recurrent in several passages of the
Republic, especially in Books III and X. In the former there is a warning against
fables since some of them might undermine courage – and the virtues′ develop-
ment in general: “Then it seems we must exercise supervision also, in the matter
of such tales as these, over those who undertake to supply them and request
them not to dispraise in this indiscriminating fashion the life in Hades but rather
praise it, since what they now tell us is neither true or edifying to men who are
destined to be warriors” (Plato, 1937a, 386b–c). Furthermore, the Greek philoso-
pher has a suspicion regarding the enchantment’s effect of the poetic language:
“the more poetic they are [some passages from Homer] the less are they suited to
the ears of boys and men who are destined to be free” (Plato, 1937a, 387b). Lam-
entations over the dead should be avoided as they may bring out excessive fear
It is recurrent in the text the intent to investigate the means to strengthen
temperance (sophrosyne) and self-control, often neglected, according to Plato,
by the Homeric poems. However, these criticisms are often accompanied by hes-
itations regarding the excellence of the Greek poet: “But, for Homer′s sake (…) I
hesitate” (Plato, 1937a, 391a). He dedicates to a critical revision of the concept of
god and hero consistent with his metaphysical and pedagogical presuppositions,
especially regarding their attributes: “For we proved, I take it, that for evil to
arise from gods is an impossibility” (Plato, 1937a, 391e).
It is important maintain caution in respect to violent laughter, motivated by
ethical considerations: “they must not be prone to laughter. For ordinarily when
one abandons himself to violent laughter his condition provokes a violent reac-
tion” (Plato, 1937a, 388e). The difficulty of this section can be measured if we
compare it with the use of irony and humour in several passages of the Platonic
work. Take, for instance, the moment in the Sophist when Socrates handles the
delimitation of the sophist′s work (Plato, 1921, 222a–231e). The scene is quite well
constructed, and unfolds, by ridicule and laughter, the sophist′s halting step. This
does not come to be a contradiction, but reveals the care of the philosopher in
the treatment of some topics, respecting its complexity. In any case, the asymme-
try between the philosophical content plan, and the artistic-formal production of
the dialogues is suggestive enough to raise doubts and suspicion about this
Then we come to the study of imitation (mimesis), whereby is made an initial
distinction between literary genres. The peculiarity of epic, tragedy, and comedy
is investigated. The first interplays narrative and dramatic forms, the other two
only a dramatic form, which is, according to Plato, the imitative weaving par ex-
cellence (Plato, 1937a, 395a). Imitation, in contrast to narrative, is defined as
Gilmário Guerreiro da Costa
someone pretending to be someone else: “But when he [the poet] delivers a
speech as if he were someone else, shall we not say that he then assimilates
thereby his own diction as far as possible to that of the person whom he announ-
ces as about to speak?” (Plato, 1937a, 393c). In Book III, it is accepted the narra-
tive poetry. This approach changes in Book X, on the occasion of the famous in-
vective against poets. It now deals with the foundation of the ideal city and the
status of poetry in relation to politics and education. In inquiring critically this
object, not only an alleged animosity emerges. It raises also the suspicion that
the philosopher, through his painstaking work, ends by granting to poetry pre-
cisely its importance. It is refused in this way the mimetic poetry: “In refusing
to admit at all so much of it as is imitative; for that it is certainly not to be re-
ceived is, I think, still more plainly apparent now that we have distinguished
the several parts of the soul” (Plato, 1937b, 595a).
The first criticism is addressed to the fact that the mimetic works divert us
from the knowledge of truth: “that kind of art seems to be a corruption of the
mind of all listeners who do not possess as an antidote an knowledge of its
real nature” (Plato, 1937b, 595b). Furthermore, it deviates us three degrees
from truth. The poets imitate craftsmen who, in turn, imitate the natural crafts-
man, God. It is, therefore, an imitation of appearance, not reality, as the example
of the three beds shows. In this context, Plato presents the hypothesis that trag-
edy would owe a lot to Homer. It is an insightful hypothesis that could come only
from one who knew the tragedy intimately. That it is articulated by its outspoken
critic is a remarkable piece of irony: “tragedy and its leader Homer” (Plato,
1937b, 598d). A little further, he sees Homer as “the most poetic of poets and
the first of tragedians” (Plato, 1937b, 607a). Not only in this passage, but
throughout Book X the Greek philosopher, in the ruthless evaluation of poetry
in general, and tragedy in particular, shows such a great knowledge of the intri-
cacies of this art that he often risks convincing us precisely of the opposite of
what he intends, i.e., of the immeasurable importance of poetry, and the inex-
haustibility of its signs.
Also problematic is the fact that the poets do not know what excellence
(arete) is: “Shall we, then, lay it down that all the poetic tribe, beginning with
Homer, are imitators of images of excellence and of the other things that they
‘create’, and do not hold on truth?” (Plato, 1937b, 600e). Not knowing what it
is, they are not able to act in accordance with its demands; even when sometimes
they seem to do it, this action reveals to be not consistent whatsoever.
Often, the more Plato denies poetry, the closer he is to its essence, and to the
affirmation of its relevance. It is what is observed when he associates it with a
game, and claims that it leads to the rapture, to go astray: “the imitator
knows nothing worth mentioning of the things he imitates, but that imitation
The Philosophical Writing and the Drama of Knowledge in Plato
is a form of play, not to be taken seriously” (Plato, 1937b, 602b). An observation
which does not lack sharpness. Nevertheless, it is not enough to establish rea-
sons for the abandonment of this activity. Rather, poetry moves in its game on
a route similar to that of philosophy: it resists to utilitarian demands, relying
solely on its free faculty of expression. Contrary to what he had intended, the
Greek philosopher opened a rich route of research whose tailpiece is a consistent
defense of artistic creativity in the most different kinds of authors, among which
we may mention Johann Huizinga and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Art is a game.
Would not be philosophy a game as well?
The critique of the rapture sent by poetry belongs to a section devoted to the
praise of calm, for its accordance to law and identity: “the intelligent and tem-
perate disposition, always remaining approximately the same” (Plato, 1937b,
604e). It is a beautiful and difficult quality to imitate. The poet′s action is
quite different. He pretends to suffer what he is not suffering at all: “For the rep-
resentation imitates a type that is alien to them” (Plato, 1937b, 604e). By resisting
to the calm, it produces a radical difference in the subject towards himself. Con-
tradictory feelings divert him from the reason′s axis.
This entire critique of the mimetic character of poetry achieves his logical
outcome in the poet′s expulsion from the Platonic ideal city (Plato, 1937b,
607a). It is now appropriate, given some philosophical precepts, that men deal
with issues and tonalities capable of fostering temperance and respecting
gods. Now it focus on values that are conducive to the care of the soul′s immor-
tality (Plato, 1937b, 608e). In this time and space is introduced the myth of Er. A
real nice outcome: following the poet′s expulsion, the Greek philosopher weaves
with rare gift a prose characterized exactly by form and poetical imagination.
These Platonic hesitations were well examined by a contemporary scholar
(Rutherford, 1995). They are of two kinds. 1. The assertions present in the Repub-
lic are not made without the necessary reconsideration of their consistency. The
fear of excessive confidence, the hybris regarding knowledge, is accompanied by
a temperate meditation, in a combination of Socratic wisdom and diligence. In
Book VII, in discussions about the good in itself, we read: “Have a care, however,
lest I deceive you unintentionally with a false reckoning of the interest” (Plato,
1937b, 507a). Questions are expressed a little further with regard the image in
words offered by Socrates to Glaucon in Book VII (533a). Rutherford notes:
“We may suppose that Plato is concerned to preserve, even in the vast exposition
of the Republic, the original modesty and admissions of ignorance which were
surely typical of Socrates; yet the preoccupation with the limits and imperfec-
tions of his methods and words seems to go deeper still.” Soon after he con-
cludes: “”It seems that the exposition in the Republic is partial and tentative;
the gap between what Socrates has achieved and what the poets can do is not
Gilmário Guerreiro da Costa
so vast as we at first anticipated.” (Rutherford, 1995, p. 235). 2. On the other
hand, poetry which is not submissive to magic is frequently encountered in phi-
losophy, in which the seduction of literary writing is insinuated through dia-
logues: “Plato is the greatest critic of Homer and tragedy; but he also learns
from them and seeks to rival them. To put it in another way, Plato uses the
arts of literature in the service of philosophy” (Rutherford, 1995, p. 237). Despite
the questionable character of this instrumental function of literary art, the re-
mark has the merit of pointing margins of hesitation present in the Platonic rea-
soning. Even the art of dialectics, with its sophisticated rationality, demands the
creative action of its actors (Dixsaut, 2003, p. 168).
One can forward a concern about these writing′s fluctuations and devia-
tions. The exalted defense of philosophy leaves the impression of an essential
gap: a deficit in the symbolic work with the world due to the abandonment of
poetry. This is a theme of a huge education concern, whose examination should
not be absent in philosophical thinking concerning the essence of an ideal city.
An important part of this Platonic reasoning is moved in an intense poetic weav-
ing text, which demonstrates the complexity of this issue, by means of an effort
to express the pursuit of knowledge in dramatic configuration.
If these hesitations did not turn Plato into a tragic author, they at least offer
nuances to the alleged superiority of the philosophical discourse with respect to
tragedy. One cannot assure knowledge without the mishaps that occur in the
human ways full of dilemmas and instability. If the failure of the pursuit in
search of the Ideal is staged, that would lead to the Ideal′s abandonment – it
only displays the scar of the search. Like his master, the Plato writer frequently
also only knows that he does not know.
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Gilmário Guerreiro da Costa
Comic Dramaturgy in Plato: Observations
from the Ion
One of the evident but difficult-to-characterize aspects of Platonic writing is its
relationship to comic tradition. This relationship is expressed in the use of
comic procedures; a Platonic text is organized based on the appropriation and
transformation of these procedures. The text alludes to production contexts
and practices which, although recorded in writing, become comprehensible, ef-
fective, and best understood in performance.
The difficulty in identifying such procedures in Platonic writing lies initially
in the interpreter’s familiarity with the comic tradition that determines them.
Since comedy is materialized in performative, intersubjective situations, such
as in contact and face-to-face exchanges, a hermeneutic model that takes into
consideration the specificities of its productive context is needed to correlate tex-
tuality to performative acts.
Again, this is not about pointing out comic portions or moments of humor in
the Platonic text¹. To understand comedy in action, an important methodological
step is to not restrict oneself to the effects, namely, to mere laughter.² The
breadth of the production process in comedy demands integration strategies,
or overtaking of isolated instances. The decentralization regarding laughter al-
lows the perception of complexity in the production of comedy because the
acts produced become distinguishable; correlated, diverse acts of composition,
performance, and reception spring from them. The focus on the response and
the reception in laughter postulates reduction of the breadth of the interpretation
to perceive how comedy operates.
In the Ion, a type of integral dramaturgy, which is explained in the correla-
tion between composition, performance, and reception, is found not only in the
organization of the text but is also discussed in the characters’ speeches. Conse-
quently, the dialogue presents an exceptional wealth of data and questions for
the understanding of the appropriation and transformation of the comic tradi-
tion developed by Plato, as well as for the discussion of this comic tradition.
In other words, the Ion is a document that witnesses an experiment of expression
As seen in Jones s/d.
Another strategy is to approximate Platonic works from other genres, such as old comedy, but
without questioning what genre, as a concept, is understood to be, as in Charalabopoulos 2012,
Puchner 2010, and Nightingale 2000.
dealing with comic tradition; for this exact reason, it enters comic tradition as a
modality, or a type of comic production. Moreover, the Ion belongs to the histor-
ies of philosophy and comedy.
Therefore, the philosophical dialogue the Ion and even philosophical dia-
logue in general are better understood as types of writing that use existing per-
formative traditions. The dialogue itself does not exist to record people’s verbal
exchanges. The dialogue’s dialogic quality lies in its interactions with situations
mediated other than through words. Since comedy is manifested in its breadth
by productive context and by its generalized corporeality, the approximation be-
tween comedy and the philosophical dialogic quality enables a better under-
standing of the ways performative traditions are reprocessed.
Consequently, the comedy of the Platonic dialogue is not a theme itself: as
understood in its production context, the comedy substantiates the way the
game of the text is perceived within performative traditions. Comedy indicates
the materiality of the performance in the text or the performative contextualiza-
tion of the dialogue. Thus, it is possible not only to discuss comedy but to exploit
Ion is organized in the asymmetrical interaction between two personative
agents, Ion and Socrates.³ The minimalism of the dialogue, which is restricted
to only two speakers, links the text to the procedures of doubles, or comic
pairs, as present in the most diverse performative traditions. Aristophanes, a
contemporary of Plato, initiates many of his comedies using dialogues between
pairs, showing the formalization and popularity of the procedure.⁴
In the Ion, however, the comic pair is not limited to merely a few scenes: the
action between Ion and Socrates takes place through continuous dialogue. In
this section, the procedure is expanded and redefined within the scope of the
dialogue. The act between Ion and Socrates supports the length of the dialogue.
The comic pair is simultaneously the only source and the conduit of the scenes.
Because comedy is a procedure with high productivity, the comic pair, at the
time it is introduced by the writer, draws together an unfolding set of expecta-
tions: the pair simultaneously updates what is expected of a comic pair in gen-
eral and what it as a specific pair presents in the present moment. Thus, the ban-
ter between the comic pair is conducted in tension between completeness and
incompleteness, as the role and characterization of each of the two participants
depends on the role of the other. In other words, a comic pair only exists in the
offering of figures that depend on one another: each one is incomplete if isolated
For a discussion of terms, see Mota 2006 and Mota 2008.
As in the beginning of The Frogs, The Wasps, The Birds, Peace, and Thesmophoriazusae.
and viable only in the presence of its counterpart. The pair plays a game of need
and attachment. The oppositions are not abstract and not reduced to a list of
ideas: the comic pair uses differences and confrontations to manifest the integra-
tion of its component parts.
In the Ion, Plato uses the recourse of the comic pair to add other nuances.
The common asymmetry between the members of the pair is much more stressed
than in other types of characterizations and is simultaneously hidden: the fa-
mous performer Ion cannot show his abilities during the time that Socrates dom-
inates the dialogue verbally. However, Socrates is concerned with making Ion
show his cognitive deficit instead of his knowledge of his art form. Such asym-
metry destabilizes the expectations surrounding the overall type of the comic
pair; these expectations, even based on the disparity of the attributes of the char-
acters, manifest a solidarity horizon and an attachment between the partici-
More specifically, according to the data by John Bremer, the following statis-
tics apply to the Ion:
1) Number of speeches in the text: 171
2) Number of speeches delivered by Socrates: 86
3) Number of speeches delivered by Ion: 85
4) Number of words in the dialogue: 3,859
5) Number of words spoken by Socrates: 3,155
6) Number of words spoken by Ion: 704
7) Number of syllables in the text: 7,776
8) Number of syllables spoken by Socrates: 6,377
9) Number of syllables spoken by Ion: 1,399
Based on the linguistic materiality of the text, we see, at first, that the balance
between the participations seems to be equal. This is convenient for a comic
pair, giving them having equal opportunities to introduce themselves and to
show their material: Socrates and Ion split almost evenly the total number of
speeches in the text.
By forwarding and detailing these numbers, we begin to quantify this partic-
ipation and to match the traditional performative model of the pairs with its rec-
reation by Plato. In its linguistic materiality, the figure of Socrates in his
speeches manifests an arithmetic disproportion: of the total number of words ut-
tered in the dialogue, Socrates is responsible for 82% of them. Thus, Socrates
speaks more words and longer sentences, constituting a hegemonic dominance
over the text, an orientation center of the dialogue.
These linguistic data point to some conclusions in the way Plato uses the
comic-pair characterization archetype. First, to speak more is to occupy more
Comic Dramaturgy in Plato: Observations from the Ion
time. Again referencing the data by Bremer, assuming a constant speed in the
rhythm of speech, the dialogue of the Ion could be performed in 30 minutes,
of which Socrates would speak for 24 minutes and 36 seconds and Ion would
only speak for 5 minutes and 24 seconds.
Due to the disproportional speaking time assigned to Socrates by Plato, a
disproportional focus of interest falls to Socrates. Time and focus are completed
in performative events. By manipulating the magnitude of the presence of the
interlocutors, the members of the comic pair, Plato offers a risky experiment:
he disrupts the solidarity of the pair and the expectation that the performers
will have equal opportunities to show their abilities. At the end, the dialogue
is organized almost as a monologue, presenting a one-dimensional event.
But who is interested in this Platonic monodialogue? Why redefine the organ-
izational and expectational structures of a comic archetype to the point of disfig-
uring it, putting at risk the possibility of its own existence? What kind of extreme
experiment has Plato enacted by creating a pair that is not truly a pair?
To better answer these questions, we must expand our knowledge of the rep-
ertoire in comic scenarios linked to the comic pair, knowledge that is fundamen-
tal in the production of comedy. In doing so, we follow the implications of deal-
ing with multidimensional events that are not only defined by acts of integration
and interaction but also demand such acts from its interpreters.
In reality, the comic pair is not a pair. The complicity of its participants in-
volves another correlated party, namely, the audience. The game between the two
halves of the pair alternates with the game played by the audience. The face-to-
face interaction takes place between the members of the pair and between the
pair and the immediate audience. This interaction is referred to as triangulation.⁵
The participants that compose the comic pair, as well as those in other genres
and comic traditions, do not attempt to hide that they are in front of a group
that observes them and participates in the performance. The comic agents per-
form their routines in the continuity of this in loco observational context. There-
by, the actions of the comic agents sometimes manifest possibilities of action
and expectations from the audience and other times redirect such expectations.
Triangulation involves an unfolding of the pair, providing a finish, a broad
horizon of the comic procedure. Such an unfolding from that audience is corre-
This term has been further explained in the reference to the clown game with its audience (see
Padilha 2011), although the recourse is present in the formation of several comic forms such as
circus and street theater. In some of today’s contexts, the term appears in opposition to an acting
model that assumes a deliberate lack of immediate contact with the spectator (i.e., the fourth
wall), as seen in Sofredini 1980. For an account of contact with the triangulation experience,
see Soffredini & Pace 201O.
lated to the unfolding of the broader audience: the reception role involves not
only having another audience than merely that of the participants of the
comic pair to one another, with both members of the pair reacting to each other’s
actions. Such a dynamic of reception between agents and audience proclaims
acts of interaction and attachment, making performers and the public occupy
the same time and space.
To return to the Ion, the overly asymmetrical interaction indicates a resur-
gence of triangulation in the orientation of material for consumption by the pub-
lic. If the solidarity between Socrates and Ion is disrupted with Socrates appear-
ing as the orientation center in the dialogue, the figure of Socrates poses an
overload to the receptive function. He becomes responsible for most of the ac-
tions in the dialogues and for the solidarity nexus with the audience. The audi-
ence in this dialogue is defined by the game that would attach them to one of the