Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 Next page
speaking the truth.
No wonder, then, that his work too is an indistinct expression of
Suppose now that by the light of the examples just offered we
enquire who this imitator is?
If you please.
Well then, here are three beds: one existing in nature, which is
made by God, as I think that we may say --for no one else can be the
There is another which is the work of the carpenter?
And the work of the painter is a third?
Beds, then, are of three kinds, and there are three artists who
superintend them: God, the maker of the bed, and the painter?
Yes, there are three of them.
God, whether from choice or from necessity, made one bed in nature
and one only; two or more such ideal beds neither ever have been nor
ever will be made by God.
Why is that?
Because even if He had made but two, a third would still appear
behind them which both of them would have for their idea, and that
would be the ideal bed and the two others.
Very true, he said.
God knew this, and He desired to be the real maker of a real bed,
not a particular maker of a particular bed, and therefore He created a
bed which is essentially and by nature one only.
So we believe.
Shall we, then, speak of Him as the natural author or maker of the
Yes, he replied; inasmuch as by the natural process of creation He
is the author of this and of all other things.
And what shall we say of the carpenter --is not he also the maker of
But would you call the painter a creator and maker?
Yet if he is not the maker, what is he in relation to the bed?
I think, he said, that we may fairly designate him as the imitator
of that which the others make.
Good, I said; then you call him who is third in the descent from
nature an imitator?
Certainly, he said.
And the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other
imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth?
That appears to be so.
Then about the imitator we are agreed. And what about the painter?
--I would like to know whether he may be thought to imitate that which
originally exists in nature, or only the creations of artists?
As they are or as they appear? You have still to determine this.
What do you mean?
I mean, that you may look at a bed from different points of view,
obliquely or directly or from any other point of view, and the bed
will appear different, but there is no difference in reality. And
the same of all things.
Yes, he said, the difference is only apparent.
Now let me ask you another question: Which is the art of painting
designed to be --an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear
--of appearance or of reality?
Then the imitator, I said, is a long way off the truth, and can do
all things because he lightly touches on a small part of them, and
that part an image. For example: A painter will paint a cobbler,
carpenter, or any other artist, though he knows nothing of their arts;
and, if he is a good artist, he may deceive children or simple
persons, when he shows them his picture of a carpenter from a
distance, and they will fancy that they are looking at a real
And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man knows all
the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single
thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man --whoever
tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a simple
creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor
whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was
unable to analyse the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation.
And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians, and
Homer, who is at their head, know all the arts and all things human,
virtue as well as vice, and divine things too, for that the good
poet cannot compose well unless he knows his subject, and that he
who has not this knowledge can never be a poet, we ought to consider
whether here also there may not be a similar illusion. Perhaps they
may have come across imitators and been deceived by them; they may not
have remembered when they saw their works that these were but
imitations thrice removed from the truth, and could easily be made
without any knowledge of the truth, because they are appearances
only and not realities? Or, after all, they may be in the right, and
poets do really know the things about which they seem to the many to
speak so well?
The question, he said, should by all means be considered.
Now do you suppose that if a person were able to make the original
as well as the image, he would seriously devote himself to the
image-making branch? Would he allow imitation to be the ruling
principle of his life, as if he had nothing higher in him?
I should say not.
The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be interested
in realities and not in imitations; and would desire to leave as
memorials of himself works many and fair; and, instead of being the
author of encomiums, he would prefer to be the theme of them.
Yes, he said, that would be to him a source of much greater honour
Then, I said, we must put a question to Homer; not about medicine,
or any of the arts to which his poems only incidentally refer: we
are not going to ask him, or any other poet, whether he has cured
patients like Asclepius, or left behind him a school of medicine
such as the Asclepiads were, or whether he only talks about medicine
and other arts at second hand; but we have a right to know
respecting military tactics, politics, education, which are the
chiefest and noblest subjects of his poems, and we may fairly ask
him about them. 'Friend Homer,' then we say to him, 'if you are only
in the second remove from truth in what you say of virtue, and not
in the third --not an image maker or imitator --and if you are able to
discern what pursuits make men better or worse in private or public
life, tell us what State was ever better governed by your help? The
good order of Lacedaemon is due to Lycurgus, and many other cities
great and small have been similarly benefited by others; but who
says that you have been a good legislator to them and have done them
any good? Italy and Sicily boast of Charondas, and there is Solon
who is renowned among us; but what city has anything to say about
you?' Is there any city which he might name?
I think not, said Glaucon; not even the Homerids themselves
pretend that he was a legislator.
Well, but is there any war on record which was carried on
successfully by him, or aided by his counsels, when he was alive?
There is not.
Or is there any invention of his, applicable to the arts or to human
life, such as Thales the Milesian or Anacharsis the Scythian, and
other ingenious men have conceived, which is attributed to him?
There is absolutely nothing of the kind.
But, if Homer never did any public service, was he privately a guide
or teacher of any? Had he in his lifetime friends who loved to
associate with him, and who handed down to posterity an Homeric way of
life, such as was established by Pythagoras who was so greatly beloved
for his wisdom, and whose followers are to this day quite celebrated
for the order which was named after him?
Nothing of the kind is recorded of him. For surely, Socrates,
Creophylus, the companion of Homer, that child of flesh, whose name
always makes us laugh, might be more justly ridiculed for his
stupidity, if, as is said, Homer was greatly neglected by him and
others in his own day when he was alive?
Yes, I replied, that is the tradition. But can you imagine, Glaucon,
that if Homer had really been able to educate and improve mankind --if
he had possessed knowledge and not been a mere imitator --can you
imagine, I say, that he would not have had many followers, and been
honoured and loved by them? Protagoras of Abdera, and Prodicus of
Ceos, and a host of others, have only to whisper to their
contemporaries: 'You will never be able to manage either your own
house or your own State until you appoint us to be your ministers of
education' --and this ingenious device of theirs has such an effect in
making them love them that their companions all but carry them about
on their shoulders. And is it conceivable that the contemporaries of
Homer, or again of Hesiod, would have allowed either of them to go
about as rhapsodists, if they had really been able to make mankind
virtuous? Would they not have been as unwilling to part with them as
with gold, and have compelled them to stay at home with them? Or, if
the master would not stay, then the disciples would have followed
him about everywhere, until they had got education enough?
Yes, Socrates, that, I think, is quite true.
Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals,
beginning with Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of virtue
and the like, but the truth they never reach? The poet is like a
painter who, as we have already observed, will make a likeness of a
cobbler though he understands nothing of cobbling; and his picture
is good enough for those who know no more than he does, and judge only
by colours and figures.
In like manner the poet with his words and phrases may be said to
lay on the colours of the several arts, himself understanding their
nature only enough to imitate them; and other people, who are as
ignorant as he is, and judge only from his words, imagine that if he
speaks of cobbling, or of military tactics, or of anything else, in
metre and harmony and rhythm, he speaks very well --such is the
sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have. And I think
that you must have observed again and again what a poor appearance the
tales of poets make when stripped of the colours which music puts upon
them, and recited in simple prose.
Yes, he said.
They are like faces which were never really beautiful, but only
blooming; and now the bloom of youth has passed away from them?
Here is another point: The imitator or maker of the image knows
nothing of true existence; he knows appearances only. Am I not right?
Then let us have a clear understanding, and not be satisfied with
half an explanation.
Of the painter we say that he will paint reins, and he will paint
And the worker in leather and brass will make them?
But does the painter know the right form of the bit and reins?
Nay, hardly even the workers in brass and leather who make them;
only the horseman who knows how to use them --he knows their right