This review will deal with the edition of the Ion contained in this volume, with particular reference to its pedagogical value. The commentary on parts of Republic Bks. 2 and 3 is welcome as the only recent one available in English, while that on the first part of Rep. Bk. 10 is more up-to-date than J. Ferguson’s edition (1957), and more authentically scholarly than S. Halliwell’s (1988), which is partially oriented to a translation. But since this material is likely to be read only by more advanced students, I shall not comment on it much for the purposes of the present review. Murray (M.) does not direct her treatment of these central texts of Platonic literary criticism to any specific group. She offers an undefined “reader” a commentary “which takes account of modern scholarship on the subject, and which explores the ambivalence of Plato’s pronouncements on poetry through the analysis of his own skill as a writer” (Preface, p. vii). Now many, if not most, of the earlier volumes in this series (CGLC) have tried to accommodate students. A recent edition of another Platonic dialogue, C.J. Rowe’s Phaedo (1993), was said to offer help to “comparative beginners in the language”, while also being “intended for any student, classical scholar, or philosopher”. My experience of reading the Ion recently with a class of senior undergraduates and M.A. students was that Murray’s edition needed to be supplemented by a more elementary commentary, such as A.M. Miller, Plato’s Ion, Bryn Mawr Commentaries, Bryn Mawr, 1st. ed. 1981, 2nd. rev. ed. 1984. 1 (M. cites its first edition [p. 242], but never refers to it.) CGLC‘s general editors (with one of whom M. herself [see p. viii] read the Ion in her first term as an undergraduate) might have realised that the largest body of potential readers of this dialogue would be comparative beginners. As it is, it is mostly advanced students who will be helped by M.’s abundance of loci paralleli, and her references to secondary literature in English, French, German, and Italian. Beginners get some help from M.’s translations of difficult phrases and sentences, but she rarely cites standard works on grammar and syntax, as do the Bryn Mawr commentaries, or, to cite a CGLC edition, Dover on the Symposium. She is also inconsistent. She manages to explain the attraction of the relative pronoun into the case of its antecedent (a staple of first-year Greek) six times (on Ion 532e1, 533a3-4, 535c2, 535e7-8, 536e4, 538b1); notes an obvious double accusative (535d8-9); and identifies prolepsis (531c6-7, 531e5). Yet she ignores the use of the deliberative subjunctive in indirect questions (532c4, 533a3, 533a5, 533b4, 536b7, 536c1), as well as several other points of language (see below) that will surely challenge even advanced readers. Given the availability of Miller’s commentary, what university instructors really need, and will not find here, is an edition of the Ion along the lines of Ian Walker’s useful presentation of the Euthyphro (Scholars Press: 1984), in the A.P.A. textbook Series. Hereafter I comment in sequence on M.’s treatment of the Ion. My remarks primarily concern areas where I believe that this edition could have been more serviceable to both undergraduates and graduate students.
Pp. 3-12: M.’s preliminary discussions of mimesis and of inspiration 2 are derived from her article “Inspiration and Mimesis in Plato,” 27-46 in A. Barker and M. Warner eds., The Language of the the Cave (Edmonton [not Alberta, pace M., p. 239], 1992). But in neither place does she explain for the benefit of students of the Ion why Plato abandoned inspiration for mimesis in his literary and artistic criticism in the Republic (see art. cit. p. 39). Ion’s performative capacities are of course mimetic (see 535b1-535e6), and, as M. notes (on Ion 535c7-8 and Rep. 393c5-6, and 395d1-3), the strong emotional effects that he produces in his audience exemplify the kind of mimesis that is the object of criticism and censorship in the Republic. But why is poetic inspiration absent from the later work? Could it be that it explains only how poetry that can evoke a strong emotional response is adventitiously composed, and transmitted to an audience? To evaluate such effects Plato needed the concept of mimesis, which, when deployed within the psychosocial theory of the Republic, could identify bad poetry (or in Rep. 10 perhaps identify all poetry as bad; see M. pp. 6 and 229). Inspiration, like magnetism ( Ion 533d3-e2, 535e8-536a7), was, by contrast, a fact of nature, and identified poetry as valuable just because of its communicability, or “magnetizing” effect, regardless of its moral significance. 3
P. 10: Socrates’ long speech on inspiration (533c9-535a2; 535e7-536d3) is the highlight of this dialogue and the main reason for its popularity with beginners. M. challenges us to reflect on its purpose by claiming that it is “ambiguously” constructed. That is, it is eulogistic in linking poetic composition with divine sources; yet at the same time it “undermines the authority traditionally accorded to poets by depriving them of tekhne”. 4 M. concludes that “like Ion himself we are left in a state of aporia, unable to decide how to read S[ocrates]’ apparent eulogy of the poets.” But if the eulogy is insincere (as it must be if “apparent”), then it is not a genuine eulogy at all, and so there should be no aporia. There is also nothing inherently ambiguous about Socrates’ thesis that poetry and rhapsody do not meet the standards of craft-knowledge. M. therefore presumably means that an audience might be ambivalent about the implications of the speech: that is, “we” may know what Socrates means, but can let our empathy with emotionally stirring epic and lyric poetry override his thesis. If indeed it was Plato’s intention to show that in its reception Socrates’ encomium could conflict in this way with his arguments, that is a further reason why in the Republic there is no reference to the theory of poetic inspiration. The very theory would be seductive, as well as its subject matter. M. never asks why Socrates delivered this speech at all, instead of confining himself to elenchic arguments. It is, after all, “unique among Plato’s earlier compositions in its exuberance of poetic imagery”, where “in explaining the poet to us, Plato lets Socrates speak like a poet for the nonce” (G. Vlastos, Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher [Cambridge and Ithaca, 1991], p. 287). (M. notes only word play, at p. 117.) When Alcibiades ( Symp. 215d5-6) later describes Socrates’ own logoi he uses terms reminiscent of the analysis of poetic composition and performance in the Ion when he says that Socrates makes people “amazed” (
M., as we have seen, finds this whole exercise an ambiguous construction, designed to generate ambivalence in the reader. But perhaps Socrates was also parodying the style of Ion’s lectures on Homer, which were probably similarly replete in imagery. Ion is certainly a “eulogist” (
Pp. 30-31: M. compares Shelley’s Defence of Poetry with Plato’s views. But Shelley also translated the Ion with the title Ion, or Of the Iliad; see The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. R. Ingpen and W.E. Peck (New York, 1965), Vol. 7, 233-254 (earlier reprinted in Five Dialogues of Plato bearing on Poetic Inspiration [London, 1910].) M. notes (p. 31) that Shelley stated in a letter of February 1821 that he was reading the Ion; but in a letter of 22 October 1821 ( Complete Works, Vol. 7, p. 311) he also reported that he had translated it.
P. 96: The Ion“probably belongs to [Plato’s] early period”, while the Republic“belongs to his so-called middle period” (132). This means that the Ion offers evidence for Socratic method, yet this is a topic that M. almost entirely neglects. Ion by the end, we are told, seems “to have learnt nothing from Socrates’ cross-questioning” (M. on 541b1-2). But such “cross-questioning” (an inappropriate forensic metaphor, since Ion has not been previously questioned) has involved the Socratic elenkhos, a subject recently of some intense debate. M. uses the word “elenchus” once (on 531a1), but for an analysis of its role in this dialogue, and its relation to the speech on rhapsodic inspiration (533c9-536d3), we have to turn (as M. should have) to G. Vlastos, Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, 267-8 and 287-8. M. does refer twice (on 531e9 and 540a2-5) to the use of a “syllogism”, a term taken from Richard Robinson’s Plato’s Earlier Dialectic (2nd. ed., Oxford, 1953), where, in his introductory survey of the elenchus (Robinson, pp. 20-22), “syllogism” identifies only the general process of reaching a conclusion from preceding premises. But to cite Robinson on Socratic method in general while ignoring Vlastos on the specifics of Socratic epagoge at 540b-d (Socrates, 267-8) is not perhaps the way to take account of “modern scholarship” (M., p. vii). 6
530b6: This is the first of M.’s sixteen references to irony in the dialogue. But nowhere is this term defined, despite a benchmark modern treatment by Vlastos ( Socrates ch. 1; originally at CQ 1987). This is disconcerting, since it prevents us from learning what general purpose Socratic irony serves in the dramatic context of this particular work. Are we, for example, to assume that Ion invariably fails to realise that Socrates is saying the opposite of what he means? M. implies this (“Ion’s vanity remains unassailable” on 542b1-2, at the end of the dialogue), but she might have addressed the question directly in the Introduction. In fact most of M.’s examples of irony fall into the category of irony as extravagant praise, on which see Nightingale, Genres (see n. 4), pp. 114-19.
Later at Meno 99b11-d5 (quoted by M. at Appendix pp. 235-236), Plato notes that inspired (or “divine”, theios) poets have true belief rather than knowledge; cf.
530d10-11: dianoia here and at 530c4 is (as M. rightly notes) used in the sense of “‘meaning’ or ‘thought’, as opposed to form of expression”; Plato also notes this sense in marking the same contrast at Lysis 205a9-b3.
531a5: Socrates asks if there is that “about which (
531d12: Socrates addresses Ion as
531e10-532a2: In commenting on the comprehensiveness required of someone who has mastered a tekhne, M. is right to note Symp. 223d3-6, where Socrates seems to open up the possibility of a comprehensive poetic tekhne embracing tragedy and comedy, in contrast with the position maintained in the Ion and elsewhere. M. also suggests that the argument in the Symposium is “purely hypothetical”. But it has a wider role in that dialogue; see D. Clay, “The Tragic and Comic Poet of the Symposium,” 186-202 in J. Anton and A. Preus (eds.), Essays in Ancient Greek Philosophy, vol. 2 (Albany, 1993).
532b5: Someone able to assess all poetry is identified as a krites hikanos. Cf. Plato, Euthyphro 7d3-4 where
532b8: Ion here requests an aition for his enthusiasm only for Homer, and at 536d1 Socrates claims to have provided it. This highlights the fact that while Socrates’ long speech may be an ambivalent euology (see above), it is also an aetiology that exploits myth (here in the form of the Muses). In this respect it resembles Protagoras’ “Great Speech” at Protagoras 320c8-328d2, where the Sophist offers an aition for Athenian democratic practice in partly mythological form. Such epideictic aetiology (which all the speeches in the Symposium exemplify) is part of a wider body of “aetiological stories”. On these see K.J. Dover’s study of the background to Aristophanes’ speech in the Symposium; see JHS 86 (1966) 41-50, repr. at Dover, The Greeks and their Legacy (= Collected Papers Vol. II) (Oxford, 1988), ch. 11 (pp. 102-114), at 42-44 or 104-107 of the reprint.
532c8-9: M., like MacGregor, takes
532e1: Socrates rejects any claim to wisdom, and expresses an interest in the truth
533a7: Socrates refers to Daedalus, and then later to Epeius (533b1), as well as to legendary musicians, Olympus, Thamyras, Orpheus, and Phemius (533b8-c1). M. says (on 533c1) that there is “more than a little irony in comparing Ion with these great masters of the past.” But does Ion realise this? This is the question that M. consistently ignores in identifying irony; see on 530b6 above.
533c7-9: Ion urges Socrates
533c9: M. rejects C.G. Cobet’s emendation
533e8-9 (with 536c2-3): The references here to
535d4: On 30,000 as “the traditional number of Athenian citizens” cf. a related passage at Herodotus 5.97.2.
536d8-9: At this transition to the final part of the dialogue M. claims that Socrates’ preceding speech on inspiration “concentrates exclusively on performance” (p. 126) (my italics) and ignores Ion’s role as a commentator on Homer. But in that speech Ion is said to speak “about Homer” (534c1 and 536b5-c1). No distinction is, or need be, drawn between Ion as performer and as commentator: he recites Homer just because he is only interested in commenting on this poet, and vice-versa. M. herself acknowledges (on 536d3) “Ion’s combined activity of reciting and commenting on Homer”. Hippias also adopted that combination in his lectures; see Plato, Hipp. Min. 369e2-4.
As for exegesis, M. cites passages from Homer and Cicero to illustrate the inclusion of prophecy with more practical arts to anticipate the examples that will follow. For a more illuminating and near-contemporary parallel see the Hippocratic De Arte ch. 2, where the segregation of the tekhnai is grounded in a crude metaphysic of separate natural kinds (
538c1: M. says that the Homeric quotation is “a conflation of three lines” ( Iliad 11.639-40 and 630). But the conflation involves Iliad 11.640 being cut off at the first syllable of the third foot (at the hemiepes), and the remainder of the line being supplied from 11.630. If this is an error of memory (as it surely is, given the similarity in subject-matter and the standard introduction [P
539e6: Here Ion claims that as a rhapsode he can investigate and assess everything (
540b3: Ion says that he knows what it is “appropriate” (
540c1-3: Socrates asks whether a doctor or a rhapsode will know better the appropriate speech for someone in charge of a sick person, and Ion admits that it is the doctor. Note Plato, Gorg. 456b1-5 where Gorgias offers evidence of the persuasive power of rhetoric in getting patients to take drugs or undergo surgery. Gorgias was more sophisticated than Ion, and could represent his verbal art as comprehensive, or second-order, in nature; see Gorg. 456a7-8, and Sprague, Plato’s Philosopher-King, pp. 24-25.
540d4: Socrates confronts Ion with the question
540d5: Ion claims that a good rhapsode knows what a good general would say because, as M. (like Ion at 541b5) says, this expertise is prominent in Homer. But, as Grote ( Plato and the Other Companions of Socrates, II [London 1888], p. 135) noted, there is contemporary evidence of the office of general at Athens not being considered the province of trained experts. He refers to Socrates’ conversation with Nicomachides at Xenophon, Mem. 3.4, where Socrates seriously argues that the generic qualities of an oikonomos are transferrable to generalship. At 541b8-c2 it is perhaps the absurdity of such a transference from the rhapsodic art that Socrates is ridiculing, rather than the general principle that someone inexpert in generalship but possessing another expertise could become a general.
540d6-7: M. does not comment on the aorist in the apodosis of the present contrary to fact conditional at 540d6-7:
541a1-b5: Socrates’ lesson in logic here (cf. Euth. 11e7-12d4 for a more elaborate version) needs comment. He is essentially trying to get Ion to admit that in a universal attribution expressed in the affirmative (all good rhapsodes are good generals [541a3-4]) “the terms of the affirmative must be convertible, not universally, but in part” (Aristot. An. Pr. 25a7-10, tr. Jenkinson); i.e., that it follows that only some good generals are good rhapsodes. But when at 541a5-7 Ion agrees that it is not the case that all good generals are good rhapsodes, he may, for all we know from this text, think that no good generals could be members of his profession.
541b8: M. notes that the reference to Ion “going around as a rhapsode” (
1. The only other edition in English to which M. refers is J. M. MacGregor, Plato: Ion (Cambridge, 1912; repr. 1956, 1965). The others (all essentially “schools’ editions”) in English that I have seen (and will refer to on occasion) are by G. Smith (London, 1895) and St. George Stock (Oxford, 1909); I have not seen that by J. Thompson and T.R. Mills (London, 1899). In other languages I have seen those by: W.J. Verdenius (2nd. ed., Zwolle, 1959) (in Dutch); R. Nihard (Lihge, 1923; 2nd. ed., 1949); A. Annaratone (Naples, 1930); and U. Albini (Florence, 1954). I have not seen those by: L. Mertz (1st. ed., Paris, 1900); G. Abt and A. Chaumeix (Paris, 1900); C. Diano (Citta di Castello, 1930), and W.J.W. Koster (Amsterdam, 1937).
2. M. (p. 11 with n. 26) notes that the description of inspiration at Plato, Phaedr. 245a1-8 was influential in the Renaissance. Add a modern use by A.E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry (1933) (at A.E. Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. C. Ricks [London etc., 1988], pp. 364-5), in a context in which Housman defended the notion that poetry could be understood without reference to its meaning, a view that interestingly parallels Socrates’ recurring claim that Ion speaks without knowledge or skill.
3. M. might have given more attention to C. Janaway, “Craft and Fineness in Plato’s Ion,”Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 10 (1992) 1-23, since Janaway argues that the theory of inspiration is evaluative: it is “a theory of what makes good poetry good” (p. 23), and “an embryonic theory of one form of artistic production” (p. 19). But this “theory”, I would myself argue, is really an illegitimate inference from evidence of the effect of certain types of poetry on a performer and an audience with whom emotional contact is established. Such evidence does not show that this linkage can be explained only if poet and performer are “possessed from outside” (my italics) by some incomprehensible force (Janaway, p. 19). All that Socrates can legitimately infer is that they fail to meet the criteria of rationality based on the tekhnai; nothing follows as to how that failure occurs. It is tradition alone that generates the theory that it is due to inspiration from the Muses. M. is good on defining that tradition (pp. 6-8), but less effective in analysing the nature of Plato’s adaptation; see my comments on 530d3 below.
4. A.W. Nightingale’s recent study Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the construct of philosophy (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 3, discusses Plato’s critical treatment of “encomiastic discourse” with particular reference to the speeches in the Symposium. If, as M. proposes, Socrates’ speech in the Ion is a eulogy that undermines the object of its praise, then it is an early example of Plato’s analysis of this genre.
5. M. Miller, “‘The Arguments I Seem to Hear’: argument and irony in the Crito,”Phronesis 41  121-137, has recently suggested that Socrates’ speech in another dialogue, the Crito, is also deliberately adapted from a contemporary genre to the needs of an interlocutor of limited intelligence.
6. When central philosophical issues arise in the commentary on the material from the Republic, M. invariably refers to handbooks on Plato or on this dialogue, such as those by I.M. Crombie, J. Annas, N. White, J. Gosling and, rather surprisingly, at p. 185 to a relic from the Victorian era, R. Nettleship’s Greats lectures. Where literary issues arise M. is considerably more au courant with the literature, and the work of non-Anglophone scholars.
7. P. Woodruff, “What Could Go Wrong with Inspiration?: why Plato’s poets fail,” ch. 6 in J. Moravcsik and P. Temko (eds.), Plato on Beauty, Wisdom, and the Arts (Totowa, 1982) addresses the epistemological aspects of inspiration in a programmatic study that ranges over a variety of texts from different dialogues. In juxtaposing the Ion and Meno, here, I am only proposing that at this pre- Republic and Phaedrus stage Plato thought that poets could hold true beliefs but that they were constitutionally unable to convert them into knowledge. I see no evidence to show that he yet thought (as Woodruff, p. 142-143 seems to argue) that they could not hold beliefs at all.