Introduced by Maria Michela Sassi’s short and dense essay on the theory of soul implicit in Plato’s Laws, Panno’s work provides an interesting interpretative key for the last Platonic dialogue and numerous suggestions on the problems of “contamination” between law and literature. The book is further enriched by an extensive bibliography, indices of contents, authors and passages cited.
As is well known, in Plato’s Laws the founders of the colony of Magnesia oppose the entrance of tragic poets into the city, or rather they accept them only on condition of a strict censorship (817d). Aware of the dreadful power of fiction, the lawgivers know that poets must be controlled to preserve the integrity of law and justice. Nevertheless the words that they address to the poets are respectful. They call the poets “divine men”, “best of strangers” and consider themselves their rivals in reproducing the drama of life: “We too are tragic poets, and our tragedy (…) is the best and noblest; for our whole state is an imitation of the best and noblest life, which we affirm to be indeed the truest tragedy. You are poets and we are poets, both makers of the same strains, rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas, which true law can alone perfect” (817 b).
The city of Magnesia is in some way under the spell of law, and because law is a genre of poetry that tries to imitate a perfect pattern of life ( homoiosis theo), it is also the noblest one. Therefore, if “lyric measures and music of every other kind have preludes framed with wonderful care” (722e), laws in a strict sense must be also preceded by the enchanting force of a song. Plato plays here on the double meaning of nomos : melody and law (734e;799e).
On the ideological value of the preludes to the laws and on the destructive side effects of a “double law,” formed by a poetical preface aimed at persuasion (the prelude) and the bare command (the rule), Marie Theres Fögen, in her last book, has written enlightening pages: “Dem Platonischen Lied vor dem Gesetz war — nach einiger Inkubationszeit — ungewöhnlich grosser und anhaltender Erfolg beschieden. (…) Doch als die Fabrikation von Gesetzen so recht in Schwung kam, in der römischen Kaiserzeit und Spätantike, da ertönte das Lied vor dem Gesetz lautstark von allen Seiten, im byzantinischen und im westlichen Mittelalter, in der europäisch-absolutistischen Neuzeit und auch in der neuesten Zeit. Alle Gesetzgeber, Kaiser und Papst, Basileus und Patriarch, sangen mit, besangen das genus humanum, die iura naturae, die communis humanitatis ratio” ( Das Lied vom Gesetz, München 2007, p. 12).
Quite different is the interpretation of Giovanni Panno, who — beginning from the definition of legislation as the “best and noblest tragedy” — discovers another side of the Song where Dionysus plays a fundamental part.
Panno’s work is divided into two parts. The first, starting from the political order-disorder dialectic of Euripides’ Bacchae (ch.1: Le Baccanti e la crisi del politico nella tragedia ateniese) shows how theatrical inheritance shapes the Laws, letting social and psychological contradiction emerge and bringing it to catharsis (ch. 2: Teatro e dionisiaco fra il Simposio e le Leggi). Then, after a digression on the political values of tragic mimesis and on the Platonic rethinking of the mechanisms of mimesis (ch. 3: Critica al teatro e catarsi), it attempts a direct comparison between Magnesia’s legislation (ch. 4: Magnesia e lo spazio della festa) and the category of the Dionysian: the suffering god and his human surrogates, Dionysus as embodiment of polarity or expression of biological life, and the mask of Dionysus as sign of the Other (cf. Henrichs, in Masks of Dionysus, Ithaca and London 1993).
In the second part, the work confronts the theoretical pattern of Magnesia’s legislation and the role that laws play in regard to the Other, both ‘external’ and ‘internal’ to the polis (ch. 5: Nomos e/o esclusione dell’Altro; ch. 6: Il progetto della città: il ruolo del Consiglio Notturno e del legislatore), going on to outline, in the final pages, the political consequences of the homoiosis theo and the idea of a “nuovo ordine naturale”, which emerges from the philosophical background of legislation (ch. 7: Legge di natura e ipernaturalità della legge. Il plesso oralità-scrittura delle Leggi).
Laws are the “truest tragedy” because they respect the divine plot of the noetical order. Inspired by a Dionysus who knows restraint, they allow men “to step out” from their normal behavior to rejoin the divine part of themselves. Aimed at containing the reasons for conflict among nomos and individual nomoi, they heal the conflict within the soul.
In short, according to the author, the Laws perfect the plan of the Alcibiades I, where every man, in absolute transparency, is able to recognize himself in the eyes of the other. The utopian project of Magnesia “sta nel rifiuto di un uomo irrelato — con sé, la città, il divino — in favore di una partecipazione al movimento che mette in relazione; non si accontenta di leggere la scissione, ma cerca di ricomporre l’infranto” (p. 335).
The work has the merit of following its chosen path with decisiveness, reaching conclusions interesting both for the philosopher and the historian. For the former, Panno develops the idea of a new natural order, which assumes biological life as political fact. And for the latter he gives a new context to famous metaphors (man as marionette of God Laws 644e-645c, man as mirror Alc. I 132e-133a), and detects in the dialogue, outside the canonical passages identified by name and symbolism of the god (645d-650b; 665b-672d, etc.), the Dionysian that Magnesia’s lawgivers had excluded from dances and from poetry.
With all of its merits, the book would have gained from a simplification of its structure, which reminds the reader too much of a doctoral dissertation. Moreover, in respect to the author’s argument, a clearer distinction between the philosophical categories of the tragic and the Dionysian and a close comparison of the Laws with Dionysian religious sources might lead to further insights.
Nota introduttiva di Maria Michela Sassi
La tragedia più vera. Sulla neutralizzazione del tragico del teatro ateniese e sulla sua assunzione ad opera del nomos
Capitolo Primo: Le Baccanti e la crisi del politico nella tragedia ateniese.
Capitolo Secondo: Teatro e dionisiaco fra il Simposio e le Leggi
Capitolo Terzo: Critica al teatro e catarsi
Capitolo Quarto: Magnesia e lo spazio della festa
Nomos Basileus : Ordine senza soggetto
Capitolo Quinto: Nomos e/o esclusione dell’Altro?
Capitolo Sesto: Il progetto della città: il ruolo del Consiglio Notturno e del legislatore
Capitolo Settimo: Legge di natura e ipernaturalità della legge. Il plesso oralità-scrittura delle Leggi
Indice degli autori citati
Indice dei luoghi
Indice della materia trattata