Sarah Ruth Jansen deposited Poetry and Skiagraphia in Republic X: A New Analysis of Tragic Mimesis on Humanities Commons 5 years, 2 months ago
In Republic X Socrates accuses poetic “imitators” [μιμητικοί] of corrupting the soul (the psychological charge) and producing appearances that are far removed from truth (the metaphysical charge). The success of the psychological charge against mimetic poetry crucially depends on the success of the metaphysical charge; tragic poetry corrupts the soul by making images that are far removed from truth (that is, appearances of virtue and value). The dominant interpretive strategy cashes out the relationship between these two charges as follows: images corrupt the soul, because images are metaphysically inferior; all images are “far removed from truth” and hence potentially corruptive. Unfortunately, this strategy pits Book III against Book X; mimetic poetry forms the foundation of the guardians’ early education (in Book III), but mimetic poetry is corruptive (in Book X).
In this paper I defend an alternative strategy. I contend that the metaphysical charge should be interpreted narrowly, to encompass false and illusory appearances of virtue and value produced via skiagraphic techniques. I argue that Socrates’ critique of tragedy and Homeric poetry does not rest on dubious metaphysical claims about images per se, but rather on the plausible and interesting claim that tragedians and their leader, Homer, employ skiagraphic techniques – that is, the manipulation of temporal distances and the contrasting of fortune with misfortune and virtue with vice – in order to produce powerful illusions of virtue and value. Even the denier of the Forms must take this claim seriously. I conclude with some thoughts about good mimesis and the importance of poetry to the larger project of the Republic.