Ion

Plato

Translation: B. Jowett

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Ion.


SOCRATES: Welcome, Ion. Are you from your native city of Ephesus?

ION: No, Socrates; but from Epidaurus, where I attended the festival of
Asclepius.

SOCRATES: And do the Epidaurians have contests of rhapsodes at the
festival?

ION: O yes; and of all sorts of musical performers.

SOCRATES: And were you one of the competitors--and did you succeed?

ION: I obtained the first prize of all, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Well done; and I hope that you will do the same for us at the
Panathenaea.

ION: And I will, please heaven.

SOCRATES: I often envy the profession of a rhapsode, Ion; for you have
always to wear fine clothes, and to look as beautiful as you can is a part
of your art. Then, again, you are obliged to be continually in the company
of many good poets; and especially of Homer, who is the best and most
divine of them; and to understand him, and not merely learn his words by
rote, is a thing greatly to be envied. And no man can be a rhapsode who
does not understand the meaning of the poet. For the rhapsode ought to
interpret the mind of the poet to his hearers, but how can he interpret him
well unless he knows what he means? All this is greatly to be envied.

ION: Very true, Socrates; interpretation has certainly been the most
laborious part of my art; and I believe myself able to speak about Homer
better than any man; and that neither Metrodorus of Lampsacus, nor
Stesimbrotus of Thasos, nor Glaucon, nor any one else who ever was, had as
good ideas about Homer as I have, or as many.

SOCRATES: I am glad to hear you say so, Ion; I see that you will not
refuse to acquaint me with them.

ION: Certainly, Socrates; and you really ought to hear how exquisitely I
render Homer. I think that the Homeridae should give me a golden crown.

SOCRATES: I shall take an opportunity of hearing your embellishments of
him at some other time. But just now I should like to ask you a question:
Does your art extend to Hesiod and Archilochus, or to Homer only?

ION: To Homer only; he is in himself quite enough.

SOCRATES: Are there any things about which Homer and Hesiod agree?

ION: Yes; in my opinion there are a good many.

SOCRATES: And can you interpret better what Homer says, or what Hesiod
says, about these matters in which they agree?

ION: I can interpret them equally well, Socrates, where they agree.

SOCRATES: But what about matters in which they do not agree?--for example,
about divination, of which both Homer and Hesiod have something to say,--

ION: Very true:

SOCRATES: Would you or a good prophet be a better interpreter of what
these two poets say about divination, not only when they agree, but when
they disagree?

ION: A prophet.

SOCRATES: And if you were a prophet, would you not be able to interpret
them when they disagree as well as when they agree?

ION: Clearly.

SOCRATES: But how did you come to have this skill about Homer only, and
not about Hesiod or the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same
themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his great argument? and
does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad,
skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with
mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world below, and the
generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer
sings?

ION: Very true, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And do not the other poets sing of the same?

ION: Yes, Socrates; but not in the same way as Homer.

SOCRATES: What, in a worse way?

ION: Yes, in a far worse.

SOCRATES: And Homer in a better way?

ION: He is incomparably better.

SOCRATES: And yet surely, my dear friend Ion, in a discussion about
arithmetic, where many people are speaking, and one speaks better than the
rest, there is somebody who can judge which of them is the good speaker?

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: And he who judges of the good will be the same as he who judges
of the bad speakers?

ION: The same.

SOCRATES: And he will be the arithmetician?

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: Well, and in discussions about the wholesomeness of food, when
many persons are speaking, and one speaks better than the rest, will he who
recognizes the better speaker be a different person from him who recognizes
the worse, or the same?

ION: Clearly the same.

SOCRATES: And who is he, and what is his name?

ION: The physician.

SOCRATES: And speaking generally, in all discussions in which the subject
is the same and many men are speaking, will not he who knows the good know
the bad speaker also? For if he does not know the bad, neither will he
know the good when the same topic is being discussed.

ION: True.

SOCRATES: Is not the same person skilful in both?

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: And you say that Homer and the other poets, such as Hesiod and
Archilochus, speak of the same things, although not in the same way; but
the one speaks well and the other not so well?

ION: Yes; and I am right in saying so.

SOCRATES: And if you knew the good speaker, you would also know the
inferior speakers to be inferior?

ION: That is true.

SOCRATES: Then, my dear friend, can I be mistaken in saying that Ion is
equally skilled in Homer and in other poets, since he himself acknowledges
that the same person will be a good judge of all those who speak of the
same things; and that almost all poets do speak of the same things?

ION: Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and go to sleep and have
absolutely no ideas of the least value, when any one speaks of any other
poet; but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and am all attention
and have plenty to say?

SOCRATES: The reason, my friend, is obvious. No one can fail to see that
you speak of Homer without any art or knowledge. If you were able to speak
of him by rules of art, you would have been able to speak of all other
poets; for poetry is a whole.

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: And when any one acquires any other art as a whole, the same may
be said of them. Would you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?

ION: Yes, indeed, Socrates; I very much wish that you would: for I love
to hear you wise men talk.

SOCRATES: O that we were wise, Ion, and that you could truly call us so;
but you rhapsodes and actors, and the poets whose verses you sing, are
wise; whereas I am a common man, who only speak the truth. For consider
what a very commonplace and trivial thing is this which I have said--a
thing which any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of
a whole art, the enquiry into good and bad is one and the same. Let us
consider this matter; is not the art of painting a whole?

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: And there are and have been many painters good and bad?

ION: Yes.

SOCRATES: And did you ever know any one who was skilful in pointing out
the excellences and defects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but
incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any other
painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and had no ideas;
but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or whoever the
painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was attentive and had
plenty to say?

ION: No indeed, I have never known such a person.

SOCRATES: Or did you ever know of any one in sculpture, who was skilful in
expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the son
of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual sculptor; but
when the works of sculptors in general were produced, was at a loss and
went to sleep and had nothing to say?

ION: No indeed; no more than the other.

SOCRATES: And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among
flute-players or harp-players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was
able to discourse of Olympus or ,