The most notable element of Plato's theory of art, or at least the most
memorable, is his censorship of poetry from the ideal state (Republic III:
398; X: 607). However Plato's argument is construed, it is enlightening to
note the domestication to which it is invariably subjected. Since Aristotle's
theory is eminently more amenable to our contemporary appreciation for
art, and, in one form or another, is judged more central to the history of
Western literature, Plato's attack is dispensed with after due characterization
as ironic,1 unmanageably ambiguous,2 valid only in a most limited
context,3 or excusable in the light of the extraordinary circumstances peculiar
to Plato's profession, day, and society (his philosophic loyalties,4 didacticism
as a norm,5 and the decadence of Athenian literature).6 Now we
could dispense with the assertions that his ban was an ironic gesture or
innocuously hypothetical by pointing out that while the Republic Plato
envisioned, in earnest or not, was never realized, the attack on art he
espoused was tangible enough in its repercussions. And as for the argument
that the extraordinary circumstances of Plato's day preclude the validity of
the theory it fostered, it must be remembered that later philosophers were
not indifferent to the role of art in man's moral and intellectual development,
classical Athens was far from the least aesthetically sophisticated of
societies, and literature of that period was neither significantly more subversive
nor more edifying than our own.