Preface to Plato

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 1963 - Literary Criticism - 328 pages

Plato's frontal attack on poetry has always been a problem for sympathetic students, who have often minimized or avoided it. Beginning with the premise that the attack must be taken seriously, Eric Havelock shows that Plato's hostility is explained by the continued domination of the poetic tradition in contemporary Greek thought.

The reason for the dominance of this tradition was technological. In a nonliterate culture, stored experience necessary to cultural stability had to be preserved as poetry in order to be memorized. Plato attacks poets, particularly Homer, as the sole source of Greek moral and technical instruction--Mr. Havelock shows how the Iliad acted as an oral encyclopedia. Under the label of mimesis, Plato condemns the poetic process of emotional identification and the necessity of presenting content as a series of specific images in a continued narrative.

The second part of the book discusses the Platonic Forms as an aspect of an increasingly rational culture. Literate Greece demanded, instead of poetic discourse, a vocabulary and a sentence structure both abstract and explicit in which experience could be described normatively and analytically: in short a language of ethics and science.


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User Review  - ted_newell - LibraryThing

Simply excellent. Makes sense of the transition involved in thinking by memorized narratives versus writing -- that is, abstraction. I'd say "page turner" but that'd be way too strong. Still, many ... Read full review

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User Review  - Poquette - LibraryThing

Plato's Republic has been the source of great consternation, especially in literary circles, for its attack on the poets. Socrates in fact asserts that they should have no place in the ideal state ... Read full review


Plato on Poetry
Poetry as Preserved Communication
The Homeric Encyclopedia
Epic as Record versus Epic as Narrative
Hesiod on Poetry
The Oral Sources of the Hellenic Intelligence
The Homeric State of Mind
The Psychology of the Poetic Performance
The Content and Quality of the Poetised Statement
Psyche or the Separation of the Knower from the Known
The Recognition of the Known as Object
Poetry as Opinion
The Origin of the Theory of Forms
The Supreme Music is Philosophy

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About the author (1963)

Eric A. Havelock was Sterling Professor of Classics, Emeritus, at Yale University.

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