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    Review: About Plato and about Art

    Author(s): I. M. CrombieSource: The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1979), pp. 76-77Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3062732 .

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    of these stories. Can even a fictitious anecdote help date its subject's life? Despitesuch occasional anachronisms as Gorgias' disparagement of the Gorgias (anec-dote 37), the Platonic biographers' record in this regard appears fairly healthy.Finally, it is hard to avoid remarking that the earliest extant life of Plato,that in the Index Academicorum Herculanensis, survives in a papyrus whichhas not been examined since 1904. Mekler's edition, although a work of excep-tional quality, was produced without the technical aids which are today enablingus to improve the texts of many Herculaneum papyri. Until somebody under-takes a new edition, no truly definitive work on Platonic biography can bewritten.Christ's College, Cambridge D. N. SEDLEY

    ABOUT PLATO AND ABOUT ARTIRISMURDOCH: he Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished theArtists. Pp. 89. Oxford: University Press, 1977. Cloth, ?2-50.The sub-title reminds one that too much light can be dazzling. This essay is asilluminating as it is obscure. It is about the relation between the sensible and theintelligible worlds (the fire and the sun of the Simile of the Cave), and about therole that art can play as a mediator between sensibility and reason. MissMurdoch's purpose is to try to understand what it is about art that Plato con-centrated too much on, so that, for all the importance he attached to beautyand to eros, he came, on the whole, to under-estimate the mediating role of art.Her method is to expound Plato's developing views on ethical and metaphysicalmatters, fitting what he says about art and artifice (for example his views aboutthe limited value, indeed the danger, of philosophical writing) into this account,and breaking off, whenever convenient, to introduce by way of parallel or con-trast the related views of Kant, Freud, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, and (passim, andoften rather gnomically) Murdoch. One gets the impression that the systems ofmetaphysicians and theologians are a kind of mythical representation of aperennial philosophy which transcends them, and in which Good is sovereign,and is also the Real and the Beautiful, and in which the eros which beautyexcites can counter-act the tendency of human 'egoism' (or concern with thetrivial and mundane) to evade the sovereignty of Good. Since this perennialphilosophy can so easily be found in the Phaedrus, the problem becomes acutewhy Plato should have, on the whole, rated art as eikasia. The answer is thatPlato was too vividly aware of the negative half of the truth, stated in theSophist, that God is the only genuine artist. 'The Demiurge is attempting againstinsuperable difficulties to create a harmonious and just world. The (good) humanartist, whom Plato regardsas such a base caricature, is trying to portray thepartially failed world as it is, and in doing so to produce something pleasing andbeautiful' (p. 80). Again (p. 65): 'Art is dangerous chiefly because it apes thespiritual and subtly disguises and trivializes it'; not, I think, that in Plato's viewit necessarily does so, but that for the most part it does so, and that 'the desire tobecome the Demiurge and reorganize chaos in accordance with one's ownexcellent plan' (p. 69) is the strongest motive to art as it is also the strongestmotive to philosophy. The 'harsh but inspiring truth of the distance betweenman and God' can be covered up with 'charming imagery' by the artist as it may

    of these stories. Can even a fictitious anecdote help date its subject's life? Despitesuch occasional anachronisms as Gorgias' disparagement of the Gorgias (anec-dote 37), the Platonic biographers' record in this regard appears fairly healthy.Finally, it is hard to avoid remarking that the earliest extant life of Plato,that in the Index Academicorum Herculanensis, survives in a papyrus whichhas not been examined since 1904. Mekler's edition, although a work of excep-tional quality, was produced without the technical aids which are today enablingus to improve the texts of many Herculaneum papyri. Until somebody under-takes a new edition, no truly definitive work on Platonic biography can bewritten.Christ's College, Cambridge D. N. SEDLEY

    ABOUT PLATO AND ABOUT ARTIRISMURDOCH: he Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished theArtists. Pp. 89. Oxford: University Press, 1977. Cloth, ?2-50.The sub-title reminds one that too much light can be dazzling. This essay is asilluminating as it is obscure. It is about the relation between the sensible and theintelligible worlds (the fire and the sun of the Simile of the Cave), and about therole that art can play as a mediator between sensibility and reason. MissMurdoch's purpose is to try to understand what it is about art that Plato con-centrated too much on, so that, for all the importance he attached to beautyand to eros, he came, on the whole, to under-estimate the mediating role of art.Her method is to expound Plato's developing views on ethical and metaphysicalmatters, fitting what he says about art and artifice (for example his views aboutthe limited value, indeed the danger, of philosophical writing) into this account,and breaking off, whenever convenient, to introduce by way of parallel or con-trast the related views of Kant, Freud, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, and (passim, andoften rather gnomically) Murdoch. One gets the impression that the systems ofmetaphysicians and theologians are a kind of mythical representation of aperennial philosophy which transcends them, and in which Good is sovereign,and is also the Real and the Beautiful, and in which the eros which beautyexcites can counter-act the tendency of human 'egoism' (or concern with thetrivial and mundane) to evade the sovereignty of Good. Since this perennialphilosophy can so easily be found in the Phaedrus, the problem becomes acutewhy Plato should have, on the whole, rated art as eikasia. The answer is thatPlato was too vividly aware of the negative half of the truth, stated in theSophist, that God is the only genuine artist. 'The Demiurge is attempting againstinsuperable difficulties to create a harmonious and just world. The (good) humanartist, whom Plato regardsas such a base caricature, is trying to portray thepartially failed world as it is, and in doing so to produce something pleasing andbeautiful' (p. 80). Again (p. 65): 'Art is dangerous chiefly because it apes thespiritual and subtly disguises and trivializes it'; not, I think, that in Plato's viewit necessarily does so, but that for the most part it does so, and that 'the desire tobecome the Demiurge and reorganize chaos in accordance with one's ownexcellent plan' (p. 69) is the strongest motive to art as it is also the strongestmotive to philosophy. The 'harsh but inspiring truth of the distance betweenman and God' can be covered up with 'charming imagery' by the artist as it may

    766 THECLASSICAL EVIEWHECLASSICAL EVIEW

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    also be concealed by the 'metaphysical ladders' of the philosopher. (We remem-ber that Plato also distrusted the sungrammata which are the philosopher'sartefacts).Perhaps it is clear from what I have said that the essay aims to improve one's

    understanding rather than one's knowledge. There is little exegetical novelty,anyhow on points of detail, in Miss Murdoch's account of Plato's views, whichis on the whole traditionalist. But the picture of the development of the Theoryof Forms is individual and striking. Plato moves from a belief in perfect partic-ulars, through the high status given to psuche in the Sophist, to 'the great un-created Particulars' (p. 55) which play the r