Shallow Philosophy and Religion as Poetry
Imitation is Thrice removed from the truth.
One of the many excellences in our State is the rejection of imitative poetry. All poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers. The knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them.
I have always had an awe and love of Homer. He is the great teacher of the poets on tragedy. But a man is not to be revered more than the truth. Whenever things have a common name, we assume them to also have a corresponding idea or form.
For example, beds and tables are different. The creator of the table makes the table from the idea, and not the idea from the table. There is another Creator who makes everything= plants, animals, earth, heaven, and the gods also.
The Singularity of Ideas
The painter too is an example of a creator of appearances. He paints a bed, but it is not a real bed. The bedmaker makes a real bed, but not the essence or idea of the bed. He does not create true existence, but only some semblance of existence. Philosophers would then say that he is not speaking the truth because his work is an indistinct expression of truth. Let us assume that there are three beds:
- one existing in nature, which is made by God,
- one is the work of the carpenter,
- one is the work of the painter.
These three beds were made by three artists. God made one bed in nature and not two. If He had made two, then those two would need a third bed to serve as their original idea. That third bed that came before the two other beds would then be the ideal one.
He is the natural author of the original bed and all other creations. The carpenter is also a maker of the bed. But the painter is an imitator. He is thrice removed from the original. Therefore, imitators are thrice removed from the original
The tragic poet is also an imitator. Like all imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth. The painter imitates only the creations of artists.
A thing can be looked at from different angles and appear differently. A painter can paint a carpenter and may deceive children or simple-minded persons when he shows them his picture of a carpenter from afar. They will fancy that they are looking at a real carpenter. A simple-minded person might then say that the painter knows:
- all the arts,
- all things else that anybody knows, and
- every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man.
Ignorant people are thus deceived by some wizard whom they see as all-knowing because they were unable to analyse the nature of knowledge and imitation. People say that the tragedians know all the arts and all things human such as virtue, vice, and divinity. They reason that those tragedians can compose well because they know such subjects. But those people are under a similar illusion. Homer is the head of the tragedians.
If a person were able to make both the original and the image, he would not seriously devote himself to the image-making branch. The real artist would know the real essence of what he was imitating. He would be interested in realities and not in imitations. He would desire to leave many fair works as memorials of himself. Instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be their theme.
We must not ask Homer about medicine.
We will ask him of military tactics, politics, and education. These are the chief subjects of his poems.
We ask him ‘Friend Homer, what State was ever better governed by your help? You say that you suggested pursuits that make men better. This would make you only in the second remove from truth in terms of virtue, and not in the third remove like an image maker or imitator. If so, then what city have you benefited?
Lycurgus created the good order of Sparta. Other leaders also benefitted other cities. Italy and Sicily boast of Charondas. We have Solon.
But what city boasts of you?’
Not even the Homerids think that Homer was a legislator.
He never led nor aided any successful war. He has no invention useful to human life, such as those of Thales the Milesian or Anacharsis the Scythian.
Homer never did any public service. Nor was he a great teacher.
Pythagoras was a teacher so greatly beloved for his wisdom. His followers are celebrated to this day.
Nothing of the kind is recorded of Homer. Creophylus was the companion of Homer and was child of flesh. His name always makes us laugh.
Yes, that is the tradition.
If Homer could not educate and improve mankind and was a mere imitator, then he would not have had many followers.
Protagoras of Abdera, Prodicus of Ceos, and others only have to whisper to their contemporaries: “You will never be able to manage your own house or your own State until you appoint us as your ministers of education.”
This ingenious device of theirs makes people love them.
Thus, all these poets, beginning with Homer, are only imitators.
They copy images of virtue but never reach the truth. The poet is like a painter who will paint a carpenter though he understands nothing of carpentry.
His picture is good enough for those who know no more than he does, and judge only by colours and figures.
Similarly, the poet uses words to lay on the colours of the several arts, understanding only enough to imitate them.
Other people are as ignorant as he is. They judge only from his words and imagine that he speaks very well if he speaks of carpentry, military tactics, etc. in metre, harmony, and rhythm.
Such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have.
The tales of poets appear poor when stripped of the colours which music puts on them and recited in simple prose. They are like faces which were never really beautiful, but only blooming. Now the bloom of youth has left them.
The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of its true existence. He knows appearances only. The painter will paint a saddle to be made by the leatherworker. But the painter does not know how a saddle should be. Even the leatherworkers do not know. Only the horseman who uses them knows the right form of a saddle. Thus, everything has:
- one which uses,
- another which makes,
- another which imitates them.
The excellence or beauty or truth of every structure, animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to the use for which Nature or the artist has intended them.
Their user must have the greatest experience of them. He must indicate to the maker the good or bad qualities which develop while in use. For example, the flute-player will tell the flute-maker which of his flutes are satisfactory. He will tell him how he should make them.
The maker will attend to his instructions. The maker will only learn the correct belief from the knower by listening to him.
But the imitator will not have the true knowledge of his imitations. He will go on imitating without knowing what makes a thing good or bad. He will likely imitate only that which appears good to the ignorant multitude.
Thus, we agree that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates.