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On (mis)interpreting Plato's Ion

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Plato's Ion, despite its frail frame and traditionally modest status in the corpus, has given rise to large exegetical claims. Thus some historians of aesthetics, reading it alongside page 205 of the Symposium, have sought to identify in it the seeds of the post-Kantian notion of 'art' as non-technical making, and to trace to it the Romantic conception of the poet as a creative genius. Others have argued that, in the Ion, Plato has Socrates assume the existence of a technē of poetry. In this article, these claims are challenged on exegetical and philosophical grounds. To this effect, Plato's use of poiētēs and poiēsis in the Symposium is analysed, the defining criteria of technē in the Ion and other dialogues are identified and discussed, and the 'Romantic' interpretation of the dialogue is traced to Shelley's tendentious translation of it. These critical developments lead to what is presented as a more faithful reading of the dialogue. In the Ion, it is claimed, Plato seeks to subvert the traditional status of poetry by having Socrates argue that poetry is both non-rational and non-cognitive in nature. In the third part of the article, suggestions are offered as to the contribution made by the Ion to the evolution of Plato's reflections on poetic composition, and particularly as to the reasons which later induced Plato to substitute the concept of mimesis for that of inspiration in his account of poetry.

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