By Myles F. Burnyeat
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Additional info for Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic
Contrast also Plato’s Ion, which does not call it mimesis when Homer speaks the lines of his characters (537ac, 538b, 538e-39b). 2 0 [Aristotle], Problems XIX 15, 918b 13-29, speaks of dithyramb becoming mimetic at a later stage in its development. The change can be observed already in the fifth century (Bacchylides), yet Plato harks back to the purely narrative, original form. This confirms that he is not just targeting “degenerate” artistic developments of his own day. 268 The Tanner Lectures on Human Values I did not put on a quavering voice to make it seem an old man was speaking.
But democrats who reject such authoritarian solutions may still learn from Plato’s disturbing presentation of the problem. What he is chiefly talking about is the words and music by which the culture is transmitted from one generation to the next. Tragedy and comedy were performed before a crowd of 14,000 people at the Great Dionysia and other civic festivals. W e hear of 20,000 people attending a recital of Homer. Then there are hymns sung at religious ceremonies and songs at feasts or private symposia.
But he did not invent the analogy: “Painting is silent poetry, poetry painting that speaks” is a saying of the poet Simonides that Plutarch loved to cite (Moralia 17f, 58b, 346f, 748a). And no help is needed when we move to opera, which began as Monteverdi’s and others’ attempt to recreate the multimedia experience of ancient Greek tragedy, where speech (for the iambic verse) alternated with flute-accompanied recitative ( . r r a p a ~ a ~ a X o or y ~ )lyric choruses sung and danced. In opera we do not merely hear the characters as we do in the St.