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Arguments Of Plato In The Republic And Aristotle In Poetics

1195 words - 5 pages

What does imitation (mimesis) involve for Plato and Aristotle? Explain its different features.

Mimesis, the ‘imitative representation of the real world in art and literature’ , is a form that was particularly evident within the governance of art in Ancient Greece. Although its exact interpretation does vary, it is most commonly used to describe artistic creation as a whole. The value and need for mimesis has been argued by a number of scholars including Sigmund Freud, Philip Sydney and Adam Smith, but this essay will focus on the arguments outlined by Plato in The Republic and Aristotle in Poetics, attempting to demonstrate the different features of imitation (mimesis) and what it involves for them both. In Plato’s The Republic, he discusses what imitation (mimesis) signifies to him and why he believed it was not worthy of the credit or appreciation it was so often given. In Aristotle’s Poetics on the other hand, he highlights the importance of imitation not just in art, but also in everyday life and why imitation within tragedy is necessary for human development.

For Plato, there are three key objections to imitation (mimesis) which are demonstrated in books II and III, and then again in book X of The Republic. Plato believes that all art is imitative of life and in book II, he begins to explain what he considers to be the ideal way for a human to live, which involves living a life of reason and righteousness with guardians to protect us. These guardians are required to be good, honest and fair and therefore all children should be educated and trained with these qualities, to prepare them as our future guardians. Plato’s first objection to imitation (mimesis) is from the point of view of Theology and Education. He suggests that artists like Homer and Hesiod are guilty of telling stories that represent the Gods and Heroes in inappropriate ways, which encourages evil habits in children. He says of poets that ‘they must not try to persuade our young men that the Gods are the source of evil, and that Heroes are no better than ordinary mortals; that, as we have said, is a wicked lie, for we have proved that no evil can originate with the gods’ Plato sees the gods as good, perfect beings who will do nothing unwillingly, and so, when Homer tells a story portraying Zeus as a liar, Plato rejects it on the basis that the Gods are good and can harbour no such internal falsehood. Additionally, Plato advises that stories and representations of violence and terror should not be told to children, even though the intentions behind such stories are often allegorical. He states that ‘Children cannot distinguish between what is allegory and what isn’t… the first stories they hear shall aim at encouraging the highest excellence in character.’ Thus, Plato’s attack on imitation (mimesis) from a Theological and Educational point of view is based on his desire to ensure that the future guardians do not become imitative as adults, copying the behaviour of...

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