incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any
other painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and had
no ideas; but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or
whoever the painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was
attentive and had plenty to say?
Ion. No indeed, I have never known such a person.
Soc. Or did you ever know of any one in sculpture, who was skilful in
expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the
son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual
sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general were produced,
was at a loss and went to sleep and had nothing to say?
Ion. No indeed; no more than the other.
Soc. And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among
flute-players or harp- players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who
was able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or Orpheus, or Phemius
the rhapsode of Ithaca, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion
of Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?
Ion. I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Nevertheless I am conscious
in my own self, and the world agrees with me in thinking that I do
speak better and have more to say about Homer than any other man. But
I do not speak equally well about others- tell me the reason of this.
Soc. I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I
imagine to be the reason of this. The gift which you possess of
speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just
saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, like that
contained in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet, but which is
commonly known as the stone of Heraclea. This stone not only attracts
iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting
other rings; and sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and
rings suspended from one another so as to form quite a long chain: and
all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone.
In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself; and from
these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take
the inspiration. For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose
their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and
possessed. And as the Corybantian revellers when they dance are not in
their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when
they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the
power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic
maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under
the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind.
And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves say;
for they tell us that they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling
them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees,
winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the
poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention
in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the
mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he
is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles.
Many are the noble words in which poets speak concerning the actions
of men; but like yourself when speaking about Homer, they do not speak
of them by any rules of art: they are simply inspired to utter that to
which the Muse impels them, and that only; and when inspired, one of
them will make dithyrambs, another hymns of praise, another choral
strains, another epic or iambic verses- and he who is good at one is
not good any other kind of verse: for not by art does the poet sing,
but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have
known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore
God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as
he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear
them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these
priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is
the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And
Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance of what I am