saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the
famous paean which; in every one's mouth, one of the finest poems ever
written, simply an invention of the Muses, as he himself says. For in
this way, the God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to
doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man,
but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the
interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not
this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of
the worst of poets he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?
Ion. Yes, indeed, Socrates, I feel that you are; for your words touch
my soul, and I am persuaded that good poets by a divine inspiration
interpret the things of the Gods to us.
Soc. And you rhapsodists are the interpreters of the poets?
Ion. There again you are right.
Soc. Then you are the interpreters of interpreters?
Soc. I wish you would frankly tell me, Ion, what I am going to ask of
you: When you produce the greatest effect upon the audience in the
recitation of some striking passage, such as the apparition of
Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, recognized by the suitors and
casting his arrows at his feet, or the description of Achilles rushing
at Hector, or the sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam,- are you in
your right mind? Are you not carried out of yourself, and does not
your soul in an ecstasy seem to be among the persons or places of
which you are speaking, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or
whatever may be the scene of the poem?
Ion. That proof strikes home to me, Socrates. For I must frankly
confess that at the tale of pity, my eyes are filled with tears, and
when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end and my heart throbs.
Soc. Well, Ion, and what are we to say of a man who at a sacrifice or
festival, when he is dressed in holiday attire and has golden crowns
upon his head, of which nobody has robbed him, appears sweeping or
panic-stricken in the presence of more than twenty thousand friendly
faces, when there is no one despoiling or wronging him;- is he in his
right mind or is he not?
Ion. No indeed, Socrates, I must say that, strictly speaking, he is
not in his right mind.
Soc. And are you aware that you produce similar effects on most
Ion. Only too well; for I look down upon them from the stage, and
behold the various emotions of pity, wonder, sternness, stamped upon
their countenances when I am speaking: and I am obliged to give my
very best attention to them; for if I make them cry I myself shall
laugh, and if I make them laugh I myself shall cry when the time of
Soc. Do you know that the spectator is the last of the rings which, as
I am saying, receive the power of the original magnet from one
another? The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are intermediate
links, and the poet himself is the first of them. Through all these
the God sways the souls of men in any direction which he pleases, and
makes one man hang down from another. Thus there is a vast chain of
dancers and masters and undermasters of choruses, who are suspended,
as if from the stone, at the side of the rings which hang down from
the Muse. And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and
by whom he is said to be possessed, which is nearly the same thing;
for he is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which are the
poets, depend others, some deriving their inspiration from Orpheus,
others from Musaeus; but the greater number are possessed and held by
Homer. Of whom, Ion, you are one, and are possessed by Homer; and when
any one repeats the words of another poet you go to sleep, and know
not what to say; but when any one recites a strain of Homer you wake
up in a moment, and your soul leaps within you, and you have plenty to
say; for not by art or knowledge about Homer do you say what you say,
but by divine inspiration and by possession; just as the Corybantian