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This article is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

Is Writing Natural? Gabriel Josipovici

A lecture delivered at the ICA, 11 September 1993

1. One way of coming at our subject is via the perennial quarrel between literature and philosophy.

Like all 'perennial' things in the sphere of culture this one has an origin. In the West it begins with Plato's critique of Homer in Republic III and X. Plato accuses Homer of a number of faults: he blasphemes against the gods by depicting them as quarrelsome, lustful and ridiculous; he sows fear into prospective warriors by making Hades such a dreadful place; he encourages our basest attitudes by letting us identify with base characters; he gives us nothing but illusions, as when we see a stick in water and believe it is bent when in fact it is perfectly straight. In short Homer is a thoroughly Bad Thing and he and all poets should be banished from the city.

Essentially, as Eric Havelock has brought out, what Plato wants is to displace Homer as the educator of Greece - not out of personal; ambition but because he feels, in a profound though confused way, that the heroic ethos that emanates from the Iliad in particular is totaly unsuited to democratic Athens. If Athenian youth is brought up on Homer, he feels, the chances of democracy surviving are slim. Drastic measures are needed if men are to be educated into becoming citizens rather than members of an extended family or of what Tacitus, writing later about the ...


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