It matters though because the implications of this short piece shed light on one of the most troubling ideas in Plato’s corpus: that the ideal city would exile its poets. Living after the twentieth century, it’s hard to accept the proposal that a leader could make his citizens better people by banning art. It’s also hard to understand the idea given Socrates’s deep admiration for poets, especially Homer. Although he expels the poets from his ideal city, it is also clear that he does so with great regret. So what exactly is the problem with poetry?
Now, to be clear before FLG begins, Rufus explicitly acknowledges what FLG's major problem with his interpretations always have been -- he cannot break out of the specifics of his particular milieu. Rufus is, to put it bluntly, one of those people who is trapped in the cave looking at shadows and when Plato tries to pull him toward the light it is too painful and scary. But what's interesting to FLG is that it's not just that Plato pulls one toward the light, it's scary and painful and you must endure, but that once you've accustomed yourself to the light Plato is trying to bring, you realize that it isn't the light at all. That Plato has, to continue the allegory, only brought you to another cave, which admittedly has more light. And so, as FLG has always maintained, it's never about society really, but about your individual soul.
The reason poets must be banned is that "the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth" as Socrates says in the Republic.
Put simply, poets create the illusion of knowing something about the human condition though emotion. But emotion is inferior to reason, and not a path to the Good. Understood in this light, this passage from Ion makes more sense:
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 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?
Emotion is a guide, but not the path to Truth. The poets aren't in their right mind. They aren't using reason. A good example of this whole concept is a passage from Phaedrus about how lust leads to love when philosophy prevails:
the fountain of that stream, which Zeus when he was in love with Ganymede named Desire, overflows upon the lover, and some enters into his soul, and some when he is filled flows out again; and as a breeze or an echo rebounds from the smooth rocks and returns whence it came, so does the stream of beauty, passing through the eyes which are the windows of the soul, come back to the beautiful one; there arriving and quickening the passages of the wings, watering. them and inclining them to grow, and filling the soul of the beloved also with love. And thus he loves, but he knows not what; he does not understand and cannot explain his own state; he appears to have caught the infection of blindness from another; the lover is his mirror in whom he is beholding himself, but he is not aware of this. When he is with the lover, both cease from their pain, but when he is away then he longs as he is longed for, and has love's image, love for love (Anteros) lodging in his breast, which he calls and believes to be not love but friendship only, and his desire is as the desire of the other, but weaker; he wants to see him, touch him, kiss him, embrace him, and probably not long afterwards his desire is accomplished. When they meet, the wanton steed of the lover has a word to say to the charioteer; he would like to have a little pleasure in return for many pains, but the wanton steed of the beloved says not a word, for he is bursting with passion which he understands not;-he throws his arms round the lover and embraces him as his dearest friend; and, when they are side by side, he is not in it state in which he can refuse the lover anything, if he ask him; although his fellow-steed and the charioteer oppose him with the arguments of shame and reason.
After this their happiness depends upon their self-control; if the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail, then they pass their life here in happiness and harmony-masters of themselves and orderly-enslaving the vicious and emancipating the virtuous elements of the soul; and when the end comes, they are light and winged for flight, having conquered in one of the three heavenly or truly Olympian victories; nor can human discipline or divine inspiration confer any greater blessing on man than this. If, on the other hand, they leave philosophy and lead the lower life of ambition, then probably, after wine or in some other careless hour, the two wanton animals take the two souls when off their guard and bring them together, and they accomplish that desire of their hearts which to the many is bliss; and this having once enjoyed they continue to enjoy, yet rarely because they have not the approval of the whole soul.
The point, therefore, of banishing the poets isn't actually banishing the poets, you fucking moron, but to understand that the passions, upon which poets prey, are only the starting point toward Truth, it will not take you all the way there. Moreover, it is a fucking allegory for doing this within your own soul.
Now, perhaps it was unkind to call Rufus a moron, but FLG cannot stomach people who read Plato at length but don't get it at all.