Politeia X

Plato describes the position of decorative and literary arts between design and craftsmanship and concludes that the arts should be rejected an important place in a society based on higher morality: they are nothing more than a mere imitation of design and craftsmanship without practical usability. We don’t ‘need’ the arts. The principle of often used items like a bed, a table, is designed by the one Creator who resides in the Hades: God. And craftsmen are the people to realize the design in all its variations in practice. A painter, however, only depicts a flat image of a bed, an imitation. This may work out in a misleading fashion, because a painter doesn’t know how to make a bed and a tragic poet, even a genius like Homerus, describes events he may not fully know the ins and outs of. Making an imitation of something may suggest real professional knowledge of how it works. If an artists did have this knowledge, he would prefer to spend his skills on producing the real thing, because producing something real is far more deserving of praise than producing imitations. Plato believes in absolute, indisputable beauty; artists as mere imitators have no knowledge of beauty because it is connected to truth and not to its imitation. Truth comes first, then practicing truth in reality and only third comes its decorative imitation. Like perspective, which makes things seem bigger as we approach, like magic, art plays tricks on our observation. Arts like poetry and painting appeal to emotions which may prevent us from finding rational solutions to a problem, even an emotional problem. A society governed by proper legislation bans such poets. We must never forget the two conflicting elements of human nature: reason and justice versus passions and instincts. A ban on poetry will be seen as harsh and rude when also poetry meant to praise the gods and good people would be included.

Each object in creation has its own evil that may destroy it in the end: rust destroys iron, sickness the body, yeast destroys wheat. Each individual life can be destroyed by evils like immoderation, injustice, ignorance. However, the principle of life itself is eternal. It cannot be destroyed. Eternity makes life immortal, yet life consists of variety, plurality, imbalance and inner contradiction. Inner love for wisdom, therefor truth, reconnects life, bruised and battered as it is by wear and tear, with its original purity. Justice brings man back to his original immortal nature. Plato describes the reincarnation of each human being in a parable: how the goddess of destiny, Anangke, spinns the circle of lives with a thread of light, then joins it with a pattern of possible destinies; man chooses a pattern that will his own next life. However, before passing Anangke, man must stand trial before judges in the hereafter. These judges sit in a field and send the just through a crack in heaven and the unjust through a crack in the earth; they themselves sit precisely in the middle between two cracks in the field; right above each crack is a crack in heaven. Both just and unjust people then travel some thousand years through either paradise or the subterreanean horrors and meet afterwards back in the field. It is a buzzle of coming and going people. From the field, seven days later, each person then travels further through the land towards a place where a big straight beam of light cuts through heaven and earth. They travel towards the source of this light, hanging on two strings of light, in the middle of which Anangke’s spindle winds the eternal circle of life, represented by this string of light. The spindle’s spine consists of eight axes precisely fitting into each other; each axe is covered by a ring in symbolic colors. The first axe, on the outside, has the biggest ring; the sixth ring is second biggest, the fourth third biggest, the eighth fourth, the seventh fifth, the fifth sixth, the third seventh and the second is eighth biggest in size. The biggest ring is multicolored, the seventh brightest, the eighth is colored by the seventh, the second and fifth ring have a resembling yellower color, the third is whitest colored, the fourth slightly red and the sixth is second whitest colored. The spindle turns into one direction, however, the seven inner axes slowly turn into the opposite direction. Of these seven, the eighth spinns fastest, then the seventh, then the sixth and fifth moving at same speed, the fourth seems to rock to and fro with the second fastest moving ring, while the ring of the third axe has third most speed and the second ring fourth most speed. The spindle itself turns in Anangke’s lap. A Siren sits on each ring producing a tuned sound, together making a tone scale. Anangke is surrounded by three other goddesses of destiny, Lachesis, Klotho and Atropos, singing in harmony with the Sirens respectively to the past, the present and the future and now and then pushing the axes to turn. A herald throws the people their lots and each person pics the lot fallen next to him, then unfolds the life patterns, by far exceeding the number of people. The life patterns are people and animals, male and female, in many variations: ie just, unjust, famous, excellent, tyrannical, humble or unconspicuous. Human qualities are the only qualities not comprised in the life patterns, because the choice of another life necessarily leads to another personality; good and bad conditions like poverty, good health, however, are. Choosing a new life is a vulnerable, irrevocable moment; it shows how necessary it is to gain knowledge in the previous life on the conditions that cause a fruitful or a useless life in order to properly being able to study the conditions attached to the new life pattern. The one who gets to choose first doesn’t necessarily pick the most beneficial pattern, because a rash choice may end up on the life of a tyrant. Those who had just suffered punishment in the underworld, are more likely to choose carefully. Animals or someone else’s previous life can be chosen too. Then unjust people would change into wild animals and just people into tame animals. Now Lachesis gives them each their own god the lot had assigned them as a life guard and completion of their choice; this god brings them to Klotho, who confirms their chosen lot with a spin of the spindle by hand, then to Atropos who will make sure that the spun threads cannot be distinguished any more. Passing Anangke’s throne they enter a difficult journey through a barren land towards the river Lethe. They were to drink a certain amount of its water, but some drank more than allowed. The water made them forget everything and when they had fallen asleep and midnight had arrived, thunder resounded, the earth shook and they were pushed into all directions towards their birth.

If we keep this story in mind, we will climb upwards in each life, make ourselves loved with the gods, always maintaining justice, moderation, being able to bear with good and evil, according to Plato.

Sources:
Works by Plato, The Internet Archive http://classics.mit.edu/Browse/browse-Plato.html
Wikipedia.org
Philebus http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/philebus.html
Plato’s Politeia http://www.arsfloreat.nl

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