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 ?
Ion. Precisely.
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 spectators ?
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 payment arrives.
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 revellers too have a quick perception of that strain only which is appropriated to the God by whom they are possessed, and have plenty of dances and words for that, but take no heed of any other. And you, Ion, when the name of Homer is mentioned have plenty to say, and have nothing to say of others. You ask, “Why is this ?” The answer is that you praise Homer not by art but by divine inspiration.
Ion. That is good, Socrates ; and yet I doubt whether you will ever have eloquence enough to persuade me that I praise Homer only when I am mad and possessed ; and if you could hear me speak of him I am sure you would never think this to be the case.
Soc. I should like very much to hear you, but not until you have answered a question which I have to ask. On what part of Homer do you speak well ? — not surely about every part.
Ion. There is no part, Socrates, about which I do not speak well of that I can assure you.
Soc. Surely not about things in Homer of which you have no knowledge ?
Ion. And what is there in Homer of which I have no knowledge ?
Soc. Why, does not Homer speak in many passages about arts ? For example, about driving ; if I can only remember the lines I will repeat them.
Ion. I remember, and will repeat them.
Soc. Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse — race in honour of Patroclus.
Ion. He says : Bend gently in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice ; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, yet so that the nave of the well — wrought wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity ; and avoid catching the stone.
Soc. Enough. Now, Ion, will the charioteer or the physician be the better judge of the propriety of these lines ?
Ion. The charioteer, clearly.
Soc. And will the reason be that this is his art, or will there be any other reason ?
Ion. No, that will be the reason.
Soc. And every art is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work ; for that which we know by the art of the pilot we do not know by the art of medicine ?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor do we know by the art of the carpenter that which we know by the art of medicine ?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. And this is true of all the arts ; — that which we know with one art we do not know with the other ? But let me ask a prior question : You admit that there are differences of arts ?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. You would argue, as I should, that when one art is of one kind of knowledge and another of another, they are different ?
Ion by Plato