CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Guide to Sections 247 D - 248 E

Socrates: The place beyond heaven--none of our earthly poets has ever sung or ever will sing its praises enough!

The Greek word Plato uses for "the region above the heaven" is hyperouranos--the "hyper-heaven". This is the realm of the Forms, the pure ideas which only the mind can apprehend but which are the archetypes of all phenomena that make up tangible reality.

For Plato, only these Forms are "real": unlike their physical, earthly manifestations, which are transient and subject to corruption, the Forms are eternal. Consequently, only the Forms are absolutely "true, " and true knowledge is knowledge of the Forms. This concept of an ultimate reality and truth residing in domain that can only be accessed by the intellect--a realm of ideas that transcends physical reality--makes Plato's philosophy idealist.

The gods have easy access to this realm of Forms, but other souls, hampered by the downward pull of the bad horse, have to struggle to get close enough to catch even a glimpse of some of the Forms. To some degree, all souls are infused with a desire to enter this realm of true reality, since it is there that their good horses--the best part of the soul--can find nourishment. (This "spark of divinity" that lies in all humans and strives to return to its source will become an important element in the Christian adoption of Platonic idealism by writers such as Augustine.)

Socrates elaborates on the theory of metempsychosis, categorizing the types of human the souls will enter according to how close to the Forms they were able to come; the closer they have approached, the nobler the human being, with the philosopher (not surprisingly) topping the chart, sharing the position with those who appreciate beauty in art, nature, and the body:

  1. a philosopher, or a connoisseur of beauty, music, and eroticism
  2. a lawfully installed ruler or a military leader
  3. a politician or businessman
  4. an athlete or a physician
  5. a prophet or religious devotee
  6. a poet or other kind of creative artist (Socrates specifically refers to mimetic artists engaged in representation)
  7. a craftsman or farmer
  8. a sophist or demagoge
  9. a tyrant

The poet doesn't even make the top five. Plato's association of art with technical work like that of a craftsman or a farmer, as well as his tendency to view the representation nature of art as a form of deception close to the distortions and misrepresentations of sophists and "rabble-rousers" who use rhetoric to manipulate listeners. This subordination of artists to those who play a direct "practical" role in the social order--political and military leaders, doctors, trainers, and religious functionaries--is consistent with the argument against poetry in the Republic.

go to next page