Not Learning How to Read Will Corrupt You

In his “How a Young Man Ought to Listen to Poetry” (Quomodo Adolescens Poetas Audire Debeat; Moralia 14d-37b), Plutarch seems to take on earlier (read: Platonic) injunctions about the dangers posed by imitation.  Here, Plutarch suggests that it is equally perilous not to learn how to read properly:

“A young man should not be in the habit of praising any of these things [e.g. poetry that presents sacrilegious comments about the gods or instances of immortal behavior] nor should he practice offering excuses or be persuasive and persistent in devising certain conspicuous prevarications for improper actions. Instead, let him believe that poetry is the imitation of characters and lives of men who are not perfect nor holy not unimpeachable in all ways—in short of men who are afflicted by suffering, false beliefs and ignorance, but who, thanks to their innate nobility, may often change themselves for the better. This sort of training and perspective for a youth, one which makes him attuned to and excited at things done or said as well as resistant, even intolerant, of base deeds, will not visit harm upon audiences.

But a man who is amazed at everything, one who adapts himself to everything, because of some popular judgment is enchanted by the names of heroes, just like those men who imitate Plato’s bad posture or Aristotle’s lisp. Such a man is predisposed to much that is corrupting without knowing it.”

μηδὲν οὖν ἐπαινεῖν ἐθιζέσθω τοιοῦτον ὁ νέος, μηδὲ προφάσεις λέγων μηδὲ παραγωγάς τινας εὐπρεπεῖς ἐπὶ πράγμασι φαύλοις μηχανώμενος πιθανὸς ἔστω καὶ πανοῦργος, ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνο μᾶλλον οἰέσθω, μίμησιν εἶναι τὴν ποίησιν ἠθῶν καὶ βίων, καὶ ἀνθρώπων οὐ τελείων οὐδὲ καθαρῶν οὐδ’ ἀνεπιλήπτων παντάπασιν, ἀλλὰ μεμιγμένων πάθεσι καὶ δόξαις ψευδέσι καὶ ἀγνοίαις, διὰ δ’ εὐφυΐαν αὑτοὺς πολλάκις μετατιθέντων πρὸς τὸ κρεῖττον. ἡ γὰρ τοιαύτη παρασκευὴ τοῦ νέου καὶ διάνοια, τοῖς μὲν εὖ λεγομένοις καὶ πραττομένοις ἐπαιρομένου καὶ συνενθουσιῶντος, τὰ δὲ φαῦλα μὴ προσιεμένου καὶ δυσχεραίνοντος, ἀβλαβῆ παρέξει τὴν ἀκρόασιν. ὁ δὲ πάντα θαυμάζων καὶ πᾶσιν ἐξοικειούμενος καὶ καταδεδουλωμένος τῇ δόξῃ τὴν κρίσιν ὑπὸ τῶν ἡρωϊκῶν ὀνομάτων, ὥσπερ οἱ τὴν Πλάτωνος ἀπομιμούμενοι κυρτότητα καὶ τὴν ᾿Αριστοτέλους τραυλότητα, λήσεται πρὸς πολλὰ τῶν φαύλων εὐχερὴς γενόμενος.

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