Even Plato Could Not Ban Poets

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis, 1.7-10:

“But to return to my topic, these men do not know that their teacher Aristotle did not spurn poets, but adduced them as authorities. They also know that he treated of the art of poetry specially in a singular book, in order to provide a complement to his literary philosophy. To that extent, the chief of philosophers (I do not omit Plato as Cicero) did not neglect poetry. But the successors of his studies (though they perhaps are more worthy of that title than that reality), censure poetry in direct proportion to their ignorance. But this is not surprising: they want to be called Aristotelians without any Aristotle. You would injure them if you called them Platonists, although they seem to hold an even more extreme opinion than Plato, in thinking that poets should not be expelled from an imagined state, but should be prohibited from the entire world.

Plato, however, did not expel all the poets from every city, but only the disreputable Attelani and comic poets, who exercised too much license in noting and describing various vices; even then, he expelled them from a city which he had never seen, but rather invented. For, though in portraying an ideal republic, rather than one he had seen, yet neither in his speech in life nor his authority after death (granted, from admiration of his divinity, eloquence, and the length of his life, which ended in the eighty-first year of his age – a number which is said to possess the highest perfection because it possesses multiplied roots of odd numbers – he was honored with temples and shrines), I repeat, neither his speech in life nor his authority after death prevailed to such a degree that even the comic poets were excluded from real cities. Perhaps some people were receptive to all of that in the schools – but it is manifest that the people were not receptive to that in the theaters, which were bustling with daily recitations of plays and new productions of the poets. The admiration for and authority of the poets was so great among the Athenians, and even all of Greece, that they were not only not expelled from the cities, but were received as the chief administrators of government, placed in command of wars, and welcomed into the counsel chambers of kings, so that the business of the greatest empires was conducted in accordance with the plans of the poets themselves.”

Jean-Baptiste Regnault: Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure

Sed uti ad propositum redeam, nesciunt hi magistrum suum Aristotilem non sprevisse sed allegasse poetas. Nesciunt et ipsum, ut sermocinali philosophie traderet complementum, de arte poetica singulari libro specialiter tractavisse. Adeo princeps ille philosophorum (nec Platonem ut Arpinas excipio) poeticam non contempsit. Quam hi successores studiorum suorum, si tamen id esse vel potius dici merentur, non minus nesciunt quam reprehendunt. Sed hoc mirum non est: sine Aristotile quidem volunt Aristotelici nominari. Quibus iniuriam feceris si Platonicos appellaris, quanquam et hoc ultra Platonem sentire videantur ut poete non de ficta solum per ipsum civitate pellendi sint sed a totius orbis ambitu prohibendi. Sed expulit Plato poetas non quoslibet nec ex qualibet civitate sed inhonestos Athelanos et comicos veteres, quorum nimia licentia fuit circa obicienda et describenda flagitia. Et istos ex illa solum urbe depulit cuius statum nullo modo videre potuit sed confinxit. Nam licet rem publicam describens non qualem vidit sed qualem esse debere sibi persuaserat depinxerit civitatem, non tamen tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas (licet admiratione divinitatis et eloquentie ac vite sue periodo, que octogesimo primo anno sue etatis terminata est, qui numerus propter imparium numerorum radices in se, imo per se, multiplicatas perfectionis maxime predicatur, templis et aris cultus fuerit), non, inquam, tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas quod ex veris civitatibus etiam comici truderentur. Receperunt illa forsan aliqui tunc in scolis. Palam autem est quod id populi non receperunt in theatris, que quotidianis recitationibus fabularum et novis poetarum editionibus effervebant. Tantaque fuit apud Athenienses et totam Greciam admiratio et autoritas poetarum ut non solum non pulsi de civitate fuerint sed inter principes administrande rei publice sint recepti, prepositi bellis, et regum asciti consiliis, ut iuxta determinationes ipsorum maximorum regnorum negocia gererentur.

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