Hold it right there. Tell me this, Ion—respond to what I ask without concealment. When you say well the epic verses and induce a feeling of bedazzlement [ekplēxis] for the spectators [theōmenoi] —as you sing of Odysseus leaping onto the threshold and revealing himself to the suitors and pouring out the arrows at his feet, or of Achilles rushing at Hector, or something connected to the pitiful things about Andromache or Hecuba or Priam—are you then in your right mind, or outside yourself? Does your mind [psūkhē], possessed by the god [enthousiazein], suppose that you are in the midst of the actions you describe in Ithaca or Troy, or wherever the epic verses have it?
Plato Ion 535b-c, translated by Gregory Nagy (H24H 0§45)
This month we will be reading Plato’s dialogue Ion.
Gregory Nagy says:
A crucial aspect of Homeric transmission (and we will see more about this later on, in Hour 7e) was the tradition of performing the Iliad and the Odyssey at a seasonally recurring festival in Athens. The festival was the Great Panathenaia, celebrated every four years in mid August, and the performers of Homeric poetry at this festival were professional reciters known as rhapsōidoi or ‘rhapsodes’. An important source of information about the Classical phase of this Homeric tradition is Plato’s Ion, a dialogue named after a virtuoso rhapsode who was active in the late fifth century BCE and who specialized in performing the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey. In Plato’s Ion (535d), we see a vivid description of the rhapsode Ion in the act of performing Homeric poetry before an audience of more than 20,000 at the Great Panathenaia. What I find especially remarkable about this description is the highlighting of moments when the audience, supposedly all 20,000 of them, reacts to climactic moments in the narration of the Iliad and Odyssey.
Gregory Nagy The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours 0§45
Discussion will start here in the forum, and we will meet by Google+ Hangout on Tuesday October 30, at 6 a.m. EDT and 11 a.m. EDT. Links will be posted in the forum on the day.
As usual, you can read any translation you like. Here are links to free translations online:
- Translation by W.R.M. Lamb, 1925, on Perseus
- Translation by W.R.M. Lamb, 1925, available to read online or download, various file formats, on archive.org
- Translation, analysis and introduction by B.Jowett, 1892, available to read online or download, various file formats, on archive.org
- Librivox audio recording, read by Simon-Peter Zak, translation by Benjamin Jowett, on archive.org