Though many have heard of Plato, less have read Plato or are familiar with his ideas. I am particularly interested in Plato’s approach to poetry and the notion of the Sublime. As such, I will briefly lay out how he approaches poetry and for what reasons.
At base, Plato perceives everything in the world as being based on a single form. So even though many imitations of that form are created and built, there remains only one true form of that object. For example, if a craftsman constructs a bed, it is based on the form of a bed; however, no craftsman can create the form itself. The form itself is only created by god. When the craftsman makes a bed, it is at second remove from nature because the craftsman specializes in making that particular form.
The painter and poet, though, Plato describes as being thrice removed from the original form, and hence he is deemed an imitator. As such, truth is not found in poetry and paintings, then; rather, the work of the painter or the poet is simply an allusion.
Moreover, he applies this framework to stories about the gods. In Book III of The Republic, he discusses stories about gods that are told to young, impressionable minds. These stories, he suggests, are often times problematic because they do not accurately depict the gods. For example, he cites Homer’s description of the gods: “Irrepressible laughter spread among the blessed gods / as they saw their Hephaestus bustling about the palace” (The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism 2019, 69). In response, he claims that Homer’s view cannot be accepted because Homer does not represent the truth of the gods.
Put another way, Plato perceives Homer’s poetry to be twice or thrice removed from the truth, probably thrice. As such, he considers it to be a lie, an illusion. Therefore, it is considered to be untruthful by him.
Now, although it is Longinus who eventually highlights the centrality of the Sublime in poetry, this short discussion of Plato demonstrates how the notion of “truthfulness” is central to everything in life. With regard to gods, poetry, which is true and good for society, should accurately depict his preconceived notion about how the gods function. As such, theological content which aligns with Plato’s theological presuppositions are considered to be the most truthful.
The implication of this is that, while Jacqueline Vayntrub (2019) is correct to argue that the centrality of the Sublime in reading Biblical poetry finds roots in Longinus, the root of the centrality of theological content, namely the Sublime, reaches back even further to the very foundations of Western thought. These foundations of the centrality of the Sublime, though expressed in rudimentary form, are evident in Plato (5th century BCE).