chapter  3
20 Pages

Word and Image in Classical Greek Philosophy

From the first, Greek philosophers were engaged in the agnostic use of language, with frequent and self-flattering reflections on the success of their own manoeuvres, but scarcely a pause to demonstrate the inferiority of other media. The folly of speaking to images is more often derided than the making of them,1 and there is no abiding war between the sculpted idol and the written text. The text itself may be an object of idolatry or of iconoclasm; the writings of Plato inculcate the second, but at length inspired the first, though not in his own time or in the Hellenistic schools that descended from him. His strictures on pictorial and dramatic imitation sit uneasily with his adoption of the dialogue, the most mimetic of literary forms; as we shall see, both Aristotle’s defence of tragic mimicry and the Stoic cultivation of allegory as a tool of exegesis find some warrant in his own practice, and especially in those passages where an ‘iconic’ or mythical idiom supersedes the ‘elenctic’ method which is personified in his own Socrates as a cure for weakness of memory and the witchcraft of the tongue.