Monday, October 28, 2013

Platonic Myths

Josef Pieper, Platonic Myths. Introduction by James V. Schall; translated by Dan Farrelly. St. Augustine's Press, 2011.

What did Plato think about the myths that he created in his works? Did he believe they contain truth? Why did he ban the poets form the Republic? These and other questions are answered in Pieper's Platonic Myths. Pieper makes a strong argument that the myths in Plato's works actually contain the truth. He also shows how faith and reason are compatible. He does this by showing there "is no inherent incompatibility between the teachings of philosophy and the teachings of eschatological mythology."

Platonic Myths is ably introduced by Father Schall. The title of the introduction is "Myths that are true and truths expressed in myths." Schall thinks that almost everything Pieper writes is a "commentary on Plato." This is interesting since Pieper has also written much on Thomas Aquinas and medieveal philosophy. Schall says this about the banning of the poets from the Republic: "In the city in speech that is being built in the Republic, however, after we have seen why many poets who charm us, including Homer and Hesiod, were abolished, we find Socrates telling us that poets, now purified, could be permitted back in the city we are building, the best city. Not only do we need them; we delight in them. When all is in order, we sing as we should. Plato is not at all opposed to poetry. Indeed, the Republic itself is, at one level, a haunting poem designed to out-charm Homer at his own game" x-xi). This brings light to many readers who wonder why Plato bans the poets from the Republic.

Schall thinks Pieper effectively answers the scholars who argue that Plato "did not find anything true in myths" (xi). Pieper shows us there are two types of myth is Plato: "We do find myths that simply teach a lesson by extended example. But we also find myths, those ancient ones that are handed down from of old that purport to explain the origins of man with his relation to the gods" (xii). In other words, there are myths that are true and there are myths that contain truth in them. This is a good summary of what Pieper is explaining in this book.

Platonic Myths is a small book, containing only 62 pages of text.  The book is divided into six chapters. Chapter one defines myth and how is used in Plato. Chapter two shows how how Platonic myths act as truth. Chapter three analyses the eschatalogical myths. Human origins is discussed in chapter four. Faith and reason is discussed in chapter five. Christian revelation is compared with Platonic myths in the last chapter.

Pieper is always easy to read. He makes difficult concepts understandable and that is equally true in Platonic Myths. This book will help the reader have a better understanding of Plato's view of the truth that exists in myths.

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