Greece in the news: Platonic sculpture in Paris!

It’s rare that I see Plato in the newspaper. So when I saw this video on The Globe and Mail website yesterday, I had to click.

I’ll spare you the trouble and the paywall: the video is a little disappointing. The sculpture itself is pretty standard modern style: some people like it, others don’t. It’s nicer than the average street sculpture I’ve seen, and I appreciated the brushed bronze materiel. I’m not sure I thought “Plato” when I saw it; the first image is maybe supposed to illustrate Aristophanes’ story of how love works, but except for the metal, it’s more Cycladic than Athenian.

A very brief interview with the sculptor only sort-of clears things up. He refers to the sculptures’ embodiment of “Plato’s transcendental doctrine: kindness, truth, beauty.” I’m not sure what Plato he read, but I always thought that was Keats. And to symbolize it with a dove, rather than the Athenian owl, seems a bit Christianizing (or maybe just Near Eastern?).

The video ends with an American tourist, who is happy to see so many books and pens. At this point, the idea that these sculptures are ‘Platonic’ becomes more than a little surprising. While of course we cannot ignore the fundamentally written nature of Platonic dialogues, Plato is perhaps better known for his (alleged) mistrust of writing:

Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent. 

Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like. 

Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness. 

Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly. 

Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide about the conclusion. 

Phaedr. About what conclusion? 

Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine, and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite. 

(Phaedrus, from the Jowett translation)

So I do actually like the sculpture. And I like the idea of sculpture that tries to incorporate Platonic thought, although I’m not sure exactly what that would look like (or even if it’s possible: isn’t all sculpture a form?). But I’m not sure I’m convinced that this is it.


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