Plato, Sophist, 235e-236e

Ξένος μίαν μὲν τὴν εἰκαστικὴν ὁρῶν ἐν αὐτῇ τέχνην. ἔστι δ᾽ αὕτη μάλιστα ὁπόταν κατὰ τὰς τοῦπαραδείγματος συμμετρίας τις ἐν μήκει καὶ πλάτει καὶ βάθει, καὶ πρὸς[235ε] τούτοις ἔτι χρώματα ἀποδιδοὺς τὰ προσήκοντα ἑκάστοις, τὴν τοῦ μιμήματος γένεσιν ἀπεργάζηται Θεαίτητος τί δ᾽; οὐ πάντες οἱ μιμούμενοί τι τοῦτ᾽ ἐπιχειροῦσι δρᾶν; Ξένος οὔκουν ὅσοι γε τῶν μεγάλων πού τι πλάττουσιν ἔργων ἢ γράφουσιν. εἰ γὰρ ἀποδιδοῖεν τὴν τῶν καλῶν ἀληθινὴν συμμετρίαν , οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι σμικρότερα μὲν τοῦ δέοντος[236α] τὰ ἄνω, μείζω δὲ τὰ κάτω φαίνοιτ᾽ ἂν διὰ τὸ τὰ μὲν πόρρωθεν, τὰ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ὑφ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁρᾶσθαι. Θεαίτητος πάνυ μὲν οὖν. Ξένος ἆρ᾽ οὖν οὐ χαίρειν τὸ ἀληθὲς ἐάσαντες οἱ δημιουργοὶ νῦν οὐ τὰς οὔσας συμμετρίας ἀλλὰ τὰς δοξούσας εἶναι καλὰς τοῖς εἰδώλοις ἐναπεργάζονται; Θεαίτητος παντάπασί γε. Ξένος τὸ μὲν ἄρα ἕτερον οὐ δίκαιον, εἰκός γε ὄν, εἰκόνα καλεῖν; Θεαίτητος ναί. [236β] Ξένος καὶ τῆς γε μιμητικῆς τὸ ἐπὶ τούτῳ μέρος κλητέον ὅπερ εἴπομεν ἐν τῷ πρόσθεν, εἰκαστικήν; Θεαίτητος κλητέον. Ξένος τί δέ; τὸ φαινόμενον μὲν διὰ τὴν οὐκ ἐκ καλοῦ θέαν ἐοικέναι τῷ καλῷ , δύναμιν δὲ εἴ τις λάβοι τὰτηλικαῦτα ἱκανῶς ὁρᾶν, μηδ᾽ εἰκὸς ᾧ φησιν ἐοικέναι, τί καλοῦμεν; ἆρ᾽ οὐκ, ἐπείπερ φαίνεται μέν, ἔοικε δὲ οὔ , φάντασμα; Θεαίτητος τί μήν; Ξένος οὐκοῦν πάμπολυ καὶ κατὰ τὴν ζωγραφίαν τοῦτο τὸ [236ξ] μέρος ἐστὶ καὶ κατὰ σύμπασαν μιμητικήν ; Θεαίτητος πῶς δ᾽ οὔ; Ξένος τὴν δὴ φάντασμα ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ εἰκόνα ἀπεργαζομένην τέχνην ἆρ᾽ οὐ φανταστικὴν ὀρθότατ᾽ ἂν προσαγορεύοιμεν; Θεαίτητος πολύ γε. Ξένος τούτω τοίνυν τὼ δύο ἔλεγον εἴδη τῆς εἰδωλοποιικῆς, εἰκαστικὴν καὶ φανταστικήν.

Stranger I see the likeness-making art as one part of imitation. This is met with, as a rule, whenever anyone produces the imitation by following the proportions of the original in length, breadth, and depth, and giving, besides, [235e] the appropriate colors to each part. Theaetetus Yes, but do not all imitators try to do this? Stranger Not those who produce some large work of sculpture or painting. For if they reproduced the true proportions of beautiful forms, the upper parts, you know, would seem smaller[236a] and the lower parts larger than they ought, because we see the former from a distance, the latter from near at hand. Theaetetus Certainly. Stranger So the artists abandon the truth and give their figures not the actual proportions but those which seem to be beautiful, do they not? Theaetetus Certainly. Stranger That, then, which is other, but like, we may fairly call a likeness, may we not? Theaetetus Yes. [236b] Stranger And the part of imitation which is concerned with such things, is to be called, as we called it before, likeness-making? Theaetetus It is to be so called. Stranger Now then, what shall we call that which appears, because it is seen from an unfavorable position, to be like the beautiful, but which would not even be likely to resemble that which it claims to be like, if a person were able to see such large works adequately? Shall we not call it, since it appears, but is not like, an appearance? Theaetetus Certainly. Stranger And this is very common in painting [236c] and in all imitation? Theaetetus Of course. Stranger And to the art which produces appearance, but not likeness, the most correct name we could give would be “fantastic art,” would it not? Theaetetus By all means. Stranger These, then, are the two forms of the image-making art that I meant, the likeness-making and the fantastic. Translation: H.N. Fowler (1921)

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L'étranger : Je vois l'art de copier comme une partie de l'art d'imiter. Or, copier c'est reproduire les proportions du modèle en longueur, largeur et profondeur; c'est, en outre, donner à chaque partie les couleurs appropriées afin d'obtenir une imitation parfaite. Théétète: Oui, mais tout ceux qui imitent ne font-ils pas cela ? Étranger : Non, pas ceux qui peignent ou sculptent en grand. C'est pour cela que s'ils donnaient leurs vraies proportions aux belles choses qu'ils représentent, les parties supérieures nous paraîtraient trop petites, les inférieures trop grandes, car nous voyons les unes de loin et les autres de près. Théétète : Sûrement Étranger : Ainsi les artistes, sans s'occuper de la vérité, donnent des proportions fondées sur l'apparence, afin de réaliser de belles figures. N'est-ce pas ? Théétète : En effet, c'est ainsi qu'ils procèdent. Étranger : Et cela, puisqu'elle ressemble à l'objet, n'est-il pas juste de l'appeler une copie ? Théétète : Oui. Étranger: Et cette partie de l'art d’imiter, ne faut-il pas l'appeler comme nous l'avons déjà dit , l'art de copier ? Théétète : C'est comme cela que nous devons l'appeler. Étranger : Maintenant, comment devons nous nommer ce qui ressemble au beau vu d'une certaine façon mais qui, si l'on était capable de regarder de façon correcte l'œuvre dans son ensemble, ne ressemblerait plus à ce qu'elle est sensée imiter ? Ne devrions-nous pas, puisqu'il est ressemblant mais non analogue, le nommer une apparence ? Théétète : Certainement. Étranger : Et cela constitue un part importante de la peinture et de l'ensemble des arts imitatifs ? Théétète : Bien sûr. Étranger : Donc, l'art qui ne produit pas une ressemblance parfaite, mais une 'représentation des apparences', n'est-il pas justement nommé simulacre ? Théétète : Sans aucun doute. Étranger : Voici donc les deux manières de faire des images : l'art de copier , ce dont je parlais, et l'art de représenter des simulacres. Traduction : A. Reinach 1921 (légèrement modifiée).

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Commentary

  1. “The Sophist” is one of Plato's later works (written ca. 360 BC). The dialogue is a sequel to “The Theaetetus” (among other studies see: Fowler 1921, pp. 261-263; Turnbull 1998, pp. 156-168; Kahn 2007; Rowe 2015, pp. IX-XXXII). The purpose of this dialogue is to emphasize the distinction between the philosopher and the sophist (Rosen 1983; Lassègue 1991; Villela-Petit 1991; Janaway 1995, pp. 169-173; Vernant 2006, pp. 116-119).

  2. This part of the dialogue between Theaetetus and the Stranger focuses on the distinguishing between two kinds of "likenesses":

    a) copying ('eikazô'; 'eikastikê'): refers to the likeness based on geometric and mathematical proportions ('alêthês summetria': 'true proportions').

    b) the "phantasma" ('phantastikê'; Lat. 'simulacrum') refers to a representation based on appearance/sensation of what is seen.

    The same distinction between 'eikastikè' and 'phantastikê' is made in Philebus 39 b-e; Laws 668d-e (Tate 1932; Pollitt 1974, pp. 41-49; Demand 1975, pp. 13-14; Rosen 1983, pp. 170-174; Villela-Petit 1991, pp. 77-81; Lassègue 1991, pp. 255-256; Janaway 1995, p. 170; Halliwell 2002, pp. 62-67; Rouveret 2014, pp. 27-31).

  3. Plato’s remarks are especially relevant compared to the actual works of art from the end of the 5th and mid-4th century BC. This passage concerns the constant research of illusionist effects in painting (i.e. shading or 'skiagraphia'. On 'skiagraphia,' see the comments for texts 194 and 195) and sculpture, abandoning 'true' proportions ('alêthês summetria') given by mathematics and geometry, for a more realistic approach based on optic sensibility ('dokousa summetria') (Tobin 1975; Demand 1975; Villela-Petit 1991, pp. 67-84; Brécoulaki 2007; 2015, pp. 225-232). Plato also emphasizes the existence of very large works of art (especially sculptures) of his time which used optical correction. One can find examples at the Parthenon and also in sculptures such as an Athena sculpted by Phidias in a contest against Alcamene (see: Tzetzes, Chiliades VIII, 353 = Muller-Dufeu 2002, n. 949).

  4. The Sophist shows close connections with Rep. 10 in which "mimèsis" (representation) is discussed (Tate 1932; Demand 1975, pp. 13-14; On Plato and mimesis, see: Pollitt 1974, pp. 38-39; Golden 1975; Keuls 1978, pp. 9-32; Janaway 1995, pp. 106-132; Halliwell 2002, pp. 56-61; Vernant 2006; Woodruff 2015, pp. 331-335).

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Bibliography

Brécoulaki , H. 2007, "Suggestion de la troisième dimension et traitement de la perspective dans la peinture ancienne de Macédoine" in Descamp-Lequime, S. (dir) Peinture et couleur dans le monde grec antique, Actes des journées, Auditorium du Louvre, 10 et 27 ,mars 2003 Musée de Louvre, Paris, pp. 81-93;

Brécoulaki, H. 2015, 'Greek Painting and the Challenge of Mimèsis' in Destrée P. & Murray P. (eds), A companion to ancient aesthetics, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 218-236; Crombie, I.M.1963, An examination of Plato's doctrines, v. II, Plato on Knowledge and reality, London;

Demand, N. 1975, " Platon and the painters" in Phoenix 29 (1), pp. 1-20;

Golden, L. 1975, " Plato's Concept of Mimesis" in British Journal of Aesthetics, 15, pp. 118-131;

Halliwell, S., The Aesthetics of Mimesis, Ancient texts and Modern problems, Princeton and Oxford, 2002;

Janaway, Chr. 1998, Images of excellence. Plato's critique of the Art, Clarendon Press, Oxford ;

Kahn, C. 2007, " Why Is the "Sophist" a Sequel to the "Theaetetus"? in Phronesis 52, pp. 33-57;

Keuls, E. 1978, Plato and Greek painting, Brill, Leiden; Lassègue, M.1991, "L'imitation dans le Sophiste de Platon" in Aubenque, P. (dir.), Études sur le Sophiste, Bibliopolis, Napoli-Paris, pp. 247-265;

Muller-Dufeu, M. 2002, La sculpture grecque. Sources littéraires et épigraphiques, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, Paris;

Plato, Theaetetus, Sophist, Translated by Harold North Fowler 1921, Loeb Classical Library 123, Harvard University Press, Cambridge;

Rosen S. 1983, Plato's Sophist. The drama of original and image, Yale University Press, New Haven/London;

Rouveret, A. 2014, Histoire et imaginaire de la peinture ancienne (Ve siècle av. J.-C. -Ier siècle ap. J.-C), École Française de Rome, Rome;

Tate, J. 1932, " Plato and 'imitation'" in Classical Quaterly 26, pp. 161-169;

Villela-Petit, M.1991, "La question de l'image artistique dans le Sophiste", Aubenque, P. (dir.), Études sur le Sophiste, Bibliopolis, Napoli-Paris, pp. 53-90;

Woodruff, P. 2015, "Mimèsis" in Destrée P. & Murray P. (eds), A companion to ancient aesthetics, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 327-340.

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