Seeing through Plato’s Looking Glass. Mythos and Mimesis from Republic to Poetics

Andrea Capra


This paper revisits Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on mimesis with a special emphasis on mythos as an integral part of it. I argue that the Republic’s notorious “mirror argument” is in fact ad hominem: first, Plato likely has in mind Agathon’s mirror in Aristophanes’ Thesmoforiazusae, where tragedy is construed as mimesis; second, the tongue-in-cheek claim that mirrors can reproduce invisible Hades, when read in combination with the following eschatological myth, suggests that Plato was not committed to a mirror-like view of art; third, the very omission of mythos shows that the argument is a self-consciously one-sided one, designed to caricature the artists’ own pretensions of mirror-like realism. These points reinforce Stephen Halliwell’s claim that Western aesthetics has been haunted by a «ghostly misapprehension» of Plato’s mirror. Further evidence comes from Aristotle’s “literary” (as opposed to Plato’s “sociological”) discussion: rather than to the “mirror argument”, the beginning of the Poetics points to the Phaedo as the best source of information about Plato’s views on poetry.


Plato; Aristotle; mimesis; mythos; mirror

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