Every time that I have read The Republic I have found myself secretly hoping that Plato will change his mind and admit Homer. I am, as readers of this blog probably know, an ardent admirer of Homer. I have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey several times. I began my journey of learning Greek last summer by starting with Homer’s works. That Plato, whom I also admire a great deal, excludes him from his ideal state is more than a bit disturbing to me.
Yet, I do see Plato’s point. His argument could, I think, be used in a modified way to debate many of the texts that are used in America’s public schools. If we admit Aristotle’s point in the Poetics that even tragedy and seeing people and gods do bad has the effect of producing virtue in the viewer, I think we can reorient Plato’s argument to one about good and bad literature rather than good and bad in literature.
My most basic educational principle is that children should be exposed to the best that has ever been thought and said. Homer undoubtedly should be so classed. A good chunk of what children are reading in schools today should not be so classed. At the end of the day, I would rather that a high school student reads about Odysseus’s self-absorption or Achilles’s rage than that he reads the nonsense that is Dreaming Cuban or the anti-Western polemic “Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry,” both of which are recommended in the Common Core State Standards. The former at least has something to teach us about what it means to be a human being, which is, I believe, the ultimate purpose of all literature.
What do you think?