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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Dr Andrea Capra

Capra, Andrea (2017). Seeing through Plato’s Looking Glass. Mythos and Mimesis from Republic to Poetics. Aisthesis 10: 75-86.

Author(s) from Durham


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.