Plato’s Republic is a book in which Socrates, as a character, explores the nature of poetry. Although Socrates completely supports everyone’s obligation to explore various notions, (leading to his being charged with “corrupting the youth,”) the idea that poetry can be detrimental, as it may influence the minds of the youth is also proposed. This means that certain fictional readings, which would install themselves into the minds of their believers as delusions were likely to result from the reading of certain fantastic poems.
In Cervantes’ Don Quixote, access to unlimited writings, however, corrupted the mind of the novel’s protagonist, who became quite crazy, as his mind became filled with ideas of the business of knights, which occurred as he read books that, according to other characters of the book, should have been banned. Plato’s Socrates was often engaged in the business of encouraging people to challenge accepted notions, and explore other ones. But poetry, when it relates fictional stories, would have had the potential to negatively influence the malleable minds of a younger audience.
“Plato was concerned with the ability of a text to convince in the face of its fictionality,” Frederick de Armas wrote in Cascardi’s novel, The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes. And Plato’s concern was not without merit, when applied to the story of the man from La Mancha, who is driven insane by the fictional stories that he enjoyed. Unfortunately for Don Quixada of La Mancha, fantastic books and stories of chivalry and “knight-errantry” were permitted in Spain, and he got his hands on a great many of these stories.
Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote is the story of a man, who, accompanied by his loyal squire, participate in activities based on the delusions inspired by the books that he read. Don Quixote was at first a normal, honorable man, but after reading a great many books and stories about the chivalrous and challenging adventures of knights, he became of the opinion that he was indeed a knight himself, and that the stories he had read were actually incorporated into the whole world.
He would produce such beliefs, based on the readings that he had scoured, that simple objects and people of the world were actually characters present in the adventures of the greatest knight who ever was, as he often thought of himself. Every belief that he had throughout the body of the book was tied to the stories of the chivalrous activities of knights that he had read.
And these stories prompted him to dress in Medieval military attire (such as chain mail, accompanied by a helmet with a visor, a lance, and a shield), and partake in the activities of the extinct knights that he had read about. The books, which captivated his mind, led Don Quixote de La Mancha to believe notions as preposterous as windmills being giants, and every woman around being damsels in distress. His faithful squire, Sancho Panza was captivated by the stories that his master told him of knight-errantry, and it helped to corrupt, or make him delusional as well.
The books, stories, and poetry on the subject of knight errantry were completely to blame for the downfall of Don Quixote’s mind, which in turn, dragged down that of Sancho Panza’s. But there were character from Quixotes hometown, such as his niece, housekeeper, and a man of the church who recognized that it was the fictional adventure books that caused a once respected man to go insane. His niece and housekeeper had noticed that the books were corrupting him from the start.
“‘Senor Licentiate Pero Perez,’ that was the curate’s name, “some misfortune must certainly have happened to my master; for six days, both he and his horse, together with the target, lance, and armour, have been missing; as I am a sinner, it is just come into my head, and it is certainly as true as that everyone is born to die, those hellish books of knight-errantry, which he used to read with so much pleasure, have turned his brain: for, now I remember to have heard him say to himself more than once, that he longed to be a knight-errant, and stroll about in quest of adventures.
May Satan and Barrabas lay hold of such legends, which have perverted one of the finest minds in all La Mancha,” the housekeeper of the illustrious knight, Don Quixote remarked after her master returned from his very first enterprise in the field of knight-errantry (Cervantes, Part 1, Chapter V). It is very straightforward, from the words of his housekeeper, that Don Quixote’s intense readings about the stories of knights and chivalry were very detrimental to his mind.
Indulging in these stories over, and over, he went mad, and believed himself a universal character of the topics on which he read. Plato may have held that expression of fictional ideas had the ability to be completely detrimental to the youthful minds that absorbed various notions, and that is why (in Don Quixote) the man of the church, the barber, and Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper set to burn (except for a few books, which they themselves prized) all of Don Quixotes library, which was filled with books on the subject of knight-errantry.
In the writings of Plato, poetry had the unfortunate ability to do to young, easily-influenced people what the books of knight-errantry did to Don Quixote. This was the ability to propose delusions that would survive alongside actual beliefs which were based on true phenomena. Poets had the ability to harm the minds of the youth who indulged in their poems, just as did the writers of the chivalrous stories in Don Quixote.
If it had not been for the fictional stories that Don Quixote read over and over, he would likely have not held that he himself was a character of the genre, which, at the time, was represented only in fiction. The various authors’ narrations on the fictional activities of knights were indeed what captivated the mind of Don Quixote, and caused him to go insane. Early in his adventures, his squire, Sancho Panza was bewildered by some of the delusional and fictional properties that Don Quixote extended to various environmental phenomena.
His readings had him believe that a row of windmills were giants that served to hinder his own progress. “ ‘Fly not, ye base and cowardly miscreants, for, he is but a single knight who attacks you,’” Don Quixote yelled at the windmills, which were, due to his mental captivation by the activities of knight-errantry, on which he had read, not windmills, but giants. This was his final warning to the giants before he charged, and rammed his lance into the propeller of a mill, shattering it, and falling to the ground, along with his trusty steed, Rocinante (Cervantes, Part I Chapter VIII).
Plato’s theory, expressed in The Republic, about the detrimental and negatively influential properties of poetry are undermined in Spain at the time of the story of the knight from La Mancha. The people who collected in Don Quixote’s house, following his very first adventure (which left him immobilized, and without a weapon after he attacked a group of merchants who he perceived to be evil) were of the opinion that Plato proposes in The Republic, which is that fictional stories can be dangerous when imposed upon malleable minds, like those of the youth (or those of unstable characters, such as the prime one seen in Cervantes’ work).
Although it is quite likely that the novel was composed because of its entertaining qualities, Cervantes certainly wanted to parallel the story of Don Quixote to the warnings of Plato in his views on poetry. “In this work, Plato argues that poetry inspires undesirable emotions in society and should be censored from adults and especially children for fear of lasting detrimental consequences,” Schatzie Speaks writes in her article, entitled Aristotle vs. Plato on the Dangers of Poetry.
“Plato believes that since children have not yet acquired proper formation of character and knowledge of the world around them, every new experience makes a profound impact upon them. Children have no ability to know what emotions should be tempered and which should be expressed, and certain expressed emotions can have lasting consequences later in life. Plato finds it necessary to limit the types of poetry, works which he deems induce profound emotions in individuals, to protect children and future society.
” Poetry, unfortunately for the knight in Cervantes’ novel, and many of those whom he encountered, was not limited, but embraced by the knight himself, and it had the very effect that Plato warned that it might. “He states that scary stories,” Speaks continues, “such as gods coming to the world in disguise and harming people, must be avoided to eliminate timidity, as such tales will induce profound fear. Furthermore, children must not be told tales detailing the horrors of death for they will then grow up to fear death and lack courage.
” Plato’s critique of poetry is justified in Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote, who found himself fully subjected to the negative aspects of poetry (such as its ability to conjure up thoughts and delusions that may not actually exist). It was because fictional tails of such fantastic adventures of knights were allowed in Spain that Don Quixote was able to get his hands on these books, and fall under their spell. They inspired vast delusions in him, just as Plato said such writings could if they were not censored. Works Cited
De Cervantes, Miguel. Translation by Rutherford, John. Don Quixote de la Mancha. Penguin Books, New York, 2003 De Armas, Frederick A. Cervantes and the Italian Renaissance. In Cascardi, Anthony J. The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes. Cambridge University Press, 2002. Plato. Edition by Cooper, John M. The Republic. In Plato, Complete Works. Hackett Publishing, Indiana, 1997. Speaks, Schatzie. Aristotle vs. Plato on the Dangers of Poetry. Viewed 23, July, 2009. http://hubpages. com/hub/The-Emotions-Surrouding-Poetry–Aristotle-vs-Plato
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