Warum Phemios? (Pl. Ion 533b5–c3)

In Plato’s Ion, Socrates refers, among Olympus and Orpheus, to Phemius, “the rhapsode of Ithaca”. The reference seems to be inappropriate. It is meant to support the idea that rhapsodic declamation, though irrational as an interpretative activity, is to some extent an acquired skill, in the same way the other artistic forms are. But Phemius of the Odyssey claims (and Plato was well aware of that) his independence of tradition. “The rhapsode of Ithaca” is drastically in conflict with what Plato himself understands under rhapsodic art. So why did the need to mention him arose? The Phemius’ case concludes a series of examples representing inventores primi, both historic and legendary, of particular arts. It may well be that for rhapsodic declamation no individual inventor was known, and so Plato borrowed one from Homer. Aware of the mismatches and firm in his belief that it was Homer who actually invented the art of poerty (cf. Ar. Poet. 1448b34–7; 60a5–6), he subsequently hints that Phemius is a mere fiction, just as his own Ion is. It follows that the Phemius example serves to highlight the purely hypothetic nature of the aesthetic theory proposed in the Dialogue, and thus to disclaim any possible criticism.

 Michael M. Pozdnev. Warum Phemios (Pl. Ion 533b5–c3)