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ratboy's avatar

Why Plato's ghost?

Asked by ratboy (15157points) March 24th, 2010

In Yeats’ What Then?, why is it the ghost of Plato that taunts?

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6 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

Does it have anything to do with the realm of the ideal? or maybe with the shadows in the cave? Does he have some ideal to live up to, that none of his achievements are quite fulfilling? or is he still divorced from reality? Just guessing here. What are your guesses? (Writing a paper, @ratboy)?

ZAGWRITER's avatar

@Jeruba, you’re awesome. =)

gailcalled's avatar

This is the perfect opportunity to learn a little about Plato’s writings and his world view. What is ephemeral? What has lasting weight? What is illusory?

Read the short poem: Richard Cory by Edward Arlington Robinson. It’s not a very good poem but makes a similar point.

ratboy's avatar

@Jeruba, I am reading Plato’s Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics, which features this poem as an epigraph.

@gailcalled, I like the ending better.

Jeruba's avatar

Ah, I see. I had to look the poem up online and found it here. My guess would be that if the author chose this poem not just as an epigraph but as the source of his title, somewhere in the course of the book the connection will become clear.

ratboy's avatar

I found this in a review of another book: Plato’s Ghost: Spiritualism in the American Renaissance, by Cathy Gutierrez.

“I argue that esoteric teachings of Platonic and Neoplatonic thinking, brought to America through groups like the Freemasons and perpetuated by a new interest in what we would now call world religions, made for a new kind of ethics,” she said. “Knowledge and progress rather than us-versus-them were the hallmarks of progressive religion.”

The book’s title is a reference to Plato’s influence on the movement, but it also evokes one of Spiritualism’s more lurid chapters: spirit photography.

William Mumler accidentally made the first ghost photograph while using a wet-plate process to make a self-portrait. A ghostly figure appeared behind his image. Gutierrez said he showed it to a Spiritualist friend to tease him, but after the photograph was splashed across Spiritualist publications, Mumler recognized an opportunity.

He claimed to become a convert and opened a studio specializing in “spirit sittings,” charging as much as $10 dollars for a 50-cent photograph. He was eventually prosecuted for fraud but it was never clear to some experts who examined his techniques how he did it — despite apparitions of living persons occasionally appearing in his photographs and court testimony showing 10 different ways to fake the images with wet-plate photography.

“Mumler was acquitted on all counts and compared to Galileo, fighting an uphill battle for science in the face of treachery,” Gutierrez said.

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