Plato on the Parthenon

The philosophical ideas of Plato that relate to the Parthenon include whether the structure is an element of the Visible World or the Intelligible World. In my opinion, Plato would view the Parthenon as an object in the Visible World. The Parthenon is a one of a kind monument that is tangible and exists in our real world. The Parthenon is an architectural project and deals with forms of science and mathematics. Plato’s view of science and mathematics are categorized as forms in the Intelligible World, which are intangible.

Through analysis of illusory tactics, the Tripartite Soul, the simile of the line, and the artistic qualities of architecture, Plato’s, as well as my view of the Parthenon will become evident. The Parthenon was built to honor the goddess of wisdom, Athena. When structures are built using straight lines they tend to look slightly distorted due to the science of optics. The architects Iktos and Kallikretes were skilled architects of their time and they used illusory tactics to create an ideal aesthetic for The Parthenon.

The architects compensated for these visual illusions by counteracting them in their design. The end result is a structure that is not composed of straight lines, but when viewed by the human eye, looks perfectly straight. Plato would have mentioned one of his famous dictums, “That which changes least is most real. ” He would have viewed Iktos and Kallikretes designs as less real than other designs that do not use illusory tactics to fool the eye. Changing the nature of contemporary construction standards would lead Plato to deem the design as a “change” in architecture of the times.

Several elements of the Parthenon follow nature-based models. The rectangular shape of The Parthenon was derived from the Golden Ratio of 5:8, which can be seen in some flowers and nautilus seashells. The drums of The Parthenon’s columns also have natural characteristics. Their diameter is similar to the height of man. Plato’s view of compensation making The Parthenon “less real” can be contradicted with the nature based models that were used to construct it. Plato’s view of Justice can be seen in his model of The Tripartite Soul. In this model Plato outlines 3 sectors of his ideal society.

This theoretical society is composed of Guardians, Auxiliaries, and Producers. The Guardians were the upper class citizens who had the authority to pass judgment. Guardians were rational and wise, and could participate and become involved in politics. The Auxiliaries were positioned as courageous citizens who helped preserve the spirit and emotion of a society by “protecting and serving” much like a modern day public works department or police and fire squad. In the lowest tier of Plato’s ideal society were the Producers, whose job it was to create.

The Producers were to use temperance in their lives, for they were classified as appetitive souls who could easily succumb to bodily desires. The Producers were to practice asceticism, which is the eradication of bodily desires. Relating to The Parthenon, the Producers would be the one’s to toil and labor over the construction, whereas the Auxiliaries may work inside such a temple when it was complete. The Guardians might have appeared in The Parthenon regularly to impart knowledge to the 2 lower classes, or to be worshipped and praised there.

In fact it was an “Athenian politician, Perikles, who championed the construction of The Parthenon. ” (*) Being a Guardian, Perikles was probably intent on having a monument in which to promote democracy. I think Plato would not equate the profession of the architect with the artist. Plato’s views on art are considered shadows, images, and reflections in the Visible World on his Divided Line diagram. It can be argued each way that The Parthenon is a work of art, which falls into the Visible World, or that it is a form of science and mathematics that can be sought in the Intelligible World.

In my opinion it is both. Since architecture is a scientific, mathematical, and artistic practice, I believe it is an art form. However, we can debate the use of architectural formulas, like using illusory tactics, measurements, and ideas to discuss The Parthenon as a state in Plato’s Intelligible World. Since the construction of The Parthenon required Dialectic reasoning on the part of Iktos and Kallikretes as well as a firm understanding of science and math, it’s construction required an exorbitant amount of knowledge.

Plato’s view of knowledge was the use of dialectic thought and an understanding of science and mathematics. The concepts used to perceive the construction of this magnificent project were derived from the Intelligible World of forms of science and mathematics. Plato would conclude the combination of these sectors from his Divided Line diagram led to the final outcome of The Parthenon. When The Parthenon was complete it is an object in the Visible World, and it also casts shadows images and reflections.

The Parthenon according to Plato’s view of the world, the structure is a work of art, which cannot be placed into any one sector of the Divided Line. Relating back to Plato’s famous dictum, “That which changes least is most real,” The Parthenon has undergone many changes over time. Is it not real to Plato? I believe he would place The Parthenon on his Divided Line as an object in the Visible World. However, the architectural qualities of The Parthenon make Plato’s Divided Line theory rather ambiguous when trying to equate the structure to any one sector.


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