Plato’s Socratic dialogue ‘Ion’ has Socrates confront a Homeric rhapsode (not to be confused with a Bohemian Rhapsody) about his trade. Socrates’ issue is one of inspiration versus expertise. So, when Ion performs the role of a military general, does he possess the expertise of a general, or does he merely fool the audience into believing that he possesses this expertise? Ion struggles with the distinction (‘Ion’, Early Socratic Dialogues by Plato, Trevor J. Saunders (trans.), Penguin, London, 2005):
SOCRATES: And when you make a judgement about military matters, do you judge in virtue of your skill in generalship, or in virtue of the skill that makes you a good rhapsode?
ION: There’s no difference, so far as I can see.
SOCRATES: No difference? How on earth can you say that? Are you saying that the skill of a rhapsode and the skill of a general are one skill, or two?
ION: One, I think.
SOCRATES: So, anyone who’s a good rhapsode is in fact a good general too?
ION: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: So too, then, anyone who is in fact a good general is also a good rhapsode?
ION: No, that’s not my view.
Some context might be necessary but I’m not going to expound at great length on Plato’s views on the arts (I could. I’d like to. In fact, I never seem to get the opportunity to chat about this). Needless to say, Saunders, in his introduction, sums up this dialogue (notoriously protean for some scholars) thus:
The question it poses is: ‘Do poets know what they are talking about?’ Socrates, clearly, thinks the answer is ‘no’;
As a thriller writer, this dialogue made my skin itch. To be gripped by the madness of the Muses while pounding on the keyboard is euphoric, but it’s dangerous. Reality intrudes upon every setting, every character, every action sequence, and every little detail. A story has to obey the rules of the physical universe, the plot has to be plausible, the characters have to be relatable, and the events have to unfold realistically. This is what an author owes a reader. And this requires research.
Research means libraries and books, highlighters and notepads with illegible writing. But research doesn’t always nail the details, and details are important. If only there were some device in existence, an oracle of sorts; a question is asked and an answer provided. Imagine that. Just type in a question and an answer appears. Well, there is an oracle, and it’s not as cryptic as the one in Delphi. To find out what it is, you’re going to have to follow this link to the Pantera Press blog. I’ll meet you there.