Plato and the Mysteries of the Muse: Menexenus, Ion

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Florence in a musey way.

By: Jay Dyer

Picking up in the Platonic corpus, I cover the next two dialogues, Menexenus and Ion, the more interesting of which is the second.  This talk is for subscribers only, but detailed within are the ancient origins of the notion of alternate personae that “possess” the actor or poet in the process of the dromenon.  In my Hollywood Babylon piece, I cited scholar Dudley Young:

“The earliest gods were invoked by ritual act (dromenon = the thing done) such as a sacrificial dance, commemorating the fact that our life begins and ends when they call upon us.  Subsequently the thing was said (legomenon) as well as done, and the dromenon was on its way to becoming the drama.  Once speech within the temple precincts has been endowed with the power of word-magic, we have “the invocation” properly so called.” (Dudley Young, Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War, pg. 413)

Of crucial import is the commentary of comparative religious scholar Sir James Frazer in his famed Golden Bough, as well:

“Here then at the great sanctuary of the goddess in Zela it appears that her myth was regularly translated into action; the story of her love and the death of her divine lover was performed year by year as a sort of mystery-play by men and women who lived for a season and sometimes died in the character of the visionary beings whom they personated. The intention of these sacred dramas, we may be sure, was neither to amuse nor to instruct an idle audience, and as little were they designed to gratify the actors, to whose baser passions they gave the reins for a time. They were solemn rites which mimicked the doings of divine beings, because man fancied that by such mimicry he was able to arrogate to himself the divine functions and to exercise them for the good of his fellows. The operations of nature, to his thinking, were carried on by mythical personages very like himself; and if he could only assimilate himself to them completely he would be able to wield all their powers.

This is probably the original motive of most religious dramas or mysteries among rude peoples. The dramas are played, the mysteries are performed, not to teach the spectators the doctrines of their creed, still less to entertain them, but for the purpose of bringing about those natural effects which they represent in mythical disguise ; in a word, they are magical ceremonies and their mode of operation is mimicry or sympathy. We shall probably not err in assuming that many myths, which we now know only as myths, had once their counterpart in magic; in other words, that they used to be acted as a means of producing in fact the events which they describe in figurative language. Ceremonies often die out while myths survive, and thus we are left to infer the dead ceremony from the living myth. If myths are, in a sense, the reflections or shadows of men cast upon the clouds, we may say that these reflections continue to be visible in the sky and to inform us of the doings of the men who cast them, long after the men themselves are not only beyond our range of vision but sunk beneath the horizon.” (pg. 651)

We can see the Stanislavski method principle of “method acting” is thus an ancient principle, tied directly to ceremonial ritual.  In my latest talk, we cover this topic, and many others, for subscribers only:  Subscription can be done here.

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