The title chosen for the new stage of CI Poetry Project, Magnetic links, refers to a famous passage in Plato’s Ion. Socrates converses with Ion the rhapsode, a professional performer of Homer’s poetry and a specialist in all things Homeric, about the nature of Ion’s knowledge of Homer. Socrates suggests that its source is divine inspiration, and offers an explanatory metaphor: Ion derives his poetic and expository powers from Homer in the same way that an iron ring, suspended from a magnet, acquires a power to hold another ring, so a whole chain of magnetized rings can be formed (Plato, Ion 533d–e, 535e–536b).
The passage seems to hold something mysterious in its charm. Perhaps it has to do with a sense of entering a delightfully unfamiliar reality, when Socrates explains that Euripides (ever the collector of rare versions) calls the ring-drawing stone Magnētis, but that the public knows it as the Heraclean stone. Or it might have to do with a slight misalignment that Plato often engineers into his imagery, which precludes the correspondences between the tenor and the vehicle from being over-precise. On one side of the equation is the poetic possession, bringing those whom it affects beside themselves (Ion 535b–e). It is vast in scale, frenzied, impalpable. On the other side is the magnetic attraction, so physically memorable for anybody who ever held a magnet and a piece of iron in their hands; the stone and the rings are neat, graspable, cool. But another prominent quality of the magnetic force is how it diminishes in each successive ring, hardly holding the last one in the chain of links. Does the poetic inspiration run out after being conveyed from poet to poet several times? After twenty-four centuries that have passed since Plato, we know much more about the magnetic force. It is arguable whether we know anything more about the poetic enchantment than Socrates and Ion. But we do know that the connectivity of inspiration, extending back all the way to Homer, Sappho, or Pindar, holds together the new links as securely and intriguingly as ever. Our project treasures these unending connections.