A (Very) Brief History of Literary Criticism
The Republic of Plato (428—ca. 347 BC) is primarily a philosophical treatise that takes the form of a dialogue in which Plato’s teacher, Socrates (ca. 470—399 BC), is a main character.
The text establishes the conditions of governance for an ideal society or city-state, which will enable its citizens (although not its slaves) to pursue the good life.
The book remains a canonical text in the history of moral and political philosophy, but it also contains reflections on the place and function of the mimetic arts, including poetry, which make it a rewarding text for literary critics to study. It is also, in another sense, one of the earliest surviving examples of literary criticism.
In a well-known passage in Book 3, it is made clear that poets are not especially welcome in the ideal republic.
Suppose then there arrived in our city a man who could make himself into anything by his own skill, and could imitate everything. Suppose he brought his poems and wanted to give a display.
We should salute him as divine, wonderful, a pleasure-giver: but we should then say that there is no one of his sort in our city and it is not allowed that there should be.
We should therefore pour ointment on his head, give him a garland of wool, and send him off elsewhere.