Entire ignorance is not so terrible or extreme an evil, and is far from being the greatest of all; too much cleverness and too much learning, accompanied with ill bringing-up, are far more fatal.- Plato
This Plato fellow is onto something. Nevertheless, using this argument as an excuse for a rejection of learning would be an awful way to go about life.
Ignorance is necessary, and even inevitable. As John Barrow shows in his book on Impossibility, science could never have developed if it were not for the fact that there are things we cannot know.
To focus on Plato's analysis of ignorance but ignore his warning about cleverness and preparation would be a mistake, especially in our much needed analyses of politics and economics, two important aspects of our early 21st century miasma. Moreover, given Plato's ungracious perspective on arts and artists, I think we can safely assume (even with the excerpted language taken out of its context) that Plato might have been making another of his important observations about the ideal government, and that in itself is a cautionary tale for the ages.
A few things about Plato have tended to be overlooked. As Kathleen Raine pointed out, he often asserted that he was simply passing along wisdom that had been handed down through a tradition. Also, in one of his letters (which he asked his correspondent to destroy) he says that, as for what he himself believed, no one will ever know that.Finally, the form he used, the dialogue, is designed to keep discussion open-ended. I think Plato's aim was not to advocate for a given conclusion or conclusions, but to encourage and to focus upon the thinking process.
I have never been excessively interested in figuring out the ancients (or others) in terms of either their precise contexts or the validity of what they said within those contexts; instead, though it may be shortsighted on my part (though I can live with that accusation), I lean towards finding ways in which ancient (and other) philosophy and literature are pertinent within contemporary contexts. For example, when I read, study, and teach ancient Greek playwrights, I encourage today's students to discover ways in which the playwrights' words and themes are relevant to students' lives in the 21st century. Yes, it is seductive and intriguing to speculate on original intent of Greek playwrights (and philosophers as well), but original intent (whether fully apprehended or not) is sometimes a sucker's game prone to fallacies and, in any event, does not do much for modern students whereas contempoary contextualization does enable them to find usefulness and meaning in ancient texts. And that, flawed though it may be, is my perspective on Plato and others.
Actually, I don't think you can ever have much success in arriving at the original intent of ancient writers (especially if, as Plato says, he kept his own views to himself). But it is useful to know what the words mean and what the context was (of course, I have been formed by the Jesuits).It is, for instance, not only useful, but even essential to realize that Greek tragedies were trilogies ending in a resolution of the moral conflict at the center of the drama (Oedipus' miraculous disappearance at the end of Oedipus at Colonus). But otherwise, I'm with you: Each of us has to encounter these works on his own, make them a part of one's own imagination, and discover how they let us see the world we live in better than we otherwise might.
Since you brought it up, I ought to mention that Oedipus at Colonnus and Antigone were not part of the performance trilogy that included Oedipus the King. Literary historians know that Oedipus the King was performed with two other tragedies and a satyr play when it was first "produced" in Athens; those other plays, however, are not extant. In fact, as I recall my theater history, The Oresteia by Aeschylus is the only fully intact trilogy (just as it had been performed originally) though the accompanying satyr play exists only in fragments. Moreover, Oedipus the King, when it was performed at the City Dionysia, did not win first prize; now, when you realize that Aristotle a century later declared that Sophoclean play to be the perfect tragedy, it makes you wonder who on earth bested Sophocles and won the laurels that spring in Athens? Wouldn't it be something to discover that play (as well as the other two plays that were performed along with Oedipus the King)!
I did know that the Oresteia is the only complete trilogy, and you're right: It is interesting to wonder who the hell beat Sophocles that year. My only point is that tragedy does not have to do primarily with destruction but with redemption. The Furies do become the Eumenides.