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observations of ancient writers upon art, would be to do again what has been done many times and sometimes very well. Further, those ideas, propositions and theories have passed into the common patrimony of knowledge, together with what else remains of the classical world. It is therefore more advisable here than in any other part of this history merely to indicate the general lines of development.
Art, the artistic faculty, only became a philosophical Origin of problem in Greece after the sophistical movement and
problem in as a consequence of the Socratic dialectic. The historians Greece. of literature generally point to the origins of Greek Æsthetic in the first appearance of criticism and reflection upon poetical works, painting and sculpture; in the judgements pronounced on the occasion of poetical competitions, in the observations that were made as to the methods of the different artists, in the analogies between painting and poetry as expressed in the sayings attributed to Simonides and Sophocles; or, finally, in the appearance of that word which served to group together the various arts and to indicate in a certain way their relationship—the word mimesis or mimetic (uipnois)— which oscillates between the meaning of “imitation and that of “representation.” Others make the origin of Æsthetic go back to the polemics which were conducted by the first naturalistic and moralistic philosophers against the tales, fantasies and morals of poets, and to the interpretations of the hidden meaning (úróvoia), or, as the moderns call it, allegory, employed to defend the good name of Homer and of the other poets; finally, to the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, as Plato was afterwards to call it. But, to tell the truth, none of these reflections, observations and arguments implied a true and proper philosophical discussion of the nature of art. Nor was the sophistical movement favourable to its appearance. For although attention was at that time certainly given to internal psychical facts, yet these were conceived as mere phenomena of opinion
1 Republic, x. 607.
Plato's rigoristic negation.
and feeling, of pleasure and pain, of illusion, whim or caprice. And where there is no true and no false, no good and no evil, there can be no question of beautiful and ugly, nor of a difference between the true and the beautiful or between the beautiful and the good. The most one has in that case is the general problem of the irrational and the rational, but not that of the nature of art, which assumes the difference between rational and irrational, material and spiritual, mere fact and value, to have been already stated and grasped. If, then, the sophistical period was the necessary antecedent to the discoveries of Socrates, the æsthetic problem could only arise after Socrates. And it did indeed arise with Plato, author of the first, or indeed of the only really great negation of art of which there remains documentary proof in the history of ideas.
Is art, mimesis, a rational or an irrational fact ? Does it belong to the noble region of the soul, where philosophy and virtue are found, or does it dwell in that base lower sphere, with sensuality and crude passionality? This is the question asked by Plato,' who thus states the problem of Æsthetic for the first time. The sophist Gorgias was able to note, with his sceptical acuteness, that tragic representation is a deception, which (strangely enough) turns out to the honour both of him who deceives and of him who is deceived, in which it is shameful not to know how to deceive oneself and not to let oneself be deceived. With that remark he could rest content. That was for him a fact like another. But Plato, the philosopher, was bound to solve the problem : if it were a deception, then down with tragedy and the rest of mimetic productions : down with them among the other things to be despised, among the animal qualities of man. But if it were not deception, what was it ? What place did art occupy among the lofty activities of philosophy and of good action ?
The answer that he gave is well known. Mimetic does not realize the ideas, that is to say the truth of things,
i Republic, x. 607. ? Plutarch, De audiendis poetis, ch. i.
but reproduces natural or artificial things, which are pale
Plato is the most consistent example of those who do not succeed in discovering any other form of knowledge but the intellectual. It was correctly observed by him that imitation stops at natural things, at the image (Tò pávraoua), and does not reach the concept, logical truth (åandela), of which poets and painters are altogether ignorant. But his error consisted in believing that there is no other form of truth below the intellectual; that there is nothing but sensuality and passionality outside or prior to the intellect, that which discovers the ideas. Certainly, the fine æsthetic sense of Plato did not echo that depreciatory judgement of art; he himself declared that he would have been very glad to have been shown how to justify art and to place it among the forms of the spirit. But since none was able to give him this assistance, and since art with its appearance that yet lacks reality was repugnant to his ethical consciousness, and reason compelled him (ó lóyos ñpei) to banish it and place it with its peers, he resolutely obeyed his conscience and his reason.
Others were not troubled with these scruples, and Æsthetic although art was always looked upon as a mere thing of hedonism and
. pleasure among the later hedonistic schools of various sorts, among rhetoricians and worldly people the duty of combating or of abolishing it was not felt. Nevertheless, this opposite extreme was also not calculated to meet with the endorsement of public opinion, for the latter, if tender towards art, is no less tender towards rationality and morality. For this reason both rationalists and moralists, compelled to recognize the force of
i Republic, x.
such a condemnation as Plato's, sought for a compromise, a half measure. Away with the sensual and with art : certainly. But can we expel the sensual and the pleasurable without more ado ? Can fragile human nature nourish itself exclusively with the strong food of philosophy and morality ? Can we obtain observance of the true and of the good from the young and from the people, without allowing them at the same time some amusement ? And has not man himself always something of the child, has he not always something of the people in him, is he not to be treated with the same precautions ? Is there not a risk that the over-bent bow will break ?These considerations prepared the way for the justification of art, for they showed that if it were not rational in itself, it could on the other hand serve a rational end. Hence the search for the external end of art, which takes the place of the search for the essence or internal end. When art had been lowered to the level of a simple pleasurable illusion, an inebriation of the senses, it was necessary to subordinate the practical action of producing such an illusion and inebriation, like any other action, to the moral end. Art, being deprived of any dignity of its own, was obliged to assume a reflected or secondhand dignity. Thus the moralistic and pedagogic theory was constructed upon a hedonistic basis. The artist, who, for the pure hedonist, was comparable to a hetaira, became for the moralist a pedagogue. Hetaira and pedagogue, these are the symbols of the two conceptions of art that were disseminated in antiquity, and the second was grafted upon the first.
Even before Plato's peremptory negation had directed thought to this way of issue, the literary criticism of Aristophanes was already full of the pedagogic idea : “What schoolmasters are to children, poets are to young men
(Tois nãow dè trointai), he says in a celebrated verse. But we can find traces of it in Plato himself in the dialogues in which he seems to withdraw from the too rigid conclusions of the Republic) and in Aristotle, both in the Politics, where he determines the use of music in education, and perhaps in the Poetics, where he speaks obscurely of a tragical catharsis ; although as regards this latter, it is not to be altogether denied that he may have had a sort of glimpse of the modern idea of the liberating power of art. Later on, the pedagogic theory takes a form that was much affected by the Stoics. Strabo develops and defends this at great length, in the introduction to his geographical work, where he combats Eratosthenes, who has made poetry consist in mere pleasure without any notion of teaching. Strabo, on the contrary, maintained the opinion of the ancients, that it was a first philosophy (φιλοσοφίαν Tivà pútny), which educated young men for life, and created customs, affections and actions, by means of pleasure.” Therefore, he said, poetry has always been a part of education; one cannot be a good poet unless one is a good man (åvopa kyalóv). Legislators and founders of cities were the first to employ fables to admonish and to terrify : then this duty, which must be performed for women and children and even for adults, passed to the poets. We caress and dominate the multitude with fiction and with falsehood. “The poets tell many lies ” (πολλά ψεύδονται αοιδοί) is a hemistich recorded by Plutarch, who describes minutely in one of his lesser works how the poets should be read to youths.3 For him too poetry is a preparation for philosophy; it is a disguised philosophy, and therefore delights us in the same way as do fish and meat at feasts, so prepared as not to seem to be fish and meat; it is philosophy softened with fables, like the vine that grows close to the mandragora, and produces a wine that is the giver of sweet slumbers. It is not possible to pass from dense darkness to sunlight; one should first accustom the eyes to moderate light. Philosophers, in order to exhort and instruct, take their examples from true things ; poets
1 Frogs, 1. 1055.