Immagini della pagina

habits, sciences and virtues. What is it that makes beautiful sensible and supersensible things alike 2 Not, he answers, the symmetry of their parts among themselves, and with the whole (avupletpia Tów aspów Trpos àAAmxa kal Trpès to 6\ov) and their colour (eixpoud), according to one of the definitions most in vogue, which we have quoted above in the words of Cicero ; because there are proportions in things ugly, and there are things that are simply beautiful without any relation of proportion : beauty, then, is one thing and symmetry another." The beautiful is what we welcome as akin to our own nature ; the ugly is what repels us as our opposite, and the affinity of beautiful things with our souls that perceive them has its origin in the Idea, which produces both. That

is beautiful which is formed ; the ugly is what is unformed, . "

that is to say, something which is capable of receiving form, but does not receive it or is not entirely dominated by it. A beautiful body is such, because of its communion (couvovia) with the Divine ; beauty is the Divine, the Idea, shining through ; and matter is beautiful, not in itself, but only when it is illuminated by the Idea. Light and fire, which are nearest to this state, shed beauty upon visible things, as the most spiritual among bodies. But the soul must purify itself, in order to perceive the beautiful, and make the power of the Idea that lies in it efficacious. Moderation, strength, prudence, and every other virtue, what else are they, according to the oracle, but purification ? Thus there opens another eye in the soul, beside that of sensible beauty, which permits it to contemplate divine Beauty coincident with the Good, which is the supreme condition of beatitude.” Art enters into such contemplation, because beauty, in things made by man, comes from the mind. Compare two blocks of stone, the one placed beside the other : one rough and crude, the other reduced to the statue of a god or of a man, for example of a Grace or of a Muse, or of a human being of such a shape as art has collected from many particular beauties. The beauty of a block of this shape

* Enneads, I. bk. vi. ch. I. * Enneads, loc. cit, chs. 2-9.

does not consist in its being of stone, but in the form that art has been able to give to it (trapa toû elöovs à évåkev ) réxvm); and when the form is fully impressed upon it, the thing of art is more beautiful than any other natural thing. Hence he who despised the arts (Plato), because they imitated nature, was wrong; whereas the truth is, in the first place, that nature itself imitates the idea, and then that the arts do not simply limit themselves

to imitating what the eyes see, but go back to those

reasons or ideas from which nature itself is derived (Ös oix &rA0s to papevov upoëvrat, dAN' dwatpéxovau éri roys Aéryovs éé div is disorus). Art therefore does not belong to nature, but adds beauty where it is wantingin nature : Phidias did not represent Jove because he had seen him, but such as he would appear if he wished to reveal himself to mortal eyes.” The beauty of natural things is the archetype existing in the soul, the sole source of natural beauty.”

The scientific/ This affirmation of Plotinus and of neo-Platonism is


the first true and proper affirmation of mystical AEsthetic, destined to such high fortunes in modern times, especially in the first half of the nineteenth century. But the attempts at a true AEsthetic, excluding certain luminous but incidental observations to be found even in Plato : for instance, that the poet should weave fables, not arguments (uğ6ovs &AA’ of Aðyovs),” go back to Aristotle and are altogether independent of his few and feeble speculations as to the beautiful. Aristotle by no means agreed with the Platonic condemnation ; he felt (as indeed Plato himself had suspected) that such a result could not be altogether true, and that some aspect of the problem must have been neglected. When in his turn he attempted to find a solution, he found himself in more advantageous conditions than his great predecessor, since he had already overcome the obstacle that arose from the Platonic doctrine of ideas, a hypostasis of concepts and abstractions. The ideas were for him

Aristotle. \\

* Enneads, V. bk. viii. ch. I. * Enneads, loc. cit. chs. 2-3. * Phaedrus, ch. 4.

simply concepts, and reality presented itself in a far more lively manner, not as a diminution of ideas, but as a synthesis of matter and form. It was thus much more easy for him to recognize the rationality of mimesis in his general philosophical doctrine and to assign to it its right place ; and indeed it seems generally clear to Aristotle that mimesis, being proper to man by nature, is contemplation or theoretic activity; although he sometimes seems to forget this (as when he confuses imitation with the case of boys, who acquire their first knowledge by following an example *), and although his system, which admits practical sciences and poietic activities (distinguished from the practical as leaving a material object behind them), disturbed the firm and constant consideration of artistic mimesis and poetry as a theoretical activity. But if it is a theoretical activity, by what characteristic is poetry distinguished both from scientific knowledge and from historical knowledge 2 This is the way Aristotle states the problem concerning the nature of art, and this is the true and only way of stating it. Even we moderns ask ourselves in what way art is distinguished from history and from science, and what this artistic form can be, which has the ideality of science and the concreteness and individuality of history. Poetry, answers Aristotle, differs from history, because, while the latter draws things that have happened (tà yevópeva), poetry draws things that may possibly happen (ola áv yévotto), and differs from science, because, although it regards the universal and not the particular (tà kað’ ékaarov) like history, it does not regard it in the same way as Science, but in a certain measure, which the philosopher indicates by the word rather (uáX\ov cabóAov). The point then is to establish the precise meaning of the possible, the rather and the historical particular. But no sooner does Aristotle attempt to determine the meaning of these words, than he falls into contradictions and fallacies. That universal of poetry, which is the possible, seems to identify itself for him with the probable or the necessary (tà kata to elicos ?) to divaykalov), and the particular of history is not explained at all, except by giving instances: “that which Alcibiades did and what happened to him.” " Aristotle, in fact, after having made so good a beginning in the discovery of the purely imaginative, proper to poetry, remains half-way, perplexed and uncertain. Thus he sometimes makes the truth of imitation consist in a certain learning and syllogizing that takes place when we look at imitations, by which we recognize that “this is that,” that a copy answers to the original ; * or, worse, he loses the grains of truth that he has found and forgets that poetry has for its content the possible, admitting, not only that it may also depict the impossible (to 38 ovatov), and even the absurd (to &rotrow), seeing that both are credible and that they do not injure the end of art, but even that we must prefer impossible probabilities to incredible possibilities.* Art, since it has to do even with the impossible and absurd, will not therefore have in it anything of the rational, but in accordance with the Platonic theory it will be an imitation of the appearance in which empty sense indulges itself; that is to say, a thing of pleasure. Aristotle does not attain to this result, because he does not attain to any clear and precise result in this part of the subject, but it is one of the results that can be deduced from what he has said, or that at any rate he is not able to exclude. This means that he did not fulfil his tacitly assumed task, and that although he re-examined the problem with marvellous acuteness after Plato, he failed truly to rid himself of the Platonic definition, by substituting a firmly-established one of his own. But the field of investigation toward which Aristotle had turned was generally neglected in antiquity: the very Poetics of Aristotle does not seem to have been widely known or influential. Ancient psychology knew fancy or imagination as a faculty midway between sense and intellect, but always as conservative and reproductive of sensuous impressions or conveying conceptions to the senses, never properly as a productive autonomous activity. That faculty was rarely and with little result placed in relation with the problem of art. Several historians of Æsthetic attach singular importance to certain passages in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by the elder Philostratus, in which they believe that they discover a correction of the theory of mimesis and the first affirmation in history of the conception of imaginative creation. Phidias and Praxiteles (says the extract in question) did not need to go to heaven to see the gods, in order to be able to depict them in their works, as would have been necessary according to the theory of imitation. Imagination, without any need of models, made them able to do what they did : imagination, which is a wiser agent than simple imitation (pavtaata . . . orogotépa uplijaeos &mutovpyós), and gives form, like the other, not only to what has been seen, but also to what has never been seen, imagining it on the basis of existing things and in that way creating Jupiters and Minervas." However, the imagination of which Philostratus speaks here is not something different from the Aristotelian mimesis, which, as has been noted, was concerned not only with real things but also and chiefly with possible things. And had not Socrates observed (in the dialogue with the painter Parrhasius, preserved for us by Xenophon) that painters work by collecting what they need to form their figures from several bodies (éx troXXów avváryovres ét ékáatov cax\tara) 2 " And was not the anecdote of Zeuxis, who was supposed to have taken the best of five Crotonian maidens in order to paint his Helen, and other anecdotes of alikesort, sufficiently widespreadin antiquity? And had not Cicero eloquently explained, some years before Philostratus, how Phidias, when he was carving Jupiter, did not copy anything real, but kept his looks fixed upon “species pulcritudinis eximia quaedam,” which he had in his soul and which directed his art and his hand 2 * Nor can it be said that Philostratus opened

* Poet. ch. 4, § 2.

The concepts of imitation and of imagination after Aristotle. Philostratus.

* Poet. ch. 9, §§ 1-4. * Poet. ch. 4, §§ 4-5. * Poet. chs. 24-25.

* Apoll. vita, vi. ch. Io. * Memorab. iii. ch. Io. * Orator ad Brutum, ch. 2.

« IndietroContinua »