« IndietroContinua »
the way to Plotinus, for whom the superior or intellectual imagination (vontń), or eye of supersensible beauty, when it is not a new designation for beautiful imitation, is mystical intuition.
The vagueness of the concept of mimesis reached its apex in those writers who gave it as a general title to any sort of work that had nature for its object, employing the Aristotelian phrase to affirm that “omnis ars naturae imitatio est,” 1 or saying, like the painter Eupompus when he blamed his servile imitators, that "natura est imitanda, non artifex.” 2 And those who wished to escape this vagueness did not know how to do so, save by conceiving the activity of imitation as the practical producer of duplicates of natural objects, a prejudice born in the bosom of the pictorial and plastic arts, against which Philostratus perhaps intended to argue, in common with the other advocates of imagination.
The speculations upon language had a close connexion with those upon the nature of art begun by the sophists, for whom it became a matter for wonder that sounds could signify colours or things inaudible ; that is to say, speech presented itself as a problem. It was then discussed whether language was by nature (pvoel) or by convention (vóum). By nature was sometimes understood mental necessity, and by convention what we should call a merely natural fact, psychological mechanism or sensationalism. In that sense of the terms, language would have been better called púoei than vóuw. But at other times the distinction led to the question whether language answers to objective or logical truth and to the real relations between things (ορθότης των ονομάτων) ; and in this case, those would seem to be nearer the truth who proclaimed it to be conventional or arbitrary in respect to logical truth: νόμω or θέσει, and not φύσει. Two different questions were consequently being treated together, and both were confusedly and equivocally discussed. They find their monument in the obscure Cratylus of Plato, which seems to fluctuate between different solutions. Nor did the later affirmation that the word is a sign (onuelov) of the thought solve anything, for it still remained to be shown in what way the sign was to be understood, whether púoel or vóuæ. Aristotle, who looked upon words as imitations (ueunuara), in the same way as poetry,' made an observation of first-rate importance : in addition to the enunciative propositions, which express the (logically) true or false, there are others which do not express either the (logically) true or false, as for example the expressions of aspirations and of desires (evx“), which therefore belong, not to logical exposition, but to poetical and rhetorical exposition.” And in another place we find him affirming in opposition to Bryson (who had said that a base thing remained such with whatever word it were designated) that base things can be expressed both with words that place them beneath the eye in all their crudity, and with other words which surround them with a veil.3 All this might have led to the separation of the linguistic faculty from the properly logical, and to its consideration in union with the poetical and artistic faculty ; but here too the attempt stopped half-way. The Aristotelian logic assumed a verbal and formalistic character, which became more and more accentuated as time went on and formed an obstacle to the distinction between the two theoretical forms. Nevertheless, Epicurus asserted that the diversity of names designating the same thing with various peoples was due, not to convention and caprice, but to the fact that the impressions produced by things were different in each one of them. And the Stoics, although they connected language with thought (drávoia) and not with imagination, seem to have had a suspicion of the nonlogical nature of language, for they interposed between thought and sound a certain something which was indicated in Greek by the word Xektóv, and by the words effatum or dicibile in Latin. But we are not sure what they really meant, and whether that vague concept were intended by them to distinguish the linguistic representation from the abstract concept (which would bring them into touch with the modern view), or the meaning of sound in general.1
1 For example, Seneca, Epist. 65.
We cannot collect any other germ of truth from the ancient writers. A philosophical Grammar, like a philosophical Poetics, remained unattainable in antiquity.
i Steinthal, Gesch. d. Sprachw., 2nd ed., i. pp. 288, 293, 296-297.
ÆSTHETIC IDEAS IN THE MIDDLE AGES
ALMOST all the developments of ancient Æsthetic were Middle Ages. continued by tradition or reappeared by spontaneous Ideas on the
Mysticism. generation in the course of the Middle Ages. Neo- beautiful. Platonic mysticism continued, entrusted to the care of the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (De coelesti hierarchia, De ecclesiastica hierarchia, De divinis nominibus, etc.), to the translations of these works made by John Scotus Eriugena, and to the divulgations of the Spanish Jews (Avicebron). The Christian God took the place of the Summum Bonum or Idea: God, wisdom, goodness, supreme beauty, source of beautiful things in nature, which are a ladder to the contemplation of the Creator. But these speculations continued to recede further and further from the consideration of art, with which Plotinus had connected them; and the empty definitions of the beautiful by Cicero and other ancient writers were often repeated. Saint Augustine defined beauty in general as unity (omnis pulchritudinis forma unitas est), and that of the body as congruentia partium cum quadam coloris suavitate, and the old distinction between something that is beautiful in itself and relative beauty reappeared in a book of his, which has been lost, entitled De pulchro et apto ; the very name shows that he reasserted the old distinction between the beautiful in itself and the relatively beautiful, quoniam apte accommodaretur alicui. Elsewhere he notes that an image is called beautiful si perfecte implet illud cujus imago est, et coaequatur ei.1
1 Confess. IV. X. ch. 13; De Trinitate, vi. ch. 10; Epist. 3. 18; De
Thomas Aquinas varied but little from him in positing three requisites for beauty: integrity or perfection, due proportion, and clearness ; following Aristotle, he distinguished the beautiful from the good, defining the first as that which pleases in the mere contemplation of it (pulcrum ... id cujus ipsa apprehensio placet); he referred to the beauty that even base things possess if well imitated, and applied the doctrine of imitation to the beauty of the Second Person of the Trinity (in quantum est imago expressa Patris).1 If it were wished to discover references to the hedonistic conception of art, it would be possible to do this, with a little goodwill, in some of the sayings of jongleurs and troubadours. Æsthetic rigorism, the total negation of art for religion or for divine and human science, shows itself in Tertullian and among certain Fathers of the Church, at the entrance to the Middle Ages ; at their conclusion, in a certain crude scholastic spirit, for example in Cecco d'Ascoli, who proclaimed against Dante : “I leave trifles behind me and return to the true ; fables are always unpleasing to me,” and later, in the reactionary Savonarola. But the narcotic theory of pedagogic or moralistic art prevailed over every other. It had contributed to send to sleep the æsthetic doubts and inquiries of the ancients, and was well suited to a period of relative decadence of culture. This was all the more the case, seeing that it accorded well with the moral and religious ideas of the Middle Ages, and afforded a justification not only for the new art of Christian inspiration, but also for the surviving
works of classical and pagan art. The peda- The allegorical interpretation was again a means of gogic theory of salvation for these last. The De continentia Virgiliana Middle Ages. of Fulgentius (sixth century) is a curious monument to
this fact. This work made Virgil compatible with the Middle Ages and opened his way to that great reputation
art in the
civitate Dei, xxii. ch. 19 (in Opera, ed. dei Maurini, Paris, 1679-1690, vols. i. ii. vii. viii.).
1 Summa theol. I. 1. xxxix. 8; I. 11. xxvii. 1 (ed. Migne, i. cols. 794795 ; ii. col. 219).