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may know the truth of things stripped of all passion : the latter that the vulgar may act truly by means of intense excitement of the senses, without which stimulant they assuredly would not act at all. Hence from all time, in all languages known to man, never has there been a strong man equally great as metaphysician and poet : such a poet as Homer, father and prince of poetry.” Poets are the senses, philosophers the intellect, of mankind.” Imagination is “stronger in proportion as reason is weaker.””
No doubt “reflexion ” may be put in verse; but it does not become poetry thereby. “Abstract sentences belong to philosophers, since they contain universals; and reflexions concerning such passions are made by poets who are false and frigid.” “ Those poets “who sing of the beauty and virtue of ladies by reflexion
. are philosophers arguing in verses or in loverhymes.” ". One set of ideas belongs to philosophers, another to poets: these latter are identical with those of painters, from which “they differ only in colours and words.” “ Great poets are born not in epochs of reflexion but in those of imagination, generally called barbarous : Homer, in the barbarism of antiquity: Dante in that of the Middle Ages, the “second barbarism of Italy.”” Those who have chosen to read philosophic reason into the verse of the great father of Greek poetry have transferred the character of a later age into an earlier, since the era of poets precedes that of philosophers and countries in infancy were sublime poets. Poetic locutions arose before prose, “by the necessity of nature" not “by caprice of pleasure "; fables or imaginative universals were conceived before reasoned, i.e. philosophical universals.”
* Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 26. * Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii. introd.
* Op. cit. Elem. xxxvi. * Op. cit. bk. ii.; Sentenze eroiche.
* Letter to De Angelis of December 25, 1725.
* Letter to De Angelis, cit.
7 Scienza nuova sec. bk. iii.; Letter to De Angelis, cit.; Giudizio su Dante.
* Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii.; Logica poetica.
With these observations Vico justified and at the same time corrected the opinion of Plato in the Republic, denying to Homer wisdom, every kind of wisdom ; the legislative of Lycurgus and Solon, the philosophic of Thales, Anacharsis and Pythagoras, the strategic of military commanders." To Homer (he says) belongs wisdom, undoubtedly, but poetic wisdom only : the Homeric images and comparisons derived from wild beasts and the elements of savage nature are incomparable ; but “such success does not spring from talent imbued with domesticity and civilized with any philosophy.””
When anybody takes to writing poetry in an era of reflexion, it is because he is returning to childhood and “putting his mind in fetters ”; no longer reflecting with his intellect, he follows imagination and loses himself in the particular. If a true poet dallies with philosophical ideas, it is not “that he may assimilate them and dismiss imagination,” but merely “that he may have them in front of him, to examine as though on a stage or public platform.” “ The New Comedy which made its appearance after Socrates is undeniably impregnated with philosophic ideas, with intellectual universals, with “intelligible kinds of human conduct ’’; but its authors were poets in so far only as they knew how to transform logic into imagination and their ideas into portraits.”
The dividing line between art and science, imagination and intellect, is here very strongly drawn : the two distinct activities are repeatedly contrasted with a sharpness that leaves no room for confusion. The line of demarcation between poetry and history is hardly less firm. While not quoting Aristotle's passage, Vico implicitly shows why poetry seemed to Aristotle more philosophical than history, and at the same time he dispels the erroneous opinion that history concerns the particular and poetry the universal. Poetry joins hands with science not because it consists in the contemplation of concepts but because, like science, it is ideal. The most beautiful poetic story must be “wholly ideal": “by means of idea, the poet breathes reality into things otherwise unreal ; masters of poetry claim that their art must be wholly compact of imagination, like a painter of the ideal, not imitative like a portrait-painter: whence, from their likeness to God the Creator, poets and painters alike are called divine.”” And against those who blame poets for telling stories which, they say, are untrue, Vico protests: “The best stories are those approximating most nearly to ideal truth, the eternal truth of God : it is immeasurably more certain than the truth of historians who often bring into play caprice, necessity or fortune ; but such a Captain as, for instance, Tasso's Godfrey is the type of a captain of all times, of all nations, and so are all personages of poetry, whatever difference there may be in sex, age, temperament, custom, nation, republic, grade, condition or fortune; they are nothing save the eternal properties of the human soul, rationally discussed by politicians, economists and moral philosophers, and painted as portraits by the poet.” ” Referring to an observation made by Castelvetro, and approving it in part, to the effect that if poetry is a presentiment of the possible it should be preceded by history, imitation of the real, yet finding himself confronted by the difficulty that, nevertheless, poets invariably precede historians, Vico solves the problem by identifying history with poetry: primitive history was poetry, its plot was narration of fact, and Homer was the first historian ; or rather “he was a heroic character amongst Greek men, in so far as they poetically narrated their own history.” & Poetry and history, therefore, are originally identical ; or rather, undifferentiated. “But inasmuch as it is not possible to give false ideas, since falsity arises from an embroiled combination of ideas, so is it impossible to give a tradition, however fabulous, that has not had, at the beginning, a basis of truth.” “ Hence we gain an entirely new insight into mythology: it is no longer an arbitrary calculated invention, but a spontaneous vision
* Republica, x. * Scienza nuova sec. bk. iii. ad init.
* Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 4. * Letter to Solla, January 12, 1729; cf. Scienza nuova sec. Elem. xliii. * Scienza nuova sec. bk. iii. * Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 6.
of truth as it presented itself to the spirit of primitive.
man. Poetry gives an imaginative vision ; science or philosophy intelligible truth ; history the consciousness of certitude. Language and poetry are, in Vico's estimation, substantially the same. In refuting the “vulgar error of grammarians” who maintain the priority of the birth of prose over that of verse, he finds “within the origin of Poetry, so far as it has been herein discovered,” the “origin of languages and the origin of letters.”" This discovery was made by Vico after “toil as disagreeable and overwhelming as we should undergo had we to strip off our own nature and enter into that of the primaeval men of Hobbes, Grotius, or Puffendorf; creatures possessing no language at all, by whom were created the languages of the ancient world.” ” But his painful labour was richly repaid by his refutation of the erroneous theory that languages sprang from convention or, as he said, “signified at will,” whereas it is evident that “from their natural origin words must have had natural meanings; this is plainly seen in common Latin . . . wherein almost all words have arisen by natural necessity, either from natural properties or from their sensible effects; and in general, metaphor forms the bulk of language in the case of every people.” “This argument strikes a blow at another common error of the grammarians, “that the language of prose writers is correct, that of poets incorrect.” “ The poetic tropes grouped under the heading of metonymy seem to Vico to be “born of the nature of primitive peoples, not of capricious selection by men skilled in poetic art”; * stories told “by means of simili
* Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii., Corollari d' intorno all' origine della locuzion poetica, etc.- - -
* Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 22.
* Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii., Corollari d' intorno all' origini delle lingue, etc.
* Op. cit. bk. ii., Corollari d' intorno a' tropi, etc., § 4.
* Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 22.
Poetry and language.
tudes, imagery and comparisons,” result “from lack of the genera and species required to define things with propriety,” and “are therefore, by reason of natural necessities, common to entire peoples.” . The earliest languages must have consisted of “dumb gestures and objects which had natural connexions with the ideas to be expressed.” ” He observes very acutely that to these figurate languages belong not only hieroglyphics but the emblems, knightly bearings, devices and blazons which he calls “mediaeval hieroglyphics.” ” In the barbarous Middle Ages “Italy was forced to fall back on the mute language . . . of the earliest gentile nations in which men, before discovering articulate speech, were obliged like mutes to use actions or objects having natural connexions with the ideas, which at that time must have been exceedingly sensuous, of the things which they wished to signify ; such expressions, clad in almost vocal words, must have had all the lively expressiveness of poetic diction.” “ Hence arise three kinds or phases of language : dumb show, the language of the gods; heraldic language, or that of the heroes; and spoken language. Vico also looked forward to a universal system of etymology, a “ dictionary of mental words common to all nations.” A man with ideas of this sort about imagination, language and poetry could not say he was satisfied with formalistic and verbal Logic, whether Aristotelian or scholastic. The human mind (says Vico) “makes use of intellect when from things which it feels by sense it gathers something that does not fall under sense: this is the true meaning of the Latin intelligere.” In a rapid outline of the history of Logic, Vico wrote: “Aristotle came and taught the syllogism, a method more suited to expound universals in their particulars than to unite particulars by the discovery of universals: then came Zeno with his sorites, which corresponds with modern * Scienza nuova sec. bk. iii., Pruove filosofiche.
Inductive and formalistic logic.
* Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 22. * Op. cit. bk. iii. chs. 27-33. * Letter to De Angelis, cit. * Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii. introd.