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end of art : poetry, says Castelvetro," was discovered solely for the purpose of delighting and of recreating ... the souls of the rude multitude and of the common people."
."i And here and there some were able to free themselves from both the pleasure theory and that of the didactic end; but the majority, such as Segni, Maggi, Vettori,2 were for the docere delectando. Scaliger (1561) declared that mimesis or imitation was " finis medius ad illum ultimum qui est docendi cum delectatione," and believing himself to be altogether in agreement with Aristotle as to this, he continued, “docet affectus poeta per actiones, ut bonos amplectamur atque imitemur ad agendum, malos aspernemur ad abstinendum." 3 Piccolomini (1575) observed that “It must not be thought that so many excellent poets and artists, ancient and modern, would have devoted such care and diligence to this most noble study, had they not known and believed that in so doing they were aiding human life,” and if “ they had not thought that we were to be instructed, directed, and well established by it.” 4 The “truth preserved in soft verses, which attracts and persuades the most reluctant ” (Tasso),5 with the comparison from Lucretius attached, is the conception that even Campanella repeats. Poetry is for him “ Rhetorica quaedam figurata, quasi magica, quae exempla ministrat ad suadendum bonum et dissuadendum malum delectabiliter iis qui simplici verum et bonum audire nolunt, aut non possunt aut nesciunt." 6 Thus returned the comparison of poetry with oratory ; according to Segni they only differ because the first occupies a more lofty situation : "for since imitation representing itself in act by means of poetry, in mighty, chosen words,
1 Fr. Robortelli, In librum Aris. de arte poet. explicationes, Florence, 1548 ; Lud. Castelvetro, Poetica d'Aristotele vulgarizzata ed esposta, 1570 (Basle, 1576), part i. particella iv. pp. 29-30.
2 Bern. Segni, Rettor. e poet. trad. Florence, 1549; Vinc. Madii, In Arist. explanationes, 1550 ; Petri Victorii, Commentarii, etc., Florence, 1560.
3 Poetica, 1561 (ed. 3, 1586), i. 1 ; vii. 3.
6 Poetic. ch. 1, art. I.
in metaphors, images, and indeed the whole of figured speech, which is to be found more in poetry than in the art of oratory, the metrical qualities that are also required in verse, the subjects of which it treats, which have something of the great and delightful, make it appear most beautiful and worthy of being held all the greater marvel.” i “Three most noble arts” (wrote Tassoni in 1620, and he repeated common opinion), “History, Poetics, and Oratory, come under the heading of Politics and depend upon it; the first of these has reference to the instruction of princes and gentlemen, the second of the people, the third of those who give counsel in public trials or defend private ones that come up for judgment.” 2
According to these views, the tragical catharsis was regarded as designed in general to demonstrate the instability of fortune, or to terrify by example, or to proclaim the triumph of justice, or to render the spectators insensible to the strokes of fortune, owing to their familiarity with suffering. The pedagogic theory, thus renewed and sustained by the authority of the ancients, was popularized in France, Spain, England and Germany, together with all the Italian poetic doctrines of the Renaissance. The French writers of the period of Louis XIV. are altogether penetrated with it. “Cette science agréable qui mêle la gravité des préceptes avec la douceur du langage,” is what La Ménardière calls poetry (1640), in the same way as Le Bossu (1675), for whom “le premier but du poète est d'instruire,” 3 as Homer taught, when he wrote two interesting didactic manuals relating to military and political events : the Iliad and the Odyssey.
This pedagogic theory has therefore been reasonably The “ Poetics described by all the modern critics in concert, as if by of the Renaisantonomasia, as the Poetics of the Renaissance. It must, however, always be understood that it did not appear
i Poetica trad. preface. : Pensieri diversi, bk. x. ch. 18.
* La Ménardière, Poétique, Paris, 1640 ; Le Bossu, Traité du poème épique, Paris, 1675.
for the first time in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, but that it was prevalent and generally accepted at that time. It may even be remarked, as has already been acutely done, that the Renaissance naturally did not distinguish the didactic kind of poetry from the other kinds, since for it every kind of poetry was didactic. But the Renaissance was not a real Renaissance, save when and where it continued the interrupted spiritual work of antiquity, and in this sense it would perhaps be more just to describe as its Poetics, or rather, as the important element in its Poetics, not the repetition of the pedagogic theory of antiquity and of the Middle Ages, but the resumption, which also took place, of the discussions upon the possible, the probable (verisimile, elkós) of Aristotle, on the reasons of Plato's condemnation and on the procedure of the artist who creates by
It is in such discussions that is to be found the true concerning the
contribution of that epoch, not to learning, but to the universal and the probable formation of the science of Æsthetic. The ground was in art.
prepared and enriched through the work of the interpreters and commentators of Aristotle and of the new writers on Poetics, especially the Italians, and it was also enriched with some seed that was destined to sprout and to become a vigorous plant in the future. The study of Plato also contributed not a little to call attention to the function of the idea, or of the universal, in poetry. What meaning was to be attached to the
statement that poetry should aim at the universal and (history at the particular ? What was the meaning
of the proposition that poetry should proceed according to probability ? What could that certain idea consist of, which Raphael said that he followed in his
painting? G. Fracastoro. Girolamo Fracastoro was among the first to ask him
self this question seriously, in the dialogue Naugerius, sive De poetica (1555). He disdainfully rejected the thesis that the end of poetry is pleasure : far be from us,
1 Borinski, Poet. d. Renaiss. p. 26.
he exclaimed, so bad an opinion of the poets, who the ancients said were the inventors of all the good arts. Nor did the end of instruction seem to him to be acceptable, which is the task, not of poetry, but of other faculties, such as geography, history, agronomy, philosophy. The poet's task is to represent or to imitate, and he differs from the historian, not in the matter, but
in the manner of representation. The others imitate the particular, the poet the universal : the others are like
the painters of portraits, the poet produces things as he <contemplates the universal and most beautiful idea of
them : the others say only what they need to say for their purposes, the poet that he may say everything beautifully and fully.
But the beauty of a poem must always be understood as relative to the class of subject of which it treats; it is the most beautiful in this class, not the supremely beautiful : one must be careful to guard against the equivocal or double meaning of this word “beauty” (aequivocatio illius verbi). A poet never utters what is false or expresses what does not exist, for his words inevitably harmonize in appearance or signification either with the opinions of men or with the universal. Nor can we accept the Platonic axiom that the poet has no knowledge of the things of which he treats; he does know them, but in his own poet's manner.1
While Fracastoro strives to elaborate the important passage in Aristotle touching the universal of poetry, and though somewhat vague in his treatment, keeps fairly close to the mark; Castelvetro, on the contrary, L. Castelvetro. judges the Aristotelian fragment with the freedom and superior knowledge of the true critic. He recognizes that the Poetics is merely a notebook recording certain principles and methods of compiling the art, not the art fully compiled. He remarks, moreover, not without logical acumen, that Aristotle having adopted the criterion of probability or of that " which presents an appearance of
1 Hyeron. Frascatorii Opera, Venetian edition, Giunti, 1574, pp. 112-120.
historic truth,” should have applied his theory in the first case to history, not to poetry; for history being a “ narrative according to truth of memorable human actions,” and poetry a narrative according to probability of events which might possibly occur, the second cannot receive “all its radiance” from the first. Nor does it escape him that Aristotle describes two different things by the one word “imitation”: (a) “ following the example of another,” which is “ acting in exactly the same way as another without knowing the reason of such action”: and (b) the imitation “ demanded by poetry," which “ does things in a manner totally different from that in which they have been done hitherto and proposes a new example for imitation.” Nevertheless Castelvetro cannot extricate himself from the confusion between the imaginary and the historical ; for he himself says “ the realm of the former is generally that of certainty," but “the field of certainty is often crossed with bars of uncertainty just as the field of uncertainty is often crossed with bars of certainty.” Also what can be said of this curious interpretation of the Aristotelian theory of pleasure experienced in the imitation of ugly models, that such pleasure is based on the fact that since an imitation is always imperfect, it is incapable of exciting the disgust and fear which would arise from the contemplation of real ugliness? And what of his remark that the characteristics of painting and poetry are so diverse as to be in opposition one to the other ; imitation of objects giving rise to great pleasure in the former art and as great displeasure in the latter? And so on in
numberless cases of bold but scarcely felicitous subtleties. Piccolomini In opposition to Robortelli, who asserted the identity and Pinciano. of the probable and the false, Piccolomini held that the
probable (verisimile) is inherently neither false nor true, only by accident becoming one or other. Of the same mind is the Spaniard Alfonso Lopez Pinciano (1596), who says the scope of poetry "no es la mentira, que seria 1 Poet., ed. cit. i. 1; ii. 1 ; iii. 7; v. 1 (PP. 64, 66, 71-72, 208, 580).
• Annotationi, preface.