Here is my outline and notes on my presentation of Giambattista VICO.
November 3, 2004
Wrote: “The New Science”
Religions as well as the logic, morals, economics, politics, physics, cosmography, astronomy, geography, history--- ALL OF IT--- of the gentile nations are rooted in poetic and rhetorical responses to nature. There are things that shape humanities apprehension of the world.
I may have failed by limiting myself when I categorized the complexities of culture and society to a “universal history,” but it is this repetitive history I wish to get at.
All literature and history, anything created by man, follows a formula. Language itself and the design of written stories follow a more specific path. The classics would define them in rudimentary terms, such as Iron, Bronze, and the Golden ages, however they are more involved.
I will say there are three (3) primary ages to consider.
1) The age of the gods.
2) The age of the heroes
3) The age of men
In harmony with these three kinds of nature and government, three kinds of language were spoken.
1) That of the time of the families (oral)
2) That spoken by means of heroic emblems (symbols/images)
3) Human language using words agreed upon by the people (combining both prior categories) [p.402]
Sacred Language moves to the Symbolic which becomes the epistolary or vulgar.
[p. 403] These divine or heroic characters were true fables or myths, and their allegories are found to contain meanings not analogical but univocal, not philosophical but historical…
Since these genera (for that is what the fables in essence are) were formed by most vigorous imaginations, as in men of the feeblest reasoning powers, we discover in them true poetic sentences, which must be sentiments clothed in the greatest passions and therefore full of sublimity and arousing wonder.
Latins began with heroic verses, passed thence to iambics, and finally settled into prose.
[p. 404] Along with these three languages--- proper to the three ages in which three forms of government prevailed, conforming to three types of civil natures, which succeed one another as the nations run their course--- we find there went also in the same order a jurisprudence suited to each in its time.
That the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind.
[p. 405] For the first indubitable principle posited above is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind. And history cannot be more certain than when he who creates the things also narrates them.
Since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing. [p. 406]
What Aristotle said of the individual man is therefore true of the race in general ---the human mind does not understand anything of which it has had no previous impression (which our modern metaphysicians call “occasion”) from the senses.
This brings us to the question of “Poetic Wisdom,” but what is wisdom?
[p. 407] Plato defines wisdom as “the perfecter of man.”
Man consists of Mind + Spirit, or Intellect + Will.
True wisdom, then, should teach the knowledge of divine institutions in order to conduct human institutions to the highest good.
Wisdom among the gentiles began with the Muse, defined by Homer in a golden passage on the Odyssey as “knowledge of good and evil,” and later called divination.
Still later the word “wisdom” came to mean knowledge of natural divine things; that is, metaphysics, called for that reason divine science, which, seeking knowledge of man’s mind in God, and recognizing God as the source of all truth, must recognize him as the regulator of all good. So that metaphysics must essentially work for the good of the human race, whose preservation depends on the universal belief in a provident divinity. [p. 407]
But man created Jove, right?
This is theology, meaning the science of the language of the gods. [p. 411]
By means of their natural theology, the gentile, imagined the gods; how by means of their logic they invented languages, by morals, created heroes; by economics, founded families, and by politics, cities, by their physics, established the beginnings of things as all divine; by the particular physics of man, in a certain sense created themselves; by their cosmography, fashioned for themselves a universe entirely of gods; by astronomy, carried the planets and constellations from earth to heave; by chronology, gave a beginning to [measured] times; and how by geography described the world. [p. 408]
Gentile men in turn created things from their imagination---
[p. 409] Mankind created things according to their own ideas. But this creation was infinitely different from that of God. For God, in his purest intelligence, knows things, and, by knowing them, creates them; but they, in their robust ignorance, did it by virtue of a wholly corporeal imagination. And because it was quite corporeal, they did it with marvelous sublimity; a sublimity such and so great that it excessively perturbed the very persons who by imagining did the creating, for which they were called “poets.”
In this fashion the first theological poets created the first divine fable, the greatest they ever created: that of Jove. [p.410]
Symbol moves to explanation, ignorance + imagination = Man Made Gods, which is interrupted by language causing a movement to theology, which explains the religious act of the historical tradition. This is representative of the Age of Man trying to justify and explain the age of Gods.
Their science was called Muse, defined by Homer as the knowledge of good and evil. [p.411]
Euseius said it better: that the first people, simple and rough, invented the gods “from terror of present power.” Thus it was fear which created gods in the world; not fear awakened in men by other men, but fear awakened in men by themselves. [p. 412]
For when we wish to give utterance to our understanding of spiritual things, we must seek aid from our imagination to explain them and, like painters, form human images of them. [p. 413]
Metonymy (A figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another to which it is related in some way other than by resemblance, such as in “crown” used for “king”).
[p. 414] It is noteworthy that in all languages the greater part of the expressions relating to inanimate things are formed by metaphor from the human body…
Hands of a clock, Eyes of needles and potatoes, mouth for any opening, lip of a cup, teeth of a rake, saw, comb; tongue of a shoe, etc.
All of which is a consequence of our axiom that man in his ignorance makes himself the rule of the universe, for in the examples cited he has made of himself an entire world.
--For when man understand he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.
Synecdoche (A figure of speech in which a part is substituted for a whole or vice versa, as in “all hands on deck”)
Poetic wisdom is founded by the gentile and imagination.
And it may be said that in fables the nations have in a rough way and in the language of the human senses described the beginnings of this world of sciences.
The theological poets were the sense and the philosophers the intellect of human wisdom.