Hoping for Literary Excellence

Petrarch, Letter to Robert, King of Sicily:

“Nor am I ignorant of what the litterateurs of our age, that haughty and idle band, would say in response to this: ‘Vergil and Horace have been buried; magnificent words about them are hurled around in vain; the excellent men faded away long ago; the tolerable ones, recently; and, as it happens, they have taken their place at the bottom of the shitheap.’ I know what they are saying and thinking, and I do not wrestle against it thoughtlessly. The old saying of Plautus seems to apply not so much to that age, which had a taste for such things, as it does to this age of ours. He says

‘at that time there was a blossoming of poets

who have departed here into their common place.’

Certainly, we are more just in our lament than this. For, at his time, the ones whose departure he decries had not yet come onto the scene. But the intent of our literary critics is unjust in the extreme. Their goal is not to lament the death of the sciences, which they actually wish dead and buried, but by inducing a loss of hope, to deter their contemporaries whom they cannot equal. To be sure, let their own desperation drag them back while it drives us on, and where they find a bridle and reins, let us find impetus and stimulus, so that we strive to become the people whom they think can never be, unless antiquity itself has decorated them in glory. These exemplars of our time are rare, I confess; they are few; but they are some. What is preventing us from being one of the few? If the rarity of excellence terrifies everyone away, soon there will not be few excellent writers, but none. Let us strive, let us hope, and perhaps it will be granted us to reach that goal. Vergil himself says,

‘They can, because they think they can.’

And we, believe me, will be able to, if we can only believe it.”

Image result for the little engine that could

Nec sum nescius quid adversus hoc literatores nostri temporis respondeant, superbum et segne genus hominum: ‘Maronem et Flaccum sepultos esse; nequicquam modo de his magnifica verba iactari; excellentes olim viros periisse; tolerabiles nuper; et, ut fit, in imo fecem substitisse’. Quid dicant et quid cogitent, novi; neque passim obluctor; videtur enim michi unum Plauti dictum non tam illi etati, que vix eius rei gustum ceperat, convenire quam huic nostre: ea inquit

tempestate flos poetarum fuit
Qui hinc abierunt in comunem locum.

Hoc profecto nos dignius lamentamur; tunc enim nondum venerant quos abiisse conqueritur. Iniquissima vero horum intentio est; neque enim id agunt ut interitum scientiarum defleant, quas extinctas ac sepultas cupiunt, sed ut coetaneos suos, quos imitari nequeunt, desperatione deterreant. [8] Sane illos desperatio sua retrahat, nos impellat, et unde illis frenum ac vincula, nobis impetus ac stimuli accesserint, ut studeamus fieri qualem illi nullum opinantur, nisi quem antiquitas illustravit. Rari sunt, fateor, pauci sunt, sed aliqui sunt; quid autem vetat ex paucis fieri? si omnes raritas ipsa terruerit, brevi quidem non pauci erunt, sed nulli. Enitamur, speremus, dabitur forsan ad ista pertingere; Maro ipse ait: possunt quia posse videntur; et nos, michi crede, poterimus, si nos posse crediderimus.

4 thoughts on “Hoping for Literary Excellence

  1. Eric and Joel, I had to write and tell you both this site that this website has added to my” refined” profane curse words to use in these times. Please keep it up. After 2020 maybe I’ll spend time using your website for regular enjoyment…

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