Only Blockheads Would Ban Poetry

Leonardo Bruni, de Studiis et Litteris (§26)

“I would readily ask of one of those who persecute the poets, ‘For what reason do you think that the poets should not be read?’ Though they plainly have nothing which they could impute to them, they will nevertheless say that it is because love and debauchery can be found in their poetry. Yet, I would dare to affirm that in no authors could such examples of modesty and good things more generally be found than in the poets. Consider the most faithful chastity of Penelope for Ulysses, and the unbelievable virtue which Aclestis showed for Admetus, and the admirable constancy which each showed toward their husbands in their absences and calamities. Many of these sorts of things can be read in the poets – the greatest documents of wifely discipline.

If occasionally the poets describe loves like that of Apollo for Daphne, or the affair of Vulcan and Venus, who is so obtuse that he would not understand that these are fictions which represent one thing metaphorically for another? Further, there are very few things which you condemn, but there are very many which are of the highest quality and at any rate certainly worth reading, as I have above shown in my discussion of Homer and Vergil. It is unjust in the extreme to forget those things which deserve true praise while remembering those which offer up a handle for reproach.

A severe critic says to me, ‘Don’t let those things get mixed up! I would sooner abandon the good from fear of evil than I would run into evil from hope for the good. Therefore, I will not read the poets, nor will I permit others to do so.’ But hey, Plato and Aristotle themselves read poetry!”


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