Letter to Giovanni Marrasio on his Angelinetum:
“As Plato says, there are two types of madness: one coming from human maladies (a bad sort, to be sure, and detestable), and the other coming from a divine alienation from one’s mind. Of this divine madness, there are again four divisions, namely prophecy, mystery, poesy, and love. The ancients thought that there were just as many gods who supervised each of these, for they attributed prophecy to Apollo, mystery to Dionysus, poesy to the Muses, and love to Venus. Almost no one who has ever read anything in their lives is ignorant of what prophecy is. It is a kind of divination, but not all divination is prophecy, only but only that by which
the Delian prophet inspires the great mind and soul and lays the future open,
as Vergil says.
Haruspices and augurs and soothsayers and all the rest of that crowd are not prophets themselves, nor is their work actually prophecy, but rather it is simply the cunning of sane people and an ingenious prediction of future things. Mystery is concerned with religion, with the expiations and propitiations of the divine will with a more violent agitation of the mind – the sort of thing which are encountered so often in the Sacred Books, undertaken to placate heaven’s wrath with certain supplications. A poem receives much the same treatment which we gave to prophecy above. For, not every work is a poem, not even if it is written in verse; only that excellent work, that work worthy of this honored appellation, which is sent forth by a kind of divine breath, may be called a poem. And so, in the same degree by which prophecy excels mere prediction, a poem, which is born of madness, is to be preferred to the mere artifice of sane people. From this fact stem those phrases produced by a good poet as though they belonged to a madman:
‘From where do you order me to go, goddesses?’;
‘I shall speak of horrible wars, I shall speak of the battle lines and the kings driven by their spirits into battles, and the Etruscan band and all of Hesperia driven into arms. A greater order of things is now born from me, I am bringing forth a greater work.’
All of this was uttered by the poet in the prophetic mode.
Sunt enim furoris, ut a Platone traditur, species duae: una ex humanis proveniens morbis, mala profecto res ac detestanda, altera ex divina mentis alienatione; divini rursus furoris partes quattuor: vaticinium, misterium, poesis et amor. His vero deos totidem praeesse veteres putaverunt: nam vaticinium Apollini, misterium Dionyso, poeticam Musis, amorem Veneri tribuebant. Et vaticinium quid tandem sit nemo fere qui modo quicquam legerit ignorat: est enim divinatio quaedam, sed non omnis divinatio vaticinium est, sed illa tantummodo “magnam quoi mentem animumque / Delius inspirat vates aperitque futura”, ut Maro inquit. Nam haruspices et augures et coniectores ac cetera huiusmodi turba nec vates quidem ipsi sunt nec eorum opus quidem vaticinium est, sed sanorum hominum prudentia et ingeniosa rerum futurarum coniectatio. Misteria vero circa religionem, expiationes et propitiationes divini numinis versantur cum vehementiori quadam mentis concitatione, qualia in Sacris Libris permulta ad placandam coelestem iram quibusdam suppliciis factitata leguntur. Poema quoque eandem fere determinationem recipit quam et de vaticinio supra dicebamus. Non enim omne opus poema est, ne si versibus quidem constet, sed illud praestans, illud hac honorata nuncupatione dignum quod afflatu quodam divino emittur. Itaque quanto vaticinium coniectationi dignitate praestat, tanto poema, quod ex furore fit, sanorum hominum artificio est anteponendum; hinc illae sunt a bono poeta quasi vesani hominis emissae voces: “unde iubetis / ire deae?”; et Virgilius “dicam horrida bella / dicam acies actosque animis in proelia reges / Tyrrhenamque manum totamque sub arma coactam / Hesperiam. Maior rerum mihi nascitur ordo, / maius opus moveo”. Quod totum vaticinantis more prolatum est a poeta.
One thought on “Madness, Prophecy, Poetry”
Io Evoe! Io Apollon! Io Aphrodite! Io Mousai!