Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 1)
Since I am about to bring into the middle, in this annual event of ours, that poet who, of all the regions whose inhabitants are known to history or of all the times which have come down to our own recollection thanks to the good offices of writers, is either the first poet or at any rate entirely equal to the first, I have judged it neither alien to my duty nor unpleasing to your ears if, before we approach the interpretation of Vergil himself, I bring to your notice in the briefest manner not only on what poetry is, and from where it drew its origins and where the name of the poet stems from, but also expatiate on what venerable fame and what ample honor it has been held from the earliest ages of humanity and among various nations. I will add finally that it did not only confer dignity and glory upon individual and private people, but also that it has always stood out in well-ordered republics and the most successful peoples, and has always been a not trifling use, and even a great ornament.
Poetry is not, I would say, one of those arts which our ancestors called liberal, but one which, embracing them all, bound by certain meters and distinguished by various lights and blossoms, ornaments whatever it is that people have done or known with wonderful contrivances and translates them into other forms. As the divine Plato shows in his Phaedrus, and the Platonic Cicero demonstrates in his Tusculan Disputations, no mortal was ever able to attain to poetry without some divine madness. For, when that philosopher whom I just mentioned describes the three other types of divine madness, he expresses, unless I am mistaken, the fourth, which he wishes to be the poetic, in this idea. For he says that our minds, while they were still in their celestial seats, were participants in that harmony which consists in the eternal mind of God, and in that harmony which is made by the motions of the heavens. Then, weighed down by the contagion of mortal affairs and on that account devolving to lower things, enclosed in bodies, impeded by terrestrial limbs and bodies bound to fail, they were barely able to perceive with their ears those sounds which were made by mortal industry. Which, nevertheless, even if they are far from those heavenly sounds, nonetheless, since they are simulacra or images of them, draw us on to a silent recollection of the first music and inflame us with the most burning desire of flying back to our ancient fatherland so that we can experience that true music, whose shadowy image this is. But meanwhile, as much as one can in this most vexatious prison of the body, we strive to imitate that heavenly music with these sounds of ours.
Cum eum vobis poetam hoc annuo cursu in medium allaturus essem, qui vel ex omnibus regionibus <quarum habitatores> historia cognoscantur vel ex omnibus saeculis quae ad nostram usque memoriam scriptorum beneficio pervenerint, aut primus sit aut primo omnino par atque aequalis, neque ab officio nostro alienum neque auribus vestris iniocundum futurum existimavi si, antea quam ipsius Maronis interpretationem aggredimur, brevissimis quidem verbis non solum quid ars poetica sit atque unde originem traxerit unde<que> poetae nomen deducatur in medium afferam, verum etiam quam vetustissima a priscis hominum saeculis apud multas variasque nationes maxima celebritate amplissimisque honoribus fuerit disseram. Addam postremo illam non solum singulis privatisque hominibus dignitatem gloriamque attulisse, verum bene institutis rebus publicis florentissimisque populis et usui non mediocri et ornamento maximo semper extitisse.
Est igitur poetica disciplina non dicam unam ex iis artibus quas nostri maiores liberales appellarunt, sed quae illas universas complectens, certis quibusdam numeris astricta variisque luminibus ac floribus distincta, quaecunque homines egerint, quaecunque norint miris figmentis exornet atque in alias quasdam speties traducat. Quam quidem rem, ut et divinus ille Plato in Phaedro et Platonicus Cicero in Tusculanis disputationibus ostendit, nemo unquam mortalium sine divino quodam furore attingere potuit. Nam cum is quem paulo ante dixi philosophus et tria alia divini furoris genera describat, quartum quem poeticum esse vult hac, nisi fallor, sententia exprimit. Ait enim animos nostros, dum in caelestibus sedibus versarentur, et eius harmoniae, quae in aeterna Dei mente consistit, et eius, quae caelorum motibus conficitur, participes fuisse; deinde, cum mortalium rerum contagione degravati et propterea ad inferiora iam devoluti corporibus includantur, iam terrenis arctubus et moribundis membris impeditos, vix eos concentus, qui mortalium industria conficiuntur, auribus percipere posse. Qui tamen, quicunque ii sint, etsi a caelestibus longe absint, nihilominus cum simulachra quaedam ac imagines illorum existant, nos in tacitam quandam primorum recordationem inducunt ardentissimaque cupiditate ad antiquam patriam revolandi inflamant, ut veram ipsam musicam, cuius adumbrata quaedam haec imago est, pernoscamus. Interim vero, quoad per molestissimum nobis corporis carcerem licet, hac nostra illam imitari contendimus.