Wouldn’t You Know It, We’re All Poets!

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 2)

But there are many who, if they can do anything with the modulations of their voice, think straightaway that they have completed a task perfectly. These, however, are entirely condemned by Plato as trifling and common musicians, especially those who, even though they provide a sweet sensation for the ears, are able to offer up nothing magnificent besides. Others however, and these are indeed more rare (for all noble things are uncommon), who, imitating the divine harmony with a graver and firmer sense of judgment express the lofty and intimate senses of the mind in an elegant song, and blown up by that divine madness, they often produce things so miraculous and so far beyond human strength with a certain rather grand spirit that, when that spirit relaxes a little later, they marvel at and are struck dumb by themselves.

For this reason, they are not just fawned upon by the ears of their listeners, but even soak their minds with the sweetest nectar and divine ambrosia. These are therefore divine poets and the sacred priests of the Muses, these are called “sanctified” by Ennius with just cause; it has been divinely granted to these alone to mix in their songs the deepest gravity with the highest delight, not without the stupor of the listeners; these, finally, are able not just to express and narrate, but even with a certain miraculous art to polish and illuminate all of the disciplines of all the good arts, which have been found and developed in various ages.

On that account, and from a certain rather violent activation of their minds, they are called ‘vates’ by the Latins. The Greeks have however called them poets, for in their language they say poiein for “to make.” For although other writers are considered poets of (that is, creators of) their own volumes, nevertheless, since these alone far surpass others with a certain marvelous artifice in speech and even an almost unlimited supply of material, have appropriated for themselves the name which could have been common to all.

Sed sunt plerique qui, si vocum solummodo modulationibus quicquam valeant, negocium se statim absolutissime perfecisse putent: sed hi a Platone tanquam leviores vulgaresque musici omnino contemnuntur, quippe qui, etsi aurium sensum demulceant, nihil praeterea magnificum praestare possunt. Alii autem, et hi quidem rariores (omnia enim praeclara rara), qui graviori ac firmiori iudicio divinam harmoniam imitati, altos intimosque mentis sensus eleganti carmine exprimunt atque, divino ipso furore afflati, res saepe adeo mirabiles adeoque supra humanas vires constitutas grandiori quodam spiritu proferunt, ut paulo post cum iam furor ille resederit, ipsi se ipsos admirentur atque obstupescant: quapropter non auribus solum auditorum adulantur, sed suavissimo nectare atque divina ambrosia mentes perfundunt. Hi igitur divini vates sunt et sacri Musarum sacerdotes, hi iure optimo «sancti» ab Ennio appellantur, his solum divinitus concessum est, ut suis carminibus summae iocunditati summam gravitatem, non sine auditorum stupore, permisceant, hi denique omnes omnium bonarum artium disciplinas, quae variis aetatibus ab hominibus inventae absolutaeque sunt, non solum exprimere atque enarrare, verum etiam miro quodam artificio expolire atque illustrare valent. Quapropter a Latinis ex vehementiori quadam mentis concitatione vates appellantur. Graeci autem eos poetas nominarunt: poiein enim facere illi dicunt. Nam quanvis reliqui quoque scriptores suorum voluminum poetae, idest effectores, iure habeantur, nihilominus, quoniam hi soli cum mirifico quodam dicendi artificio tum infinita pene rerum copia ceteros longe superant, nomen id quod omnibus comune esse poterat, tanquam proprium sibique addictum vendicaverunt.

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