“I don’t say these things in an effort to avoid their judgment, but so that they who are ignorant may feel some shame (if they are capable of it) in making their judgment. For, on this subject, I do not just embrace the opinion of friendly jealousy, but even the judgment of hostile hatred, and in sum, if someone pronounces that I am ignorant, I agree with him! When I myself think over how many things are lacking to me, toward which my mind, eager for knowledge, exerts itself, I sadly and silently recognize my own ignorance. But in the meantime, while the end of my present exile is near, at which point this imperfection (from whence our knowledge derives) will be terminated, I am consoled by the thought of our shared nature. I think that it happens to all good and modest minds, that they learn about themselves and derive consolation therefrom. For those who get hold of great knowledge (I am speaking according to the standards of human learning), it is always small when considered in itself, but it becomes great in light of the narrow circumstances from which it is derived, and certainly looks great when compared to others. Otherwise, I ask you, how small and insignificant is the knowledge granted to one mind? Nay, how much like nothing is the knowledge of any one person, whoever they be, when it is compared not just to the knowledge of God, but to one’s own fund of ignorance?”
Non hec dico, ut declinem forum, sed ut pudeat, siquis est pudor, iudicasse qui nesciunt. Ego etenim de hac re non modo sententiam amicabilis amplector invidie, sed hostilis odii, et ad summam, quisquis ignarum me pronuntiat, mecum sentit. Nam et ego ipse recogitans quam multa michi desint ad id quo sciendi avida mens suspirat, ignorantiam meam dolens ac tacitus recognosco. Sed me interim, dum presentis exilii finis adest, quo nostra hec imperfectio terminetur, qua ex parte nunc scimus, nature communis extimatione consolor. Idque omnibus bonis ac modestis ingeniis evenire arbitror, ut agnoscant se pariter ac solentur; his etiam quibus ingens obtigit scientia — secundum humane scientie morem loquor — que in se semper exigua, pro angustiis quibus excipitur, et collata aliis ingens fit. Alioquin quantulum, queso, est, quantumcunque est, quod nosse uni ingenio datum est? Imo quam nichil est scire hominis, quisquis sit, si non dicam scientie Dei, sed sui ipsius ignorantie comparetur?
“But to return to my topic, these men do not know that their teacher Aristotle did not spurn poets, but rather brought them forth as authorities. They also know that he treated of the art of poetry specially in a singular book, in order to provide a complement to his literary philosophy. To that extent, the chief of philosophers (I do not omit Plato as Cicero did) did not neglect poetry. But the successors of his studies (though they perhaps are more worthy of that title than that reality), censure poetry in direct proportion to their ignorance. But this is not surprising: they want to be called Aristotelians without any Aristotle. You would injure them if you called them Platonists, although they seem to hold an even more extreme opinion than Plato, in thinking that poets should not be expelled from an imagined state, but should be prohibited from the entire world.
Plato, however, did not expel all the poets from every city, but only the disreputable Attelani and comic poets, who exercised too much license in noting and describing various vices; even then, he expelled them from a city which he had never seen, but rather invented. For, though in portraying an ideal republic, rather than one he had seen, yet neither in his speech in life nor his authority after death (granted, from admiration of his divinity, eloquence, and the length of his life, which ended in the eighty-first year of his age – a number which is said to possess the highest perfection because it possesses multiplied roots of odd numbers – he was honored with temples and shrines), I repeat, neither his speech in life nor his authority after death prevailed to such a degree that even the comic poets were excluded from real cities. Perhaps some people were receptive to all of that in the schools – but it is manifest that the people were not receptive to that in the theaters, which were bustling with daily recitations of plays and new productions of the poets. The admiration for and authority of the poets was so great among the Athenians, and even all of Greece, that they were not only not expelled from the cities, but were received as the chief administrators of government, placed in command of wars, and welcomed into the counsel chambers of kings, so that the business of the greatest empires was conducted in accordance with the plans of the poets themselves.”
Sed uti ad propositum redeam, nesciunt hi magistrum suum Aristotilem non sprevisse sed allegasse poetas. Nesciunt et ipsum, ut sermocinali philosophie traderet complementum, de arte poetica singulari libro specialiter tractavisse. Adeo princeps ille philosophorum (nec Platonem ut Arpinas excipio) poeticam non contempsit. Quam hi successores studiorum suorum, si tamen id esse vel potius dici merentur, non minus nesciunt quam reprehendunt. Sed hoc mirum non est: sine Aristotile quidem volunt Aristotelici nominari. Quibus iniuriam feceris si Platonicos appellaris, quanquam et hoc ultra Platonem sentire videantur ut poete non de ficta solum per ipsum civitate pellendi sint sed a totius orbis ambitu prohibendi. Sed expulit Plato poetas non quoslibet nec ex qualibet civitate sed inhonestos Athelanos et comicos veteres, quorum nimia licentia fuit circa obicienda et describenda flagitia. Et istos ex illa solum urbe depulit cuius statum nullo modo videre potuit sed confinxit. Nam licet rem publicam describens non qualem vidit sed qualem esse debere sibi persuaserat depinxerit civitatem, non tamen tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas (licet admiratione divinitatis et eloquentie ac vite sue periodo, que octogesimo primo anno sue etatis terminata est, qui numerus propter imparium numerorum radices in se, imo per se, multiplicatas perfectionis maxime predicatur, templis et aris cultus fuerit), non, inquam, tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas quod ex veris civitatibus etiam comici truderentur. Receperunt illa forsan aliqui tunc in scolis. Palam autem est quod id populi non receperunt in theatris, que quotidianis recitationibus fabularum et novis poetarum editionibus effervebant. Tantaque fuit apud Athenienses et totam Greciam admiratio et autoritas poetarum ut non solum non pulsi de civitate fuerint sed inter principes administrande rei publice sint recepti, prepositi bellis, et regum asciti consiliis, ut iuxta determinationes ipsorum maximorum regnorum negocia gererentur.
I expect in your next letter, you most absurd censor of the world, that you will order that grammar be subservient to the wool trade, that dialectic be subservient to weapons manufacturing. What could I think that you would not dare to do, when you think that I have set my mouth against even by touching on doctors, that divine and celestial race, when you yourself were not afraid to open your disgusting mouth against Pliny, the most preeminent man in learning and intellect of his entire age? Thus I see that they wrote about him, without excepting Galen, his contemporary (if I am not mistaken) who was himself a not unlearned man, but he had the most ample supply of uneducated and talkative successors.
Proximis tuis literis expecto, ridiculosissime rerum censor, ut lanificio iubeas subesse grammaticam, dyaleticam armature. Quid enim te rursus non ausurum putem, qui me os in celum posuisse dicas, quoniam medicos divinum ac celeste genus attigerim, cum tu impurissimum os aperire non sis veritus in Plinium Secundum, virum ex omnibus sue etatis doctrina ingenioque prestantissimum? Ita enim de illo scriptum video; nec excipitur Galienus, coetaneus – nisi fallor – suus, vir et ipse non indoctus, sed indoctorum atque loquacium abundantissimus successorum.
Beyond these people of each type, whom we consider to go wrong and slip into excess either in praise or in contentious wrangling, there are those who are called verbose, and the fault itself is called verbosity. As these people are eager to please and be gratifying, they are indeed not pleasing at all, and offer no pleasure. Indeed, they offer instead annoyance and give birth to a tedium full of exhaustion and satiety, so deceived by their judgment of things and their mountains of words that you don’t even know, from the fact that they either offend or satisfy your ears, whether they should be placed among the contentious or the stupid. But the contentious conduct themselves in such a way as to spare no one, and they don’t care at all whether they offend others. But the verbose have set their aim and intention upon delighting the audience, but while they maintain no measure and offer no delight, they cross over into the camp of the enemy and appear similar to traitors. And so, the verbose are able to please at the beginning and in the middle of the speech occasionally, but they are not held in hatred, and their speeches are refused rather than fled. But the contentious offend everywhere, and all good people direct their hatred at them as they shrink from listening to them, and even hound them with curses.
Giovanni Boccaccio, Genealogy of the Pagan Gods (1.5):
“Proper names have already been discussed, so we must speak now of common names. Cicero calls the Fates the Parcae, through antiphrasis as I believe, because they would spare (parcant) no one. They admit no exceptions for any persons, and God alone is able to change their power and order. The name Fatum or Fata is, however, derived from the verb for fari [=to speak], as if the people who imposed the name on them wished to indicate that what they do is irrevocable, as if spoken or preordained by God. We can see this readily enough in the words of Boethius, and even Augustine seems to agree in his City of God. But he holds back from using the word itself, advising us that if anyone should wish to call the will or power of God by the name of Fate, they should hold their opinion and bridle their tongue.”
De nominibus propriis predictum est, de appellativis dicendum. Vocat igitur has Tullius Parcas, ut reor per antiphrasin, quia nemini parcant; nulla enim apud eas est acceptio personarum, solus deus potest pervertere earum vires et ordinem. Fatum autem aut Fata a for faris tractum nomen est, quasi velint, qui id imposuere nomen, quod ab eis agitur a deo quasi irrevocabile dictum sit seu previsum, ut per verba Boetii satis assumitur, et etiam sentire videtur Augustinus, ubi De civitate dei. Sed abhorret ipse vocabulum admonens, ut si quisquam voluntatem dei seu potestatem nomine Fati appellet, sententiam teneat, linguam coerceat.
“Cosimo, if you read the title of my book in the upper margin, you will see that it is The Hermaphrodite. There is a bit of pussy in this book, and a bit of cock as well. Ah, what a fitting name it has, then! But if you called my book The Asshole because it sings with the old rectal flute, it will still have a pretty fitting name. If neither this name nor that seems good to you, put down whatever you would like – just make sure that it isn’t chaste!
Si titulum nostri legisti, Cosme, libelli
Marginibus primis, Hermaphroditus erat.
Cunnus et est nostro, simul est et mentula, libro:
Conveniens igitur quam bene nomen habet!
At si podicem vocites, quod podice cantet,
Non inconveniens nomen habebit adhuc.
Quod si non placeat nomen nec et hoc nec et illud,
Dummodo non castum, pone quod ipse velis.
I think that Aristotle was a great and learned man, but also that he was just a human, and for that reason I think that there are some things – nay, many things, which he was unable to know. I would say a little more if it be allowed by those who are better friends to sects than to the truth. I believe, and by Hercules I don’t doubt it, that he went totally off the rails not only in small matters (in which a mistake is a small and hardly dangerous thing), but even in the greatest things which bear upon the key point of our health. And though he may have discussed many things concerning felicity in the beginning and in the end of his Ethics, I will dare to say – and my detractors may shout as they like – that he was so deeply ignorant of true happiness that any pious old lady, or fisherman, or faithful pastor, or farmer would be happier, and perhaps even more subtle, in their knowledge of it.
Ego vero magnum quendam virum ac multiscium Aristotilem, sed fuisse hominem, et idcirco aliqua, imo et multa nescire potuisse arbitror; plus dicam, si per istos liceat non tam veri amicos quam sectarum: credo hercle, nec dubito, illum non in rebus tantum parvis, quarum parvus et minime periculosus est error, sed in maximis et spectantibus ad salutis summam aberrasse tota, ut aiunt, via. Et licet multa Ethicorum in principio et in fine de felicitate tractaverit, audebo dicere — clament ut libuerit censores mei — veram illum felicitatem sic penitus ignorasse, ut in eius cognitione, non dico subtilior, sed felicior fuerit vel quelibet anus pia, vel piscator pastorve fidelis, vel agricola.
“You know how I eat, and even how I sleep – no fortune could ever persuade me to add anything to these. Rather, I subtract a little every day, and it has reached the point now that only a little bit can be subtracted. Even if some royal fortune befell me, it could not drive frugality from my table or drive me to look for more sleep at night. My bed never holds me if I am healthy and awake, and I never toss in the sheets unless I am sick or sleeping. As soon as sleep departs from me, I depart from the bed, and I will lie enough or even more than enough on a bed of earth or rock.
Thinking about it, I hate my bed and I never return to it but at the urging of necessity, but soon I sense that I am freed from it as from the chains of nature, and without delay I rip myself out of it and flee to the closest library as though it were a citadel. This divorce occurs between me and my bed in the middle of the night: if by chance a shorter night or some late hours drag on, yet certainly dawn never sees us together. Finally, I strive with all my heart to prevent anything from coming between me and my more pleasant concerns, except that which the necessity of nature extracts from me in an imperious way – I mean things like sleep, food, and the short and honorable solace which is just enough for relaxing the body and replenishing the spirit.”
Victum meum nosti, somnum quoque; his ut addam, nulla michi unquam fortuna suaserit; demo potius aliquid in dies, iamque eo perventum est ut modicum demi possit; denique non si regie opes advenerint, aut e mensa frugalitatem pellere poterunt aut in cubiculum longos somnos arcessere. Nunquam me sanum ac vigilem lectus habet, nunquam nisi eger aut dormiens stratis versor; simul et me somnus et ego lectum desero, et somnum morti et lectulum busto simillimum duco. Cum supremus sopor obrepserit, satis superque satis in cubiculo terreo seu saxeo iacebimus; id meditans lectulum meum odi et ad illum nisi urgente necessitate non redeo, sed ab illo mox ut me nature vinclis explicitum sentio, incuntanter avellor inque bibliothecam illi proximam velut in arcem fugio. Fit hoc inter nos media nocte divortium, quod siquando forte vel nox brevior vel vigilie longiores traxerint, at profecto nunquam simul aurora nos invenit; postremo modis omnibus nitor nequid melioribus curis interveniat, preter id solum quod imperiose necessitas nature exigit, somnum dico et cibum et breve honestumque solatium vegetando corpori refovendoque animo duntaxat ydoneum. Id enimvero quia pro varietate temporum ac locorum variari oportet, et quale michi nunc sit nisi audias nosse non potes, dicam. Amo solitudinem ut soleo sectorque silentium nisi inter amicos, inter quos nemo me loquacior, hanc reor ob causam quod amicorum presentia solito rarior nunc est; raritas autem desiderium accendit. Sepe igitur annuum silentium diurna loquacitate compenso rursumque amicis abeuntibus mutus fio; importunum negotium cum vulgo loqui aut omnino cum homine quem non amor tibi seu doctrina conciliet.
Literature is, for many people, the instrument of madness, and for all it is an instrument of arrogance unless (a thing exceptionally rare) it happens to fall upon a good and well educated mind. This last mentioned author has written much about beasts and birds and fish. How many hairs a lion’s mane has, how many feathers are in the hawk’s tail, how many spirals the octopus wraps the shipwreck in; how the elephants have sex from behind and how they remain pregnant for two years, and how they are a teachable and vivacious animal approaching human intelligence and living almost two or even three centuries; how the phoenix is consumed in aromatic fire and is reborn after being burned; how the sea urchin reins in a prow driven by any force but can do nothing when taken out of the waves; how the hunter deceives the tiger with a mirror, how the Arimaspean spears a griffin, how whales deceive the sailor with their tails; how ugly is the child of a bear, how rare the child of a mule, and how the viper gives birth but once and unluckily at that; how moles are blind, how bees are deaf, and finally how the crocodile alone of all animals moves only its upper mandible.
Most of these things are false, which was clear enough when similar kinds of animals were brought to our part of the world. Or, if they were not false, at least unknown to the authors themselves, and either believed more readily or more readily invented on account of their author’s absence. Yet, for all of this, even if they were true, they have nothing to do with living a good life. For, I ask, what good will it do to know the natures of beasts, birds, fish, and serpents when we are either ignorant or contemptuous of human nature – for what purpose we are born, from where we come and where we are headed?
Sunt enim litere multis instrumenta dementie, cuntis fere superbie, nisi, quod rarum, in aliquam bonam et bene institutam animam inciderint. Multa ille igitur de beluis deque avibus ac piscibus: quot leo pilos in vertice, quot plumas accipiter in cauda, quot polipus spiris naufragum liget, ut aversi cocunt elephantes biennioque uterum tument, ut docile vivaxque animal et humano proximum ingenio et ad secundi tertiique finem seculi vivendo perveniens; ut phenix aromatico igne consumitur ustusque renascitur; ut echinus quovis actam impetu proram frenat, cum fluctibus erutus nil possit; ut venator speculo tigrem ludit, Arimaspus griphen ferro impetit, cete tergo nautam fallunt; ut informis urse partus, mule rarus, vipere unicus isque infelix, ut ceci talpe, surde apes, ut postremo superiorem mandibulam omnium solus animantium cocodrillus movet. Que quidem vel magna ex parte falsa sunt — quod in multis horum similibus, ubi in nostrum orbem delata sunt, patuit — vel certe ipsis auctoribus incomperta, sed propter absentiam vel credita promptius vel ficta licentius; que denique, quamvis vera essent, nichil penitus ad beatam vitam. Nam quid, oro, naturas beluarum et volucrum et piscium et serpentum nosse profuerit, et naturam hominum, ad quod nati sumus, unde et quo pergimus, vel nescire vel spernere?
“Charles Walker fiddled for a moment with the sheaf of papers on the desk before him and allowed the remoteness to creep back into his face. He tapped the forefinger of his right hand on his manuscript and looked toward the corner of the room away from where Stoner and Katherine Driscoll sat, as if he were waiting for something. Then, glancing every now and then at the sheaf of papers on the desk, he began.
‘Confronted as we are by the mystery of literature, and by its inenarrable power, we are behooved to discover the source of the power and mystery. And yet, finally, what can avail? The work of literature throws before us a profound veil which we cannot plumb. And we are but votaries before it, helpless in its sway. Who would have the temerity to lift that veil aside, to discover the undiscoverable, to reach the unreachable? The strongest of us are but the puniest weaklings, are but tinkling cymbals and sounding brass, before the eternal mystery.’
His voice rose and fell, his right hand went out with its fingers curled supplicatingly upward, and his body swayed to the rhythm of his words; his eyes rolled slightly upward, as if he were making an invocation. There was something grotesquely familiar in what he said and did. And suddenly Stoner knew what it was. This was Hollis Lomax—or, rather, a broad caricature of him, which came unsuspected from the caricaturer, a gesture not of contempt or dislike, but of respect and love.
Walker’s voice dropped to a conversational level, and he addressed the back wall of the room in a tone that was calm and equable with reason. ‘Recently we have heard a paper that, to the mind of academe, must be accounted most excellent. These remarks that follow are remarks that are not personal. I wish to exemplify a point. We have heard, in this paper, an account that purports to be an explanation of the mystery and soaring lyricism of Shakespeare’s art. Well, I say to you’—and he thrust a forefinger at his audience as if he would impale them— ‘I say to you, it is not true.’ He leaned back in his chair and consulted the papers on the desk. ‘We are asked to believe that one Donatus—an obscure Roman grammarian of the fourth century A.D.— we are asked to believe that such a man, a pedant, had sufficient power to determine the work of one of the greatest geniuses in all of the history of art. May we not suspect, on the face of it, such a theory? Must we not suspect it?’
Anger, simple and dull, rose within Stoner, overwhelming the complexity of feeling he had had at the beginning of the paper. His immediate impulse was to rise, to cut short the farce that was developing; he knew that if he did not stop Walker at once he would have to let him go on for as long as he wanted to talk. His head turned slightly so that he could see Katherine Driscoll’s face; it was serene and without any expression, save one of polite and detached interest; the dark eyes regarded Walker with an unconcern that was like boredom. Covertly, Stoner looked at her for several moments; he found himself wondering what she was feeling and what she wished him to do. When he finally shifted his gaze away from her he had to realize that his decision was made. He had waited too long to interrupt, and Walker was rushing impetuously through what he had to say.
‘ … the monumental edifice that is Renaissance literature, that edifice which is the cornerstone of the great poetry of the nineteenth century. The question of proof, endemic to the dull course of scholarship as distinguished from criticism, is also sadly at lack. What proof is offered that Shakespeare even read this obscure Roman grammarian? We must remember it was Ben Jonson’—he hesitated for a brief moment—’it was Ben Jonson himself, Shakespeare’s friend and contemporary, who said he had little Latin and less Greek. And certainly Jonson, who idolized Shakespeare this side of idolatry, did not impute to his great friend any lack. On the contrary, he wished to suggest, as do I, that the soaring lyricism of Shakespeare was not attributable to the burning of the midnight oil, but to a genius natural and supreme to rule and mundane law. Unlike lesser poets, Shakespeare was not born to blush unseen and waste his sweetness on the desert air; partaking of that mysterious source to whence all poets go for their sustenance, what need had the immortal bard of such stultifying rules as are to be found in a mere grammar? What would Donatus be to him, even if he had read him? Genius, unique and a law unto itself, needs not the support of such a ‘tradition’ as has been described to us, whether it be generically Latin or Donatan or whatever. Genius, soaring and free, must …’
After he became used to his anger Stoner found a reluctant and perverse admiration stealing over him. However florid and imprecise, the man’s powers of rhetoric and invention were dismayingly impressive; and however grotesque, his presence was real. There was something cold and calculating and watchful in his eyes, something needlessly reckless and yet desperately cautious. Stoner became aware that he was in the presence of a bluff so colossal and bold that he had no ready means of dealing with it.”