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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

Trissino seems to follow Cicero


[201]

Trissino, ii. 127-130. Trissino seems to follow Cicero, _De Orat._ ii. 58 _sq._ It is to these Italian discussions of the ludicrous that the theory of laughter formulated by Hobbes, and after him by Addison, owes its origin. For Renaissance discussions of wit and humor before the introduction of Aristotle's _Poetics_, _cf._ the third and fourth books of Pontano's _De Sermone_, and the second book of Castiglione's _Cortigiano_.

[202] Maggi, p. 307. _Cf._ Hobbes, _Human Nature_, 1650, ix. 13.

[203] _Cf._ B. Tasso, ii. 515; Robortelli, p. 2; etc.

[204] _Don Quix._ iv. 21.

[205] _Hamlet_, iii. 2.

[206] Scaliger, _Poet._ i. 2. Castiglione, in the second book of the _Cortigiano_, says that the comic writer, more than any other, expresses the true image of human life.

[207] _Poet._ i. 5.

[208] _Poet._ iii. 96.

[209] Symonds, _Ren. in Italy_, v. 124 _sq._, 533 _sq._

CHAPTER IV

THE THEORY OF EPIC POETRY

EPIC poetry was held in the highest esteem during the Renaissance and indeed throughout the period of classicism. It was regarded by Vida as the highest form of poetry,[210]

and a century later, despite the success of tragedy in France, Rapin still held the same opinion.[211] The reverence for the epic throughout the Renaissance may be ascribed in part to the mediaeval veneration of Virgil as a poet, and his popular apotheosis as prophet and magician, and also in part to the decay into which dramatic literature had fallen during the Middle Ages in the hands of the wandering players, the _histriones_ and the _vagantes_. Aristotle[212] indeed had regarded tragedy as the highest form of poetry; and as a result, the traditional reverence for Virgil and Homer, and the Renaissance subservience to Aristotle, were distinctly at variance. Trissino (1561) paraphrases Aristotle's argument in favor of tragedy, but points out, notwithstanding this, that the whole world is unanimous in considering Virgil and Homer greater than any tragic poet before or after them.[213] Placed in this quandary, he concludes by leaving the reader to judge for himself whether epic or tragedy be the nobler form.

I. _The Theory of the Epic Poem_

Vida's _Ars Poetica_, written before 1520, although no edition prior to that of 1527 is extant, is the earliest example in modern times of that class of critical poems to which belong Horace's _Ars Poetica_, Boileau's _Art Poetique_, and Pope's _Essay on Criticism_. Vida's poem is entirely based on that of Horace; but he substitutes epic for Horace's dramatic studies, and employs the _AEneid_ as the model of an epic poem. The incompleteness of the treatment accorded to epic poetry in Aristotle's _Poetics_ led the Renaissance to deduce the laws of heroic poetry and of poetic artifice in general from the practice of Virgil; and it is to this point of view that the critical works on the _AEneid_ by Regolo (1563), Maranta (1564), and Toscanella (1566) owe their origin. The obvious and even accidental qualities of Virgil's poem are enunciated by Vida as fundamental laws of epic poetry. The precepts thus given are purely rhetorical and pedagogic in character, and deal almost exclusively with questions of poetic invention, disposition, polish, and style. Beyond this Vida does not attempt to go. There is in his poem no definition of the epic, no theory of its function, no analysis of the essentials of narrative structure. In fact, no theory of poetry in any real sense is to be found in Vida's treatise.


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