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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

In Partenio's Della Imitatione Poetica 1560


In

the first place, the imitation of the classics resulted in the study and cult of external form. Elegance, polish, clearness of design, became objects of study for themselves; and as a result we have the formation of aesthetic taste, and the growth of a classic purism, to which many of the literary tendencies of the Renaissance may be traced.[240] Under Leo X. and throughout the first half of the sixteenth century, the intricacies of style and versification were carefully studied. Vida was the first to lay down laws of imitative harmony;[241] Bembo, and after him Dolce and others, studied the poetic effect of different sounds, and the onomatopoeic value of the various vowels and consonants;[242] Claudio Tolomei attempted to introduce classical metres into the vernacular;[243] Trissino published subtle and systematic researches in Tuscan language and versification.[244] Later, the rhetorical treatises of Cavalcanti (1565), Lionardi (1554), and Partenio (1560), and the more practical manuals of Fanucci (1533), Equicola (1541), and Ruscelli (1559), all testify to the tremendous impulse which the imitation of the classics had given to the study of form both in classical and vernacular literatures.

In Vida's _Ars Poetica_ there are abundant evidences of the rhetorical and especially the puristic tendencies of modern classicism. The mechanical conception of poetic expression, in which imagination, sensibility, and passion are subjected to the elaborate

and intricate precepts of art, is everywhere found in Vida's poem. Like Horace, Vida insists on long preparation for the composition of poetry, and warns the poet against the indulgence of his first impulses. He suggests as a preparation for the composition of poetry, that the poet should prepare a list of phrases and images for use whenever occasion may demand.[245] He impresses upon the poet the necessity of euphemistic expressions in introducing the subject of his poem; for example, the name of Ulysses should not be mentioned, but he should be referred to as one who has seen many men and many cities, who has suffered shipwreck on the return from Troy, and the like.[246] In such mechanical precepts as these, the rhetoric of seventeenth-century classicism is anticipated. Its restraint, its purity, its mechanical side, are everywhere visible in Vida. A little later, in Daniello, we find similar puristic tendencies. He requires the severe separation of _genres_, decorum and propriety of characterization, and the exclusion of everything disagreeable from the stage. In Partenio's _Della Imitatione Poetica_ (1560), the poet is expressly forbidden the employment of the ordinary words in daily use,[247] and elegance of form is especially demanded. Partenio regards form as of superior importance to subject or idea; for those who hear or read poetry care more for beauty of diction than for character or even thought.[248]

It is on merely rhetorical grounds that Partenio distinguishes excellent from mediocre poetry. The good poet, unlike the bad one, is able to give splendor and dignity to the most trivial idea by means of adornments of diction and disposition. This conception seems to have particularly appealed to the Renaissance; and Tasso gives expression to a similar notion when he calls it the poet's noblest function "to make of old concepts new ones, to make of vulgar concepts noble ones, and to make common concepts his own."[249] In a higher and more ideal sense, poetry, according to Shelley, "makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar."[250]


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