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Horst Steinke


tion of


. These topics, as Vico implies through the various

“digressions” across his essay, primarily concern the founding

and development of human communal life at different stages

and scales of organization (“human institutions”, §§ 408 412). In

Chapter III (

Corollaries concerning Speech by Poetic Characters among the

First Nations

), language in ancient Greece and Rome is about dy-

namically defining the terms of law, civic rights, and power

among constituencies in their societies. The sociopolitical thrust

is also ever-present in Chapter VI ([…]

concerning the Origins of

Languages and Letters,




the First Language and Litera-

ture of the Natural Law of the Gentes

), as in the description of the

beginnings of Greek and Roman property rights (§§ 433,434).

Chapter VI in particular – and largely – deals with the fundamen-

tal, and perennial, issue of property rights, culminating in the

statement: «The need for certainty of ownership was a large part

of the necessity for the invention of characters and names […].

Thus Thrice-great Mercury, a poetic character of the first found-

er of the Egyptians, was their inventor of laws and letters»

(§ 483). The concluding Chapter VII ends on a note that is con-

sistent with, and indicative of, this common thread, even when it

is not expressly exposed in the surface structure, running

through Vico’s ostensibly purely “linguistic” theorizing: the ma-

turing of (Roman) law, from the handling of cases as isolated sit-

uations, to according them «exemplary» status, and finally, to the

concept of law as «universal» (§§ 500-501)


. This part of “Poetic

Logic”, therefore, describes language in its highest and finest ex-

ercise and form, as “rhetoric” of primordial conditions of




The other part of Vico’s reflections on language can be situat-

ed at the polar opposite of the phenomenon of language. They

concern the rudiments of language: right at the start of “Poetic

Logic”, he identifies physical «gestures» as playing a key role (§

401; see also § 434); subsequently, he highlights «onomatopoeia»

(§ 447). This is followed by comments on the primordial func-