Horst Steinke, Vico’s Ring. Notes on the“Scienza nuova”, its Structure, and the Hermeneutics of Homer’s Works
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Vico’s Ring


themselves in a position on a par with the status that Spinoza

concedes to the «prophets» and/or authors of the Scriptures, to

whom he applied the disclaimer that «what God is […], Scripture

[that is, their extant pronouncements] does not teach formally,

and as eternal doctrine»



In the scientific field of chemistry, our relevant primary

source material is Spinoza’s correspondence with Henry Olden-

burg in London, with, and through, whom he entered into a de-

bate about Robert Boyle’s experimental and theoretical views



Letters 6



, in particular


, although there are a number of

other letters that are also relevant to the subject. On an initial

reading, these two letters seem to be about detailed descriptions

of experiments, conducted both by Boyle and Spinoza, and their

results, involving primarily “nitre”, i.e. potassium nitrate, but also

general physical properties such as «fluidity» and «solidity», as

dealt with in the extremely lengthy

Letter 6

. But beneath the sur-

face of the “technical” details


, between the lines, but at times

not so opaquely, the more fundamental, and therefore more ir-

reconcilable, differences cannot be overlooked. Spinoza actually,

with his characteristic incisiveness, sums up


key points of con-

tention at the very beginning of

Letter 6


First, he gathers from his experiment […] that Nitre is a heterogeneous

thing, consisting of fixed and volatile parts. Its nature, however […] is

quite different from the nature of its component parts […]. For this

conclusion to be regarded as valid, I suggest that a further experiment

seems to be required to show that Spirit of Nitre is not really Nitre


To make this clear, I shall briefly set forth what occurs to me as the

simplest explanation of this redintregation of Nitre […]. […] I shall

posit no difference between Spirit of Nitre and Nitre itself other than

that which is sufficiently obvious; to wit, that the particles of the latter

are at rest whereas those of the former […] are in a state of considera-

ble commotion. With regard to the fixed salt, I shall

suppose that this