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Horst Steinke


marcate the content of the Homeric poems), described in such

phrases as «a mind chastened and civilized by any sort of philos-

ophy» (§ 785); «the constancy […] developed and fixed by the

study of the wisdom of the philosophers […] a philosopher’s

gravity and propriety of thought» (§ 786); «maxims of life, as be-

ing general, […] as sentences of philosophers, and reflections on

the passions themselves are the work of false and frigid poets»

(§ 825); «not […] the natural product of a calm, cultivated, and

gentle philosopher» (§ 828), and «a straightforward, orderly, and

serious mind such as befits a philosopher» (§ 831). Vico, of

course, counted himself among this intellectual class, but he

made a Herculean effort to transcend its strictures, and give

credit where credit is due, for the genesis and generation of

knowledge about the world (italics added):

[…] the [archaic] peoples, who were almost all body and almost no re-

flection must have been all vivid sensation

in perceiving particulars

, strong


in apprehending and enlarging them

, sharp wit

in referring them to

their imaginative genera

, and robust memory

in retaining them


(§ 819).

Their world consisted not only of the external physical envi-

ronment, but also, and more especially so, of the world of social

relations and institutions (juridical/governmental)

in the creation

of the first forms of which, in fact, they were engaged in. As al-

ready stated above, in the Book’s conclusion, Vico relegated

“philosophy” to a dependent position on “poetry” which pro-

vided “philosophy” with the original, fundamental issues and

problems to reflect on, but furthermore «supplied them also with

means of expounding them» (§ 901). There is, on Vico’s part, no

implicit reference to Spinoza, nor need there be one, in order to

justify a comparison. Vico’s argument is not directed against phi-

losophy as such, after all, he was a philosopher himself, but con-

cerns itself with the relative position and status of “philosophy”

and “poetry” (always understood in the Vichian sense), and with

respect to this relation, “poetry” comes first, diachronically and