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Horst Steinke


leaving their unburied bodies instead as a prey to dogs and vul-

tures» (§ 781). Also, the reactions and actions of the heroes of



are held up as emblematic of “heroic/[barbarous]” ra-

ther than “civil/[civilized]” human nature


(§ 783).

Vico clarifies his usage of the term “poetry” by distinguishing

it from the alternative early modern (and modern) usage of “art

imitating life”, in his words, «poetry [as] an imitation besides»


(§ 812). Rather, for Vico, “poetry”, as already discussed in con-

nection with Book II, “Poetic Wisdom”, brings “reality”, or the

world of human ideas, actions, and relations, into being in the

first place


, and to this creative language Vico refers as “myths”

and “fables”, counterintuitively and perhaps even ironically



saying that «[t]he fables in their origin were true and severe nar-

rations, whence


, fable, was defined as

vera narratio

» (§ 814).

In accordance with his “philosophical” and “philological” com-

mitments, these original literary productions were unvarnished

expressions of key aspects of life at the time, their initial

“gross[ness]” (§ 814) in fact testifying to their authenticity



This has major hermeneutical and methodological implications:

if “poetry/myths/fables” are taken to be originary, they consti-

tute the key determinants in terms of which to understand, and

interpret, the archaic world


. The role and use of “context”,

then, takes on a radically different meaning: rather than making

the first ”poetic” creations subject to the putative illuminating

insights from the historical background, the first “poet-

ry/myths/fables” themselves form the underlying “context” in

which everything else is to be elucidated. In this perspective, Vi-

co is turning Spinoza’s historical-critical method on its head



This interpretive «master key» leads Vico to endeavor to dis-

cern in the ancient poems, myths, and fables «the memories of

the institutions and laws that bind [men] within their societies»

(§ 812), thus embarking on a project of “historical reconstruc-



. That such a project entails stupendous complexity and

problematics needs no special emphasis


; therefore, our ap-