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Horst Steinke


«heroic commonwealths (repubbliche eroiche)»


. This serves to

direct our attention to §§ 246-294 on how forms of rule/

governance/states historically have been aligned with certain cul-

tural-anthropological conditions, with respect to which Rome

was no exception. Conversely, actual Roman legal history is illu-

minated by the overarching principles set forth in Book I; the

segment is therefore not simply supporting material but presents

us with the kind of nexus of “philosophy” and “philology” that

Vico promised in Book I.


Vico’s “axiomatic method”

In view of the juridical and governance-related background

and thematic weighting of

Scienza nuova

, the presentation of the

guiding principles in the language of Euclidean geometry is sur-

prising, and

prima facie



. One way to make Vico’s choice

intelligible is to see it in a historical context. In this connection,

without going back further than the Italian Renaissance


, math-

ematics took on a “game-changing” role, irrespective of whether

historically it is entirely correct to speak of a “revival” of mathe-

matics or not


. In the 16


century, Tartaglia and Benedetti relied

heavily on Euclidean terminology (axioms, definitions, postu-

lates, etc.) in explicating physical phenomena. And, of course, in

the 17


century, the greatest scientist of them all was Galileo

who put “mathematical physics” on a more solid footing than

any of his predecessors. In addition to the increased technical

proficiencies in mathematics


, however, what is more relevant to

the present discussion is the aura of intellectual rigor and certain-

ty given the Euclidean axiomatic system and the power of deduc-

tion. Did Vico therefore join in the


and conceive of his

own “Elements” as a logically sound and unassailable set of

propositions? Our answer to this question will have to wait until

later in this section. Let us nevertheless acknowledge from the

outset that Vico scholarship has seen the “Elements” more in