Revolutionaries in thought, as in art, do not invariably make an impression upon their age. Often, of course, they produce a strong and definite impact. Thus philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and, in our own time, Wittgenstein introduced radical innovations whose general significance was not lost upon their contemporaries or immediate successors. The complexities and multifarious implications of their teachings, and the extent to which these bore upon matters lying outside as well as within the range of their direct concern, may not have been adequately noticed or fully understood; but at least it was never in doubt that there was something to be noticed and understood.
Vico, by contrast, stands out as a supreme example of an original and seminal thinker of whom such notice was conspicuously lacking. In retrospect he can be seen as a landmark in the history of modern Western thought, the originator of an outlook in which whole tracts of human experience appear in a transformed perspective, and the author of a work whose perceptions still preserve—after the lapse of more than two centuries—an extraordinary freshness and haunting power. Yet during his lifetime his ideas found no sympathetic response among those who read him; moreover, the importance of what he had to say passed almost wholly unacknowledged and unappreciated for more than fifty years after his death.
There is, indeed, a sense in which, though a great forerunner, Vico has never been a major influence. The holder of a minor and badly paid professorship at the University of Naples for most of his life, he published the first edition of his masterpiece, the Scienza nuova (New Science), in 1725 and followed it with drastically revised editions in 1730 and 1744. These earned him a measure of respect as a scholar, but without recognition of the depth and novelty of the conceptions they embodied. And even when recognition eventually came, it tended to be partial and to be dependent upon the extent to which the ground had already been prepared by other thinkers. A brief glance at the history of Vico’s reputation shows it in fact to have followed an uneven course, the interpretation put upon his work and the value accorded to it being continually subject to variations in the intellectual climate.
Generally, it is true to say that Vico’s ideas only began to impinge upon the European consciousness during the period immediately subsequent to the French Revolution. He was first read in England by such men as Coleridge and Thomas Arnold, while in France counterrevolutionary writers, such as de Maistre and Ballanche, portrayed him as a source of notions diametrically opposed to those that had inspired the Enlightenment and (more specifically) the ideology of Jacobinism. In Ballanche’s opinion, for instance, he was “a somnambulist of genius” who “came a century ahead of his time”—“profoundly intuitive, he could have no effect upon the assimilative men who were the sole rulers of the eighteenth century.”
Such remarks had more than a purely political significance; behind them lay the conviction that Vico had propounded an altogether new view of history and society, and one moreover that anticipated in a striking fashion conceptions deriving from the Romantic movement in Germany. Thus it was the affinities he discerned between Vico’s approach and that of writers like Herder, Humboldt, and Niebuhr that led the French historian Jules Michelet to acclaim him as offering a premonitory vision of the shape taken by the historical studies of the early nineteenth century. It was largely as a result of Michelet’s enthusiastic advocacy, together with the translations he provided, that Vico’s views—linked in this case with a progressivist rather than a reactionary political outlook—first achieved widespread prominence.
If Vico’s reputation in the first half of the last century was mainly due to the efforts of historians and social theorists, it was a philosopher—Benedetto Croce—who was chiefly responsible for reviving interest in him at the beginning of the present one. Here, however, his work tended to be presented according to the Idealist metaphysic Croce inherited from Hegel, which he regarded as having been in many ways prefigured by the Neapolitan writer. Perhaps partly because of these Idealist associations, the attitude adopted toward Vico by Anglo-Saxon philosophers has—with one or two exceptions, such as Collingwood—been somewhat distant and tentative, so that he occupies to this day a curiously isolated position when set beside figures of comparable stature and importance.
Lip service may be paid to his name, and he is frequently to be found respectfully mentioned as a harbinger of later developments in the human and social studies; it is notorious, though, that these have tended to suffer neglect at the hands of recent philosophy, at least by contrast with the amount of attention lavished upon conceptual and methodological issues relating to the physical sciences. Some of this lack of concern has inevitably rubbed off onto Vico. Moreover, the latter’s thought is in any case resistant to tidy classification, and hard to accommodate within the main traditions to which American and British historians of ideas customarily address themselves.
What was it that Vico accomplished, making it justifiable to see him as the originator of a whole mode of thinking and as having prefigured, at least in outline, independent inquiries that have come to fruition in our own period? Speculative achievements of this order do not spring fully armed from the minds of those who conceive them, and many of Vico’s key notions originated in his study of writers who, besides the “four authors” (Plato, Tacitus, Bacon, Grotius) he singled out in his Autobiography as “models,” included among their number Lucretius, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Bodin, and Descartes. In a manner characteristic of pioneers, however, the ideas he thereby encountered and absorbed were to function as a spur rather than as a source for the eventual formation of his own philosophy. Their value, that is, consisted for him primarily in the kinds of problems they raised rather than in the solutions they offered: even if some were incorporated within what he himself wrote, they were transposed into an unfamiliar setting that often infused them with a new significance; while others were simply rejected as involving major, though suggestive, errors.
The latter was above all the case with the doctrines of Descartes. For these Vico seems to have felt a temperamental, and not merely an intellectual, antipathy, and it is against the background of his emancipation from them that the emergence of what is crucially distinctive in his own outlook can best be delineated and understood. In view of the persistence of cardinal strands of the Cartesian tradition in the later development of Western philosophy, it was a break with far-reaching implications.
The assault which Vico initiated in 1708, with his lecture On the Study Methods of our Time, was to continue over a period of years, gradually gaining in depth and momentum. Descartes’ theory of knowledge, still profoundly influential at the outset of the eighteenth century, was almost exclusively oriented toward mathematics and the natural sciences, he and his followers tending to treat with disdain whatever lay outside their scope. Specifically, this meant relegating such subjects as history, politics, and the study of law and language to a peripheral place. Furthermore, it was founded upon the claim that (as in geometry) the only propositions that could finally be accepted as certain in any domain were intuitably self-evident truths, together with such consequences as were derivable from them by a rigorous process of logical inference. Vico moved against this position, at first on a relatively narrow front and subsequently on a very broad one.
Thus he began by challenging the Cartesian account at a single, but nonetheless vital, point—its application to natural science. He agreed that the propositions of pure mathematics were, as Descartes had insisted, models of clarity, and such that to deny or question them was to invite absurdity. He argued, though, that Descartes had been fundamentally mistaken in his conception of what guaranteed their validity and that, once this was pointed out, it could be seen to constitute an error fatal to his entire scientific methodology. For the latter involved the assumption that the structure of the physical universe could be presented in the form of statements which possessed the same unassailable character as those of arithmetic and geometry.
But this, Vico claimed, was to overlook a crucial consideration, namely that the transparent certitude of mathematical reasoning derives solely from the circumstance that we ourselves create the “world of forms and numbers” with which it deals, its elements being fictions or conceptual constructions related to one another according to rules that we have freely devised for our own use: mathematics did not record or reflect the inner nature of things, but was rather an arbitrary product of the human mind. None of the foregoing was true, on the other hand, of the material world investigated by the natural sciences; this was given to us as a “brute” reality, and it had been created, not by men, but by God. Thus the Cartesian attempt to assimilate physical theories to mathematical systems, finding for both a common ground and criterion of truth in the doctrine of clear and distinct ideas, rested ultimately upon an illusions.
Vico’s conception of mathematics as a matter of invention rather than discovery was, in its time, both novel and arresting: some have seen it as foreshadowing Kantian ideas, while others (more plausibly) have regarded it as strikingly anticipatory of approaches to the subject that have only become current in the present century. In his eyes, however, it was connected with, and subsidiary to, a wider thesis which he later used to give a radically new twist to his objections to Cartesianism and which was to form the basis of his projected historical science.
This was the principle of verum factum, “the true (verum) and the made (factum) are convertible”: more generally, we can fully know only that which we ourselves have created. Whether this doctrine—at least in his formulation of it—originated with Vico, or whether (as has been maintained) he acquired it from earlier sources, does not really matter. What is essential is the original manner in which he employed it. For in his hands it became an instrument with which to undermine the notion that the science of physics represented the paradigm of true knowledge, one that other forms of inquiry must either conform to or else be dismissed as devoid of serious interest.
As Aristotle had long before indicated, it was wrong to suppose that all branches of study must necessarily follow the same pattern, whether geometrical or of some other kind; on the contrary, the methods we used, the categories we applied, should be adapted to our subject matter. So far as the investigation of nature was concerned, we could—by controlled observation and the construction of experiments—discover uniformities that enabled us, within limits, to explain and predict what occurred. Yet neither the natural phenomena themselves, nor the laws to which they were subject, were of our own contrivance; seventeenth-century theorists had been right in stressing that it was “unscientific” to anthropomorphize nature, to treat it as if it were intelligible in human or quasi-human terms.
But for that very reason there must always be a sense in which nature and its workings were opaque to our understanding. This, Vico held, followed directly from the verum factum principle, making it possible to draw a line between the natural sciences and the historical studies that was not only sharp and determinate but also (contrary to the Cartesian view) greatly to the advantage of the latter. For the world of human society, having been made by men in their capacity as volitional agents, was something that they could—through a type of imaginative interpretation and reconstruction that had no analogue in the unavoidable “external” procedures of physical science—inwardly grasp and comprehend. As he put it in a famous passage:
Whoever reflects on this cannot but marvel that the philosophers should have bent all their energies to the study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, He alone truly knows; and should have neglected the study of the world of nations which, since men have made it, man can truly know.
It is not necessary to follow Vico in his rather quaint claim to have established an epistemological priority of the human studies over natural science to recognize in such words the intimation of a distinction which has since become familiar and which, despite recurrent attacks upon it by positivistically minded writers, is likely to remain so. Acceptance of the division implied has taken various forms: it underlay the development of nineteenth-century German historicism, was given sophisticated philosophical expression by men like Dilthey and Collingwood in more recent times, and may be said to have emerged once again in current controversies among analytical philosophers regarding the logical character of historical and sociological explanations. Basically, it involves the contention that the type of identificatory knowledge and understanding we can obtain of happenings in the human realm is sui generis, irreducible in principle to other sorts of cognition; and this—although not in the sense sometimes ascribed to him—Vico certainly believed.
But it was also connected in his mind with a host of further considerations that together entailed a drastic reappraisal of the significance of the human past. Foremost among them was the notion that human nature itself can be understood only in so far as man is envisaged as a historical being, who creates himself in the course of his dealings with the world and who is what he is because of what he has been. It was for this reason impossible, in matters relating to human affairs and institutions, to eschew genetic inquiries or to dismiss the material discussed by historians as being without real importance or value; it was equally misguided, and at root part of the same gross error, to seek to interpret past ages by contemporary standpoints and interests, as if men had always conceived of themselves and the world in the same unchanging light.
Thus the ultimate failure of the accounts of society framed by seventeenth-century political and legal theorists like Hobbes and Pufendorf consisted in their propensity to accredit men with a fixed and universal essence, invariant from one historical era to another; they had thereby been led, Vico maintained, to attribute to people of earlier times styles of consciousness and motivation which were quite foreign to them and which they would have found wholly unintelligible. It followed that the entire panoply of rationalizing abstractions that writers of the modern period were apt to foist upon the past must be swept aside, to be replaced by conceptions that would enable us to recapture and do justice to the actual manner in which men of different cultural epochs thought and conducted themselves.
How could such a program, necessitating an ability on the part of the historian to transcend the limits set by his own cultural position, be carried out? In spite of what some commentators have implied, the kind of imaginative re-creation of former outlooks and modes of life Vico contemplated did not require the postulation of a mysterious power of divination or non-empirical intuition; ideas of this kind would, indeed, be hard to reconcile with his characteristic approach to history.
One of his chief objections to the abstract theories of “the philosophers” was their disregard for the concrete remains and traces which the “deeds of the peoples” left in their wake and which now lay waiting to be deciphered. His own recommendations, by contrast, presupposed a respect for the evidence at the historian’s disposal that was—in intention at least—uncompromisingly firm and down-to-earth. What had formerly been lacking was a properly directed appreciation of that evidence, or even a capacity to see it as evidence at all. And what Vico in effect proposed was a radical shift of perspective, one that would exhibit the resources available in a fresh aspect and show how they opened up hitherto unsuspected possibilities of exploring the mentalities of societies remote in time from our own.
It is this attempt to introduce a comprehensive change of viewpoint, disruptive of the narrow distorting categories of conventional historiography and social analysis, that struggles for expression in the sibylline aphorisms and encumbered paragraphs of the New Science. In certain respects (as James Joyce seems to have felt) Vico’s general manner of proceeding was not unlike Freud’s: there was the same ruthless readiness to press questions not previously asked and to probe phenomena that had been taken for granted or barely noticed, the same distrust of the conveniently easy explanations provided by the rationalizing intellect, the same sharp eye for revealing clues in a continual search after dark beginnings and primitive origins.
In Vico’s case, however, the material that afforded the starting point of his quest did not consist in the symptomatic behavior and fantasies of contemporary individuals, but in the collective products of mankind at different stages of its development: social traditions enshrined in systems of custom or law, forms of religious and political organization, works of art, and—above all—the kinds of language men use and the myths and fables they invent. In his treatment of these various manifestations of human creativity he was guided throughout by his conviction that the manner in which the human mind worked and expressed itself over the course of time did not conform to a single uniform pattern. It was, therefore, only by allowing the things done or made by earlier generations to speak directly to us, instead of imposing upon them interpretations drawn from our own modes of life, that we could hope to enter into the worlds of feeling and experience from which they immediately and spontaneously sprang; they must be understood in their terms, not ours.
If we are looking for models, Vico says, we should turn to children; this is a theme to which he constantly reverts, and it is in fact integral to his methodology as a whole. The movement from childhood through adolescence to maturity in the case of the individual mirrors in miniature the stages through which societies must pass, and it can, therefore, be claimed that the child’s perceptions and thought processes, as experienced at some time by all of us, offer an insight at firsthand into the outlooks of the savage and heroic periods that preceded our own “civil” one. Like children, our early ancestors apprehended the world in a sensuous and pictorial manner, involving a fusion of fact with imaged fantasy that has no counterpart in the prosaic distinctions and abstract categories which govern the ideas of men belonging to the civil stage.
It is precisely this imaginative capacity—“robust in proportion as reasoning power is weak”—to which Vico said we must look if we wish to uncover the real significance of the characters and events described in legend and myth: these were not, as had been falsely supposed, lies put about by priests in the pursuit of sinister interests, nor even stories composed by sages with a deliberately allegorical meaning. They should rather be understood, along with the poetic language in which they were communicated and passed down, as representing the medium through which the men of their period found it natural to express their vision of the world and to articulate their dominant preoccupations, fears, and aspirations.
Mythology, interpreted in this fashion, was an invaluable means to the recovery of the past, and so too (according to Vico) was etymology. By tracing the history of words, and by tracking down metaphors which now lie fossilized in the terms of current speech but were once the live embodiments of analogies vividly perceived, layers of consciousness could be revealed of whose existence sophisticated scholars and theorists had not the faintest inkling. Nothing, certainly, could be further from the sphere of sharply defined conceptions and orderly analyses inhabited by the scientifically minded Cartesian philosopher.
What underlay much that Vico had to say on these topics was a refusal to regard the content and structure of human thought and consciousness as being separable from the manner in which they characteristically find expression in different historical and social contexts. His observation that “minds are formed by the character of language, not language by the minds of those who speak it” evinces his rejection of the belief that the words men use, the symbolisms they employ, are conventional labels attached to a preexistent set of abstract ideas and notions envisaged as somehow preserving their identity from one historical epoch to another. In spirit, his remark has perhaps something in common with Lévi-Strauss’s claim that “myths think themselves out in men and without men’s knowledge.”
In Vico’s eyes, forms of language and of myth were alike constitutive of the very workings of the mentalities of peoples, and it was essential to take account of this when seeking to interpret the minds and outlooks of human beings less advanced than ourselves. He spoke in this connection of the “imaginative universals” (generi fantastici) by means of which (he believed) primitive men thought and communicated and which he contrasted with the discursive class concepts of developed languages. In primitive societies, he argued, some determinate image or representative figure was understood as signifying a wide range of phenomena that were seen as embodying resemblances or parallels with it, often in ways that would strike us as farfetched or merely metaphorical but that seemed to those who employed it entirely natural.
Indeed, the very distinction between the “literal” and the “metaphorical,” Vico implied, is dependent upon, and grows up pari passu with, the capacity for abstract conception and ratiocination: it has no place in the thinking of those whose mental processes are permeated by a pervasive use of concrete natural imagery and sensuous emblems. When, for example, the primitive refers to his anger as “the boiling of the blood around the heart,” or when—animistically—he attributes human passions (like love or hate) to elements in the physical world, his portrayals are in no sense intended as fanciful embellishments of facts that could be restated without change of meaning in prosaic nonfigurative terms, but must instead be regarded as a direct manifestation of his own distinctive manner of approaching and making sense of his experience.
Similar considerations applied to myths, once these were seen—as Vico thought they should be—as expressive of how men conceived of themselves and of the relations subsisting between them and their natural and social environments. The figures whose exploits were described in classical mythology—such as Hercules and Orpheus—were comparable to “models or ideal portraits”; they were “poetic characters” who served to illustrate and bring into focus activities and preoccupations of vital cultural significance. Their manner of doing so might seem bizarre and even illogical when judged by the standards of sophisticated times, but our modes of understanding are not those of their creators, and we should not allow their apparent incongruity or absurdity (making them in some ways comparable to dreams) to obscure from view the psychological and social realities that underlay them and which they mirrored or expressed.
It was with this in mind that Vico introduced the notion of “credible impossibilities.” He spoke, for instance, of the fashion in which the first “theological poets” pictured Jove, identifying him with the sky and at the same time treating him as the lord of the universe, a symbol of authority and of the forces to which men in their original savage condition must necessarily submit themselves—“It is impossible,” he wrote, “that bodies should be minds,” yet for all that, “It was believed that the thundering sky was Jove.”
Subsequent Greco-Roman myths must be interpreted along the same lines: they should be regarded neither as repositories of eternal metaphysical wisdom, nor again merely as extravagant fictions or idle fantasies, but rather as imaginative projections of historical and social truths concerning the achievements, institutions, and customs of the peoples who originated them. Thus behind such stories as those of the rape of Proserpine and her removal to the underworld lay references to tilling and sowing; at the source of tales concerning Theseus and the Minotaur were to be found allusions to the difficulties of navigation and the dangers of piracy; while beneath innumerable other fables involving gods and heroes, monsters and mortals, it was possible to uncover representations of bitter conflicts between the aristocratic and plebeian classes into which early societies were divided.
The notion of class dissension was in fact a continuing theme in Vico’s conception of historical change. In addition to giving his account of how mythological narratives should be read a further dimension of interest, this may also be regarded as plainly anticipatory of an approach to history whose full implications have only comparatively recently come to be appreciated and explored.
Such many-sidedness, suggestive of a variety of different applications and extensions, is typical of a number of Vico’s leading conceptions: whatever their relevance to historical methodology, they can also be viewed as bearing upon matters that lie beyond the confines of history proper and belong rather to the province of studies—like sociology and anthropology—that only emerged long after he himself wrote. No doubt the detailed interpretations he provided of mythological and linguistic phenomena often appear in retrospect to be unconvincing or wild, involving erratic inferences from shaky data to doubtful conclusions. It is true, too, that he never made particularly clear the criteria by which his interpretations could be tested and judged correct, or indeed showed why they should be preferred to plausible alternatives that might be offered.
But this in no way detracts from his percipience in recognizing that a sympathetic and careful attention to the phenomena in question might open the way to wholly new modes of investigating man’s nature as a social being, especially when such a program is considered within the wider perspective of some of his other ideas. By insisting that the various aspects of a community’s life—linguistic, religious, economic, legal, political—are intimately related to one another, interpenetrating at different levels and in often unsuspected ways, he prefigured to an astonishing degree theories of social development which were later to gain widespread acceptance through the influence of writers like Comte, Hegel, and Marx.
Likewise, he conceived the notion that many of the beliefs and values current in a given society could frequently be interpreted as answering to, or as helping to justify, basic needs and interests, particularly those of dominant sections or groups; he was, in other words, alive to the suggestion—associated with what is now known as “the sociology of knowledge”—that ideologies possess a social role that can be assessed independently of questions regarding their truth or validity. Again, he implied (as modern sociologists, from Durkheim onward, have done) that certain practices and customs may play a part in preserving or forwarding the interests of a society in a manner which is opaque to those who observe them and which does not involve attributing this function to conscious purpose or design. Vico’s cryptic references to a providential order underlying human history may, for instance, be partly interpreted in this fashion. At the same time, he never diverged from the conviction that it was necessary to understand a culture in its own terms, and not by reference to some abstract model of how men in general think and behave.
This did not rule out the use of a comparative method with a view to discovering significant parallels; it did mean, though, that for comparisons among different cultures to be just, they must be restricted to societies at similar stages of intellectual or institutional development. Although Vico’s problematic allusions to a “mental language common to all nations” are sometimes cited in support of the claim that he anticipated contemporary “structuralist” approaches in anthropology, the belief that certain universally pervasive patterns of thought are exemplified throughout the entire range of cultural phenomena seems foreign to the spirit that informed his work as a whole.
These, then, are among the suggestions thrown off by Vico’s writings; their remarkable originality and prescience make it difficult to realize that 200 years had to elapse before anyone undertook the (admittedly arduous) task of translating the Scienza nuova into English. The rendering by T. G. Bergin and M. H. Fisch, a revised version of which has now been published, first appeared in 1948, and was in every way an exemplary piece of scholarship. In its new form it has been further improved by the addition of numerous cross-references to assist the reader in picking his way through the labyrinthine text. It is accompanied, too, by a valuable introductory essay explaining the precise meaning Vico intended the full title of the book—Principles of New Science of Giambattista Vico concerning the Common Nature of the Nations—to bear.
Here Professor Fisch shows the same qualities of clarity, insight, and care that distinguished his classic introduction to the version of Vico’s Autobiography which he and his fellow-translator produced in 1944 and which remains an indispensable guide to the understanding and interpretation of its author’s intellectual progress. Despite such efforts, however, most English-speaking readers are still likely to find the New Science oddly opaque and obscure, and it would be an understatement to say that it is neither studied nor discussed at all widely at the present time. It is, therefore, welcome that the tercentenary of Vico’s birth should have been marked by the appearance of a comprehensive volume of articles that may help to stimulate the kind of serious and thorough reconsideration that he undoubtedly deserves but that—at any rate outside his native country—he rarely receives.
The International Symposium which G. Tagliacozzo and H. V. White have compiled and edited contains forty-one essays by contemporary writers—American, European, and Commonwealth—on different aspects of Vichian thought. It falls, broadly, into two halves, the first (chiefly by Italian scholars) comprising comparative historical studies relating Vico to his predecessors and successors, while the second deals with correspondences between his fundamental preoccupations and those now current in such diverse fields as social history and anthropology, legal theory, mathematics, epistemology, linguistics, and aesthetics. Thus the net has been cast very wide, a policy which is defended by the editors on the grounds that previous interpretations of Vico have been too narrowly based and that only now, with the rise to maturity of a host of specialist disciplines dealing with matters of the sort that concerned him, are we in a position to achieve a comprehensive grasp of his peculiar foresight and inventiveness.
There must, of course, always be a danger, in the case of some formerly underrated or misunderstood figure, of a compensatory overestimation of his worth, of accrediting him with more than can—given the context in which he wrote—validly be ascribed to him. Vico himself would have been the first to acknowledge this, and it is in fact only rarely—as perhaps in Herbert Read’s rather strained attempt to “estimate the debt of the modern movement in English poetry to Vico’s philosophy”—that the contributors to the symposium appear to slip over the edge. For the most part they have kept their heads, carefully distinguishing influences from parallels, and at the same time pointing up some of the differences, as well as the similarities, between Vico’s conceptions and modern lines of inquiry.
Yet the analogies and continuities remain and are striking. Signor Tagliacozzo’s claim in the Preface that “the peaks Vico reached in one bound have been gradually conquered one by one over a long period” may stand in need of qualification and is not corroborated by all that follows. Even so, it contains more than a germ of the truth. For this reason alone it was well worth producing a commemorative volume in which some of Vico’s myriad connections with recent, as well as more traditional, disciplines could be firmly identified and explained.
When all has been said, however, an unfathomable quality still clings to the New Science: it remains at once elusive and inexhaustible, the product of a man in the grip of a vision which he intuitively understood, but which baffled his age and which appeared to outrun his own powers of articulate exposition. At the center of that vision lay the perception that the human mind has to be comprehended “in depth,” that we can never fully grasp its character without taking into consideration the diverse ways in which men may envisage themselves and the world and without recognizing how such outlooks succeed one another in response to different kinds of circumstance and need. The novelty of this perception, analogous in certain respects to the “discovery” of perspective in the history of painting, becomes apparent when it is set beside the flat diagrammatic portrayals of human nature to be found in the writings of his predecessors and contemporaries.
Yet for all his intellectual precocity, his actual style and cast of thinking often recall the imaginative or “poetic” type of mentality he ascribed to the early heroic periods of human evolution; it was with those, rather than with the times to which he belonged, that one feels his real sympathies lay. Perhaps Vico had this partly in view when, describing his work in a letter, he said that it had filled him with “a certain heroic spirit, so that I am no longer troubled by any fear of death, nor have I any mind to speak of rivals.”
May 20, 1971