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Vico--The New Science

        For Vico, poetry ultimately has a divine source. This connects his view with the Platonic view of poetry as a function of inspiration. But, unlike Plato, Vico sees poetry itself--along with all of the other creations of humanity that make up civilization--as an object in itself worthy of study.
        Vico followed Pope's dictum that "the proper study of mankind is man." the only way to properly study man is to study the things he has made: religion, history, law, language, and (among other things) poetry. Vico believed that the principles discoverable in civilization would be found to be the principles of the human mind; thus the mesocosm could be studied in order to better understand the workings of the microcosm.
        Vico's system revolves around a teleological myth he constructed out of an amalgamation of Biblical and pagan sources. First, there appears among the various peoples of the world a recollection of a Flood. Second, all traditions--that Vico was aware of--mention a time when Giants dominated the world. God took the descendants of Shem under his wing and left those of Ham and Japeth to fend for themselves. These descendants became the giants who established civilization. they became giants by fighting for their food with the beasts of the wild. Eventually, climactic change brought thunderstorms. The flashing light and tremendous noise terrified the people, causing them to look to the skies. The fear they experienced led them to invent gods: the first step, according to Vico, on the path to civilization.
        Poetry springs out of this "crude metaphysics," invented during the period when humanity "were all robust sense and vigorous imagination," but lacked the "power of ratiocination." According to Vico "their poetry was at first divine, because . . . they imagined the causes of the things they felt and wondered at to be gods." The "first theological poets" (later priests, philosophers, and "secular" poets) wrote the first poems "of Jove, king and father of men and gods, in the act of hurling the lightning bolt." these poets--in what the French ethnologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl called participation mystique--imbued the entire cosmos with "animate" (divine) substance. Thus poetry originated, for Vico, as an attempt to understand humanity's place in the cosmos and as a further attempt to get into accord with that cosmos.
Vico proposes three functions for poetry:
1) "to invent sublime fables intended to suit the popular understanding";
2) "to perturb to excess, with a view to the end proposed"; and
3) "to teach the vulgar to act virtuously."

Vico also proposes four primary poetic tropes:
1) Metaphor--a figurative expression in which a word which ordinarily means one thing is applied to another thing, implying a likeness between the two;
2) Metonymy--a figure of speech that consists in substituting for the name of a thing an attribute of it or something which it naturally suggests;
3) Synedoche--a figure by which a more comprehensive term is used for a less comprehensive or vice versa--a part for a whole or a whole for a part; and
4) Irony--a figure in which the ordinary meanings of the words are opposite of the thought conveyed.