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2. Vico’s Homeric Ékphrasis
Pope’s crisis becomes Vico’s opportunity. His “new science” is bundled up within gradual “improvements” to his ur-text, the 1725 edition. Pope the professional poet had made the decision to “Englysshe” Homer to the tastes of the general reading public, forgoing scrupulous attention to the Greek, of he which he did not have a true philologist’s command. 
Homer remained integral when Vico altered the thrust of his system to de-emphasize law and refocus on European cultural history. He commissioned an engraving for the dipintura of the 1725 edition, which he hoped would establish the scope of his argument before he elaborated it. As a precedent, he cited an ancient text:
Superficially, Vico is establishing that his work will set out in a carefully rationalistic form the history of, in his parlance, “gentile” social practices. Vico makes use of a double entente, since “table” (tavola) can also be translated by the French cognate tableau, in the sense of “picture.” Giuseppe Mazzotta has noted that, as innovative as the device may seem, it has substantial precedents:
To interpret the iconography justly, one should supplement Mazzotta’s reference to Vico’s awareness of the emblematic “convention” with the observation that the frontispiece and its accompanying explanation represent Vico’s effort to show that he was familiar with the new instruments archeology and textual criticism (philology) that were revolutionizing classical scholarship; as Joseph Levine comments:
The frontispiece represents more than an attempt to link it with late Renaissance philosophy. Vico also has created a propaedeutic vehicle from which he can perform an ékphrasis—i.e., an aetiological narrative of an ad hoc yet nominally familiar set of icons. The obvious fons et origo of this device is Homer’s own ékphrasis: Achilles’ Shield at Iliad 18.410–617. But one must not stop here, for, true to his habitual simultaneous dependence on the modes of antiquity and involvement in the Quarrel, Vico’s referential strategy places him in the mainstream that began with late Renaissance aesthetics, and serves as a springboard for his goal of developing a Scienza Nuova. Homer’s own central importance in this ékphrasis is plain. Vico states:
Vico minces no words about his low opinion of Homer’s heroes. That he was, in this particular, a child of the same epistēmē  as Pope is brought home by the criticism made commonly in Pope’s own day that his Iliad translation was too polished. At all events, the progression Vico is trying to make from the “torpid and stupid” Homeric characters to the “theological poets” is, by contrast, quite obscure at this point.
In this little narrative, Vico at one stroke hits upon both the linguistic and the “found object” aspects of the Homeric Question. He makes Homer integral to the “evolutionary model” that serves as the foundation for his theory of history. The connection is sealed at the section’s end when Vico drops a clue to his ulterior purpose, introducing the “three ages,” through which his arguments eventually became so thoroughly cannibalized by more than a few literati not known for their philosophical acumen, e.g., Hugo and Joyce:
Even now, Vico does not wish to stray far from firmly established modes of explication, as his Varro reference reflects. Until recently, I had accepted the consensus of Vichian scholarship that this ékphrasis represented a thoroughly original stroke of genius in which Vico seized upon a worn device and applied it to a purpose that was wholly unique at the time. The particular detail that reinforced this conception was the cracked base of Homer’s statue in the engraving, which I had been interpreting as Vico’s sēma indicating that the general view of who Homer was had hitherto been defective. Then I encountered this comment by Levine:
Two thoughts come to mind here. The first is that the impetus of this comment was an archaeological find. Such representations were only now becoming available; further “concretization” of Homer that occurred with the discoveries of, e.g., Robert Wood and Heinrich Schliemann, would cause the focus of the Homeric Question to shift from whether Homer was superior to the Moderns to issues of facticity. As it was, these new ecphrastic mimēsēs were widely put to use as historical proof. Levine writes in a footnote concerning the Fabretti tabula iliaca: “[Such bas-reliefs] were pictorial representations of the Trojan War probably devised in antiquity for the use of schoolboys.”  Such connection between illustration and the education of youth is especially relevant to understanding Vico, given his great passion for maintaining high standards in teaching.
I believe that this fragment of Vico’s ékphrasis is central for understanding the complexities of his concept of Homer in relation to his larger historical perspective. To start with, his anxiety concerning his Continental reputation determines the flow of his rhetoric. Thus he demonstrates right away that he knows the Kadmos mu ̄ thos and its relation to the development of Greek literacy.  We are struck, however, by his subsequent abandonment of the alphabetic issue. His real purpose in this entry seems to be to emphasize that the need for an alphabet developed only gradually. In the engraving there are few letters because they do not apply to an oral poet; after all, “Homer left none of his poems in writing.” I suggest that Vico is referring in §23 to two Homeric “states-of-affairs,” one corresponding to Nagy’s Periods 1 and 2, and the other a transition in the direction of Period 3. This passage is strong evidence that Vico’s occasional “Homer wrote” is best interpreted as more than a lapsus calami. Rather, I argue, it reflects his belief in an evolution of “Homer” from a social functionary in “the obscure period which all had despaired of knowing” (§6) to a context corresponding (temporally, that is) with Nagy’s Periods 1 and 2, to an indispensable historical resource with the cohesion and auctoritas “Homer” enjoyed in Periods 4–5, and in post-classical Europe.
I say “polemical” because the aitía—the rhetorical “cause”—of this piece is that Josephus is answering the Egyptian Apion by making the case that Jewish culture is older than Hellenic culture as a component of his larger argument that Jewish culture is not inferior to Egyptian culture. And in Book II, Vico acknowledges that his own source for Homer’s original illiteracy was the Hebrew historian Josephus:
Vico’s citation of Josephus (not to mention Aristotle) shows his typical confidence in auctoritas. One can take the analytical perspective that in outline Josephus’ version of history is commendably accurate. It is true, for example, that scholars have scant concrete evidence that the Kadmos mu ̄ thos (etiological narrative) refers to an actual Hellenic adaptation of a Phoenician (i.e., Semitic) sign-system, despite the high probability that this mu ̄ thos “compresses” a very early systemic contact between the Phoenicians and the Hellenes. Note, as well, that modern knowledge supports Josephus’ assertion that the first Hellenic sign-system was not an alphabet but a Mycenaean syllabary, and is found on clay tablets (cf. Vico’s “tavola” at §1, cited above) preserved by conflagration rather than on “temples or monuments.” It is also true that the first remaining extended examples of the use of the Greek alphabet are the Iliad and the Odyssey; this seems to be the basis of Barry F. Powell’s hypothesis that some “Adapter” created the Greek alphabet, on the spot, alone, expressly to record the Homeric poems (see my discussion of Powell below).
Here, Vico reenacts (in Nagy’s Aristotelian understanding of mimēsis) Josephus’
Collectively, the texts from antiquity that Vico incorporates into his Book III Discoverta, represent a muliggjørelse, a “making possible” of the Homeric mūthos that resembles the one operating within the relationship between Lucian’s carattere of Homer and Vico’s proto-“oral-evolutionary” Homer as described in §877–§878. In both cases, the “singing Homers” must be “unearthed” from beneath mounds of textuality and auctoritas. At the same time, the question they both beg remains: if Vico’s main source is the classical corpus, how “real” is his anticipation of current Homeric paradigms for which we now credit him?
To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus’ son.
Horace’s lines are:
iratus Grais quantum nocuisset Achilles.
“It was my lot to be brought up at Rome and to be taught
How much harm irate Achilles did to the Greeks.”