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5. Vico’s Homer Makes the Greco-Roman Continuum Possible
I must disagree with Mazzotta if he means that the ulterior referent of Book III is Plato. I think it is actually Homer as people had commonly conceived “him”: a shadowy personage who, Vico believes, had always been misprised as a philosophical ancestor of Plato. In support of this view, I quote all the first part of §780: “Although our demonstration in the preceding book that poetic wisdom was the older wisdom of the peoples of Greece, who were first theological and later heroic poets, should carry as a necessary consequence that the wisdom of Homer was not at all different in kind …” Clearly, “not at all different in kind” refers to Homer’s “poetic Wisdom” as he had inherited it “from first theological and later heroic poets.” Observe that Vico’s order here does not contradict his later conjecture at §856, which I cited above as an example of his reliance on classical authority, that “the vain diligence of the chronologists [cf. Swift and Pope] has placed … [Hesiod] thirty years before Homer.” In §780 Vico establishes his knowledge of written authority by pointedly including the names of his sources—Plutarch, Dionysius Longinus, and Diogenes Laertius. And in accord with his “paradoxical” strategies throughout the Scienza Nuova, the most crucial thing Vico does here is to have us understand that Homer is the culmination of a lineage of “heroic poets” who were not philosophers.
The key concept in Nagy’s differentiation is that he identifies “Panhellenic poetry” as the relatively late result of a “synthesis of traditions.” This argument resembles Vico’s, which he perhaps expresses most succinctly here in Book III:
The “proximate cause,” as it were, of §860 (which acknowledges Aristarchus, by consensus one of the best-regarded Alexandrian redactors of Nagy’s Period 5) is the problem inherent in positing one historical, literary “Homer,” given the obviously contradictory linguistic evidence. Vico realizes that the sustained Alexandrian project of assembling and preserving an “authentic text” flew in the face of the concept of a long, geographically decentralized antecedent oral tradition, which is a sound historical (that is, “anti-Cartesian”) model for explaining the multiple Homeric “local idioms.” Comparing Vico with Nagy yields an enlightening affinity: Nagy writes that this final stage took place “not long after 150 BCE or so, which is a date that also marks the disappearance of the so-called ‘eccentric’ papyri.” The factor that both scholars are recognizing is the fundamental threat that the enterprise of redaction, whether Peisistratean or Alexandrian posed to the heterogeneity that attends “Homer’s” Panhellenic origins. Though Vico does not say it outright in §860, he clearly thinks that the heterogeneity of the Homeric poems is evidence that they are actually best understood as Panhellenic cultural phenomena. He saves this insight to serve as the leading thesis of Book III, Section 2:
This “Introduction” is a portal through which Vico progresses toward his ultimate message, which he announces in his title to Chapter One of the section: “The Inconsistencies and Improbabilities of the Homer Hitherto Believed in Become Proper and Necessary in the Homer Herein Discovered.” In three insights that come in lightning succession, Vico discloses the sweepingly modern direction of his thought on the Homeric Question:
These remarkable observationsrepresent Vico’s logical conclusions from his view expressed at §856 that the “Rinaldi” poets were “modern” manifestations of ancient archetypes. In turn, this invocation of a popular oral tradition is based on a foundational thesis regarding Homer he had made in §852:
Mazzotta also fully realizes that a Homeric encyclopedia conflicts with Vico’s evolutionary theory:
Nagy’s vision of a standardized, “authoritative” circumscription of “Homer” as the Iliad and Odyssey only is not really in sympathy with Vico’s downplaying of the Peisistratean recension in his image of Homer in Book III. Yet the things Vico actually says about the “rhapsodes” indicate that he has an intuitive grasp of an evolutionary process beginning with something like Nagy’s Periods 1 and 2. The most revolutionary aspect of Vico’s thought in §875–§878 is that he, like Nagy, sees the absolute necessity of surmising a phase that antedated a fragmented collection of songs, whether this amas (using Perrault’s famous word) were preserved orally or in transcripts. There is support for the notion that Vico understood that poets in the Odyssey were nostalgic representations of the oral tradition. He comments:
Vico both displays his acquaintance with Homeric lore and paves the way for the argument he initiates at §873. It is also noteworthy that the Homeric reference to the blindness of the aoidós as transferred to “Homer” himself was fully accepted in antiquity as fact, as evidenced once again by Lucian’s tale.
Cicero’s allusion to an event of singular gravitas in Greco-Roman cultural history cries out for analysis. First of all, he clearly sees that event as an editorial process, which predicates a written text. There is no hint of an oral “Homer” here. Moreover, speaking rather anachronistically, he is patently a Separatist rather than a Unitarian. I find, however, that the most tantalizing morsel of Cicero’s thinking is in dicitur; this little word is an appeal to the same brand of authority according to which Aeneas founded Rome and Numa Pompilius became its second rex after its other founder Romulus. (Note that Vico’s reference to Numa in §876 reflects the same desire to link Greece and Rome in his own theories of cultural evolution.) Is it too brash to suggest that Cicero’s dicitur simultaneously undermines that same authority by conveying a soupçon of doubt, or even risibility? My point is that while he may have thought about it, Cicero, as opposed to Vico, does not want to touch the elephans in camera, so to speak, of a pre-literate Homeric tradition.
Having established for his general purposes the still rather murky historicity of the Greek → Etruscan → Roman sequence, Farrell proceeds to discuss how various Roman authors used their knowledge of Homer in Greek, through quotation, allusion, and parody, to comment upon Roman life, and thus forge a connection with such Homeric themes as Achilles’ “Heroic Code.” I say “murky” because, inter alia, we have yet to decipher Etruscan writing, and hence must rely almost entirely on the evidence of Etruscan artefacts and iconography. Scholars are still skeptical about ancient Greek literary/historical versions of Etruscan origins, such as we find in Herodotus. Therefore, I suggest that although it is crucial to be cognizant of the “Etruscan filter” from an absolutist perspective, from a relativist one it is more important to see that the Romans themselves consistently sublimated it. As examples from outside literature, I cite Etruscan heirlooms such as the arch, the aqueduct, and Roman numerals as items the Romans thought of themselves as having invented. More directly, a huge proportion of the “Greek” statuary we have are Roman copies. This second-hand preservation is a sēma not only of the disappearance of Greek originals, but even more importantly of Rome’s obsessive desire to assert its own cultural continuity with Greece.
The key observation in this passage is that those who fancied themselves initiates in the arcane semiotics of Etruscan civilization “claimed [to have] … evidence that no one understood.” From today’s perspective, their confidence is insupportable. Stone seems to think that the more widespread familiarity with classical literature in the eighteenth century inhibited the acceptance of Vico’s ideas, implying that he didn’t know the literature, misunderstood it, or found it irrelevant to his paradigm. Again I stress that Vico’s consistent recourse to classical sources actually drives his thought. Etruscan culture per se has nothing to do with Homer in the Scienza Nuova, since Vico’s authorities were literary, historical, and synchronic. An example of this last category is his association of the Rinaldi singers with Horace as a frame for a Homer/Hesiod reference.
This assessment articulates well the overriding reason for the propinquity educated Romans felt to Greek civilization: they wanted to preserve what they conceived to be their own diachronic heritage. No wonder they took such pains to let Athens flourish more or less in statu quo as the only place to get a first-rate education. But the relationship is even more dynamic than Farrell has presented it. The “Homeric frame of reference” he describes can be seen in the Romans’ paradoxical ever-present conflicting senses of virtual blood-relation with, yet inferiority to, the Greeks. A clear example is in the Aeneid, when the Greek-speaking survivor from the losing side, Aeneas, “made a refugee by Fate” (fato profugus) from Troy, both prefigures and emulates the adventure-tossed Greek Odysseus (Ulysses) dum conderet urbem, “in order to found a city,” inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum, “and in order to bring the [Trojan] gods into Latium, whence the Latin people.” Surprisingly, Farrell does not address this paradox directly; yet it penetrates Roman paradigms of language and literature. There are formal manifestations, such as the adapted Latin dactylic hexameter and the mímēsis of Homeric narrative components, such as the Nekuía. Beyond these obeisances, however, there is more than a hint of neurosis. Thus Vergil ends the first half of his epic with a picture of the major cultural consequences of Aeneas’ heroism. In Book 6, there is an extended passage, “re-enacting” at once Teiresias in the Nekuía and Priam’s catalogue of the Trojan heroes for Helen as the two of them stand on the Trojan walls. In Vergil’s mímēsis of Homer, Aeneas views a parade of representations (mímēsēs) of Romans who are to follow his founding of the state, culminating in Vergil’s patron Augustus. The spirit of the Roman hero’s father Anchises (standing in, as it were, for Teiresias and Priam) sums up his comparison of Greek and Roman heroes (Vergil Aeneid 6.851–53):
Hae tibi erunt artes: pacique imponere morem,
Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos. 
“These will be your skills: to impose a more of peace,
To be sparing of those who accept [Roman] hegemony,
And to demilitarize the insolent.”
This prediction has been, in effect, set up by a catalogue (6.756–845), an epic time-voyage featuring legendary Trojan and Roman founder-figures, a few of them historical (e.g., Cato the Elder, the Gracchi, and Augustus’ own Uncle Iulius).  Buried in Vergil’s “shock and awe” genealogy, there is a quasi-Plutarchan element of Greco-Roman comparison at lines 6.838–39:
ipsumque Aeaciden, genus armipotentis Achilli …
[Another descendant (?), ille] will dismantle Mycenaean Agamemnon’s Argos,
And so [belatedly] wreak vengeance on Aeacus himself, the grandsire of the potent warrior Achilles.”
Nor did this copula perish with Augustan Rome. Plutarch (c. CE 45–125) is perhaps antiquity’s most shining example of someone who strove constantly to reify the Greece-Rome continuum. It is important to recognize that he was doing so some time after Cicero and Vergil, which testifies to the perdurability of the linkage. In Homeric Questions, Nagy examines in detail various stories of a textual recension. He notes that the mythical unification of Homeric stories from Archaic times has the support not only of Cicero, but also of the “authorities” Herodotus, in his Histories, “Plato,” in the spurious Hipparchus, and Plutarch. A topic of contention becomes whether Athens or Sparta, cultures in the Panhellenic sphere that in most things were utterly polarized, could take credit for this project. To address the Spartan provenance, Nagy provides this translation from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus:
“Scattered about” not only suggests Cicero’s libros confusos, it could arguably serve as the template for all similar language used to evaluate Homer’s literatur’nost’ during the Quarrel. Taken together, these opposing claims justify Nagy’s conclusion:
Nagy’s two examples of textual “ownership” of Homer—Cicero and Plutarch—are Roman, though the latter was “hyper-Hellenized,” so to speak. What I am driving at is that Vico’s concentration on Homer in Book III entails a relationship that forcefully corroborates Nagy’s point about lawgiver myths being post facto etiological orderings.
Henrichs stresses that Wilamowitz adopted this view quite consistently. Speaking in 1914 of the Classicist’s role, Wilamowitz says, “Doch ist seine productive Tätigkeit immer von der Hinterlassenschaft der Hellenen ausgegangen; er var Philologe” (“Indeed, his productive activity always came out of the Hellenic legacy; he was a “philologist”).  Lest one be tempted, however, to assume that by Philologe Wilamowitz confined his definition to textual scholars like Richard Bentley, one must allow Henrichs to finish his assessment:
Two things are notable in these remarks that relate to my argument. First, there is Vico’s seamless movement from Greek to Roman religion. Second, the mention of three recent legalist contractarians confirms that Vico hungered for involvement in the big Continental social debates, and was accordingly developing a competitive paradigm of his own. This paragraph is an excellent epitome of Vico’s technique of invoking quasi-historical fantasia, through classical auctoritas, to approximate an anti-Cartesian scientific method.