Use the following persistent identifier: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BerryS.Vicos_Prescient_Evolutionary_Model_for_Homer.2016.
6. Is There a Latent Jurisprudential Paradigm in Vico’s Homer?
Schaeffer observes two particular things about Neapolitan intellectual circles that pertain to my study: the “intense orality” of the culture and the centrality of context to legal discourse in Naples; hence it was also necessarily dialectical in the core sense of the Greek dialégesthai, “to carry on a back-and-forth discussion,” rather than depending on codified statutory law, as in other parts of Italy:
Schaeffer does not address Vico’s interest in The Homeric Question. Nonetheless, when he writes of this Neapolitan legal oral performative culture that prevailed before 1703 as “a sediment formed by a sequence of different political, social, and legal formations,” his metaphor virtually calls forth Nagy’s five-stage Homeric paradigm, which hypothesizes a persistent “multiformity” (Albert Lord’s term), even during periods of predominant crystallization and fixation (cf. Nagy’s Periods 4 and 5) that have culminated in the canonical Homer. To support this comparison, I again cite a passage I quoted earlier from Nagy’s Homeric Questions concerning the mythic interpretation of lawgivers throughout the Greco-Roman continuum:
Schaeffer’s characterization of the togato brings to mind all three major Achaean heroes. Besides Odysseus, there are Achilles, the native Thracian (mercenary?) who leads the Myrmidons against the Trojans on behalf of the Achaeans, and Agamemnon, whom the Homeric poet gives the epithet ánax andrôn “king of men,” and who leads the expedition against Troy not only because he is the brother of Helen’s husband Menelaus, but also because he has the most ships under his command. I propose that in these figures Vico has available Homeric caratteri for both the condottiere and the barone of early eighteenth-century Naples.
§962 merits detailed examination, based in large part on Vico’s rather surprising reliance on the Turkish-born geographer and historian Strabo (64/63 BCE–ca. 24 CE), who wrote a 17-volume Geographia in Greek (this reliance, incidentally, further counter-indicating, any notion that Vico’s knowledge of Greek was deficient). The immediate source of Vico’s claim in §962 regarding the Cyclopes is not Plato, but Strabo. In fact, Vico refers to Strabo’s own reference to Plato’s telling of the Cyclopes mūthos (Laws 3.677ff.) quite early in the Scienza Nuova, in Book I, “Establishment of Principles”:
The early appearance and propaedeutic tenor of this paragraph demonstrate how important it is for Vico’s reader to maintain a good memory for the mūthoi he narrates in the course of his global argument. Here he painstakingly links a foundational mūthos of Greek civilization—“the idea of the work,” so to speak— that, as the auctoritas Plato recognizes, the “first fathers of the world” were not truly human, but were instead the anthropophage Cyclopes (referring mainly to Odyssey 9.287–312). From this state these proto-human creatures evolved to become mountain-dwellers, and from there, apparently without significant intermediary mutation, to the human subjects of Homeric poetry, though Vico does not seem to want the issue of nomadic blind poets to intrude at this crucial moment in his etiology. A significant element of this mūthos/favola is Vico’s association of civilization (more particularly, agriculture) with a downward and outward topographical shift.  In the wake of the five-stage process Nagy describes, the “written auctoritas Homer” initiates his epic, the Iliad, through a weirdly modern lógos, seeking in the “Exordium,” at line 8, a first cause for the events he will be narrating: “Who among the gods was it who set the two of them [i.e., Achilleus and Agamemnon] against each other in a quarrel?”
The “squinty-eyed” Greco-Roman historian Strabo ignotus latet behind Vico’s Cyclopes reference, which is supposedly to the philosopher-auctoritas Plato, the late-coming literary Homer-substitute. Strabo’s model for the development of civilization is remarkably similar to Vico’s in the Scienza Nuova: it is tripartite; it is “simple and wild” in the beginning; it moves from the mountains to the lowlands (reminding us once again, almost chillingly, of Vergil’s lines from Aeneid 8.321–322: is genus indocile ac dispersum montibus altis / composuit legesque dedit); it flourishes after the waters of the Flood have subsided, a motif which occurs in both the Hebraic and Hellenic traditions. Strabo continues in a strikingly Vichian mode:
I must make two points here. The first is that even though this essay is supposedly Poe’s response to a letter from Charles Dickens (the very embodiment of the methodical artificer of works of epic proportion), the example of the novel form Poe uses is Robinson Crusoe. I think Poe chose this example because it exhibits the rambling, picaresque mūthos (“plot,” in Aristotle’s terms) characteristic of early European novels; it “demand[s] no unity.” Any extended literary form is inexorably subject to the danger of losing intensity.
In a sense, the oral and written states of Homeric epic are cognitively incompatible. One may express this exclusivity problem as a thought experiment. I challenge my reader to deny that, try as one may, it is impossible to conceive both a diachronic, Panhellenic tekhnē and a text at the same time, despite one’s awareness that both forms have existed. This is a major source of disagreement about Homer.