vrijdag 29 oktober 2010

Vico and the Forest

Amazonian Garden shot in the Columbia

Giambattista Vico (1668 –1744) is one of those cornerstones of philosophy you sometimes hear about. I have CTRL-F'd my way through his New Science. What I got was an interesting view on the forests as an obstructing domain of bestial barbary. Deforestation as the purification ritual of civilization.     
This was the order of human things: first the forests, after that the huts, thence the villages, next the cities and finally the academies.

The use of "head' for man or person, so frequent in vulgar Latin, was due to the fact that in the forests only the head of a man could be seen from a distance.

Prometheus stole the first fire and brought it to the Greeks on earth, who therewith set fire to the forests and began to cultivate the land.

The poets however gave it also the monstrous form of Pan, the wild god who is the divinity of all satyrs inhabiting not the cities but the forests; a character to which they reduced the impious vagabonds wandering through the great forest of the earth and having the appearance of men but the habits of abominable beasts.

Hercules has come down to us as the founder of the Olympiads, the celebrated time-divisions of the Greeks (from whom we get all we know of gentile antiquities), for it was he who set fire to the forests in order to prepare for sowing the lands whereon were gathered the harvests by which the years were reckoned.

The plough shows only the point of the share and hides the mold board. Before the use of iron was known, the share had to be made of a curved piece of very hard wood, capable of breaking and turning the earth. The Latins called the moldboard urbs, whence the ancient urbum, "curved." The moldboard is hidden to signify that the first cities, which were all founded on cultivated fields, arose as a result of families being for a long time quite withdrawn and hidden among the sacred terrors of the religious forests. These [cultivated fields] are found among all the ancient gentile nations and, by an idea common to all, were called by the Latin peoples luci, meaning "burnt lands within the en- closure of the woods." The woods themselves were condemned by Moses to be burned wherever the people of God extended their conquests. This was by counsel of divine providence to the end that those who had already reached the stage of humanity should not again become confounded with the wanderers who still nefariously held property and women in common.

From these lands, it will be found, cities were called arae, "altars," throughout the ancient world of the gentiles. For they must have been the first altars of the gentile nations, and the first fire lighted on them was that which served to clear the forests of trees and bring them under cultivation, and the first water was that of the perennial springs, which were necessary in order that those destined to found humanity should no longer wander in bestial vagrancy in search of water, but settle for a long time in one place and give up vagabondage. And since these altars were evidently the first asylums of the world (which Livy defines generally as vetus urbcs condentium consilium, "an old counsel of founders of cities," as we are told that within the asylum opened in the grove Romulus founded Rome), hence the first cities were almost all called altars.

Every clearing was called a lucus, in the sense of an eye, as even today we call eyes the openings through which light enters houses. The true heroic phrase that 'every giant had his lucus' was altered and corrupted when its meaning was lost, and had already been falsified when it reached Homer, for it was then taken to mean that every giant had one eye in the middle of his forehead. With these giants came Vulcan to work in the first forges--that is, the forests to which Vulcan had set fire and where he had fashioned the first arms, which were the spears with burnt tips--and, by an extension of the idea of arms, to forge bolts for Jove. For Vulcan had set fire to the forests in order to observe in the open sky the direction from which Jove sent his bolts."
Thus in their science of augury the Romans used the verb contemplari for observing the parts of the sky whence the auguries came or the auspices were taken. These regions, marked out by the augurs with their wands, were called temples of the sky (templa caeli), whence must have come to the Greeks their first theoremata and mathemata, things divine or sublime to contemplate, which eventuated in metaphysical and mathematical abstractions.

The confusion of tongues came about in a miraculous way so that on the instant many different languages were formed. The Fathers will have it that through this confusion of tongues the purity of the sacred antediluvian language was gradually lost. This should be understood as referring to the languages of the Eastern peoples among whom Shem propagated the human race. It must have been otherwise in the case of the nations of all the rest of the world; for the races of Ham and Japheth were destined to be scattered through the great forest of this earth in a savage migration of two hundred years. Wandering and alone, they were to bring forth their children, with a savage education, destitute of any human custom and deprived of any human speech, and so in a state of wild animals.

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