- Poetices libri septem/Sieben Bücher über die Dichtkunst, and: Poetices libri septem/Sieben Bücher über die Dichtkunst
"We have now discussed all the parts of the art of poetry, I hope accurately and precisely enough." So Julius Caesar Scaliger opened book 5 of his Poetics, the book of "the Critic" (4.42), or, as in this edition, "the critical [book]" (4.43). Given Scaliger's vast estimate of his critical sensibilities and judgment, and that this book compares and rates the greatest poets of antiquity, I'm tempted to stress the first, but the Latin reader had no need to choose between the two. Actually we need not either, since Scaliger himself thought the Poetics his finest work and much identified himself with it. Doing so, he was far from emulating the humility of his modern editors who can also say that they have explored Scaliger's work"recte. . . atque exacte satis," with wide erudition, critical care, and fine translator's attention. Indeed, the editor and translator of this book 5 and the following, Gregor Vogt-Spira, notes that in using the words Criticus and Hypercriticus to describe these two books, Scaliger was participating in an "innovative claim," one [End Page 692] that separated the task of the critic from that of his "predecessor," the grammaticus, for whom the kind of criticism Scaliger was undertaking here was but part of a grammatical exploration (4.28). In this sense, Scaliger's great Poetics opened the door to modern critical methods and concepts. For Scaliger, grammaticus was something of an insult, and in his thought that his kind of poetry analyses was the job of the philosophus we further see the beginnings of modern literary criticism.
In writing of accurate and precise discussion of the parts of poetry, Scaliger was referring to the first four books of his Poetics, where he had treated in turn the definition of poetry and history of its genres through antiquity (book 1); its material causes in versification, meter, and rhythm (book 2); a first set of formal causes in a "logical" art of poetry, dealing with ideas, argumentation, and their ordering and display (book 3); and finally, in its Parasceve, apparatus, a second set of formal causes that are its verbal and stylistic graces (book 4). Writing in these pages in 1997 (Renaissance Quarterly 50.3, 926–30), I remarked on the editors' and publisher's achievement as having produced "a set of superb volumes the pleasures of whose handling and reading match their sureness of scholarship." These next two volumes have not lowered their standard in the slightest. These are a landmark critical edition and translation. It is to be feared that the increasing use of electronic publishing will result in the production of fewer and fewer such monuments. One fully understands why, but it will be a sad day when we can no longer experience the same kind of delight that Scaliger and his contemporaries so much appreciated in the combined intellectual and sensuous handling of new scholarly volumes such as these.
The first four books (volumes 1–3 of this edition), then, explained the"History" of poetic forms and the "Matter," "Idea," and "Verbal Ornamentation" that enabled the fictive imagination to represent itself through what we know as "poetry." Books 5 and 6, as Vogt-Spira says, aim to teach by offering practical examples, by showing how the best poets have in fact created their poetry. Scaliger will now, he writes in the opening chapter of book 5, "perfect the poet in accordance with these precepts" (4.42). To this end, two conjoined qualities are essential: imitation and judgment. They are conjoined because judgment first...