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An Imaginary Conversation on Mt. Olympus: 1/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-06-09 10:31:05
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The uniqueness of Vico’s philosophy within the Western tradition lies in its pointing out that the poetical, far from being unfriendly to reason, is complementary to it and necessary for the grasping of a holistic view of Man’s humanity. Without it rationality degenerates into the rationalism of ideological fanaticism, unable to contemplate worlds outside of one’s own abstract schemes, even into what Vico dubs the “barbarism of the intellect.”

Vico: Good morning Plato. Here is a letter just delivered by Hermes. It is addressed to me but I’d like to share. It supports my insight that even avowed rationalists and clever chess-players when impelled by powerful emotions, will return to the origins of language and break out in song and lyrical poetry. It is a poem by Jelaluddin Rumi.

Plato: Who? Never heard of him. But then you already know what I think of Homer. I doubt that this Rumi you mention will change my mind on the nature of poetry. The poetical, not only does not lead to truth but often it is used to deceive. It is all explained in The Republic, book X especially.

Vico: The Republic is your letter and it has been delivered already. But let us stay with this particular letter from a particular poet in a particular place in time.

Plato: Your problem, dear Vico, is that you have misread the classics of Western philosophy or you would know that, as Olympus is beyond the clouds outside of time and space, the habitat of the gods and demigods such as ourselves, truth is not found in the particulars of time and space and the world of the senses. You would know that within history and the contingent there is only appearance and self-deception. I am concerned with the essences, the universal, not the particulars of the phenomenon as apprehended by the senses. I am no Anglo-Saxon empiricist or pragmatist. Mine is not the world of science but of philo-sophia: love of wisdom.

Vico: I know your opinion of history and the particulars of history, Plato, but be kind enough to humor me for a while and let us at least hear what this fellow Rumi has to say for himself or Hermes’ work will have been all but in vain. Surely you are curious! You would not know Rumi; he was born some fifteen centuries after your time in Balkh, Afghanistan. He was a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Another mystic of the times. But on Olympus time and space do not matter, yes? In any case, like you he ran an academy in Konya, Turkey, and was a scholars and a brilliant teacher. He dealt with ideas. He considered himself enlightened by the light of reason. Then something happened to him in 1244 when he met Shams of Tabriz, and from then on he became a poet and dealt only with poetry.

Plato: Not so fast, Vico; before you continue lecturing us on the origin of language as poetical, let me take a look. Uhm. Homer it is not! But obviously there is a meaning to this poem that I cannot fathom yet.

Vico: Why don’t we read the poem together and perhaps we shall know whether or not Rumi is a philosopher with the mask of poetry on, or a poet who thinks through images? Classical Greek theater did exactly that: it spoke through masks but there is nothing wrong with putting on masks when no deviousness is intended. You ought to know that Plato. When one reads Homer its authenticity is unmistakable; Homer is the common wisdom, the common sense, of all the Greek people. A true poem is always true to life and as such it is devoid of the irony and cynicism of rationalists. The fact that the poetical is more authentic shows that it came first when men were endowed with a robust imagination; just as children still are. To return to origins is to return to the poetical, albeit it was not self-conscious poetry at its origins.

Plato: You know my views on that Vico. We need not repeat them here again or we’ll go on ad infinitum… But, are you telling me that this passionate poem from the Middle Ages, and by a Moslem to boot, is more authentic than a well reasoned logical argument expressed in classical Greek or Latin?

Vico: Indeed. The logical argument may be clever indeed, even very clear and distinct, but as such it can better hide what is authentic. Poetry being more naïve is less able to be ironical and cynical, unless one reduces it to a mere didactic tool or to morality. But why don’t we read the poem rather than argue ad nauseam about the nature of poetry?

Fine, if you insist. Let us do so, then we shall see how you defend it rationally under the light of reason. But please conduct your defense in prose, not in poetry or I may get seduced by the beauty of the poem.

Vico: Here is the poem written by Rumi and delivered by Hermes, but please remember that this is a translation from the original Arabic; as such it may deliver the content but be unable to be faithful to the form which is always integral part of any poetical work in any medium.

Plato: Yes Vico, I understand, but as philosophers we are more interested in its content, its logos or meaning. Go ahead please and read the poem.

Vico: Let’s do so. I would only ask you to please close your eyes as you listen to it. Keeping your eyes opened can only be a distraction:

…Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo. You might say, "The world outside is vast and intricate. There are wheatfields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom."

At night there are million of galaxies, and in sunlight the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”
You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer. There is no “other world.” I only know what I’ve experienced. You must be hallucinating. –

--Jelaluddin Rumi


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Sand2007-06-08 09:40:34
Fascinating that you feel that philosophy and poetry are mutually exclusive. I question the translation since "galaxies" was not a concept in the 13th century, but that is admittedly picky. Is the point that each individual's concept of the universe is directly conditioned by his or her direct experience? I can accept that from either a philosophical or poetic point of view.

Thanos2007-06-08 16:03:50
Very good, perhaps you should add a bit of Aristophanes sarcasm!!! :)

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