Mazzoni, Giacopo

Assigned: Mazzoni, Giacopo. From On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante (238-59). Also read the editors’ introduction (236-38).

From On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante (1587)

1. On 238-40 (“It seems to me that before…”), Giacopo Mazzoni writes that “the arts and sciences derive their true and real distinctions from objects […] insofar as they are […] knowable and […] artificiable” [i.e., able to be made by people] (239). What, then, are the “three types of objects” (239) that Mazzoni, following Plato, defines, and to which art does each respectively belong? How does his Platonic example of a horse bridle help him demonstrate that “the same thing can be submitted to [i.e., relevant to] different arts by different modes of artifice” (240)? What does Mazzoni tell us up to this point about the “imitating arts”—what is their object and how do they treat or consider that object? (239-40) Finally, how does Mazzoni dispose of the claim that the “fabricating arts” (240) are also a species of imitation—why, in his view, is that a false claim?

2. On 240-42 (“Coming now to our topic…”), how does Mazzoni delineate what he means by the key term “idol” (240 bottom)? What kind of idol is properly the object of poetic imitation, and what kind is not? What argument advanced by the Greek lexicographer Suidas does Mazzoni dispute? How does he bring to his defense Plato’s distinction between the “two species” (241) of imitation; namely, the icastic and the phantastic? (The Sophist 236c: “So these are the two kinds of image-making that I spoke of—the icastic and the phantastic.”) What is the basic distinction between the icastic and phantastic modes of imitation?

3. On 242-44 (“Now that we have found the genus…”), Mazzoni turns to the “proper subject and material” (242) of poetry. On what grounds does he insist that his opponents are wrong to say that “poetry has no subject other than the fabulous and false” (243)? How does he enlist not only Cardinal Camillo Paleotti but also Plato and Aristotle in his campaign favoring poetry’s suitability to represent truth? (243) Consider also Mazzoni’s adoption of Aristotle’s comments in Poetics (see Leitch 123) about the importance of “the credible” (i.e., the believable or probable) in drama. What conclusion does Mazzoni draw on page 244 about the appropriate subject and material of poetry?

4. On 244-45 (“Therefore, the credible is the object…”), Mazzoni says that “three conclusions” (244) may be drawn from his previous discussion of the poet’s need to observe “the credible” over all other considerations. What are the first and second of these conclusions, respectively? With regard to the first conclusion, how does it drive home the Christian point about the need to explain difficult matters by means of language that is comprehensible to the ordinary, unlettered person? How does Mazzoni’s example drawn from Dante’s il Paradiso, Canto 33 help him make this point? As for the second conclusion, how is it similar to the advice Aristotle gives about the credible or probable in Poetics? (See Leitch 123)

5. On 245-49 (“The third and last conclusion…”), Mazzoni writes that poetry should be considered a species of “sophistic” (245). What are his grounds for making that claim? (246-47) How does he deal with the accusations often made against sophistic rhetoric for its supposedly destructive effects on people’s ability to distinguish truth from falsehood? What kind of sophistic (and by implication the variety of poetry that most resembles it), according to Mazzoni, was banished by Plato from his ideal Republic? However, what two other kinds of sophistic remain acceptable? Finally, what is it that, according to Mazzoni, “everyone can understand” (249) about poetry in terms of its relationship to truth, and its emphasis on “the apparent credible”? Why must poetry, to achieve its ends, sometimes resort to falsehoods?

6. On 249-51 (“And so the credible is the subject…”), Mazzoni works up to a further modification of his definition of poetry. But first, how does he describe the manner in which the credible can be linked correctly to rhetoric and to poetry? When is it most proper to employ the credible in poetry? (250) By what examples, as well, does he show that the representation of true things can sometimes “reach the marvelous” (250)? How does Mazzoni enlist authors such as Aristotle, Plato and Plutarch in the cause of emphasizing the marvelous as a main feature of poetry, whether that poetry happens to be dealing with things that are true, or things that are false? (251) Finally, what is Mazzoni’s definition of poetry at this point? (251 bottom)

7. On 251-53 (“There remains for the completion…”), Mazzoni determines that the “efficient cause” of poetry (that which brings something into existence; the maker or agent) is “the civil faculty” (252). What is the civil faculty? What does Mazzoni apparently mean by his term “cessation” (252), and how does the civil faculty provide rules for the management of “cessation”? According to Mazzoni, why is poetry the best exemplar of the “activities of amusement” or “games” (252) that are encompassed by “cessation” or leisure time rightly used? Finally, how do you interpret Mazzoni’s remark that “the Poetics [of Aristotle] is the ninth book of the Politics” (253)? What might he be suggesting thereby about the social and political utility of poetry?

8. On 254-57 ([70] “Now for a complete solution…”), Mazzoni turns his attention to the purpose, the “final cause,” of poetry. How does he divide up his explanation to suit what he calls the “three different modes” (254 bottom) of poetry? What is the purpose or “end” of each mode? In the course of making distinctions, how, in his exploration of the moral and civil responsibilities of poetry, does Mazzoni call Plato to witness regarding what poetry should be praised, what poetry condemned, and who poetry most benefits? (255-56) When led by the efficient cause, the “civil faculty” (basically “ethics,” as the editors point out on 252, footnote 8), what service does enjoyable poetry perform for those who engage with it? (256-57)

9. On 257-59 (“Now without any doubt I think…”), Mazzoni discusses the broadest social and political implications of poetry. How does he use Plato’s division of citizens and types of art in The Republic to show the value of poetry in a modern (Renaissance) society? Which citizens should listen to or view which kinds of art (namely, heroic, tragic and comic poetry), and why? According to Mazzoni, how is each benefited by the appropriate material for its particular group or social class, and how are the several objectives of the State also served?

10. On 259 (“On this premise, it seems to me…”), what three final definitions does Mazzoni provide for the three ways of regarding poetry (i.e., as “an imitation, or purely as a game, or as a game modified by the civil faculty”)? Why is the third mode the worthiest to be attended to by a moral poet such as Dante Alighieri, in whose honor Mazzoni has, of course, been laboring throughout his treatise, of which we have read only the introduction?

11. General question: Like many Renaissance theorists (Sir Philip Sidney comes to mind; see Leitch 260-91), in On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante Giacopo Mazzoni readily enlists both Plato and Aristotle in the service of his own arguments. Renaissance scholarship, after all, is very taken with the project of synthesizing the wisdom of the ancients with Christian moral aims. Do you find Mazzoni’s references to Plato, in particular, convincing, or do you think he distorts Plato’s rather harsh perspective on the moral and ontological (i.e., truth-based) status of art, at least insofar as we are familiar with it from our Republic selections (see Leitch 58-89)? Explain.

12. General question: In On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante, Giacopo Mazzoni defends poetry both in terms of its representational qualities and in terms of its moral usefulness to individuals and society. Do you think both defenses are still necessary when we speak about art? Should art need to justify itself, in modern times, in terms of its supposed moral, social or political utility? Why or why not? Do you see art mainly (or entirely) as an opportunity for pleasurable engagement, as a means of gaining insight and knowledge, or as both things at once? Explain.

13. General question: In On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante, Giacopo Mazzoni produces what some may find a bewildering proliferation of terms, distinctions, modes, corollaries, and other subdivisions in his treatment of poetry. But at base, what kind of “defense” is he offering not just of Dante Alighieri but of poetry and, perhaps, art in general? How is he defending art from any number of accusations that it peddles lies, causes or encourages immorality, and so forth? How might it be said that Mazzoni is simply, and admirably, trying to recuperate “make-believe” (as we would call it) as a mostly good and necessary element in human life and liberate us from puritanical notions about the primacy of the true and the accurate? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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