The Poetics of Aristotle in England

The Poetics of Aristotle in England

The Poetics of Aristotle in England

The Poetics of Aristotle in England

Excerpt

The so-called 'Dark Ages' of European civilization are steadily yielding more and more light to those who have the courage and the patience to penetrate them; but many a dark place still remains. Many a pathway of human thought, laboriously traced from the present backward, leaves us groping before its ancient starting-point is reached. So is it even with our heritage from Aristotle. As we look back to the threshold of the Renaissance, to Dante at the end of the Middle Ages, we see the Stagirite firmly established at the head of the philosophic company as 'the master of those who know.' How he reached that exalted position, and by what ways he came, are questions of moment to students of Western thought. Our concept of Aristotle to-day, where it differs from Dante's, is based on the scholarship of six intervening centuries; Dante's concept largely tests on the devoted scholarship of the thirteenth century; the honorable shade met by him in Limbo is more than the half-legendary figure of 'the Philosopher' conceived by the earlier Middle Ages. To trace this progression--to trace the growing knowledge of Aristotle's writings in Europe--would cast a great light upon the history of our culture. That, obviously, is not the task of a single investigation; the history of one book, in one European country, will, I hope, be taken as an acceptable endeavor to clear a part of the way.

Up to the beginning of the thirteenth century only the logical treatise, the Organon--and not all of that--was well-known in Western Europe. Boethius had known more, but even in his time apparently was exceptional. Then, about 1200 the 'New Aristotle' began to arrive by numerous and devious routes, often from Syria through Africa and Moorish Spain, occasionally more directly from the East in the spoils of returning Crusaders . . .

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