Inspiration: Bacchus and the Cultural History of a Creation Myth

By John F. Moffitt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
THE CLASSICAL SOURCES OF "INSPIRATION"

Plato's Phaedrus, Melancholic Creation, and the
Poet's Divine Inspiration

On the basis of key texts discussing commonplace Bacchic metaphors evolving since Plato, one may now argue that Michelangelo's Bacchus (fig. 1) incorporates latent references both to notions current in the Renaissance of "Melancholic Creation" and to its acknowledged functional counterpart, "The Poet's Divine Inspiration." In all cases, what interests us here most are ancient celebrations of creative mindlessness, dementia, the kind postulated upon intellectual passivity in the face of unexpected infusions of supernatural stimulation, and as complemented by self-induced states of "intoxication" or "enthusiasm," all of which culminates in the dramatic surrender of the conscious to unconsciousness and the often uncontrolled effect. The obvious place to begin a chronological survey of the evolving theme of Dionysiac "Divine Frenzy" is the Platonic dialogue called the Phaedrus. We know this volume directly applies to the historical context of Michelangelo's Bacchus since Pico della Mirandola had made a specific citation of the newly recovered text (later to be cited), and such as it had been translated and analyzed by Marsilio Ficino in Florence during Michelangelo's youth.

Moreover, this crucial Greek scripture can even be directly tied to Michelangelo's Bacchus, in this case, to the designated physical location of the sculpture in Jacopo Galli's garden of antiquities (fig. 5). Here is the essential historical connection. Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto's dramatic recasting of this especially "inspired" Platonic dialogue— appropriately but simply entitled Phaedrus—was, in fact, also literally situated in Galli's Roman villa, and that was the assigned theatrical setting for Michelangelo's Bacchus. Moreover, Michelangelo's Roman patron, Jacopo Galli, the proud owner of the Renaissance Bacchus, directly takes part in Sadoleto's Neoplatonic interchange, and as both host and chief interlocutor.1 Given the specific mise-en-scène belong-

1 So noted in Wind, Pagan Mysteries, 183; for Sadoleto's similarly inspired ekphrasis

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