ITALY IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
VICO and the theatre between them earn Italy a chapter to herself here, even if a short one. As so often in more important matters, Vico's attitude to Athens and Sparta is remarkably original and pregnant for the future, though it also bears some resemblance to much enlightened thought of the early eighteenth century. In the Scienza Nuova1 he relegates Sparta firmly to a primitive stage in human progress. Upon the primeval theocracies, he argues, followed the heroic aristocracies. For these, early Rome above all, but also Sparta, provide the material--with a glance at the 'revived barbarism' of the Middle Ages, from which Venice is a survival. Heroic, in fact, is virtually a synonym of barbaric. In heroic states only the heroes possessed land or civil rights--thus Sparta. They controlled religion--thus most clearly Rome--even believing themselves divine or of divine descent. Heroic education was cruel, 'as in the case of the unlettered Lacedaemonians, who were the heroes of Greece' and subjected their unloved children to the whipping contests. The unwared nature of heroic cities would seem perhaps chiefly inspired by Sparta. The heroes were arrogant and violent, and oppressed the poor. Laws and magistrates protect the freedom only of the few; for example, it was the ephors who had poor King Agis (rather a favourite of Vico's) strangled for attempting to pass popular measures affecting debt and inheritance. Plato and Aristotle both judged Sparta's laws to be savage and cruel.
Vico insists that it has been a great error to regard Lycurgus and other early la givers as supremely wise. Omne ignotum pro magnifico; crude obscure, and small origins tend to be exaggerated and we also tend to judge by what is familiar to us. In fact, primitive peoples are unable in their laws even to formulate universal rules, but only concern themselves with particular____________________