By Northrop Frye
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Additional resources for The Great Code: The Bible and Literature
One feels that some of the pre-Socratics and atomic philosophers, such as Anaxagoras or Democritus, were moving more directly from metaphor toward what we should think of as science, from gods to the operations of nature, and that Plato turns away from this direction, toward a transcendent world rather than an objective one. The Timaeus seems to be involved primarily with the degree to which nature conforms to conceptual models, and in the Phaedo this sense of aesthetic conformity seems to be linked to matters offaith.
The notion that the earth is flat, fixed, and at the center of the universe is an illusion of accident. Educated people had known for centuries before Columbus that the earth must be a sphere, but the fact did not become "demotic," or penetrate the popular consciousness, until the circumnavigations began, which suggested a more comprehensive form of sense perception. The rational arguments that finally convinced people that the earth went around the sun instead of the other way were formulated long before astronauts and spaceships.
Poets and critics of English literature began to revive the sense of affinity between the poetic and the primitive in the later half of the eighteenth century, and in the Romantic period Peacock, in a Language I 23 paradoxical essay, Four Ages ofPoetry, remarked chat poetry originated in the flattery of barbarian conquerors. In proportion as civilization had developed, Peacock suggested, poetry had fallen behind, an increasingly atavistic survival. Shelley's reply co Peacock, A Defence of Poetry, was not a refutation but an attempt co express the positive side of Peacock's thesis, reversing the fallacy chat Peacock pretended co cake seriously: the naive belief in progress which identifies the primitive with the outmoded.