My investigation deals primarily with the history of the topos of poetic enthusiasm, from its first formulation in Democritus and Plato to Romanticism, with particular reference to its aesthetic implications and development in the course of Italian literature. In ancient Greece, the topic of poetic enthusiasm appears in main philosophical works, such as the Ion and the Phaedrus, which both Plotinus' Enneads and Proclus' Commentaries on Plato's Republic subsequently take up. Later on, in Latin culture, Cicero's philosophical thought and Ovid's poetry draw on such a matter.
Throughout the Middle Ages, instead, the topic of poetic enthusiasm becomes more of a religious matter and, in the wake of Iacopone da Todi, tends to constitute a primary source for the Duecento poetry. Only with the coming of the Dolce Stil Novo, the topic of poetic enthusiasm stands as an essential presupposition for any creative process in Italian literature. Furthermore, Dante's Comedy will introduce, for the very first time in Italian literature, the Muses as a privileged means of divine inspiration and consider the poet as sacred as the prophets or the evangelists. Later on, both Mussato in his Epistolae and Petrarch in the Collatio laureationis and Invective contra medicum, whose main reference is, in this specific case, Cicero's Pro Archia, stress the idea of poetry as a godsend. Boccaccio, in the wake of Petrarch, also claims the divine nature of poetry, especially in his writing on Dante, and the very firm apology of poetry that he sets in the last two books of the Genealogie deorum gentilium. Then, Salutati's De laborious Herculis takes up Boccaccio's defense of poetry in the Genealogie and develops a particular concept of poetry as a revelation, which appears to be closer to theology.
In the fifteenth century, Leonardo Bruni, directly translating from the Greek Plato's Phaedrus, gives new nourishment to the topic of poetic enthusiasm (Bruni's letter to Marrasio represents the very first testimony of the topic of poetic enthusiasm in the fifteenth century). Ficino, in the wake of Bruni, accomplishes the complete translation of Plato's works, Ion included, writing the well-known epistle De divino furore. The topic of the furor also appears throughout Landino's writings on Dante and becomes a recurrent subject in poetry as well, as Poliziano' Silvae and Michele Marullo's Hymni naturales bear witness.
A century after, the poetic furor would become the fashion within and outside the Italian boundaries. It is unlikely to find a Cinquecento treatise of poetics which did not either deal with or hint at this specific topic. It generally comes from authors who are, first of all, followers of Plato's doctrines, but there are also figures such as Lorenzo Giacomini and Girolamo Fracchetta who put the poetic furor into the bigger frame of agreement between Platonism and Aristotelism. However, best results for the development of such matter still come from Platonism. Francesco Patrizi, in his investigation on divine inspiration of primitive poetry, denies the Aristotelian principle of mimesis. Bruno had already put this principle into discussion in the dialogue De gli eroici furori, which is, in the end, a treatise on enthusiasm.
In the seventeenth century, the topic of poetic enthusiasm appears throughout literary treatise writing, from Campanella to Tesauro, in more concealed ways. Only in the eighteenth century, the topic of divine inspiration in poetry becomes again, both in Italy and Europe, one of the central subjects of aesthetic treatise writings. Shaftesbury's Letter concerning Enthusiasm and Voltarie's entry on ┬źenthousiasme┬╗ in the Dictionnaire philosophique represent the two key-texts on the matter of poetic enthusiasm. In Italy, the topic appears in Gravina's Della ragion poetica, with his theory of ┬źdelirium┬╗, a treatise often quoted by authors such as Foscolo and Leopardi, as well as in Muratori's Della perfetta poesia, where the author specifically refers to the topic of poetic furor. Conti's Trattato de' fantasmi poetici, Vico's De mente heroica and De Ratione, and Bettinelli's Dell'entusiasmo delle belle arti are other important works where the topic of enthusiasm recur. Not to forget the Pseudo-Longinus' On the Sublime, a fundamental reference text on the matter of aesthetics all over the eighteenth and nineteenth century, where the author refers to inspiration as ┬źa whisper full of enthusiasm┬╗ through which a god penetrates into pure souls. The treatise On the Sublime is a primary source of Alfieri, who, in the Del principe e delle lettere, takes up the Pseudo-Longinus's ideas and develops, in terms of aesthetics, a theory of creativity based on the role of poetic genius. Further references to the topic of poetic enthusiasm also come from authors who belong to the so called Italian Pre-Romantic period, such as Cesarotti, with his work on Ossian's Poems and Pindemonte, with reference to his Epistole and Sermoni.
With the coming of the poetics of Romanticism, the topic of poetic enthusiasm reaches its peak in terms of debate, especially in Germany and England. As to Italy, the authors who extensively treat the subject of poetic enthusiasm are Foscolo, especially with the Dell'origine e dell'ufficio della letteratura, Di Breme, and Leopardi. For Leopardi, the poetic enthusiasm represents a constant matter of reflection, since his early writings, such as Lettera ai sigg. compilatori della Biblioteca italiana. Also, the pivotal passage of the Zibaldone di Pensieri, after defying poetry as ┬źfacolt├á divina┬╗ (┬źdivine faculty┬╗) Leopardi affirms, in the wake of Pope's preface to Shakespeare's works, that the poet doesn't imitate Nature, since Nature speaks through him. Leopardi's case, who unconsciously is on the same wavelength as the most revolutionary aspects of the European aesthetic theories of Romanticism, clearly shows how the meditation on poetic enthusiasm stimulates and goes beyond the traditional Aristotelian mimetic principle, which represents one of the most notable connotations of the modern aesthetic thought.