Nonfiction > G. Gregory Smith, ed. > Elizabethan Critical Essays
G. Gregory Smith, ed.  Elizabethan Critical Essays.  1904.
From E. Hoby’s translation of Coignet’s Politique Discourses
[The following passage is the thirty-fifth chapter of Politique Discourses on trueth and lying. An instruction to Princes to keepe their faith and promise…. Translated out of French … by Sir E. Hoby. R. Newberrie. London 1586. 4o. (B. M. 523. g. 13). The original, by Matthieu Coignet, appeared in Paris in 1584, with the title Instruction aux Princes pour garder la Foy promise: contenant un sommaire de la philosophie Chrestienne et morale … en plusieurs discours.]

That Lying Hath Made Poets and Painters to Be Blamed, and of the Garnishing of Houses.

PLATO wrote that Poetrie consisted in the cunning inuention of fables, which are a false narration resembling a true, and that therein they did often manifest sundrie follies of the gods; for this cause he banished and excluded them out of his common wealth, as men that mingled poyson with honie. Besides thorough their lying and wanton discourses they corrupt the manners of youth, and diminish that reuerence which men ought to carrie towards their superiors and the lawes of God, whom they faine to be replenished with passions & vice. And the principall ornament of their verses are tales made at pleasure, & foolish & disorderly subiectes, cleane disguising the trueth & hystorie, to the end they might the more delight; and for this cause haue they bin thrust out of sundry cities. Among other, after that Archilocus came into Sparta, he was presently thrust out, as soon as they had vnderstood how he had written in his poemes, that it was better to lose a mans weopens than his life, & forbad euer after al such deceitful poesies. Hence grew the common prouerb, that al Poets are lyers. And it was written of Socrates, that hee was yl brought vp to poesie because he loued the truth. And a man mought say that this moued Caligula to condemne Virgils & Homers books, because of their prophane fables, which S. Paul exhorted Timothie to cast away. Plutarque telleth of a Lacedemonian, who, when he was demanded what he thought of the Poet Tirteus, answered that he was very good to infect yong mens wits. And Hieron of Siracusa condemned Epicarmus the Poet in a great fine, because in his wiues presence he had repeated certaine lasciuious verses. And Viues writeth that Ouid was most iustly sent into banishment, as an instrument of wantonnesse. He which first inuented the Iambique versifying, to byte and quippe, was the first that felt the smart. And Archilocus the Poet fell into confusion through his own detractions, as Horace and sundry other haue written; and Aulus Gellius reporteth that Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiodus gaue names & honours to the gods. And Pithagoras saide that their soules hong in hel vpon a tree, still pulled of euery side by serpents, for their so damnable inuention. And Domitian banished Juvenal: and Pope Paull 2 and Adrian 6 held them as enimies to religion. Eusebius in his 8 booke & first Chapter de Preparatione Euangelica setteth down an example of a Poet, who, for hauing lewdly applyed a peece of Scripture to a fable, suddenly lost his naturall sight; and, after that he had done penance, it was restored to him againe. And as touching Painters, they haue beene greatly misliked of, for representing such fictions & Poetical deceits. For as Simonides saide: Painting is a dumme Poesie, and a Poesie is a speaking painting: & the actions which the Painters set out with visible colours and figures the Poets recken with wordes, as though they had in deede beene perfourmed. And the end of eche is but to yeeld pleasure by lying, not esteeming the sequele and custome, or impression, which hereby giue to the violating of the lawes and corruption of good manners. For this cause the Prophets called the statuas, images, and wanton pictures, the teachers of vanitie, of lyes, deceite, & abhomination. And Lactantius writeth, that a counterfait tooke the name of counterfaiting, and all deceit (as wee before declared) springeth from falshood and lying. This was it which mooued S. John, in the ende of his first Epistle, to warne men to keepe themselues from images: for an image doeth at their fansie counterfait the bodie of a man dead, but is not able to yeelde the least gaspe of breath. And idolatrie is properly such seruice as is done vnto Idoles. Wee reade howe God especially forbad it in the first table, and how long the Romanes and Persians liued without any vse thereof: and howe the Lacedemonians coulde neuer abyde that an image should stand in their Senate. There hath beene in sundrye councels mention made thereof & S. Athanasius more at large discoursed thereof in a sermon he made against Idols: and S. Augustin in his booke de fide & Simbolo, and vppon 150 Psalm, & in his eighth book of the citie of God, & Damascene in his 4 book & 8 c. The occasion of so free passage giuen to Poets is, for that their fables flyde awaye easily, and cunningly turne them selues to tickel at pleasure, whereas the trueth plainly setteth downe the matter as it is indeede, albeit the euent thereof bee not verie pleasant. Plato in like sort compared the disputes in Poetrie to the banquets of the ignorant, who vse Musike in steede of good discourse, and, in his thirde booke of his commonwealth, he forbiddeth Poets or painters to set downe or represent any thinge dishonest or wanton, for feare of corrupting of good manners. And Aristotle in his Politiques, the thirde booke and 17 Chapter, would haue all vyle wordes to be banished. And Saint Paul to the Ephesians, that any vncleannesse, foolish iesting, or talking shoulde bee once named among them. And Tertullian, an auncient doctor of the Church, called Poets, and certaine Philosophers, the Patriarches of heretiques. This which I haue spoken of must not be vnderstood of Poesies wherein much trueth and instruction is contained, nor of pictures which represent the actes of holye and vertuous personnages, nor of fables taken out of hystories, whereof, there maye growe some edifying; but onely of that which is lasciuious, and grounded vpon naughtie argument, rendring youth effeminate, and men more giuen to wantonnesse, pleasures, passion, & vayne opinions, then to virtue, cleane turning away the honour that is due vnto God or to good edifying; for according vnto the commaundement of God, Cherubyns were made. The admonition which Epictetus gaue to such as were too curious in pictures ought by no meanes to be here forgotten: Trim not thy house (saith hee) with tables and pictures, but paint it and guild it with Temperance: the one vainely feedeth the eyes, the other is an eternall ornament which cannot be defaced. The same doeth Plutarque teache in the life of Dion, that more care is to bee taken for the hanging and adorning of the palace of the soule, then of the outwarde. And the same Philosopher did not muche out of the waye warne vs, that wee shoulde take heede that the skirt of our garments shoulde not carrie a stinche of life.

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