Against Nature

Dream of Arcadia (1838), Thomas Cole 
  1. Schiller: The ancient Greeks, by living close to Nature, were naive geniuses who lived better lives than we do and created better works of art because of their ability to maintain a natural state of honesty, simplicity, and virtue that innately worked within the forms of nature.
  2. Schiller: Modern society has advanced beyond Nature, and in becoming disillusioned with the society he entered when he left childhood, longs to return to the childlike, naive, and natural state that is so much better than civilization. 
  3. Me: Ancient Greeks painted their pristine temples all sorts of gaudy, rather Victorian colors, a illustrative difference between the traditional ideal of the pure Greeks and the reality, which I imagine was both more colorful and Hobbesian (nasty, brutish, and short). 
Landscape with Aeneas at Delos (1672), Claude Lorraine

We have the luxury of admiring the natural now that we are not forced to survive in it, just as Schiller has the luxury of idealizing it in this essay. Did the ancient Greeks idealize a nomadic, hunting and gathering past as more virtuous? Is the whole history of civilization really one of degeneration? I don’t think so. This is only the beginning of Schiller’s On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature, that I started reading after this discussion, and his basis for the two types of poets, so I’d have to say so far I’m not buying it.

Et in Arcadia Ego (1637), Nicolas Poussin

2 thoughts on “Against Nature

  1. Rousseau would be the French version of Schiller, then? He was all about Natural Man, I believe he had a wealthy patroness. It may be that this romantic longing for things as they aren’t is a longing for childhood.

  2. Rousseau certainly comes into play here. And yes, I see a strong draw toward childhood when things were good and simple in a natural state. However, this is based on the idea that people are naturally good and sweet.

    I disagree. Children can be mean and cruel on their own, and much of their early education is a moral one: to teach them to be good. E.G. sharing.

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