C. Tell me, what is meant by those who praise themselves by means of the myrtle and the laurel?
T. Those who can and do win praise for themselves by the myrtle are those who sing of love. If these bear themselves nobly, they win the crown of that plant concecrated to Venus who inspires them with her frenzy. Those who can praise themselves by the laurel are those who sing worthily of heroic things, who instruct heroic souls through speculative and moral philosophy, or who celebrate those heroic souls and present them as exemplary mirrors of political and civil action.
C. Are there still other species, then, of poets and awards?
T. There are not only as many as there are Muses, but a great many more besides. For, although one can distinguish certain sorts of poets and awards, one would not know how to define certain modes and species of human genius.
C. I know certain makers of poetic rules who accept with difficulty Homer as a poet, and who reject Virgil, Ovid, Martial, Hesiod, Lucretius, and many other versifiers, after having examined them according to the rules of Aristotle’s Poetics.
T. You can be sure, my friend, that these are veritable blockheads, for they do not consider that those rules serve chiefly to make clear the nature of the poetry of Homer, or the nature of some other particular poet. They do not consider that those rules are there only to show us the kind of epic poet Homer was, and not to serve as modes of instruction to other poets who could in other veins, skills, and frenzies be in their several kinds equal, similar, or even greater than Homer.
C. If I understand you correctly, then, Homer in his genre was not a poet who depended upon rules, but he is the cause of the rules which serve others who are more adept at imitating than inventing. And these rules were drawn up by an author who was not a poet of any sort, but who knew how to assemble rules of that particular kind (that is, rules of Homeric poetry) for the benefit of one who would wish to be not another poet with a muse of his own, but an imitator of Homer and the ape of Homer’s muse.
T. You conclude well that poetry is not born of the rules, except by the merest chance, but that the rules derived from the poetry. For that reason there are as many genres and species of true rules as there are of true poets.
C. How will the true poets, then, be recognized?
T. By our singing their verses, and by this, that when they are sung, either they will be delightful, or they will be useful, or they will be useful and delightful at the same time.
[Heroic Frenzies, Bruno]