English Literature » Notes » How does Sidney prove the superiority of poetry over history and philosophy?
Sir Philip Sidney

How does Sidney prove the superiority of poetry over history and philosophy?

The moral philosopher, according to Sir Philip Sydney considers poetry to be the superior teacher because it denotes both vices and virtues. The historian takes the view that he is able to go back and use concrete examples from history examples from history, these examples are less true and the philosophers give only the theoretical ideas, so there are significant disadvantages in both philosophy and history but poetry teaches us only virtue and gives delight so in this sense poetry is superior to history and philosophy. Poetry is the best source of education.

According to Sydney, poetry is the most antiquity and universal of all arts. Philosophy and history as branches of knowledge have certain similarities. First, their main task is to teach moral lesson. In the beginning, the poets, philosophers and historians wrote in verse though their subject matter was different, So, we can say that poetry was the source of the knowledge of two men at large.

Showing the superiority of poetry over history and philosophy, Sydney says that while the philosophers teach by precept alone and historian by example alone, the poet conduces most to virtue because he employs both precept and example. The philosopher teaches virtue by showing what virtue is and what vice is, by setting down in abstract argument, and without clarity or beauty of style, the bare principle of morality. The historian teaches virtue by showing the experiences of past ages; but being tied down to what actually happened, that is, to the particular truth of things and not to general possibilities, the examples he draws no necessary consequence. But the poet alone accomplishes this dual task.

Sydney argues that poetry combines the best of both philosophy and history, in fact poetry is able to include both example and precept. Using various demonstrations from Homer, he shows the way in which poetry possesses freedom to express the ideal whereas history is bogged down by its need to represent truthfully its subjects which is inevitably focus on their vices as well as virtues. Poetry is able to present a world where good deeds result in good happenings and where evil is punished, whereas history is limited by the vicissitudes of life, where often evil is rewarded. Poetry according to Sydney

….. doth not only show the way but he giveth prospect into the way as will entice any men to enter into it.

Sydney also puts some points to prove the superiority of poetry over history and philosophy. They are as follows—

* Poetry is superior to and older than other branches of knowledge. Even the Vedas, the Mahabharata the Ramayan, the Bible the AI Quran are written in poetry. The first philosophers and historians were poets.

* The Greeks and the Romans regarded the poet as maker or creator.

* Poetry is the speaking picture. It teaches and gives delight as no other can do.

* The historians teach by example and the philosophers teach by abstract ideas but the poet express what happened or what may happen.

* Poetry both teaches and the delights.

* The poet creates a fresher, a sweeter, a golden world where the nature is brazen and for this creation he can be compared with God.

* It is not poetry that abuses man’s wit but man’s wit that abuses poetry.

Sydney rightly shows poetry superior to philosophy and history. Poetry is more effective teaching tool than history and philosophy because it compares the Reader to learn virtue through its vivid examples.

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