Why does Sidney prefer poetry to history and philosophy in Defence of Poesie?

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In The Defence of Poesy, Philip Sidney expresses faith in poetry's ability to address ideas raised in both philosophy and history, but he argues that poetry engages with these topics better. He addresses the superiority of poetry by discussing classical philosophers:

Truly even Plato whosoever well considereth shall find that in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin, as it were, and beauty depended most of poetry.

Here, Sidney points out that in Aristotle's work, poetry forms the metaphoric skin that contains philosophical concepts within its form. To further sustain his argument through an appeal to ethos, he says,

Truly, Aristotle himself, in his discourse of poesy, plainly determineth this question, saying that poetry is philosophoteron and spoudaioterum, that is to say, it is more philosophical and more studiously serious than history.

By invoking Aristotle's arguments in his classical Greek text Poetics, Sidney argues that poetry is a superior medium because it involves and does better than philosophy and history. He paraphrases Aristotle's treatise on poetry and poetics, saying that "poesy dealeth with katholou," meaning "universal consideration," which philosophy and history are not able to fully render.

Works Cited:

Sidney, Philip. "The Defence of Poesy," Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 212–250.

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Poetry is set forth by Sidney as the most supreme form in comparison to history and philosophy, as its purpose is "to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be capable of." Sidney looks at the way in which philosophy and history are restricted by their need to report the truth, which actually hinders their role as a force for education, as both history and philosophy must therefore look at the bad examples of characters as well as the good ones. In addition, poetry is superior, Sidney argues, in its form, as it encourages the audience to listen to it and therefore learn from it:

For he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it.

Poetry is therefore superior to philosophy, which can often be very difficult to understand, and it is also superior to history, as the poet is able to make what he or she writes far more attractive to the listener. In short, poetry is superior because it is more concrete than philosophy and more comprehensive than history. It suffers no limitations, except the imagination of either the poet or the audience.

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