Zoilus according to Norwid
Zoilos of Amphipolis (Greek: Ζωίλος) lived in the fourth century before Christ. He was a philosopher, a skilled speaker and a teacher of Demosthenes, who competed and held debates with Plato and Isocrates, but went down in history as an uncompromising and unfair critic who did not recognize any perception of poetry, art, philosophy, authority, and the world other than his own.
The ruthless and aggressive criticism of Homer made the name of Zoilos a symbol and synonym of a man unfair in his assessment of others, a scathing critic. With the passage of time, many legends arose around his figure, including those in which he was crucified for criticizing and threatening the authorities.
Nowadays, the figure of Zoilos is covered with a layer of dust, and his name is less frequently invoked in the language of debate, including the scientific one. It is impossible to determine today if Zoilos always criticized just for criticism’s sake, by attacking not the work or the viewpoint, but a person. How would his criticism relate to contemporary standards regarding the freedom of expression and the protection of fundamental rights?
Cyprian Kamil Norwid devoted one of his graphics to the figure of Zoilos. Next to Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński, this fourth Romantic bard was able to perfectly capture the description of reality and his views not only with words but also with images. He left many graphics, pictures and paintings, including numerous caricature sketches.
One example is the satire on the ‘biting’ criticism, that is ‘Zoilus’. He was portrayed as a winged monster with the head of a dog with overgrown teeth who tramples books (creation) and attempts to take away a harp from a man (creator, poet) – a symbol of inspiration and creative work. Norwid sketched Zoilus’ wings in such a way so as to show that he was not able to ascend, to fly.
Perhaps Norwid’s drawing was a reaction to the observed or experienced unfair criticism. But Norwid’s take is universal. He seems to exclaim: unjust criticism, the destruction of works and their creator are oftentimes the actions of a monster unable to rise by himself; who cannot create by himself.
Criticism is a difficult art. In the case of literary, art or scientific work, the aim of critique should be a fair evaluation of the works. It must not be overshadowed, however, by a ruthless attack on the author.