Nietzsche describes the 'birth of tragedy' twice over in The Birth of Tragedy (amongst other things this book is surely one of the most spectacular academic career suicides ever, killing off Nietzsche's position as the rising star of classical philology in German speaking universities, which earned him his precocious chair at Basel), first in the widely read treatment of Attic Tragedy, and then the rather less widely appreciated discussion of Wagner as the repetition of the great Attic Tragic moment.
Such great moments are short lived. In the first half of the book Nietzsche is concerned with three writers over two generations, and the last of those (Euripides) is an example of decline. The Euripidean decline is part of a shift to the novel (Birth of Tragedy 15) via Aesopian fables and Plato's dialogues, which should also be seen in the context of the New Comedy. The novel is not an obviously major literary form in the ancient world, so there may be a form of extreme dismissiveness in suggesting that is what is left after the death of Attic tragedy.
I am aware of exactly two comments Foucault made on Vico. From Discipline and Punish, with regard to the description of the 'spectacular' and famously brutal execution of Damiens: 'As Vico remarked this old jurisprudence was "an entire poetics"' (Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan, Penguin, 1977: p. 45). Then from 'What is Enlightenment':
The present may also be analyzed as a point of transition toward the dawning of a new world. That is what Vico describes in the last chapter of La Scienza Nuova; what he sees "today"; is "a complete humanity ... spread abroad through all nations, for a few great monarchs rule over this world of peoples"; it is also "Europe ... radiant with such humanity that it abounds in all the good things that make for the happiness of human life"
I’ve been teaching and studying Montaigne this semester with an intensity I’ve never undertaken before, though I have dipped into Montaigne previously to teach on friendship, and on skepticism in moral and epistemic contexts. Working right through the Essays for the first time, I’ve discovered far more about Montaigne, the themes of his work, and the depth of his philosophical achievement. What stands out for me is how much Montaigne sets up major philosophical questions and approaches of modern philosophy, and is at least as deserving as Descartes is to be considered as important to the origins of modern philosophy. Montaigne’s very literary way of writing, his reliance on allusion to history and ancient authors, and the rather rambling nature of his writing are all possible explanations for his relatively marginal place in philosophy, his relatively greater presence in cultural history and cultural theory.
Philosophical discussion of liberty and republicanism going back at least as far as Philip Pettit’s Republicanism (1997) have very much revolved around antiquity, when considering a historical dimension. We can take this back to Hannah Arendt’s work on Athenian liberty, which is not as nostalgic and uncritical as some claim, but certainly takes Athens as a starting point. Historical work by Quentin Skinner, J.G.A. Pocock and others has considered the evolution of liberty since the Renaissance Italian republics, which looked back to antiquity, in ways we are familiar with through Machiavelli. Pettit’s work, which shares broad historical presuppositions with Skinner and Pocock, advances a Neo-Roman theory of liberty, as superior to Arendt’s Athenian orientation. Even Michel Foucault sometimes seems as if he was inclined to classicism in political thought.
Despite the predominance of debates about antique models, and their early modern reception, there is a lot of republican theory, which is not Roman or Athenian, or certainly not purely so. Charles de Secondat, better known as Montesquieu, serves as a primary reference here, since in his view modern liberty is mainly the product of the republicanism of ancient German tribes. Though they had kings, Montesquieu regards these tribes as republics since the kings and aristocrats were answerable to the people. It is their conquest of Roman lands in the west in the Fifth Century, which introduced milder laws more compatible with liberty, partly because they emphasise compensation over punishment. Montesquieu’s view of the ancient German tribes is heavily reliant on Tacitus, so raising questions about how far he is using a Roman conception of liberty projected onto the German tribes. To some degree Montesquieu himself sees the very earliest forms of the Greek and Roman republics in the German tribes, but preceding those republics as we know them from anything resembling reliable history. While we cannot make a very clear distinction between the reality of the German tribes and Tacitus’s Roman interest, there is a distinction to be made between how Tacitus regarded these ‘barbarians’ with fragmented political communities in the forest and nostalgia within the great Roman state of laws and fixed institutions.
It is not just the Germans who Montesquieu takes up as a republican alternative to the Romans, and Greeks. He admires the Carthaginian republic, which like Rome achieved an imperial extent, as more commercial and even as escaping from the Mediterranean world into the European and African Atlantic coasts, in a triumph of commercial liberty. It is the real precursor of the commercial world of modern monarchies and republics, or republic-monarchies like Britain, much more so than the Roman world. He also thinks of ancient German law as more suited to commerce than Roman law. As Montesquieu discusses in some detail, Germanic law becomes merged with revived Roman in the Middle Ages, but not to the extent to losing an underlying influence of Germanic republican liberty in modern ‘moderate’ states.