Classical Literary Criticism

Classical Literary Criticism

Classical Literary Criticism

Classical Literary Criticism

Synopsis

This excellent and accessible work includes many major texts in translation: Aristotle's Poetics, Longinus' On Sublimity, Horace's Art of Poetry, Tacitus' Dialogues, and extracts from Plato and Plutarch. Based on the highly praised Ancient Literary Criticism (OUP, 1972), it contains a new introduction and explanatory notes, and will be of enormous value to students both of Latin and Greek and of literary criticism and theory.

Excerpt

The modern literary critic characteristically inhabits a university. He studies printed books, and writes others of his own, passing on the fruits of his labours, as he hopes, to a wider audience of intelligent readers than he commands among his own pupils. If he is a popular reviewer, he may have a very large readership indeed. Such a figure, however familiar to us today, was more or less unknown before, say, 1900, and finds no counterpart whatever in the ancient world. Higher education did not then concern itself with literature for its own sake, but with philosophy and rhetoric. If there were any professional critics, they contributed nothing to the distinguished critical literature whose peaks are arranged in the present volume. That was largely a side-product of the work of poets, philosophers, and historians who saw that literature was a crucial part of a world they wished to describe, reflect, and even reform.

In 405 BC the comic poet Aristophanes won the first prize before a large popular audience at Athens for a play, the Frogs, whose main point lay in the contrast of the styles and attitudes of two great tragedians, Aeschylus and Euripides. That contrast is not always conducted at any high level of sophistication, but familiarity of some kind with great literature is presupposed in the audience. That familiarity was the product not of reading, for at this time books were rare and expensive, but of hearing, especially by frequent presence at the festivals where both comedy and tragedy were produced.

The same sort of thing is true of the other genre which found a large audience: epic. It is a little unclear from Plato's Ion what the rhapsode in reality did beyond his primary task of reciting epic poetry. Perhaps an Ion would not do much more than give an introductory encomium of Homer and the passage to be presented. What is clear is that such a rhapsode would perform at a festival, and in the presence of 'twenty thousand or so persons' (p. 6). He is, in fact, closely parallel to the actor, with whom Socrates indeed classes him.

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