The Idea of Ancient Literary Criticism

The Idea of Ancient Literary Criticism

The Idea of Ancient Literary Criticism

The Idea of Ancient Literary Criticism

Synopsis

This book offers a sustained reading of the social function of the body of texts we identify as 'ancient literary criticism' with major implications for how we understand this discourse and also modern criticism and literary theory. The volume traces ancient criticism from its origins in archaic Greek poetry through to the early Christian era. As well as reading the familiar texts of ancient criticism, it shows how ancient law, history, and rhetoric participate in the critical process.

Excerpt

By this book I have variously been enthralled, puzzled, driven to distraction, and absorbed over a number of years. This project had its germ during my time as an undergraduate in Classics and English at the University of Toronto, attempting to reconcile the different demands of philology and literary theory. At this point I was thinking about issues of how antiquity read and wrote as ancient literary theory', working on the assumption that there must have been an historical precedent for the forms of analysis we now term 'modern literary theory'. In the course of graduate school, I had my interests redirected to rhetorical discourse, and the diversion was an important one because it demanded attention to cultural context and specificity, and shifted my attention to 'criticism'. It is for this reason that this book encounters the 'idea' of literary criticism as a plurality of 'ideas': as a possible interpretive tool, perhaps more for literary history than the Greek and Latin texts themselves; as an obstacle to literary interpretation; and, latterly, as a discourse with a pragmatic function, the making and ordering of the community.

Because it has accompanied me, as idea and as material project, for such a long time, this study owes much to many people. At Toronto, I must acknowledge the teaching of W. David Shaw at Victoria College for showing me what close attention to a text might involve; I also owe debts to Alexander Dalzell, Elaine Fantham, and Brad Inwood for supporting my early forays into literary and rhetorical theory. At Cornell, I wish to thank Pietro Pucci, Fred Ahl, and Thomas Hubbard for challenging me to read in other and plural ways, and above all, 'against the grain'. More recently, I would like to acknowledge the support of the exceptionally stimulating and lively community in Classics at Cambridge, amongst others, Jamie Masters, Jas Elsner, Sam Evans, John Henderson, Simon Goldhill, Robert Wardy, Cathy Atherton, Malcolm Schofield, Myles Burnyeat, who provided early encouragement for the project; Richard Hunter, who read and commented on early drafts of chapters, and Paul Cartledge, who . . .

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