Saturday, January 31, 2009

Liking the Ancients

My current project involves compiling an encyclopedia of literary criticism, from antiquity to the present. I resolved to do the classical part first, because I as the most apprehensive about it and thought it would take the most time. This is not because I am averse to the Classical world--I have taught enough on the field to be at least superficially competent (if no more) in it, but because my image of ancient literary criticism as unglamorous: The highlights of Aristotle and Longinus, enriched by the centuries of latter-day reflection on them, and aside from that a lot of rhetorical handbooks and aids to eloquence I would have to slog through. Imagine my surprise on actually enjoying the classical part of this project, and having it take longer not because I had to plod through it but because I actually found it enjoyable. One of my real discoveries has been Porphyry's allegorical Interpretation of the Cave of the Nymphs scene in Odyssey 13. I had known OF this as an example of allegorical interpretation, but had not thought to put it crudely, about ho it allegorized what it allegorized. That it addresses a liminal point in the poem--between Odysseus's adventures and his homecoming--only makes more interesting its reading of the cave as a liminal point between the material and ideal. This stuff is good after all.

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