restricted access The Making of the Culture of the Sign
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Reviews The Making of the Culture of the Sign GORDON TESKEY Philip Rollinson. Classical Theories of Allegory and Christian Cuiture, with an appendix on primary Greek sources by Patricia Matsen Duquesne Studies in Language and Literature Series, volume III Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press '98,. '75. $17.50 Some time before 500 Be the technique of allegorical interpretation was developed as a means of legitimizing new ideas by finding them already concealed beneath the narrative 'surface' of the Homeric epics. In this way the epics could be made both to provide the young with a standard ofconduct less carefree than that of the Homeric gods and to serve as an encyclopedia in which all the information that the culture possessed could be thought to be contained: the theomachia, 0> 'battle of the gods' in Iliad 22 could thus be cured of impiety when interpreted as a psychomachia, orbattle ofvirtues and vices in the soul; and the adultery ofAres and Aphrodite, exposed when they are caught in [lagrante delicto in the net of Hephaestus , couldbe transformed from the piquant amusement its author intended intoa kind of narrative hieroglyphic mysteriously figuring forth the creation of the universe by a demiurge who binds the forces ofopposition and concord in the net of the logos. Interpretation in this way became a means of integrating fashionable ideas with traditional texts so that the philosophy ofthe Phaedrus could be thought to be entirely contained, as 'undermeaning' or hyponoia, in an episode in the Iliad where Athena seizes Achilles from behind by the hair; and the wanderings of Odysseus on the sea tum out in the same way to be a dark conceit of the journey of the soul through the material flux ofthe world. Homer thus became all things to all readers, a cosmological physicist in the time of Thales and Heraclitus, a stoic, a Pythagorean, a Neoplatonist, even an oracle to the Christians for whom Odysseus at the mast could be seen as a figure ofChrist on the cross abstaining, alone among men, from the siren temptations of the world and the flesh. This accumulation of Homeric identities could eventually be conceived of as a framework of contexts, or allegorical levels, within which the pagan gods were transmitted through the Middle Ages and into the mythographichandbooks that were eagerly thumbed by Renaissance poets such as Chapman and Spenser. The tradition of allegorical interpretation had been active for approximately a millenium before Prudentius UNIVERSI1Y OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 52, NUMBER 2, WINTER 11}8213 0042-02471 83/0200-0209-0213$00.00/0 «:> UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 210 GORDON TESI


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