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Homer the Theologian

Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition

Robert Lamberton

Publication Year: 1989

Here is the first survey of the surviving evidence for the growth, development, and influence of the Neoplatonist allegorical reading of the Iliad and Odyssey. Professor Lamberton argues that this tradition of reading was to create new demands on subsequent epic and thereby alter permanently the nature of European epic. The Neoplatonist reading was to be decisive in the birth of allegorical epic in late antiquity and forms the background for the next major extension of the epic tradition found in Dante.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Transformation of the Classical Heritage

Series Page, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

The Homeric poems provide our earliest direct insights into the religious thought of the Greeks, and, with few interruptions, the presence of Homer in the Greek religious imagination, pagan and Christian, remained continuous until the decline of the Byzantine church in the late Middle Ages. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This study is a revision and expansion of my doctoral dissertation, "Homer the Theologian" (Yale, 1979). The teachers and colleagues who have helped are too numerous to list individually, but a few deserve special mention. Lowry Nelson, Jr., gave generously of his time, energy, and perceptions throughout the duration of the project, as did Jack Winkler. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

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I: The Divine Homer and the Background of Neoplatonic Allegory

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pp. 1-43

Our concern here will be to examine one among several traditions of the interpretation of Homer in antiquity: that characterized by the claims that Homer was a divine sage with revealed knowledge of the fate of souls and of the structure of reality, and that the Iliad and Odyssey are mystical allegories yielding information of this sort if properly read. ...

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II: Middle Platonism and the Interaction of Interpretive Traditions

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pp. 44-82

The tradition of mystical allegorical commentary on Homer has survived in substantial form only in the writings of the Neoplatonists, but evidence from the first two and a half centuries of the Christian era—before the great synthesis of Plotinus, which marks the beginning of Neoplatonism proper— ...

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III: Plotinian Neoplatonism

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pp. 83-143

Though the history of Neoplatonism starts, properly speaking, with Plotinus (205- 70),1 what we have called the Neoplatonic reading of Homer had its sources in habits of thought developed long before the third century and found full expression not in Plotinus himself but in Porphyry and then in the later Neoplatonists. ...

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IV: The Interaction of Allegorical Interpretation and Deliberate Allegory

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pp. 144-161

The emergence of allegorical writing on a large scale and the mystical allegorical interpretation of non-epic literature are both developments rooted in the period of the authors we have been discussing. Neither of these developments is well understood, and if neither has found its historian, it is doubtless because the evidence is sparse, ...

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V: Proclus

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pp. 162-232

Proclus (ca. 410-85) stands near the end of the ancient Neoplatonic tradition and on the threshold of the Middle Ages. He was head of the Athenian school that traced its ancestry to Plato's Academy—hence the title Diadochos, or Successor, often attached to his name. ...

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VI: The Transmission of the Neoplatonists' Homer to the Latin Middle Ages

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pp. 233-297

Up to this point, with the exception of a brief discussion of Prudentius, this study has been concerned exclusively with Greek literature and thought. In fact, much of what has been discussed has been of Italian origin, from the archaic Pythagoreanism of southern Italy to the teachings of Plotinus and Porphyry in Rome. ...

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Afterword: Preconception and Understanding: The Allegorists in Modern Perspective

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pp. 298-305

What has been elaborated here is the history of perhaps the most powerful and enduring of the "strong misreadings" (to use Harold Bloom's term) that make up our cultural heritage. I have avoided any attempt to hold that reading of Homer up against others, to affirm or to deny it, ...

Appendix 1. An Interpretation of the Modest Chariclea from the Lips of Philip the Philosopher

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pp. 306-311

Appendix 2. Proclus's Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, 1.341.25–343.15.

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pp. 312-314

Appendix 3. A Sampling of Proclus's Use of Homer

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pp. 315-317

Appendix 4. The History of the Allegory of the Cave of the Nymphs

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pp. 318-324

Works Cited

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pp. 325-340

Ancient and Medieval Passages Cited

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pp. 341-352

Index of Greek Terms

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pp. 353-354

General Index

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pp. 355-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780520909205
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520066076

Page Count: 375
Publication Year: 1989

Series Title: Transformation of the Classical Heritage