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AFTERWORD Preconception and Understanding: 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, beyond occasional observations on analogies between these ancient interpretive critics and those of our own time. My reticence on this score reveals an implicit model of reading with similaritiesto Bloom's, and no doubt in part derivative from it. Beyond his definition of the poles of interpretation as strong and weak misreading, I would add that strategies of power on the level of the definition of sanity intervene to regulate the history of interpretive traditions. At any given moment, in any given interpretive community, a range of (mis-)readings of any text is possible, and outside that range lies—if not madness—then at the very least a mode of discourse easily consigned to the categories of the odd, the quirky, the intellectually negligible. Today, the Neoplatonists' reading of Homer is beyond the pale. Its advocates (ifindeed it has any) may not be certifiable on this basis alone, but if not, then they owe their sursis only to the tenuous and exquisite moment of crisis in literary theory in which we live. For a thousand years, however, their reading had just the opposite status—it was central to the sane, to the possible range of interpretation , and I know of no more compelling criterion of validity. The heart of this study has been the thesis that this oldest surviving European tradition of interpretive criticism was in part responsible for the birth of developed allegorical literature in late antiquity, and that it formed the background for the next great contribution to the epic tradition , the Divina Commedia. This thesis does not depend on our "taking The Allegorists in Modern Perspective Afterword: Modern Perspective 299 seriously" the interpretive efforts of the Neoplatonic allegorists, nor does it require that we read Dante any differently. If correct, however, it does throw light on the way in which a mode of reading first generated a mode of writing, and then, through the pervasive influence of its claims for the scope of the meaning and intention of early epic, established the conditions for future contributions to that tradition. But what of the allegorists' efforts themselves? Allegorical interpreta tion, ancient, medieval, and modern, has a bad reputation in our time. We imagine the allegorists to have been guilty of willful deception in distorting the meaning of texts, imposing foreign ideas upon them, and then compounding their crimes by appealing to those texts as authority for the very ideas they have fraudulently attached to them. But if we cannot "take seriously" the claims we find in Porphyry and in Proclus regarding the meaning of the Iliad and Odyssey, then we are left with a curious and unsatisfying model of the cultural process in question. "Garbage in" the tradition's computer seems, against all odds, to have generated not "garbage out" but the Paradise. If we say that in ancient terms "allegorical interpretation" is coextensive with what we are accustomed to call "interpretation" tout court, we are left with the same dilemma, for the modern dislike of allegorical interpretation carries over to interpretation of a sort we would not call allegorical . The hostility takes many forms, from the now somewhat dated esthetic polemic of Susan Sontag's famous essay "Against Interpretation" (1964) to the staid disapproval of G. M. A. Grube's discussion of ancient reading quoted earlier.1 It is interesting that Sontag incorporated into her essay a historical model widespread in classical scholarship, though by now surely discredited, when she claimed that interpretation made its first appearance in "late classicalantiquity."2 This is an idea that has died hard, and classical scholarship has been reluctant to admit that interpretation , which is doubtless as old as reading itself, was every bit as much a part of the intellectual life of classical Athens as it was eight or nine centuries later. This reluctance was eloquently expressed in HughLloydJones 's initial resistance to a mid-fourth-century date for the Orphic interpretive papyrus from Derveni.3 One must be sympathetic to the im1 . See Preface above. 2. Susan Sontag, "Against Interpretation," p. 5. 3. "Well, if they are right, this is a most sensational fact from the point of view of content," he observed. "Who...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520909205
Print ISBN
9780520066076
MARC Record
OCLC
44962995
Pages
375
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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