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GREEK AND ROMAN CRITICS' What the ancient world thought about literature is interesting not only for its own sake but also because of the long, not always healthy, influence that the conclusions (rightly or wrongly understood) of its leading critics have had on modern European literature. In the present work, Professor G. M. A. Grube gives a factual account of what can be known on the subject, tracing the story from the hints of criticism in the poetry of the dawn of Greece to the late sunset of Greco-Roman antiquity. His work is remarkable for its comprehensiveness, admirably proportioned presentation, and balance of judgment. These three virtues are inter-related. Grube does not coniine himself to the handful of great masters -Plato, Aristotle, Horace, and "LonginuslJ-hut is careful not to overweight his discussion of minor ligures, the records of whose teachings are usually fragmentary , obscure, and unreliable, and thus inevitably tempt many scholarly inquirers into elaborate but unsubtantial conjecture and theorizing. Here his balanced judgment makes him a very safe guide through the morasses of scholarly guesswork. Grube reveals. of course, the Iffaults of his virtues." He modestly refuses to he drawn into discussing whether ancient literary judgments were actually right or wrong, and he disclaims the capacity to relate them to modern critical theories. Yet he might still have helped the general reader, with whom this book deserves the widest circulation, by making more of certain limitations of ancient criticism. To an enormous extent ancient criticism had a practical aim, being concerned either with polemic about contemporary writers, includ~ ing defences of the "critic lJ himself, or with the mora] effect of literature in education, or with giving advice to aspiring writers: even Aristotle's Poetics, at least in part, and "Longinus"- explicitly, though the fact is often overlooked -come in this last category. So the criticism of contemporary writers was more controversial than judicial; that of earlier writers was influenced, even dominated, by the search for features worthy of admiration and of literary or moral imitation. The concentration of late Greek critics on the great classical writers reflects not only aesthetic considerations but the conviction that those earlier writers provided all the answers to the question "How should it be done?" Further, despite his declared reluctance to make such general pronouncements , Grube has surely prOvided for Aristotle's Poetics the essay-topic to end all essay-topics with his remark "[Aristotle] had very little feeling for poetry as such." One wonders here, as elsewhere in the book, whether behind this there may lie romantic presuppositions about poetry, that, to put it a little crudely, poetry "as such" is found in the lyrical moment. Yet such comments are rare, and in a field where the temptation to impose one's own critical pre-conceptions, even sometimes in translating a text, is peculiarly lILG. M. A. Grube, The Greek and Roman Critics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1965. Pp. xii, 372. $8.25. Volume XXXVI, Number 1, October, 1966 100 A. E. DOUGLAS powerful, Grube has succeeded remarkably in the complex task of giving an undistorted yet sympathetic account of his subject. Thus, even if Grube does not explain why in antiquity the lyric ranked lowest of poetic forms, he will save his reader from many other pre-judgments. A modern reader would not rush to buy a work described as "imitative, rhetorical, and full of the commonplace." From Grube he will learn why an ancient reader looked for these attributes as a mark of ordinary competence. Art was expected to Himitate" life, and one artist to imitate others; rhetoricin its broadest sense simply the art of effective expression or communicationwas enormously influential, and one of its aspects, the use of the commonplace or set-piece, had its recognized place in literary composition. But again, on details Grube sometimes carries to excess his normally wholesome scepticism about the findings of modern scholars. Modern views are not necessarily right, yet the almost universal abandonment of the belief that Aristotle's hamartia is a moral Haw in the character of the tragic hero is justified by the text. The evidence that Theophrastus taught some form of the doctrines of ''Three...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 99-100
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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