Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946) was profoundly influenced by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s idealist philosophy. Hegel held that concepts determine the structure of reality: the concept of freedom in his philosophy of history and, for Auerbach, the concept of history in the representation of reality. For both, reality is inextricable from reason, rationality, consciousness, and vice versa; hence, history signifies the rise and progress of human consciousness. Auerbach also shared Hegel’s view that the art of mimesis produces an image of a reality, in contrast to Plato, who thought a work of art is a resemblance opposed to reality. This paper analyzes the influence of Hegel’s philosophy of history on Auerbach’s conceptions of literary history, reality, and truth, as evidenced in Mimesis’s famous first chapter, “Odysseus’ Scar.” Auerbach chose the Hegelian concept of reality (Wirklichkeit) as the subtitle of his book to advance its main thesis, opposing realism to myths and legends, rationality to the flight from reason. He refutes the claim that classical Greek myths, legends, and heroes inaugurated Western culture’s representation of reality and, hence, conception of history. Instead, he finds their origins in the Old Testament, with its formulation of world, universal history, and “concept of the historically becoming,” an important Hegelian concept according to which the temporal becoming and unfolding of the life of human beings is meaningful, intelligible, and should be thought of as evolutionary progress toward a certain goal or end.


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pp. 106-133
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