Wendell Clausen (1923-2006), "Philology,"
Comparative Literature Studies
27.1 (1990) 13-15 (at 13-14, ellipse marks in original):
Anyone who speaks about philology today must be aware that it has become, for many, a pejorative term, even a term of abuse; at the very least,
an adverse relation seems to be implied: philology and ... literary criticism or theory. Such a contrast — I am thinking especially, though not
exclusively, of Greek and Latin literature — is not only futile, it is subversive; for philology is the basis of literary criticism. Too often philology has
been humbled and identified with one or another of its components — with
grammar (say) or textual criticism — and its original high purpose forgotten,
which is, as it has been since the time of the scholars and poet-scholars of
Alexandria, literary criticism — in Quintilian's phrase, poetarum enarratio,
the detailed interpretation of the poets.
We are all of us natural philologists, growing up in our language,
hearing, speaking, for the most part hardly even noticing it, so natural
does it seem. But in Greek or Latin, in attempting to hear a "dead"
language, we are deprived of the living voice; and it is the office of
philology to supply our want of natural sensibility.
At the end of World War II, in 1945, a short book was published in
Sweden, Unpoetische Wörter by Bertil Axelson, the importance of which,
partly owing to circumstances, was only gradually recognized. Axelson
undertook to answer an apparently simple question — in fact, a brilliant
negative question: what words metrically available to the Latin poets did
they avoid using? Unpoetic words: words unsuitable, presumably because of tone or connotation, to a certain genre of poetry, to poetry of a certain
period, or altogether unsuitable. I remember still my surprise and dismay
on first reading Axelson as a young scholar; for I was made to realize that I
was not, after all, as I had fondly imagined, a Roman. The philologist, the
classical scholar, must always be contemplating an imagined reality, an
Italy of the mind, with the broken statues standing on the shore.
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