Thursday, January 31, 2019


The Limits of Our Comprehension

Eduard Fraenkel (1888-1970), ed., Aeschylus, Agamemnon, Vol. I (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. ix:
As regards the discussion of controversial passages, I must make one further observation. It is a widespread belief that in the case of a so-called crux only one of two roads is open to the conscientious scholar: either he feels capable of understanding the disputed passage as it stands or he has to assume a corruption of the text. To me this belief seems to be based on a fallacy. We have only to pause for a moment and consider, first, the enormous gulf between our ways of life and thought and those of ancient Greece, then the sadly fragmentary nature of our whole tradition, and, finally, the solitary boldness of Aeschylus, to realize that it would be a sign of megalomania if we fancied it to be possible for us fully to understand the words of this poet wherever we have them in their original form. More than once, therefore, I have had to state that I regard the text of a certain line as probably sound but am nevertheless unable to grasp its meaning. This conviction must not, of course, serve as a pretext for slackening in our exertions. Every possible effort should be made to understand a difficult passage; but when a careful examination of the language and the style has produced no indication of a corruption and yet the sense remains obscure, then there may be a case, not for putting a dagger against the passage, but for admitting the limits of our comprehension.

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