Monday, February 22, 2010


Tendencies Within Classical Commentaries

Robert Ackerman, J.G. Frazer: His Life and Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 130:
For the purposes of discussion, one may distinguish two tendencies within classical commentaries: the philological and the historical. Depending on the nature of the text and their own background and temperament, editors have tended to focus either on the language of the text or the objects or events to which the language refers. The philological emphasis might be called "centripetal," in that it focuses on the text as linguistic artifact, a construction in language to be seen and understood in a context made up finally and essentially of other texts. Philologists create and use such necessary instruments as dictionaries and concordances, which bring together examples of usage to create a linguistic universe that, through a complex process of historical and semantic triangulation, finally delimits the meaning of the word or phrase under discussion. Even when the philological editor aspires to wider, comparative horizons, the centripetal impetus persists, so that, say, Sanskrit or Semitic examples might be adduced to gloss an obscure Greek expression. Always, however, nonlinguistic materials are employed to return one to the language of the text.

On the other hand, commentaries of a historical tendency are essentially "centrifugal," in that the editor tends to direct the reader off the page, away from the text and into the world. Thus archaeology, architecture, epigraphy, numismatics, papyrology, and topography, to name only some, are ancillary bodies of knowledge levied upon by historical critics, the principal goal being the use of the text to improve our understanding of those disciplines. In fact, good editors shuttle back and forth between the language and the world, using each to clarify the other, but the analytic distinction between the two still seems worth making.
Perhaps there is some overlap here with Wortphilologie (somewhat centripetal) versus Totalitätsideal (somewhat centrifugal).

Related post: The Sauce and the Fish.

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