Monday, January 27, 2020


Ways of Looking at Things

Ben Edwin Perry (1892-1968), "The Early Greek Capacity for Viewing Things Separately," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 68 (1937) 403-427 (at 403):
If modern habits of mind were the same as those of the pre-Socratic Greeks, we should not often err in the interpretation of their literature and thought; but since the psychological differences between them and us are considerable, it frequently happens that modern critics, too much influenced by their own patterns of thought, either find something in early Greek literature that is not there, or else are puzzled and even disappointed by not finding there something which they feel ought to be there. Since this is so, it behooves us as interpreters to keep in view at all times, and in many different connections, those particular characteristics of the early Greek mind which can be recognized as such, and which stand in contrast to modern ways of thinking.
Id. (at 425):
In the matter of drawing inferences and of associating or not associating one idea or image with another, there are, as it seems to me, three distinct ways of looking at things, the first two of which, in the order below mentioned, are especially characteristic of the Greek mind in the fifth century and earlier: 1. Two or more things (or ideas) that might be logically or otherwise connected with each other are each viewed separately, and the beholder or narrator is aware of only one at a time—parataxis in various forms. 2. Two things are viewed in juxtaposition or contrast, each of which in some way denies the other, while the onlooker, though intellectually pleased or even deeply moved by the spectacle, nevertheless remains aloof and impartial in his attitude, being affected for the time being far more by the objective reality of things (θεωρία) than by any sympathy, however natural, for one of the two things in conflict—irony, the antithetic style, the intellectual detachment of Thucydides. 3. The spectator, turned partisan, judges one of two things in terms of the other, or with reference to a preconceived system or sentiment, or by pure logic— philosophy instead of nature as the guide to truth.

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