The Origins of Criticism

The Origins of Criticism: Literary Culture and Poetic Theory in Classical Greece

Andrew Ford
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7pf1r
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Origins of Criticism
    Book Description:

    By "literary criticism" we usually mean a self-conscious act involving the technical and aesthetic appraisal, by individuals, of autonomous works of art. Aristotle and Plato come to mind. The word "social" does not. Yet, as this book shows, it should--if, that is, we wish to understand where literary criticism as we think of it today came from. Andrew Ford offers a new understanding of the development of criticism, demonstrating that its roots stretch back long before the sophists to public commentary on the performance of songs and poems in the preliterary era of ancient Greece. He pinpoints when and how, later in the Greek tradition than is usually assumed, poetry was studied as a discipline with its own principles and methods.

    The Origins of Criticismcomplements the usual, history-of-ideas approach to the topic precisely by treating criticism as a social as well as a theoretical activity. With unprecedented and penetrating detail, Ford considers varying scholarly interpretations of the key texts discussed. Examining Greek discussions of poetry from the late sixth century B.C. through the rise of poetics in the late fourth, he asks when we first can recognize anything like the modern notions of literature as imaginative writing and of literary criticism as a special knowledge of such writing.

    Serving as a monumental preface to Aristotle'sPoetics, this book allows readers to discern the emergence, within the manifold activities that might be called criticism, of the historically specific discourse on poetry that has shaped subsequent Western approaches to literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2506-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION DEFINING CRITICISM FROM HOMER TO ARISTOTLE
    (pp. 1-22)

    Criticism as an instinctive reaction to the performance of poetry is as old as song,” writes George Kennedy in beginning theCambridge History of Literary Criticism, and Kenneth Dover reminds readers of theFrogsthat “in pre-literate cultures the composition of songs is a process in which discussion and criticism, often passionate, play an important part—and inevitably so, because aesthetic reaction implies preference and preference implies criticism.”¹ As the Greeks were surely singing long before our first literary texts appear in the eighth century B.C.E., this means we cannot hope to trace criticism to its beginnings. But such broad...

  6. PART I: ARCHAIC ROOTS OF CLASSICAL AESTHETICS
    • ONE TABLE TALK AND SYMPOSIUM
      (pp. 25-45)

      Of the many social contexts in which archaic Greece worked out its functionalist poetics, one of the oldest and arguably the most influential was the symposium, a form of drinking and singing together that evolved in the course of the archaic age. Thanks to a wave of renewed scholarly attention, the symposium is now well appreciated as a central institution of Greek musical culture.¹ Much of archaic elegy and iambus is thought to have been composed for symposia,² and the institution even contributed a name to the preclassical lexicon of song types: theskolion, or “crooked” song, may have been...

    • TWO XENOPHANES AND THE “ANCIENT QUARREL”
      (pp. 46-66)

      A capsule history of Greek criticism before Plato is given to us by Plato himself when he apologizes for dismissing poets from his ideal city by referring to an “ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy” (Republic607B). Plato may not be altogether serious: he documents the poets’ side of the quarrel with snatches of lyric and comic verse that have nothing to do with philosophy but that do speak of pompous and arrogant types who may win a reputation among the undiscerning. And whether he is joking or not, we should be wary of Platonic constructions of literary history that...

    • THREE ALLEGORY AND THE TRADITIONS OF EPIC INTERPRETATION
      (pp. 67-90)

      Sympotic and cult songs have been the focus of this study so far because they make the goodness of song an explicit theme. The concern they show for context and occasion and their limited interest in formal aesthetics owed something to the fact that a sympotic verse was often as ephemeral as the party at which it was sung, and the cult hymns brought forth each season were typically composed for that particular occasion and so presented themselves as unique speech acts. In both cases, the enduring verbal artifact behind the performance was hard to extract and appreciate without reference...

  7. PART II: THE INVENTION OF POETRY
    • FOUR SONG AND ARTIFACT: SIMONIDEAN MONUMENTS
      (pp. 93-112)

      This and the following two chapters locate the major difference between archaic and early classical criticism in the development, during the early fifth century, of an approach to song as verbal craftsmanship. I call this change the invention of poetry because it was signaled by the popularization of a new vocabulary to describe singers as “makers” or “poets” (poiētai) and songs as “made things” or “poems” (poiēmata). Viewing songs as objects produced by a craftsmanly kind of “making” (poiēsis) supported fifth-century rhetorical analyses based on language and structure, and paved the way for the fourth-century study of poetics, “the art...

    • FIVE SINGER AND CRAFTSMAN IN PINDAR AND BACCHYLIDES
      (pp. 113-130)

      The previous chapter argued that in archaic Greece, where song was overwhelmingly more present as sounds on the air than as brief inscriptions or rare book rolls, there was little incentive to connect singing with the production of tangible, solid objects. Yet the fact that we cannot find explicit comparisons between songs and works of art before Simonides may be regarded as merely accidental. Even in the absence of a developed theory of verbal imitation, it is quite possible to find resemblances between composing songs and painting, sculpting, or embroidering. Indeed, comparative linguistics has assembled an array of Greek metaphors...

    • SIX THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD “POET”
      (pp. 131-158)

      The words “poetry,” “poet,” and “poem” have entered English and many European languages from ancient Greek, but not from very old Greek. Before the fifth century, the general Greek term for what we call poets wasaoidoi, “singers,” which did not differentiate composers from performers. To speak of a “song” when no specific kind was in view, words likehumnosormelos(“tune”) served, or the more generalaoidē, “singing” as an activity rather than an object, a “poem.”¹ Apart from these words, capable of a more or less general usage, the archaic lexicon lacked a unitary term comprehending the...

  8. PART III: TOWARD A THEORY OF POETRY
    • SEVEN MATERIALIST POETICS: DEMOCRITUS AND GORGIAS
      (pp. 161-187)

      The shift from “song” to “poem” involved a double reduction: first a song was viewed primarily as language, and then language was analyzed primarily in formal terms. The first reduction has been studied in the preceding chapters; in this chapter I shall illustrate the second, which may be called the “materialization of speech.” Here I adopt a phrase used by Svenbro, though I connect it with the philosophy of language in Democritus and Gorgias rather than with poets like Simonides and Pindar. Poetics exploited not only the historicization of poetry as a verbal craft but also a scientific reduction of...

    • EIGHT LITERARY CULTURE AND DEMOCRACY: POETS AND TEACHERS IN CLASSICAL ATHENS
      (pp. 188-208)

      We do not know if Gorgias visited Athens before his famous embassy of 427, and we do not know whether Democritus ever did. But there is no doubt that wandering wise men from all parts of Greece flocked to that increasingly prosperous and influential capital once the Persian wars ended in 479. In the burgeoning Periclean democracy, the arts and sciences were munificently supported, most conspicuously by Pericles and his circle of wise advisers, but also by citizens of leisure as they met in their houses and their gymnasia, and as they sent off their children for advanced education under...

    • NINE LITERARY CULTURE IN PLATO’S REPUBLIC: THE SOUND OF IDEOLOGY
      (pp. 209-226)

      As a bridge between the fifth and fourth centuries, this chapter takes up the representation of literary culture in Plato, dramatizations of sophisticated conversation about poetry of the late fifth century that were offered to fourth-century readers. In particular, I consider the parts of theRepublicthat precede Plato’s critique of the poets, for this work contains not only an unforgettable if idiosyncratic rejection of art, but also a broader sketch of how poetry has influence in society. Plato’s position, which will be illuminated with reference to the materialist poetics described previously, was not simply that old poetry is morally...

  9. PART IV: LITERARY THEORY IN THE FOURTH CENTURY
    • TEN THE INVENTION OF LITERATURE: THEORIES OF PROSE AND THE THEORY OF POETRY
      (pp. 229-249)

      The advanced thinking about poetry familiar to Socrates’ interlocutors viewed it in enlightened terms as normal speech in elaborate form. As the rhetorical critic would say, strip away poetry’s meter and other embellishments and you are left withlogos.¹ Sophists like Protagoras and Prodicus held poetry to technical standards of linguistic correctness, but thetekhnēin question was the sophist’s own, not that of poetry. Such a perspective left little scope for poetics proper, beyond the study of poetry’s special adornments, the nature of rhythm and melody or the meaning of its traditional expressions. For a more than rhetorical poetics...

    • ELEVEN LAWS OF POETRY: GENRE AND THE LITERARY SYSTEM
      (pp. 250-271)

      The previous chapter traced to the fourth century the first clear expressions in Greek of an idea of literature as artful writing with a special and permanent value. It was partly a humanist and ethical notion, but partly technical, too—to the extent that “artful” composition was thought to “build” into texts meanings that could not be expressed so well in any other form. The impulse to articulate this notion seems to have been connected with a burgeoning rhetorical and philosophical prose literature that mixed a display of technical power with promises to improve their readers. Writers inclined to take...

    • TWELVE THE RISE OF THE CRITIC: POETIC CONTESTS FROM HOMER TO ARISTOTLE
      (pp. 272-293)

      If poetics, in its most comprehensive and rigorously argued form, was first articulated as a topic for students of philosophy, the consolidation of such knowledge in itself changed the standards for expertise in poetry. For Aristotle’s interlocutors inside and outside the Lyceum, and for the teachers and advisers they would come to support, a knowledge of how poetry worked as poetry was now added to the ethical and social wisdom that had traditionally been expected of commentators on song. This hybrid skill, combining technical expertise with a broader vision of social harmony, was expressed by the Greeks through the metaphor...

  10. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 294-296)

    We pause in the history of Greek criticism on the verge of the Hellenistic age and the first academies devoted to professional literary study and research. ThePoeticscan mark the arrival of criticism because that work fully synthesized a conception of poetry and a method for analyzing it in terms taken from the art of poetry “and not from another art.” At the same time, the curious fact that thePoetics, along with most of Aristotle’s library, seems to have disappeared from sight until the Renaissance is a good reminder that classical critical theory and practice was not the...

  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 297-330)
  12. INDEX OF PASSAGES DISCUSSED
    (pp. 331-340)
  13. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 341-356)