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Reading the Codes Grasping Hermeneutics Reading the Signifier On the one hand, it evolved into a formidable and illustrious science during the nineteenth century, on the same footing in principle as all the others: thus it relinquished its prerogatives while still defending them by invoking the sacrosanct and prestigious nature of its subject matter.

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On the other hand, the means at its disposal within academies and universities, even if these were used only to organize subdivisions and auxiliary branches, were granted by virtue of its role within the pedagogical systems of the various countries involved. Yet scientific results were not taken into consideration at this level. Even in the past, the texts for which classical philology was responsible had long borne the imprint of the purposes they were intended to serve, purposes always different from those of the original texts, precisely where those texts had had the most profound influence on systems of thought.

This ambiguous status—science and guardianship—prevented philology from questioning the values that it invoked and that were the basis for its influence; this alone explains why it instinctively declined to develop a theory of works or a technique of reading, or to define the nature of the texts under its aegis.


Research of that sort would have been incompatible with the stability it represented. The philologists contrast one interpretation with another; they accumulate points of contention ad infinitum through marginal notations and corrections, as if controversy—which they mock, as Montaigne did, but still engage in—were integral to the nature of commentary.

But these debates, while necessary to the survival of the practice, would be supplanted if the origins of the proposed translations and of the causes of error were studied; such study would show that, if scholars have not reached a conclusion, it is because, for reasons linked to the way their culture is organized, the very framing of the questions has made it impossible to draw conclusions. An analytic, rather than descriptive, history of interpretation, which might reconnect opinions with the factors on which they were based, is particularly valuable if it analyzes the process of constituting an illusory science; and, in the specific case of Homeric criticism, it can show how the various approaches, originally intended to clear up difficulties, in fact transformed those difficulties into means appropriate to the organization of a discipline that has prevailed for over a century and still sustains debate.

This situation arose because the approach in question had managed to design a virtually autonomous academic and academically profitable system of questions and answers that do not actually refer to the subject; Homer is the case in point. This doxography is necessary to the practice because it isolates the critical points that Homeric analysis, the philological method par excellence , exploits; it views them as flaws in the work, whereas the process of reading, in its very flow, blends and assimilates them. Above all, however, only a comprehensive view of the whole series of interpretations and the historical factors that underlie them, even if we are simply looking at errors, can allow us to move beyond doxography.

The best way of avoiding the professional game of controversy is to categorize all opinions and to reconstitute, through them, the representational system that is still in use, except when the text is called upon to support an ideology or to implement a theory, aesthetic or otherwise. In the latter case, the material in question is marked by the tradition developed by earlier interpretations, so much so that it is the tradition that makes use of the users.

The absence of a theory of their own corresponds to their scorn for the theories of others. The principle for analyzing the Homeric poems, which constituted one of the achievements of the philological method, was rarely discussed by the authors who applied it, and no doubt it would not have been imposed as a practice if it had not produced facts that could be reinterpreted indefinitely.

The errors that these facts implied were never discussed, because they lacked believers and advocates. Philologists have been even more preoccupied with the genesis of Greek epic than with the birth of tragedy; for more than a century, the question of genesis has been at the center of a debate in which what was at issue was certainly not Homer himself, but rather the material attributed to him.

The successive positions adopted by philologists are more evident here than elsewhere; they control and encompass hypotheses and theoretical formulations down to the smallest detail, so that readers are authorized to equate a particular hypothesis with a particular theoretical position, thus bypassing the laborious and thankless task of contending with the numerous variants of a given hypothesis. Thus there will never be any question, in the present essay, of criticizing errors or even revealing them as such. But as critical observations became richer and hypotheses were reinforced, history triumphed over myth.

In a recent stage, one that survives in contemporary works, the historical perspective, which ought to have made it possible to write an early history of the Greeks based on reconstituted legends, has also been abandoned in favor of an analysis that claims to be the most exact possible description of the subject.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the ODYSSEY* (*But Were Always Afraid to Ask)

The nine Wanderings of Odysseus, presented in groups of three, are found in Books 9, 10 and The descent into the Underworld, which is closely linked to the Circe episode, is recounted in Book Amazingly, the separation was immediately greeted as a great feat of philological science, which was then at its most influential.

This speculative thesis was attractive for its extreme simplicity, following the biological model of a body that develops and absorbs other bodies. As in the text we read today, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians what has befallen him since his departure from Troy. But the narratives that we expect to find in the Adventures were not all included; only the three episodes of Book 9 remained Cicones, Lotus-Eaters, and Cyclops , along with a shortened version of the descent into the Underworld.

The original kernel had germinated and produced a series of expansions. The ancient poem was not included in its entirety in Book 9 itself; Kirchhoff construed the ending of that book as the result of an adaptation. Secondly, Kirchhoff detected traces of a shift from the third to the first person of the verb in the simple fact that Odysseus speaks of events he has not witnessed himself. These indications affected the second cycle, Books 10 and 12, which the organizer had introduced afterwards. In the absence of such criteria, Kirchhoff attached the story of the Cyclops to the oldest layer on the basis of its quality.

Some years later, Wilamowitz proposed a different structure, which retained the division of the Adventures but shifted the moment of their linkage, and thus the origin of the poem, further back in time; the writer of our Odyssey was modifying a text that had already been modified.

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The split motifs and the doublets, considered imperfections, could be explained by the fact that he had to use the same theme more than once. In the Calypso epic, the wreck of the raft led Odysseus to Ithaca; in the poem used by Wilamowitz, Odysseus succeeds in reaching the Phaeacians after the shipwreck. He concluded that the blinding of the Cyclops, the origin of the curse, formed part of the same textual unit. Thus the obvious links between the first and second parts of the Wanderings, as well as those between the stories of Calypso and Circe, were not ascribed to authorial intent but to a perfunctory work of adaptation.

In fact, they were interpreted as borrowings. From then on, every connection confirmed the hypothesis of a secondary fusion, where traces of the operation had remained visible. The benefits were immense.

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This form of criticism developed throughout the expansionist period of classical philology—the expansion no doubt sustained by the sense that philology was in competition with the other sciences. Analytic criticism spread across several countries thanks to the prestige enjoyed by German science, and in the field of Homeric studies it was only supplanted as a scientific theory of the genesis of poems by work on oral poetry. To be sure, the Unitarian thesis had been regularly defended for a century or so in the ebb and flow of protest movements.

But the feats of Analysis seemed like great achievements and enjoyed scientific prestige. The Unitarians were reduced to defending themselves with commentaries that smacked of a conventional and sometimes puerile aesthetics. Justifying the text at the same level of interpretation as their adversaries, they deprived themselves of the opportunity to dispute the principles of analytic criticism.

Their opponents were often on the fringe, considered mere aesthetes; some were high-school teachers. The writings of the Analysts proved so difficult that the average reader found them inaccessible, and this acted as a selective principle. It is arduous enough to follow an argument that is based on textual fragmentation. Add to that a critical apparatus indicating attributions, allusions, footnotes, implicit references, and it all showed contempt for literary and non-specialist writing. The theories of earlier scholars and colleagues in the field were presumed to be well known, invoked as self-evident, and relentlessly corrected.

Reading the work of an Analyst is a test for the initiated. In setting themselves apart from ordinary readers, the Analysts abandoned exegesis. Indeed, their operations could not be based on an obscure text needing clarification. Critical explication of a text of any kind was relegated to an inferior level, the realm of teachers. It was easier to construct vast hypotheses than to acknowledge the real difficulties posed by exegesis. But above all, if philology was to retain its stature, it had to be differentiated from an activity that was considered unoriginal, appropriate only for students.

Analysis was a science: not a science of the text, but a science that used the text to constitute itself as science. Basing their power on the place society accorded to the humanities in the training of elites, and on the importance assigned to the preparation of schoolteachers, the philologists were all the more powerful because they built their scientific prestige on a subject matter that was never discussed in response to the pedagogical needs of their audience, nor in terms of the usefulness of their knowledge.

Science lay elsewhere; it had different goals. Left to the Unitarians and the public at large, aesthetic appreciation characterized what was not science. A certain linguistic violence—the use of a curt anti-rhetorical language—characterizes university society at the highest levels, especially in Germany, and sometimes in England: it is a language of the concrete, of efficacy, through which this group believes it has access to the reality of the affairs and actions from which the University as such is cut off.

In France, the style has remained more pompous and hollow, less aristocratic, because the differentiation between scientific and aesthetic discourse was not produced in the same way. Like a mask over a brutal and destructive reality, the sense of beauty has the sole function of compensating for a necessary evil and of making the inevitable acceptable—for Homer, division and disparagement. This form of discourse—heir to the rhetoric of the humanists, carefully preserved in France—and even Romantic glorification are occasionally used by a scholarly enterprise that rejects them.

Academism is not taken seriously enough for it to get drawn into the game, always remaining prudently allusive, failing to assert itself, and protecting itself by referring to facts.

Gender Roles in The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou? | Owlcation

Thus science, which is addressed to universal reason, occupies the position of an esoteric activity, reserved for the rare initiates. In contrast, meaning, which is hidden and speaks only to visionaries, is in the public domain, with the result that the in-depth exegesis that would have gone beyond pedagogical practice, and that continues to thrive in certain circles, is dismissed as sheer fantasy or theological raving.

Analytic criticism could be augmented by other sciences because its work with texts led to the discovery of vanished civilizations in their successive stages and their mutual relationships, and because it sought to rely on historical material. It had already taken over the methods of textual criticism by making even accidental defects into something rich in historical meanings. Their criticism became confused with comparisons of documents; as a result, literary history was flooded with factitious works.

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This historical type of exercise, which produced facts that were then related to other external facts, provided material for much university research, for many published books and endless controversies. Kirk This inconsistency could only be justified by an interpolation linking the eastern part of the Wanderings to an external source. Deep internal analysis of the poem led scholars to posit multiple authors, and then to establish a map of the sources, so that all the leaps and vagaries of the imagination, considered typical of Homer, could be attached to actual geographical locations.

It was in fact possible to retrace a heroic itinerary in one of the sources, even if the trajectory had been interrupted in the Odyssey. The motifs of the legend of the Argonauts, which were more or less well known from later texts, had the advantage of being linked to names of actual people and places. Circe is sister to Aietes, king of Colchis, a country that can be pinpointed on a map and the destination of the expedition.

Once the fiction of this phantom poem of the Argonauts had been established as the source of all the Wanderings, from Aeolia [ 12 ] to the sacred cattle of Helios, other connections could be determined and discussed: that the ship Argos sailed past the Sirens with Orpheus on board to protect the heroes, and that Phineus, combining the roles assigned to Tiresias and Circe in the Odyssey , pointed out the route they should take.

The replicated elements were considered richer and more realistic: Orpheus, overcoming the lure of the Sirens through his song, afforded a much more beautiful and more ancient evocation than that of Odysseus, who resists by having his crew tie him to the mast; [ 13 ] the spell could have been broken by Orpheus, a member of the expedition, competing with the sea monsters. The Planctae, [ 14 ] at the beginning of Odyssey 12, appeared to provide proof of a borrowing—and of a division of the poem—that served as a starting point for all that followed. The explication of this text clearly reveals how the reading material was concocted.

Each time, Zeus replaces the dove. On the other side, no boat skirting the rock can avoid shipwreck, whether it is swallowed up by the waves or engulfed in flames. Only the ship Argo has managed to pass safely on her return from Colchis, thanks to Hera, who protected Jason lines 59— The two routes, the passage of Scylla and that of Charybdis, are in a single strait; Odysseus must pass one after the other, and he has to decide which to pass first; however, commentators have spread them out geographically, as if there were two separate itineraries. No doubt the idea of a single strait, with a dividing line down the middle, did not come to mind immediately.

Since no one saw that Scylla and Charybdis formed the outward and return journeys on the same route, or that the smooth rock and the rough chasm offered the choice implied by the advice Circe gives Odysseus to opt for Scylla lines — , where no one would hesitate for a moment between death and the lesser evil, the interpreters created a second term—the Planctae—in a heroic dilemma that Odysseus was to confront with his virile powers.

Should he not have to make a choice, as befits a hero? Very different routes, each one demanding precise navigational instructions, better fulfilled the conditions of a choice. I will tell you the two ways of it.