Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.07.23

Kugelmeier on Gildenhard on Linke/Stemmler and Braun/Haltenhoff/Mutschler.   Response to 2001.07.04



Response by Christoph Kugelmeier, Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany

Gildenhard's review raises some methodological questions. When he plainly states: "whether or not (or to what degree) scholarship in classics is pertinent to and compatible with the contemporary state of knowledge in related disciplines is one index of its Wissenschaftlichkeit", it may well be asked if this is true. Has classical scholarship indeed produced up to now (and is producing still) results lacking scientific seriousness only because it is somewhat reluctant to apply a set of modern theories to its issues which still have to prove their advantage over the methods used up to now? For my part, I think historical and critical research whose methods have been developped for long and have been employed with success cannot simply be dismissed as outdated in a light-hearted manner; on the contrary, this way of research has still a lot to give. I should concede that applying theories of modern literary criticism and sociology to ancient texts may well help to gain new valuable insights; but the question is whether they are used for their own sake, reformulating only long-known results in a modern (or rather: "modernist") facçon de parler, thus putting on the clothes of Andersen's emperor, in order to keep in touch with constructivist etc. jargon, or whether they really help in the main purpose of our subject: understanding Greek and Roman texts, as the author has meant them, and understanding the historical context, in which a text was written, a stone was carved, a statue was shaped.

Banal as this sounds, it seems nevertheless necessary to keep it in mind, reading a further important point of Gildenhard: "the "meaning" of a text results from the processes of ascription that social agents perform within specific historical settings". This statement is rather odd (to use no stronger word). When reading a text, most of all a work of prosaic or poetic art, it is the duty of the interpreter to find out with all tools available to him the intention with which the author wrote his work. At least I hope what Virgil had in mind composing his Aeneid will by most interpreters be ascribed to the will of the poet and not to the performance of social agents. Exploring this intention by the ways just described, and nothing else, is philology; what Gildenhard means is the subject of "Wirkungs"- or "Rezeptionsgeschichte". In its attempts to shape and refine the instruments of this critical exegesis philology has for a long time (if not forever) felt the necessity of close "interdisciplinary" cooperation with, e.g., history and archaeology, without which interpretation founded in controlled facts would be impossible. By the way, this is a case in which Gildenhard does little justice to the definitions of the concepts of "values" fundamental to Roman thought carefully discussed by Andreas Haltenhoff. A closer look only at Haltenhoff's pages 18 and 19, with notes 13 and 14, could have shown him that the ideas which German Latinists, criticized by him as "outdated", developed on this topic were by no means simply based on prejudices nor made up into the blue, but themselves results of keeping in touch with philosophical effort current at that time. As I said above, these remarks are not meant as a thorough refutation either of Gildenhard's review or of efforts to apply new methods to the exegesis of ancient texts. All I want is to focus attention on the "telos" at which serious exegesis must be directed--to get the authors' intention right and by doing that to the authors themselves.

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