"Antiquity, which is claimed to have invented literature, philosophy, and history, humanism, human rights, and democracy, is called upon to vouch for us, the Europeans of today, in the face of the passing centuries, by demonstrating that our own civilization cannot possibly be mortal since it is civilization itself... But there is another, more disorienting way of using antiquity. The present work would like to suggest a rediscovery of the alienness of the ancients, for this would be a way of rediscovering ourselves in all our repressed diversity." -- from the Introduction.
Writing, so often claimed as the necessary tool for social and individual progress, has another history. In classical Greece, writing was looked upon with suspicion, an attempt to subject the reader to the writer's will. The spread of books and their exaltation announced the victory of conquerors. In antiquity, writing was not written for a literary public but for private ceremonies, trade, and secrecy.
The invention of literature, writes Florence Dupont, is recent, and its classical ancestry is not firm. Rather than representing solely the remains of a network of readers and writers, the odes, epics, tales, and dramas of Greece and Rome had a much more diversified background and purpose. Some works were intended to be read in groups; other works were not meant to be read at all. The pleasures of reading -- a vital characteristic of literature -- were tied up in pleasures that were by no means private or intellectual.
Resisting the traditional temptation to project current tastes and beliefs backward upon Greece and Rome, The Invention of Literature presents classical writings in all their differences. The labor of understanding a lyric or an epic as it was understood in its time requires a radical reconsideration of what reading is and what it means.
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Understanding a lyric or an epic as it was understood in its time requires a radical reconsideration of what reading is--and what it means.About the Author:
Florence Dupont is a professor at the Université de Nancy II. Her other books include Le plaisir et la loi, La vie quotidienne du citoyen romain sous la République, and Homere et Dallas: Introduction à la critique anthropologique. Janet Lloyd is the translator of numerous academic books in the humanities, most recently The Spears of Twilight by Philippe Descola (awarded the Scott-Moncrieff prize for translation) and Sun Yat-sen by Marie-Claire Bergere.
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