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Literature and Epistemology – Methodological Foundations for the Interpretation of Ancient Poetry

The cooperation between literary theory and epistemological foundation is constitutive for all forms of literature in antiquity.  In the 3rd century B.C. the claim of the Alexandrian poets that they would surpass the style of poetry prior to them and replace it with a radically new, methodologically conscious poetry was based on a new theory of knowledge.  The epistemological turn – demonstratively put forth by the three Hellenistic schools – contested the leading role given previously to the ratio in aesthetic production and established the phantasia – the faculty of the imagination – as the new authority in literature.

Inspired by many different directions in literary studies, the last few decades of the 20th century has seen a reinterpretation of ancient literature using the conceptual and methodological apparatus available in current literary theories.  In such a reinterpretation, genuinely modern elements of literature are supposed to be discovered as already present in ancient texts.  However, this discovery is a double-edged sword; the ancient texts are seen once again as being merely preliminary and incomplete representatives of the virtues of literature first truly discovered and conceptually made use of in modern times.

The search for what was modern in ancient literature led many to press ancient texts through a certain filter, i.e. interpret them according to certain genuinely modern literary theories, without asking whether they were even entitled to do so on account of the particular epistemological foundations of ancient literary theory and its connection with literary production.   

The Leibniz project “Literature and Epistemology – Methodological Foundations for the Interpretation of Ancient Poetry” focuses on the more often than not unclear relationship between literary production and epistemological foundation.  What will be analyzed is the different concepts of literature in antiquity and the influence of modern self-understanding on the interpretation of ancient texts.