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Parmenides and Early Greek Allegory

Mackenzie, KTM; (2017) Parmenides and Early Greek Allegory. Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici , 79 (2) pp. 31-59. 10.19272/201701702002.

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The question of the allegorical status of Parmenides’ poem has been subject to much and heated debate. In what follows, I hope to advance the discussion by contextualizing it more fully alongside other early instances of the technique. Allegory is a broad term in both ancient and modern literary criticism: I shall begin by considering how modern scholars have used the term of Parmenides, and suggest that disagreements surrounding its applicability to archaic or classical literature arise at least partly from commentators using different senses of the term. I shall argue against the a priori objection to identifying allegory in Parmenides that such a compositional technique was unknown in the fifth century, before considering the features of allegory as defined in the earliest ancient commentators on the topic, Plato, Xenophon and the Derveni commentator, in order to reach a sense more appropriate for fifth century texts than the modern term implies. Indeed, allegoria is a much later term than the authors in question, first attested in Cicero, and first attested in Greek by Plutarch, yet the earlier terms used by Plato and Xenophon – huponoiai for hidden meanings and ainigmata for the allegories themselves – do, I shall argue, correspond to identifiable poetic techniques in Parmenides. For convenience, I shall use ‘allegory’ as a label for this technique identified by Plato and Xenophon and the Derveni commentator, which consists primarily of language which disguises a specific hidden sense different from its overt semantic meaning. In conclusion, I will suggest that Parmenides demonstrates a more extended, self-conscious use of the technique than anything found previously. Moreover, I shall argue for a new interpretation of a crucial line (B8.53) which supports an allegorical reading of the poem. Parmenides’ use of the technique can be seen as a consequence of his novel epistemological ideas. As a result, some light will be shed on the origins, in a didactic context, of a literary technique which would come to be associated with the didactic genre.

Type: Article
Title: Parmenides and Early Greek Allegory
DOI: 10.19272/201701702002
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.19272/201701702002
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Greek and Latin
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1534610
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