The Sprouting of Literary Criticism through Sages and Critics:
From Ancient Greeks to Romantic Period ‘’Literary criticism is a disciplined activity that attempts to describe, study, analyze, justify, interpret and evaluate a work of art.’’ (Bressler 6) It is argued that formal literary criticism has begun after having been evaluated as ''the best" of Aristophanes' play The Frogs in Ancient Greece in the 400s BC, especially according to the sources of Western philosophy. This situation is not accidental, because the Greeks of the period are a nation that is hand in glove with the philosophy that puts thinking at the centre. The concept of thinking in Ancient Greece does not lose its vitality in any artistic activity, neither written nor visual, due to their curiosity and desire for knowledge. As a result, it is inevitable that world-famous philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle are growing up in Ancient Greece. Literary criticism has developed by taking its place in the literature of almost all nations for centuries since the 5th century BC and still, it continues to develop. This criticism culture ongoing from the past has been one of the main factors in the shaping of English Literature. In this article, the development of literary criticism from Ancient Greece to the British Romantic Period will be attempted to examined by considering the periods in the light of the perspectives and works of major philosophers and critics towards literary criticism.
In Ancient Greek criticism, where the roots of literary criticism take place, Plato and his student Aristotle are the philosophers who have the greatest role in the development of literary criticism. Firstly, Plato is considered by most authorities to be the father of systematic literary criticism. Even, ‘’the Greek philosopher Plato laid the foundations of Western philosophy.’’ (Habib 19) The main reason for this is the concepts which he has put forward. Indeed, it can be said that the purpose of all concepts of Plato is the desire and discovery to find the essence of real one and truth. ‘World of Ideas’ comes first among the concepts. Plato's concept of ‘World of Ideas‘ is a kind of abstract world in which, whatever there is in the material or physical world where people live in, contains their ideal forms. Based on this concept, his saying ‘imitation of the imitation’ to almost everything in the physical world causes him to enter the focus of literary criticism. Critics who deal with this issue in depth directly attribute this situation to Plato's opposing view of poetry and poets. Because “poetry is the closest equivalent to literature in the classical world.’’ (Goulimari 3) That is why poetry has been the main focus of literary criticism since the past. Plato thinks that poets, who do not adopt the didactic purpose, impede this discovery path. Because, according to Plato, poets are moving away from the concept of ‘the truth’ by adding another chain to the understanding of ‘imitation of the imitation’ in terms of the subjects they deal with. In addition, Plato asserts that poets write poems with inspiration. The mind is replaced by inspiration. He describes this situation as ‘’a divorce from reason’’ (Habib 24). For him, the thought that the mind is not at the centre is literally nothing. That is, poets move more and more away from reality in the path of inspiration. As stated in Ion 534b, ‘’reason is no longer in him’’ (Habib 24) That's why Plato expels poets from The Republic. But in The Laws, he is somewhat tolerant of them. It results from that the honourable ones are acceptable. For Plato, the honourable one is the one who seeks as close to the truth. Plato thinks that poetry, which does not serve a didactic purpose, harms the people. Therefore, he adopts the understanding of ‘’poetry must be subject to control in the public interest.’’ (Groden and Kreiswirth 579) As the matter of the imitation, ‘’it is Plato who bequeaths to the tradition of literary criticism the concept of imitation or mimesis, dominant in literary criticism well into the eighteenth century.’’ (Adams and Searle 8) Plato has established a school called 'Academy' to further examine the concepts. The most prominent philosopher who grows up from Plato's Academy is Aristotle. He brings a different perspective to Plato's understanding of imitation. Aristotle basically argues that the material or physical world, which Plato considers inferior to the World of Ideas in the context of truth, is also important and worth researching. He pays attention to the basic elements that make up the work rather than the general. Likewise, Aristotle responds to Plato's prejudice and opposition to poetry with Poetics. ‘’Aristotle’s Poetics has often been analyzed in terms of its prescriptions for tragedy, its distinctions of tragedy, epic, and other genres, as well as its comments on plot and character.’’ (Habib 48) In addition, he does not deny that arts consist of mere imitation. ‘’Like Plato, Aristotle holds that poetry is essentially a mode of imitation.’’ (Habib 50)But he argues that these imitations should be taken seriously. ‘’Aristotle classifies tragedy, epic and comedy as subspecies of poetry, while classifying poetry as a species of the genus of mimesis’’ (Goulimari 26) So, he recommends looking at the positive side of imitation. Because he claims that people have an innate attitude towards imitation. ‘’All human beings take pleasure in mimesis because all find "learning and inference" essentially pleasant.’’ (Groden and Kreiswirth 41) Finally, Aristotle focuses on the difference between poets and historians in dealing with the past and the future. ‘’Whereas the historian relates what actually happened, the poet presents the significant and essential core of events.’’ (Goulimari 28) Because of these works, Aristotle plays a major role in the development of literary criticism.
Formal literary criticism, which Plato and Aristotle laid the foundations with their ideas and perspectives, has continued to develop not only in Ancient Greece but also in the Roman Empire as Greek and Latin criticism. Firstly, Rome's chief critic in literary criticism is known as Horace. He brings a different perspective to Plato and Aristotle's understanding of imitation and poetry. Horace demonstrates his commitment to the traditional by claiming that ‘’poets must imitate other poets, particularly those of the past and especially the Greeks’’ (Bressler 25) and asks traditional topics to be written in the works. Therefore, He tries to keep the traditional poetry, which he describes in Art of Poetry as ‘’commonplace’’ and ‘’what's known’’ (Kline 240-243), not to get away from people. Art of Poetry, in short, is a work that contains Horace's advice to poets about poetry and drama. For example, Horace tells poets in part of this work that the emotion to pass, the poet must first feel that emotion himself. ‘’If you want to move me to tears, You must first grieve yourself .‘’(Kline 102-103) In addition to these, He also makes different suggestions to the poets. Horace argues that there is no excess, vulgarity, didactic elements in the literary work, and nothing that would deprive the reader of pleasure. Poetry should be ‘’sweet and useful’’ (Bressler 25) Also, ‘’good poetry both delights and instructs.’’ (Goulimari 66) He thinks that poets should adopt these principles in order to gain public appreciation. That is, he argues that the work, which is revealed, should appeal to the literary taste and be beneficial to people. Finally, for Horace, it is known that he focused more on the rhetorical features in Aristotle's understanding of art in order to have readers to pass the necessary feeling. Secondly, Longinus comes after Horace in Rome. Longinus, whose ancestors are supposed to be Greek, achieves the title of the first comparative critic in the history of literature by blending the literary works of various nations. Contrary to previous philosophers cited in the article, ‘’Longinus concentrates on single elements of a text.’’ (Bressler 25) In addition, he sees the concept of sublime in his work titled On the Sublime as the most important concept that forms the structure of ‘the Soul’ and aims at reaching it. The point that Longinus attaches importance to in literary criticism is the sublimity he named in his work. According to him, there are five basic elements for ‘the Soul’ to reach the concept of sublimity. The first two of these are ‘’great conceptions’’ and ‘’vehement and inspired passion.’’ (Adams and Searle 94) The remaining three contain rhetorical features. Longinus has put emotional elements before rhetoric in Aristotle's understanding of art, in which Horace has focused on rhetorical features. Finally, ‘’Longinus’ critical method foreshadows New Criticism, reader-oriented criticism, and other schools of twentieth-century criticism.’’ (Bressler 26) As third in the Greek and Latin Criticism, Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, comes after Horace and Longinus. Plotinus enters the literary criticism because of the misunderstanding of Plato's ideas and thoughts and the need to correct them. ‘’The philosophy of Neo-Platonism takes from Plato the idea that ultimate reality subsists in another world, a transcendent and spiritual realm, from which the physical world takes its existence and meaning.’’ (Habib 129) Parallel to this quote, Transcendentalism and American Romanticism take root in these views of Plotinus. He has evaluated Plato's concept of the imitation as ‘’an inferior copy of an inferior copy’’ (Goulimari 50) for poetry. Plotinus also brings new reviews on Plato's non-physical world. Going deep into ‘the One’ understanding, he argues that ‘the One’ is the exact source of everything. He states that people have to think deeply and work constantly in order to reach this resource. The purpose of all these studies is to return to the divine by establishing oneness with ‘the One’. In all of Plotinus' works, it is essentially aimed at making Plato's thoughts more pure and understandable. Plotinus further elaborates Plato's reviews by adding the concepts of ‘Here, There and Eternal’. In these concepts, it is clearly seen that poetry moves away from reality by at least two ladder. Finally, The Enneads, which contains all his views on the literary criticism Plotinus has told in his lectures, is written and published by Porphyry, who is both his student and disciple. This work has an important place in the shaping of other critical thoughts.
- Quote paper
- İsmail Şenerkek (Author), 2020, Sprouting of Literary Criticism through Sages and Critics. From Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/987499