Speaking Wisdom Otherwise: The Role of Allegory in Early Greek Thought Open Access

Meeks, Jennifer Lobo (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/fq977t99m?locale=en


This dissertation considers the role that allegory plays in early Greek thought, particularly in the transition from the mythic tradition of the archaic poets to the philosophical traditions of the Presocratics and Plato. Its purpose is to explore how a mode of speech that "says one thing, but means another" could be integral to philosophy, which otherwise seeks to achieve clarity and precision in its discourse. This work proposes that allegory--in both its interpretative and compositional strains--allows philosophy to render myth self-conscious, thereby fulfilling the speculative task of narrating the whole of reality in a way that utilizes both reason and the imagination. Allegory is an essential aspect of the philosophical project in two respects. First, in providing the early Greek thinkers with a way of defending and appropriating the poetic wisdom of their predecessors, it enables philosophy to locate and recover its own origins in the mythic tradition. Second, allegory simultaneously allows philosophy to move beyond the muthos and express the whole in terms of the logos, a rational account in which reality is represented in a more abstract and universal way than myth allows. With regard to the Presocratics, this work examines the principal factors that contribute to their role in the emergence and development of allegory. These include their unique position in the shift from muthos to logos, how they are influenced by a so-called archaic epistemology, and the three senses (explicit, implicit, and immanent) in which they might be said to possess a poetics. With regard to Plato, this work seeks to reconcile his critique of poetry, as it is formulated in the ancient quarrel between the poets and philosophers, with his frequent use of "other speech" in the dialogues. This is accomplished by considering the role that imagination plays in his thought as well as the unique construction and function of his "philosophical myth." The dissertation concludes with a look forward at how allegory is reconfigured during the later part of classical antiquity and with a look back at how it is instrumental in philosophy's ability to "speak wisdom otherwise."

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1 An Introduction to Philosophical Allegory

1.1. A brief history of allegory 1

1.2 Myth, philosophy and the speculative task 19

1.3. The shift from muthos to logos 31

1.4. Description of the work 38

CHAPTER 2 The Presocratics and the Beginnings of Allegory

2.1. Some historical and theoretical considerations 45

2.2. The rationality of an archaic epistemology 57

2.3. The three senses of a Presocratic poetics 69

2.4. Survey of Presocratic allegorical practices 80

CHAPTER 3 Plato on Poetry, Myth and Allegory

3.1. The philosophical myth in Plato's dialogues 95

3.2. The ancient quarrel with the poets 106

3.3. Imagination, memory and the resolution to the quarrel 115

3.4. "Other speech" in Platonic thought 125

EPILOGUE The Metaphysics of Allegory 145


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