Literary Criticism in the 5th Century BC: Sophists and Democritus

Grintser Nikolay P.

The paper contains the analysis of a number of isolated fragments by the Sophists (Protagoras, Prodicus) and the philosophers (Democritus) of the 5th century BC that are usually taken to reveal their views on the nature of human language and consciousness. The author seeks to demonstrate that all those opinions could be based upon an interpretation of particular poetic pieces, which tended to establish their internal logical unity and to reveal the peculiarities of their verbal expression. It turns out, therefore, that the intellectual debates usually regarded as belonging to the field of rhetoric and/or philosophy, were initially rooted in literary commenting that anticipated the methods and principles of later scholarly grammatical tradition. In this prospective, some new interpretations of Democritus’ fragments as well as a comprehensive treatment of the Sophistic theory of “verbal correctness” are suggested.

Keywords: literary theory, criticism, Homer, Hesiod, Sophists, Democritus, commentary, etymology, allegory, rhetoric

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