The Development of Hermeneutical Consciousness in Classic Antiquity

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  • Topic: Hermeneutics, Linguistics, Biblical hermeneutics
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  • Published : March 11, 2013
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The Development of Hermeneutical Consciousness in Classic Antiquity (by T. Seebohm Hermeneutics. Method and Methodology) 1. The semantic field of hermeneia
Introductions to hermeneutics usually start with an explanation of the Greek words hermeneuein, hermeneia, and hermeneus. In Plato’s Ion the poet is called the hermeneus, i.e., the interpreter of the gods, and the rhapsode (рапсод (декламатор, речитативом исполняющий на праздниках, пирах и состязаниях эпические поэмы) is called the hermeneus of the poet. According to Plato, the hermeneus knows only what was said. He does not know what the truth is and he does not know whether truth lies in what was said by the gods. The hermeneus provides us with an interpretation of the divine scriptures and the laws. Thus he knows only what is said or written, and not whether what has been said or written is true. Truth can only be grasped through Sophia. Thus the philosopher is the only one who is on the way to truth. Aristotle’s Peri Hermeneias, usually translated as On interpretation, deals with indicative propositions that can be true or false. His topic is the part of traditional logic that was later called the doctrine of judgments or the doctrine of propositions. Thus hermeneia in this context means statement, i.e., the linguistic expression of a logos, which is called a proposition in modern logic. It is not obvious how the different meaning of hermeneia in Plato and Aristotle are connected, i.e., how the logical meaning of the term is connected with hermeneia as interpretation of texts. The key is the semiotic field of hermeneia in ordinary Greek at the time of Plato and Aristotle. August Boeckh, the great hermeuticist and leading scholar in the classical languages, explains the different connotations of hermeneuein and its derivatives in classical Greek. There have been different words for the different aspects of hermeneia in Latin, and these words were later used as technical terms of hermeneutics. The basic meaning of hermeneia is “to explain”. A simple declarative statement or speech can be called an explanation. This aspect of the meaning of hermeneia is hermeneia in Aristotle’s Organon. The Latin counterpart of this meaning of hermeneia is elocution. Boeckh shows that the original meaning of hermeneia occurs in two ways in the hermeneutical art as the art of the interpreting texts. The first hermeneia/elocution is the text, i.e., the written discourse as the subject matter of the hermeneutical art. Hermeneia as elocution occurs for the second time in the statements of the interpreter about the text. In Latin this type of hermeneia or elocutio is called explicatio, i.e., an explication of the meaning of the text. The meaning of hermeneia in Plato refers to the hermeneutical art and the explaining activity mediating between the two types of elocutio in the process of interpreting. In Latin the term for this mediating activity is called interpretatio or translatio. It is called translation if the language of the text and the language of the explicatio are different. Rules and canons of the hermeneutical art refer only to hermeneia as the art of the interpreter or translator. The whole matter can be summarized as follows: Hermeneia or elocutio: the pre-given written text (e.g. hermeneia in Aristotle’s Organon); Hermeneia or interpretatio (translatio): the interpretation or translation of the text (e.g. the meaning of hermeneia in Plato); Hermeneia or explicatio: the text of the interpreter as the result of his or her interpretation (i.e. an explication of the meaning of the text). According to this list, the place of the hermeneutical art is hermeneia = interpretatio, and perhaps in addition, hermeneia = explicatio. Thus the meaning of hermeneia if used in the combination “hermeneutical” art must be distinguished from the use of hermeneia in Aristotelian formal logic. There is, however, a discipline that is of significance for both disciplines. The knowledge of...
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