Greeks on Greekness Colloquium Abstract
Ineke Sluiter, Universiteit Leiden
“Truth or Construction? Working with the Past in the Second Sophistic”
The special significance attached to the past in the Second Sophistic makes it highly desirable for “the past” to possess a certain stability: it should be possible to get to “the truth”, and in fact, truth-claims abound in discourse about the past. Yet, at the same time, second-sophistic intellectuals realize that the past is also malleable and adaptable, it can be shaped and bent into different forms, and constructions of the past are what we often have to work with in practice.
Starting from modern theories on cultural and collective memories, which correspond to modern insights into the functioning of individuals’ memories, I move on to the ancient phenomenology of memory with its emphasis on notions of (objectivist) storage and retrieval, and the corresponding truth-claims made about stories about the past and the explanation of ancient texts. Both in Antiquity and in modern times there is a certain tension between prevailing theories of memory and the actual perception of how to work with the past.
If one reads against the grain, it turns out that both in serious and playful genres authors realize that stories can play a formative role in the public imagination, and that choices about the representation of the past are made with a view to contemporary relevance. In order to demonstrate this, I analyse texts from Artemidorus’ Dreambook, Dio’s Eleventh Oration, Lucian’s On How to Write History, and Galen’s On His Own Views. Finally, I turn to the power issues involved in explaining older texts-there too, a clear sense exists that it is possible to force a text to sustain a goal that is “alien” to it in the perception of the critic – who of course resorts to truth – claims again for his own interpretation.