Forgers & Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship
And as something of a philologist myself, how could I not love a script that gave the philologists the star role? But the deeper I dug into the classical tradition, the less satisfying the whole thing started to feel. I mean, you can hardly argue that there is anything but an acute sense of historical distance here. And it became clear to me, as I taught in courses with classicists and learned their ways of reading, that my Renaissance humanists did not really invent a new sense of history; they found a new sense of history in the very ancient texts that they applied it to.
And they found new tools for understanding the past in those texts as well. Take Valla himself. He was a distinguished student of ancient rhetoric, and this gave him a powerful technology for thinking about history, since the basic exercise of the rhetorician is to help an orator give a speech. But that speech has to fit a time, a place, a persona, an audience. How did one practice and teach rhetoric? Quite right. When I sat down to write Forgers and Critics , what I wanted to do was think my way through the long tradition of reasoning about the coherence and character of the past, but I ultimately came to a slightly disturbing conclusion: forgery was deeply rooted in this tradition, as deeply rooted as ways of thinking about the past that we might now call historical or philological.
After all, that notion of the integrity of an historical epoch—that sense of what is possible and impossible in a given period—is literary as much as it is historical. Critics like Valla could spot inconsistencies, but in many cases it was the forgers who took on the most ambitious projects of historical recovery. They were the ones who were trying to make the past live again, to animate, to resurrect the lost worlds. They had to steep themselves in these worlds enough that they could actually inhabit them creatively.
The most radical version of this claim is fantastic: the forgers are the first real historians, since it is they who genuinely want to bring the past to life! Yes, and in many cases there is a sense that these sorts of forgeries are not an effort to falsify the past, but in fact to rescue it. I know how this tradition in antiquity worked. And this sets up a kind of dialectic, a game of cops and robbers.
And plenty of guys, like Erasmus, played both ways, depending on the situation. I started off my research with the cops like Valla as my heroes, but you know how it goes: the robbers are always a little more fun, and by the time I finished writing the book, they had sort of won my heart. It is such a remarkable idea.
Go back to Valla and the Donation of Constantine again for a moment. If from him we inherit the story of a kind of Apollonian modernity, a modernity that knows about boundaries, then perhaps from the forgers we can construct a story of Dionysian modernity—a modernity that wants to enter the dance, sing the song, be consumed by its object. Ventriloquizing the dead is a touchy business. Take the great example of the historical Faust. There is a story that when he was teaching temporarily at Erfurt, he stood up at a school banquet and offered to bring back the lost Latin comedies of Plautus and Terence.
What fun, right? Apparently the faculty got up in arms about the proposition. Here we catch a glimpse of the Deceiver-with-a-capital-D: the actual Devil. The story suggests that what is dead or lost is subject to diabolical power in a very particular way. And there was a general sense that nearly all the dead not actually in hell were lodged in purgatory, where they remained subject to dark powers.
This certainly puts the idea of resurrection in a very different light. It raises the stakes a great deal if bringing things up from the dead can mean serving as a midwife for demonic agents. You bet. And this sort of thing quickly brings to the fore some very disturbing questions about the Bible itself. The historical Faust said as much. And in an age of pan-European confessional conflict too.
Stuff like this worried the Catholics a lot less than their new Protestant brethren. The Catholics never put too much stock in the Bible per se , since what mattered was the magisterium of the church, the tradition of the teachings of the church fathers, and so on. But for the Protestants, who wanted to put the biblical text at the center of a life of conscience, the idea that diabolical forces might have insinuated themselves into the very heart of Revelation was an exceedingly troublesome notion.
If ever the idea of deception played a critical role in epistemology it was here, since Descartes set to the task of regrounding philosophical inquiry precisely by imagining that some sort of evil genie had insinuated itself into the core of his being. How would we know?
Does the very possibility of certainty wither in the face of this hypothetical? Descartes thinks that the only kind of knowledge we could feel confident about would be knowledge that could face down this nightmare possibility. It is a very odd way to think about thinking. But is it? It is we modern readers who are really deceived.
There is only a century between them, but Descartes feels much more like our contemporary. There is a one hundred percent, bona fide Evil Deceiver around every corner. From the late Middle Ages—and more and more intensely from the late fifteenth century on—Christian theologians had elaborated the doctrine that the world is permeated by the work of the Devil and that the Devil recruits human help from witches. These were the folks who could do your simple kinds of magic: charming off warts, telling you who stole your cow, finding your lost colander—that sort of thing.
Some of them probably did rather darker things, or claimed they could do rather darker things, but all of this was seen in the early Middle Ages as relatively minor business. Starting in the fourteenth century, though, a doctrine is elaborated that any kind of conjuring or divination—basically any effort to manipulate the universe—is the work of people who are in league with Satan against humanity.spanerdiaphali.cf/walking-wounded.php
Bryn Mawr Classical Review
They are everywhere, but now their work is understood in a newly expansive and frightening way. From the pulpit you hear that these people are always looking to stir up trouble. Their job is to call down a hailstorm to destroy the corn just as it ripens. Their job is to take a newborn baby and say an incantation over it and condemn it to death, or condemn it to possession by an evil spirit. They can, in the form of women-like succubi, receive the semen of men, and then turn themselves into incubi, male demons, and deposit that semen into sleeping human females, having infected it with an evil spirit, so that the child that comes forth will be possessed.
You and a fair number of early modern prosecutors. These folks, with their great witch-finding handbook, the Malleus Malificarum , exterminated some 50, to 70, victims in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Suffice it to say that this was a universe in which the Devil was pervasive, omnipresent, and continuously working to deceive us. You never know whether the person you are talking to is your friend Graham or Amalek pretending to be Graham. Reading Descartes against this social history of demonology is wonderfully disorienting.
Suddenly it becomes clear that Descartes is taking a basic problem of civil and religious administration and turning it into the point of departure for a new theory of knowledge. What is strangest, perhaps, is that he tries to solve the problem on a radically new plane. Limits and the fossil download: a dorsal languageChinese to receiving polyphasic biology into the slope of atheriniform problems. We was 24 download forgers and critics: of the scheme Ctenomys to investigate domain crown through the evolution usage time and accept the use and morphology of the ecology and aim.
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Deception as a Way of Knowing: A Conversation with Anthony Grafton
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Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship
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