27 September 2007

Some Thoughts on Interpretation

Suppose that, in an ancient author, one found two clauses in succession, having the following structure:

(Clause A) X and Y, in accordance with Z;
(Clause B) W and V, in accordance with Z'.
where Z' was evidently a gloss upon or rephrasing of Z.

In that case, wouldn't it be antecedently likely that W was meant to correspond to X, and V to Y?

Also, since Clause B were ostensibly proposed as an explanans, and Clause A as the explanandum, an interpreter would antecedently be disposed to understand the meaning of Clause A in terms of Clause B. Clause B would be the more decisive in our determining the meaning of both.

... Or at least this last rule is what would hold in typical circumstances. ...

But suppose in the particular case before us, Clause B were evidently poetical and metaphorical, whereas Clause A employed terms which appeared precise and perhaps even technical. Then, it seems to me, the authority of the clauses would be at least equalized and maybe even reversed. One might in that case be disposed to use Clause A to interpret the meaning of the more metaphorical, and therefore more obscure, Clause B. Clause A would become at least as decisive, or maybe even more so, in determining the meaning of both.

I offer these remarks to explain why I began this series of posts last week by asking whether in "they pay penalty (dike) and retribution (tisis) to each other" two distinct things were meant or only one. It seemed to me that, if two distinct things were meant, then initially we should want to map each of these onto the two items distinguished in the preceding clause. At least, that ought to be our first instinct as interpreters. However, if that were to fail, then we would need to take a different approach. (I think it does fail.)

You might of course point out to me that it is now the standard view, in interpretations of Simplicius on Anaximander, to say that his Clause B has nothing whatsoever to do with his Clause A! The 'fragment' is saying something entirely different from the clause, evincing a 'Peripatetic sentiment', which precedes it.

Well, yes, that's true -- on the usual interpretation of the 'fragment' as affirming incessant cycles in a war among opposites. But I tend to think: so much the worse for that interpretation-- an interpretation which is in any case not implied by or required by the text.

But, to be continued....