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A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes a substantial essay in introduction by Edward Said as well as an essay, never before translated into English, in which Auerbach responds to his critics. A German Jew, Auerbach was forced out of his professorship at the University of Marburg in 1935. He left for Turkey, where he taught at the state university in Istanbul. There he wrote "Mimesis," publishing it in German after the end of the war. Displaced as he was, Auerbach produced a work of great erudition that contains no footnotes, basing his arguments instead on searching, illuminating readings of key passages from his primary texts. His aim was to show how from antiquity to the twentieth century literature progressed toward ever more naturalistic and democratic forms of representation. This essentially optimistic view of European history now appears as a defensive--and impassioned--response to the inhumanity he saw in the Third Reich. Ranging over works in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English, Auerbach used his remarkable skills in philology and comparative literature to refute any narrow form of nationalism or chauvinism, in his own day and ours. For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, "Mimesis" is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written.


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A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes a substantial essay in introduction by Edward Said as well as an essay, never before translated into English, in which Auerbach responds to his critics. A German Jew, Auerbach was forced out of his professorship at the University of Marburg in 1935. He left for Turkey, where he taught at the state university in Istanbul. There he wrote "Mimesis," publishing it in German after the end of the war. Displaced as he was, Auerbach produced a work of great erudition that contains no footnotes, basing his arguments instead on searching, illuminating readings of key passages from his primary texts. His aim was to show how from antiquity to the twentieth century literature progressed toward ever more naturalistic and democratic forms of representation. This essentially optimistic view of European history now appears as a defensive--and impassioned--response to the inhumanity he saw in the Third Reich. Ranging over works in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English, Auerbach used his remarkable skills in philology and comparative literature to refute any narrow form of nationalism or chauvinism, in his own day and ours. For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, "Mimesis" is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written.

30 review for Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    Maybe the most impressive work of literary criticism ever written, not least because of the circumstances under which it was composed: Auerbach, a German philologist fired by the Nazis for being a Jew, in exile in an Istanbul library as European civilization destroyed itself — re-imagining the literature that had given it birth. The book's insights are inexhaustible. I've returned to it again and again for 30 years. Maybe the most impressive work of literary criticism ever written, not least because of the circumstances under which it was composed: Auerbach, a German philologist fired by the Nazis for being a Jew, in exile in an Istanbul library as European civilization destroyed itself — re-imagining the literature that had given it birth. The book's insights are inexhaustible. I've returned to it again and again for 30 years.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    If Borges, writer of reflections, labyrinths and expanses can be called master of the infinite, then Auerbach must be that of the finite. For Mimesis is a work which not only takes the limitations of literary representation for its subject, but is selfsame spawned from finitude, tragic and wholly contingent. Exiled into a foreign library, with but a ramshackle supply of scholarship to consult, Auerbach ventures quixotically to trace from sheer erudition the development of historical consciousnes If Borges, writer of reflections, labyrinths and expanses can be called master of the infinite, then Auerbach must be that of the finite. For Mimesis is a work which not only takes the limitations of literary representation for its subject, but is selfsame spawned from finitude, tragic and wholly contingent. Exiled into a foreign library, with but a ramshackle supply of scholarship to consult, Auerbach ventures quixotically to trace from sheer erudition the development of historical consciousness through the ages. We learn of the epochal struggles to delimit an autonomous realm for the aesthetic; the unfathomability of depicting the phenomenal excess of everyday reality up until the modernist present. Speaking of his contemporary literary condition, Auerbach details the new temporal aesthetic of the novel. In the masterpieces of Flaubert, then Woolf, Proust and Joyce, time thickens, becomes congealed, such that exterior events turn into stations of repose for a multi-perspectival subjectivity; the quiet, dignified sublime of the quotidian moment once and for all abolishes the ancient hierarchies of literary expression, and in this movement, claims Auerbach, lies the potential for an trans-linguistic, post-national aesthetic. An optimistic prediction, to be sure, especially in light of the postmodern "crisis of representation" still to come, with its splintering of totalities into so many local idioms. Inevitably Auerbach's great work, as the author himself confesses in an elegiac closing passage, is circumscribed, as all before and after, by the course of time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    This thing blew my mind.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    Mimesis By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition. ‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records. Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects. -By Homer in the Odyssey; the return o Mimesis By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition. ‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records. Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects. -By Homer in the Odyssey; the return of Ulysses to Penelope -The Old Testament by early Hebraic authors; God’s test of Abraham’s faith. -Petronius’s Satyricon. -Ammianus Marcellinus’ report of the arrestation of Petrus Volvomeres. -Grégoire de Tours' Histoire des Francs. -Rolands Song; how he was appointed to lead the rearguard of the French army. -Chretien de Troyes’ Yvain, the story of one of King Arthurs knights. -Adam, a mystery Christmas play of the 12th century, by anonymous. -Dante Alighieri’s Devine Comedy, Farinata and Cavalcante. -Boccaccio’s Decameron, Frate Alberto. -Antoine de la Sale’s Madame du Chastel. -Rabelais’ Pantagruel. -Montaigne's’ Essais, the Human condition. -Shakespeare's Henry IV., the tired Prince. -Cervantes Don Quijote; Dulcinea bewitched. -La Bruyere’s Caracteres; The Hypocrite. -Abbé Prevost's Manon Lescaut. -Schiller's drama Luise Millerin. -Stendhal’s Rouge et Noire; Hotel de la Mole. -Brothers Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux. -Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; We can see that the author's selection of literature covers almost three thousand years. His proposed chapters are presented in its original language. It is, therefore, an advantage for the reader to be multilingual for easy reading and understanding. This book is for me the first purely Philological work with a wealth of culture revealed in each chapter. I would highly recommend it to all readers of classics and lovers of literature per se.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I read this in a reading/discussion group with Dr. Richard Stivers, Dr. James Van Der Laan, Rochelle Stivers, and Brian Simpson while in Normal at ISU and finished 18 months after moving to Urbana. We read a chapter a month (basically) and also read whichever book went along with that chapter. I am not sure when we started but it took us a couple of years. Before reading the final chapter and Woolf's To the Lighthouse we read several other books from around that time frame that were not covered b I read this in a reading/discussion group with Dr. Richard Stivers, Dr. James Van Der Laan, Rochelle Stivers, and Brian Simpson while in Normal at ISU and finished 18 months after moving to Urbana. We read a chapter a month (basically) and also read whichever book went along with that chapter. I am not sure when we started but it took us a couple of years. Before reading the final chapter and Woolf's To the Lighthouse we read several other books from around that time frame that were not covered by Auerbach. I would love to do this again some day with other intelligent, well read, interested, and interesting people.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    Mimesis By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition. ‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records. Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects. -By Homer in the Odyssey; the return o Mimesis By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition. ‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records. Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects. -By Homer in the Odyssey; the return of Ulysses to Penelope -The Old Testament by early Hebraic authors; God’s test of Abraham’s faith. -Petronius’s Satyricon. -Ammianus Marcellinus’ report of the arrestation of Petrus Volvomeres. -Grégoire de Tours' Histoire des Francs. -Rolands Song; how he was appointed to lead the rearguard of the French army. -Chretien de Troyes’ Yvain, the story of one of King Arthurs knights. -Adam, a mystery Christmas play of the 12th century, by anonymous. -Dante Alighieri’s Devine Comedy, Farinata and Cavalcante. -Boccaccio’s Decameron, Frate Alberto. -Antoine de la Sale’s Madame du Chastel. -Rabelais’ Pantagruel. -Montaigne's’ Essais, the Human condition. -Shakespeare's Henry IV., the tired Prince. -Cervantes Don Quijote; Dulcinea bewitched. -La Bruyere’s Caracteres; The Hypocrite. -Abbé Prevost's Manon Lescaut. -Schiller's drama Luise Millerin. -Stendhal’s Rouge et Noire; Hotel de la Mole. -Brothers Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux. -Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; We can see that the author's selection of literature covers almost three thousand years. His proposed chapters are presented in its original language. It is, therefore, an advantage for the reader to be multilingual for easy reading and understanding. This book is for me the first purely Philological work with a wealth of culture revealed in each chapter. I would highly recommend it to all readers of classics and lovers of literature per se.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This book is encompassing and mind-bending in that specifically unique way that will make some people revere it like a religious text and will drive other people absolutely nuts. As you can see from all the stars I threw at it in my rating, I lean more towards the former camp. I can very much understand why/how someone would wind up disagreeing with Auerbach's thesis (and even more so with his methodology in getting there), but at the same time this book has such an open, ambitious, and kind of This book is encompassing and mind-bending in that specifically unique way that will make some people revere it like a religious text and will drive other people absolutely nuts. As you can see from all the stars I threw at it in my rating, I lean more towards the former camp. I can very much understand why/how someone would wind up disagreeing with Auerbach's thesis (and even more so with his methodology in getting there), but at the same time this book has such an open, ambitious, and kind of lovely approach to literature that I couldn't help but falling in love with it a little. And I honestly do believe that reading it will make you a better reader and a better writer. Auerbach's main theme is the issue of how reality is represented in literature, particularly how a relatively strict separation of styles and classes gave way in slips and bursts towards a more modern sense of realism in which everyday accidentals could be imbued with tragic weight. He traces the main impetus behind this trend to Christianity, particularly the manner in which the story of Christ broke down traditional literary barriers by allotting tragic weight and grand importance to people who were frequently from the lowest classes of society. This, however, did not immediately lead to a modern sense of realistic representation, predominantly because Christianity also brought with it the concept of figuralism - the idea that every little detail to be represented stands not only for itself, but something in the future and the past, all the better to tie together universal history in a Christian framework. Dante's Comedy is particularly key for Auerbach in this argument. Modern realism takes longer to get going, needing to proceed through a labyrinth of expressions from Shakespeare's limited mixing of styles to neo-classicism in the 18th century, and leading to the birth of modern realism in the Romantic movement. That's a summary that really doesn't do justice to the work, which is just bursting at the seams with ideas and observations. Auerbach clearly knows loads of stuff about loads of things, and he brings all of it to work for him here - the work covers a solid 3,000 years of literary history but never feels too diffuse. I think a lot of that is because Auerbach grounds all of his chapters in specific, concrete texts. That opens him up to accusations that he simply cherry-picked unrepresentative examples to suit his case, and that's a fair point (and one that Auerbach is explicitly acknowledges). But I think on the whole he makes a compelling case, and this work deserves 5 stars if only for its sheer breadth of ambition and imagination. PS: It's an undeniably dense book, but one that can be understood even if you're not familiar with literary theory (I'm definitely not) and even if you haven't read all the works he spotlights. I'd love to hear how a modern literary scholar would view this work.

  8. 4 out of 5

    H

    Studying the progressive combination of tragic seriousness with the everyday. Odysseus' Scar: We are ever foregrounded in the present. No such thing as flashbacks in the characters' minds; the narrator leaves aside the present narrative to tell a past narrative. It is not therefore a multi-layered telling (as is common in modern fiction) but a simple movement on a linear surface line. ... progressive awareness of social strata, the backgrounded figural meaning, etc... ... Farinate and Cavalcante: W Studying the progressive combination of tragic seriousness with the everyday. Odysseus' Scar: We are ever foregrounded in the present. No such thing as flashbacks in the characters' minds; the narrator leaves aside the present narrative to tell a past narrative. It is not therefore a multi-layered telling (as is common in modern fiction) but a simple movement on a linear surface line. ... progressive awareness of social strata, the backgrounded figural meaning, etc... ... Farinate and Cavalcante: With Dante comes the vernacular. A mediation between elevated epic language and dialogic voices whose individual personalities/lives exist in preserved vividness even in the afterlife. Frate Alberto: With Boccaccio comes the exaggeration of that visceral individuality, the primacy of sensory experience and depiction. ... The World in Pantagruel's Mouth: Rabelais' reflection of our world provided by the depiction and commentary of a superior world, which is functionally identical except for the fact that it is aware of ours while ours is ignorant of it. L'Humaine Condition: Montaigne's conflation/unity of author and book. Idiosyncrasy justified by a changing self reacting to a changing reality. The human condition is contained within the lowest human being and not abstracted into an Everyman. The Weary Prince: Though Shakespeare has aristocratic tendencies in making only the most socially noble characters tragic, he is the Cosmic Poet because of the interrelatedness of this world he creates and which renews itself with each character. No shyness to name low things amidst high tragedy; all depictions are vividly validated. Even Osric is given individuality despite his being only a plot device. Shakespearean tragedy is distinct from Greek tragedy on two counts: 1) the chronotopic possibility of a story is expanded to any time and place since society now has a sense of history, and 2) tragic events stem from the heart of individual characters rather than from puppet personages. The Enchanted Dulcinea: The equanimity of Don Quixote's illusion forgoes all questions of value and tragic/comic strata. Everybody exists rightly where they are, including the remarkably intelligent Don Quixote except when his madness strikes him. "The theme of the mad country gentleman who undertakes to revive knight-errantry gave Cervantes an opportunity to present the world as play in that spirit of multiple, perspective, non-judging, and even non-questioning neutrality which is a brave form of wisdom." (357) ... ... The Brown Stocking: Woolf, Joyce, Proust... narrative contingent on consciousness's unpredictability, external events divested of hegemony, the small and ordinary given primacy. "In this unprejudiced and exploratory type of representation we cannot but see to what an extent--below the surface conflicts--the differences between men's ways of life and forms of thought have already lessened. The strata of societies and there different ways of life have become inextricably mingled. There are no longer even exotic peoples. ... Beneath the conflicts, and also through them, an economic and cultural leveling process is taking place. It is still a long way to a common life of mankind on earth, but the goal begins to be visible. And it is most concretely visible now in the unprejudiced, precise, interior and exterior representation of the random moment in the lives of different people." (552)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    I will not to attempt to review a book of this scope. I will briefly say that Auerbach's intention was to show how literature through the ages interpret reality. He starts with Ancient Greek saga and compares it with Bible epics and shows the different intentions in each. He moves on to the lore of the middle ages and the impact Christianity had on that literature. He also analyzes the enlightenment and gives one of the most piercing and scathing observations about Voltaire's work. I must say I e I will not to attempt to review a book of this scope. I will briefly say that Auerbach's intention was to show how literature through the ages interpret reality. He starts with Ancient Greek saga and compares it with Bible epics and shows the different intentions in each. He moves on to the lore of the middle ages and the impact Christianity had on that literature. He also analyzes the enlightenment and gives one of the most piercing and scathing observations about Voltaire's work. I must say I enjoyed Auerbach reinforcing what I had always thought about Voltaire, namely that the author creates fantasy worlds to prove his enlightenment points. Voltaire loved stretching reality out of proportion and depicting people as buffoons as if this really showed how things were and why his personal philosophy held water. Another observation he makes about several authors from Voltaire's time to the 20th century is how the Bourgeoisie become the universal scapegoats as to what is wrong with the world. And who is condemning and holding them in contempt? Author and artists from the elite wealthy class who consider it immoral that the middle class should work hard for the material comforts that they, the elite were born into. His final essay is about Virginia Woolf and really all I learned is that I do not find her a particularly interesting writer. He quotes great swathes of her "To The Lighthouse" which seems bogged down in trivial minutia. This is a valuable read, but also a weighty one and I am sure someone more intelligent than me could do better justice in reviewing it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Red

    Auerbach is the dreamguide in literature.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michel Van Goethem

    Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach 1946 - 573 p For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, Mimesis is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written. .A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality h Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach 1946 - 573 p For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, Mimesis is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written. .A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes a substantial essay in introduction by Edward Said as well as an essay, never before translated into English, in which Auerbach responds to his critics. A German Jew, Auerbach was forced out of his professorship at the University of Marburg in 1935. He left for Turkey, where he taught at the state university in Istanbul. There he wrote Mimesis, publishing it in German after the end of the war. Displaced as he was, Auerbach produced a work of great erudition that contains no footnotes, basing his arguments instead on searching, illuminating readings of key passages from his primary texts. His aim was to show how from antiquity to the twentieth century literature progressed toward ever more naturalistic and democratic forms of representation. This essentially optimistic view of European history now appears as a defensive--and impassioned--response to the inhumanity he saw in the Third Reich. Ranging over works in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English, Auerbach used his remarkable skills in philology and comparative literature to refute any narrow form of nationalism or chauvinism, in his own day and ours.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    Mimesis is the kind of book that reminded me to be thankful for being literate. I've been reading so much, in such a habitual fashion, in many directions and to no particular end, I'd lost awareness of the giddy vastness of the literary expanse. Anyone who wants to read seriously reads within Auerbach's chronology of Western literary evolution to some extent. It is extremely limited, as Auerbach admits, by his resources and ability. It only covers these works: 1. Odysseus' Scar -- Odyssey by Home Mimesis is the kind of book that reminded me to be thankful for being literate. I've been reading so much, in such a habitual fashion, in many directions and to no particular end, I'd lost awareness of the giddy vastness of the literary expanse. Anyone who wants to read seriously reads within Auerbach's chronology of Western literary evolution to some extent. It is extremely limited, as Auerbach admits, by his resources and ability. It only covers these works: 1. Odysseus' Scar -- Odyssey by Homer and Genesis 22 2. Fortunata -- Satyricon by Petronius, Annals Book 1 by Tacitus and Mark ch. 14 3. The Arrest of Peter Valvomeres -- Res Gestae by Ammianus Marcellinus 4. Sicharius and Chramnesindus -- History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours 5. Roland Against Ganelon -- Chanson de Roland 6. The Knight Sets Forth -- Yvain by Chrétien de Troyes 7. Adam and Eve -- The medieval mystery play Mystère d'Adam; St. Bernard of Clairvaux; St. Francis of Assisi 8. Farinata and Cavalcante -- Inferno, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri 9. Frate Alberto -- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio 10. Madame Du Chastel -- Le Réconfort de Madame du Fresne by Antoine de la Sale 11. The World in Pantagruel's Mouth -- Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais 12. L'Humaine Condition -- Essays by Michel de Montaigne 13. The Weary Prince -- Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 by William Shakespeare 14. The Enchanted Dulcinea -- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes 15. The Faux Dévot -- Tartuffe by Molière 16. The Interrupted Supper -- Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost; Candide by Voltaire; Mémoires by Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon 17. Miller the Musician -- Luise Miller by Friedrich Schiller 18. In the Hôtel de la Mole -- The Red and the Black by Stendhal and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert 19. Germinie Lacerteux -- Germinie Lacerteux by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt and Germinal by Émile Zola 20. The Brown Stocking -- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust A pretty paltry list, considering what is left out and, to a lesser extent, what is worthy of study since the time of publication. If Auerbach were immortal, I'm sure he would've used his time to write thousands pages more on the literature of the rest of the world, starting from Russia and steadily moving east. We must be reluctantly satisfied with the work of a mortal man. I read Mimesis quite quickly, as I was always excited about what period of literary history Auerbach would jump into next, whether or not it was an author I knew of, or perhaps had even read, or if it was something I was entirely ignorant of. To the particularly neurotic character of a person with a Goodreads account, he is brilliant, because he gives one a reading list that might take a decade to work through, while also offering lucid, compelling explorations into the styles of the texts and how they function. Perhaps if he was a little more boring, I would've been more compelled to take my time and take notes! There's no real reason to read this book cover-to-cover unless you want to set yourself on a particular scholarly path through every text Auerbach mentions, but if you've read any of these books - you're missing out if you don't at least intend to read a few - Auerbach provides a new sense of appreciation in their aesthetic sensibility and significance. He writes without secondary sources because he didn't have access to any. If you've tried to write essays, that feat is worth exploration in and of itself.

  13. 5 out of 5

    sologdin

    one of the great works of philology/literary criticism in world history. opens with a famous reading of homer and the hebrew scripture, and builds it episodically through history, culminating in To the Lighthouse, which is perhaps as it should be. Written while on the run from the NSDAP and without his library (though not without a library, as folk history has it), has as its purpose tracing the "complete emancipation" from the doctrine of the ancients regarding literary representation, one whic one of the great works of philology/literary criticism in world history. opens with a famous reading of homer and the hebrew scripture, and builds it episodically through history, culminating in To the Lighthouse, which is perhaps as it should be. Written while on the run from the NSDAP and without his library (though not without a library, as folk history has it), has as its purpose tracing the "complete emancipation" from the doctrine of the ancients regarding literary representation, one which is "more complete, and more significant for later literary forms of the imitation of life, than the mixture of le sublime and le grotesque proclaimed by the contemporary romanticists" (554). that is to say, for "modern realism" (id.). anyway, very slick local readings of numerous texts here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A biggun' in literary criticism. Auerbach's book is a series of discussions about discrete works, progressing from Homer to Virginia Woolf. I felt like I was prepared to dive into this book based on my high-school curriculum and some more recent "Great Books" remedial reading (Dante). The book doesn't so much lay out a theory of literary criticism, but instead provides examples of how Auerbach reads and thinks about reading. He stays very close to the text of every work he selects, so you won't A biggun' in literary criticism. Auerbach's book is a series of discussions about discrete works, progressing from Homer to Virginia Woolf. I felt like I was prepared to dive into this book based on my high-school curriculum and some more recent "Great Books" remedial reading (Dante). The book doesn't so much lay out a theory of literary criticism, but instead provides examples of how Auerbach reads and thinks about reading. He stays very close to the text of every work he selects, so you won't get lost in jargon or citations. As the chapters progress, he begins to make references to writers' advancements in portraying the world, which culminates (for him) in the post-realist works of Woolf. Along the way, he makes a side by side comparison of, say, the Odyssey and Exodus seem like something you might do for fun.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hunter White

    I read the Introduction and Epilogue, as well as the following chapters: 1, 2, 8, 12, 14, & 20. For anyone even remotely interested in literary criticism, I highly recommend this book. Auerbach writes with such genuine love for the material, is heartfelt in his treatment of the texts, his reflections contain such substance and grit, that I found myself at times moved, at times pensive, and even laughing aloud (his section on Don Quixote is great) while reading this, experiences I rarely associat I read the Introduction and Epilogue, as well as the following chapters: 1, 2, 8, 12, 14, & 20. For anyone even remotely interested in literary criticism, I highly recommend this book. Auerbach writes with such genuine love for the material, is heartfelt in his treatment of the texts, his reflections contain such substance and grit, that I found myself at times moved, at times pensive, and even laughing aloud (his section on Don Quixote is great) while reading this, experiences I rarely associate with literary criticism. I think this is partly due to his treatment of the text itself without reliance on much outside material: there are no notes, no bibliography, very few references to other scholars. Rather, this book is Auerbach's raw (though well thought-out) reflections on how reality is portrayed and aesthetically constructed in the great works of Western Literature. In my opinion, this is what literary criticism is supposed to be, or at least the type of criticism I would like to read and create.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sydlik

    I may or may not return to this; I only I had to read selected chapters for a class: the chapters on Odysseus and the Hebrew Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and the last three (18 and 19, whose starting points are Stendhal and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux respectively, are more or less surveys of 18th century French Romanticism and emerging realism, touching also upon Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola; 20 looks at Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, while also looking at I may or may not return to this; I only I had to read selected chapters for a class: the chapters on Odysseus and the Hebrew Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and the last three (18 and 19, whose starting points are Stendhal and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux respectively, are more or less surveys of 18th century French Romanticism and emerging realism, touching also upon Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola; 20 looks at Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, while also looking at other modernist works such as Ulysses), as well as the introduction, epilogue, and appendix. I found Auerbach’s analyses interesting, if not always comprehensible. While his text is fairly straightforward (probably mostly due to the fact that he relies mostly on the primary texts, having written this while in exile in Istanbul, and not having access to critical resources), his critical approach is not systematic—something he actually addresses. The most striking insight is his revelation of how large a part religion and metaphysical thinking has played a part in literature, for certain doctrinal concepts and spiritual attitudes had significant effects on the ways in which writers depicted reality. His close attention to the primary texts also makes this, for me, a more enjoyable read than much other literary criticism, which either reacts largely to other critical texts or makes speculations and abstract claims about primary works (or both). He also addresses both aesthetic and cultural/historical aspects (whereas much literary criticism tends to emphasis one over the other). Finally, the whole situation of the author, which does influence the nature of his writing (and he even addresses these concerns to a certain point), gives an added edge of intrigue to the reading: Auerbach, a secular Jew, having fled from Nazi Germany, writes from Istanbul, a largely Muslim city, and his writings focus much on the impact of Christianity on world literature.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gilbert Wesley Purdy

    A sampling of the progress of realism in literature from The Odyssey to Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Each major work is explored through an extended representative quote in the original language and in English translation. (It is not clear that all editions included the translations. This one, however, does.) Related works both from the time and from modern scholarship are brought into each discussion. Mimesis is not only filled with remarkable insights on the works Auerbach chooses as exe A sampling of the progress of realism in literature from The Odyssey to Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Each major work is explored through an extended representative quote in the original language and in English translation. (It is not clear that all editions included the translations. This one, however, does.) Related works both from the time and from modern scholarship are brought into each discussion. Mimesis is not only filled with remarkable insights on the works Auerbach chooses as exemplary of various times and traits. It is an entertaining read. This book is deservedly a classic of its kind.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    Not only a monument of literary criticism, but one of the most thrilling adventures of the mind, ever-- EA traces the development of the "representation of reality" from Homer and the Old Testament to twentieth century writers. Two chapters were particularly illuminating, the one on Dante which deals with the Farinata/Cavalcante Episode and the initial chapter which is a comparative study of mimetic techniques in Homer and the Book of Genesis. Edward Said's introduction is also very good; he pla Not only a monument of literary criticism, but one of the most thrilling adventures of the mind, ever-- EA traces the development of the "representation of reality" from Homer and the Old Testament to twentieth century writers. Two chapters were particularly illuminating, the one on Dante which deals with the Farinata/Cavalcante Episode and the initial chapter which is a comparative study of mimetic techniques in Homer and the Book of Genesis. Edward Said's introduction is also very good; he places EA and his work in context and discusses the immense influence this book has had.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Valentina Salvatierra

    Managed to finish after several months and way too many distractions! Placeholder for a proper review to hopefully follow, as I need more time than I have at the moment to sort my thoughts about this book and set some of them down here. It felt like a masterclass in close reading, that's for sure. Managed to finish after several months and way too many distractions! Placeholder for a proper review to hopefully follow, as I need more time than I have at the moment to sort my thoughts about this book and set some of them down here. It felt like a masterclass in close reading, that's for sure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Parke

    One of the greatest works of criticism in the 20th century and he did it without almost any access to books, notes, or anything else. The part on Odysseus's scar is legendary (excuse the pun.) This man loved books and so he ingested them for future reference. His commitment to reading closely for the details that shine is something all too lost in most of today's quickreads. One of the greatest works of criticism in the 20th century and he did it without almost any access to books, notes, or anything else. The part on Odysseus's scar is legendary (excuse the pun.) This man loved books and so he ingested them for future reference. His commitment to reading closely for the details that shine is something all too lost in most of today's quickreads.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    Reading and thinking about Ranciere's Aisthesis has led me to return to Auerbach's Mimesis, which I read many years ago, and this reaffirms my intuition that Mimesis is still the pinnacle of literary criticism/history/theory/whatever you want to call it. Reading and thinking about Ranciere's Aisthesis has led me to return to Auerbach's Mimesis, which I read many years ago, and this reaffirms my intuition that Mimesis is still the pinnacle of literary criticism/history/theory/whatever you want to call it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard Seltzer

    Brilliant. Boosts your understanding of and appreciation of great books from all of western civilization.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    I've read only first two chapters for an exam. However, I'm sure I'll come back and finish the book at some point, because it is definitely worth it. I've read only first two chapters for an exam. However, I'm sure I'll come back and finish the book at some point, because it is definitely worth it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    RC

    Auerbach's overall project in this outrageously ambitious book—mapping the development of the “representation of reality” over the course of Western literature from Homer to Virginia Woolf—is a little perplexing, and at times incoherent. It’s never exactly clear what Auerbach means by “reality”; the definition seems to shift through the book; and it’s also not clear why he chose to focus on realism as the sine qua non of literary merit or success, as opposed to any number of other aspects of lit Auerbach's overall project in this outrageously ambitious book—mapping the development of the “representation of reality” over the course of Western literature from Homer to Virginia Woolf—is a little perplexing, and at times incoherent. It’s never exactly clear what Auerbach means by “reality”; the definition seems to shift through the book; and it’s also not clear why he chose to focus on realism as the sine qua non of literary merit or success, as opposed to any number of other aspects of literature. In the Epilogue, Auerbach acknowledges that “[n]ot even the term ‘realistic’ is unambiguous,” as he uses it throughout the book. And he even hints that though mapping the career of realism in Western literature was his project, the “specific purpose” that “guided” his “interpretations” of the various texts he took up “assumed form only as [he] went along, playing as it were with [his] texts, and for long stretches of [the] way, [he was] guided only by the texts themselves,” which he acknowledges were largely “chosen at random, on the basis of accidental acquaintance and personal preference rather than in view of a definite purpose.” (Epilogue.) It does sound like Auerbach is quietly backing away from making any sweeping judgments or conclusions about the career of realism in literature, and is instead noting that he took a random path, guided by an aleatory assortment of texts, and wandered where the texts took him; and that’s what a lot of this book feels like. There’s certainly great pleasure in watching Auerbach carry out his meticulous close readings of various texts and provide a historical context of the development of literature he maps. But one shouldn’t expect, as Auerbach acknowledges, some grand overarching theory or conclusion to emerge. * * * * * To take one example, the chapter on Montaigne's Essays felt out of place, coming after many chapters on fictional forms of literary representation. What did Montaigne's writing have to do with fictional forms of representation? I get that Auerbach likely selected Montaigne because of his uninhibited range of topics—from literature to farting. But this valorization of the mixture of styles, of the ability to deftly incorporate high and low, the sublime and the grotesque (or “creatural”), and to provide concrete, realistic representations of reality, seems a little overemphasized by Auerbach. Or, perhaps, it just feels like that emphasis doesn't bear the weight that's put on it by him, and also feels like not all that overwhelming a point. Montaigne helps him show a successful mixture of styles, but so what? Auerbach comes back, again and again through the book, to the significance of the Christ story shattering old barriers between high and low styles: The Christ story placed a focus on the poor, the non-aristocratic for the first time, in a way that was not comic or boorish, but serious and tragic; and Western literature bobbed in the wake of that seminal event for a while. But, again, this argument feels a little tendentious to me. Is Auerbach trying to map a progression or development in Western Lit—as one might try to map the development and steady improvement of, say, techniques of perspective in painting, or lifelike qualities and structural freedom in sculpture? Because that project seems fundamentally wrong-headed (though that's probably too strong a word for it). But there’s something odd about Auerbach’s insistent focus on reality (and therefore successful literary representation) being the presentation of the “human beings in the midst of their everyday environment, with their background, multifarious relations, their possessions, every particle of their bodies, their gestures, every nuance of their speech, their hopes, and their fears,” expressing both “physical [creatural?] and . . . spiritual factors,” with “absolute precision, scorning nothing.” (Ch. 16.) What Auerbach describes here sounds a lot like how an art historian might describe Dutch or Flemish realism, the work of Vermeer, Van Eyck, Bruegel, et al. (Indeed, he makes a direct comparison between the coarse literary realism of Zola and Dutch and Flemish painterly realism in Chapter 19.) Thought of in terms of varying historical styles, Auerbach’s project seems all the stranger. Why fixate and elevate this type of precise, concrete, everyday realism above other styles? Above impressionism, abstraction, the fantastic, etc.? And does it make any sense to focus on the representation of “reality” when analyzing, say, The Inferno? Auerbach seems to set up a running contrast between the brittle, stiff, pleonastic, turgid, pompous, conventional—the lifeless, or “unrealistic”—texts of and medieval writers versus the vernacular, demotic, multiplex, whole, broad, human, vivid, robust—the alive, or “realistic”—texts of more successful writers, those who more successfully represented “reality.” The adjectives I’ve listed here seem to get deployed again and again through the book by Auerbach in creating the faint outlines of his division between the “realistic” and the “unrealistic.” But it’s not quite enough in his view that the representation be alive and concrete and depicting everyday life. As he says about Dante and Montaigne, the author must also be in command of both high and low styles, must depict the everyday from a perspective of learning and wisdom. As he says about Zola, [He] knows how these [industrial workers] thought and talked. He also knows every detail of the technical side of mining; he knows the psychology of the various classes of workers and of the administration, the functioning of the central management, the competition between the capitalist groups, the cooperation of the interests in capital, with the government, the army. But he did not confine himself to writing about industrial workers. His purpose was to comprise . . . the whole life of the period . . . : the people of Paris, the rural population, the theater, the department stores, the stock exchange, and very much more besides. He made himself an expert in all fields; everywhere he penetrated into social structure and technology. (Ch. 19.) Perhaps this is a form of complexity—a kind of deeply granular photorealism in representation—that he values, and that he calls “realism.” To capture reality, in his view, an author must faithfully and seriously capture high and low. To me, these evaluations of whether a text was succesfully “realistic” simply began to sound like an appraisal of whether a text was successful, with “realistic” becoming a stand in for “successful.” Because whether a text is successful, whether it has power and a hold over us—that’s very difficult to articulate or explain with any kind of precision. I wonder if Auerbach was trying here to figure out a way to talk about the frustrating ideas of appreciation—why we like some writing more than others—in a more concrete and systematic way, and settled on “realism,” a project that was never going to work, as it was a stand-in for whether a work was successful, a hopelessly complex question? Sidenote: A 2012 article in The New Yorker on Mimesis made the following observation re Auerbach's holding up of the common man's experience as the ultimate goal of representation: [Auerbach’s] characterization of realism as the unvarnished reënactment of the common man’s sojourn on earth is oddly restrictive. As [Terry] Eagleton pointed out [in critiquing Mimesis], ordinary life is no more real than "courts and country houses," and "cucumber sandwiches are no less ontologically solid than pie and beans." It’s a fair point, and there are times, especially near the end, where Auerbach’s meandering takes on “realism” begin to feel like a gesture toward a Marxism-lite, without actually pushing on toward an actual Marxist critique. * * * * * As to the teleology of literary development Auerbach attempts to map, modernism in Virginia Woolf and Proust and Co., his final destination, is surely not some apotheosis of literary evolution. That’s not how the history of art (or literature) works? Always higher and better? Literary evolution is probably more like actual evolution: Sometimes things devolve into simpler forms. Sometimes they evolve into "higher" forms. But there's not necessarily a teleology of upwards and better toward the angels and pure light, etc.? Auerbach seems to recognize this to some degree, as he notes that even after the crisis of the Christ story, Western Lit struggled with the conflict between stiff, turgid medieval forms, and more "lifelike," concrete, vivid forms of representation of reality. * * * * * All of that said, the book somehow manages to remain interesting and weirdly compelling despite the patent flaws with the project and the overall thesis. It's the industriousness with which Auerbach dives into each text he's selected that's compelling. His precision and acute attention to minutiae are kind of thrilling, in the weird mania of it all. I've found that, after spending time with this book, I come away a bit more hyper-attuned to the syntax and form of the things I'm reading, and the things I might be writing. That is to say, the book isn’t all that compelling in presenting an overarching argument about the history of Western literature, but it is compelling in how Auerbach goes about offering a close reading (I think I'm using that term correctly here) of each text he chooses, and a historical context for the text, analyzing how each text works, etc. My interest was maintained by the variety of each new chapter: I was curious to see what he had to say about Shakespeare or Cervantes or Montaigne, and how he would apply his techniques of dissection to them. Watching him at work is the pleasure, not so much the grand theory that one comes away with. As a further aside, going backward in the history of literary criticism to Mimesis could itself be seen as a recognition that literary criticism, like literature itself, does not necessarily constantly evolve to higher and better forms. There are swings, trends, and corrections. It's interesting to note that the technique of close reading, which was much emphasized by the school of New Criticism, and which went out of style for its generally detached, clinical, ahistorical, and apolitical approach, appears to be making tentative steps back towards relevance. (Auerbach's approach doesn't seem to fit into the box of New Criticism, as its purpose is to provide a historical context for texts, and suggest a historical trend, based on insights gleaned from close readings of texts seemingly chosen at random--like an analysis of broken pottery at archaeological sites or fossilized femurs.) That the techniques of close reading may be having a new moment makes sense. What is it English majors actually do? Yes, they can deconstruct or apply psychoanalysis to texts, often, in the process, reducing, ignoring, and simplifying in the way structuralists did before them, to successfully achieve the ends of their deconstructive or psychoanalytic projects. But after the project is completed, the text remains, mocking the successful deconstruction or psychoanalysis: It's still a thing of pleasure, beauty, power. What is that? How does that work? What school of analysis or method do we have for understanding that? And here, maybe, is where close reading still has a role to play. Trying to actually figure out how language works in literature, how it achieves the effects that it does, etc. Is this going backwards? Maybe? Maybe it's a synthesis of techniques and approaches over time? I don’t know, but there’s much to be gained in an engagement with Auerbach and his somewhat Quixotic project. It’s worth taking a look back at the brand of serious, meticulous close reading, attention to context and the history of literature, and broad erudition that Auerbach offers here.

  25. 4 out of 5

    James

    We are on a philological deep dive. We enter upon the primitive then progress and deteriorate back to the primitive: the unexpressed insights in western literature drive us ahead to self-understanding. Simply stated, the history of Western representations of reality are of personal curiosity, knowledge, and inheritance. The poems of Homer delight us with "battles and passions, adventures and perils" of finite existence in the material world. Into that concrete world, the ancient literature revea We are on a philological deep dive. We enter upon the primitive then progress and deteriorate back to the primitive: the unexpressed insights in western literature drive us ahead to self-understanding. Simply stated, the history of Western representations of reality are of personal curiosity, knowledge, and inheritance. The poems of Homer delight us with "battles and passions, adventures and perils" of finite existence in the material world. Into that concrete world, the ancient literature reveals curses and prophecies, even non-heroic vulgarity as features of reality. The New Testament reveals Peter, a poor fisherman, as a man of the noblest and most tragic character. During Herod's police action against Jesus, Peter faces a choice that is pending for each of us throughout as an eternal constant: given the circumstances whether to deny or not our halfhearted commitment. In contrast with the representation of historical forces that deal with whatever happens, the New Testament raises our consciousness to meta-material realms of "love, power, spirit." Though Petronius and Tacitus write existentially about the world viewed objectively from above, the New Testament speaks to the developing humanity in each of us. In the Gospel of St.Mark, for example, we view the center of what matters in a relationship with Jesus, not a biography. Augustine reviews his growth and inner development as a man in The Confessions. In The City of God, he traces the evolution of man from Adam to fulfillment in Jesus as the divine plan. Auerbach concludes that Augustines manages to "complement the figural-vertical interpretation by a representant of intrahistorical chains of events." Greco-Roman writers show us the history and biography, without the presence and significance of Jesus in the Christian viewpoint of reality. In Western literature, we are moving from the tangible phenomenon into its meaning. Subsequently, the idea of reality in Western literature opens to the vernacular chronicles of everyday events, including the novels of courtly romance. The Mystere d' Adam, a Christmas play from the twelfth century contains a dialogue between Eve and the Devil. We realize that this conversation could take place in our lives: "a current event which could happen at any time." Two centuries later, Dante Alighieri's The Inferno takes us beyond the earth to Hell, the reality of "a changeless eternity." What's next in the idea of reality in Western literature? Boccaccio, who moves beyond the world-view of Medieval Christianity. He abandons the unity of the whole in his phenomenological view of reality, including a familiarity with erotica. In the waning of the middle ages [Huizinga], pondering is fraught with somberness, especially in rather an ordinary life that makes way for the humanism [Renaissance] where the discovery of a new world astonishes with new horizons. The moment now lies in the lap of joy discovering just this and that. Montaigne observes that the others shape things, and I relate; the others shape man, I tell of one man; the one man [me] who is formed already by this narrative. We too observe that humanity--both the many and individual--is changing without a stop. Montaigne describes the mind and body as a unity even through the powerful dynamics of ordinary life. Where is William Shakespeare? He mixes "the sublime and the low, the tragic and comic in an inexhaustible abundance of proportions." With a wide perspective, Shakespeare develops a few people in their experience of inner entanglements that come from their conditions, culture, and surroundings. More to come on the changing view of reality in Western literature by Erich Auerbach: Don Quijote, Moliere, and Voltaire. The ensuing views of reality introduce the genuinely comic, transcendent, make-believe, and sports; the difficulties of multiple individuals: mad country gentlemen (Cervantes), old monomaniac and class-conscious young bourgeois. In the time of Louis XIV, French authors expressed nature as "a well-developed and well-educated type of human being, decorous in conduct and able to adjust wth ease." With the close of the era of the charming and superficial aspects of reality, we observe the moralistic and didactic: everyday reality appears narrow and serious. Looking back over Mimesis, I see a mixture of both the unified and simplified view of reality and the breaking away into new strange and complicated vistas of reality. Great fun!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Will

    "If the text of the Biblical narrative, then, is so greatly in need of interpretation on the basis of its own content, its claim to absolute authority forces it still further in the same direction. Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history. This becomes increasingly difficult the further our historical envir "If the text of the Biblical narrative, then, is so greatly in need of interpretation on the basis of its own content, its claim to absolute authority forces it still further in the same direction. Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history. This becomes increasingly difficult the further our historical environment is removed from that of the Biblical books; and if these nevertheless maintain their claim to absolute authority, it is inevitable that they themselves be adapted through interpretative transformation. This was for a long time comparatively easy; as late as the European Middle Ages it was possible to represent Biblical events as ordinary phenomena of contemporary life, the methods of interpretation themselves forming the basis for such a treatment. But when, through too great a change in environment and through the awakening of a critical consciousness, this becomes impossible, the Biblical claim to absolute authority is jeopardized; the method of interpretation is scorned and rejected, the Biblical stories become ancient legends, and the doctrine they had contained, now dissevered from them, becomes a disembodied image. As a result of this claim to absolute authority, the method of interpretation spread to traditions other than the Jewish. The Homeric poems present a definite complex of events whose boundaries in space and time are clearly delimited; before it, beside it, and after it, other complexes of events, which do not depend upon it, can be conceived without conflict and without difficulty. The Old Testament, on the other hand, presents universal history: it begins with the beginning of time, with the creation of the world, and will end with the Last Days, the fulfilling of the Covenant, with which the world will come to an end. Everything else that happens in the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world, or at least everything that touches upon the history of the Jews, must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan; and as this too became possible only by interpreting the new material as it poured in, the need for interpretation reaches out beyond the original Jewish-Israelitish realm of reality—for example to Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Roman history; interpretation in a determined direction becomes a general method of comprehending reality; the new and strange world which now comes into view and which, in the form in which it presents itself, proves to be wholly unutilizable within the Jewish religious frame, must be so interpreted that it can find a place there. But this process nearly always also reacts upon the frame, which requires enlarging and modifying. The most striking piece of interpretation of this sort occurred in the first century of the Christian era, in consequence of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles: Paul and the Church Fathers reinterpreted the entire Jewish tradition as a succession of figures prognosticating the appearance of Christ, and assigned the Roman Empire its proper place in the divine plan of salvation. Thus while, on the one hand, the reality of the Old Testament presents itself as complete truth with a claim to sole authority, on the other hand that very claim forces it to a constant interpretative change in its own content; for millennia it undergoes an incessant and active development with the life of man in Europe. The claim of the Old Testament stories to represent universal history, their insistent relation—a relation constantly redefined by conflicts—to a single and hidden God, who yet shows himself and who guides universal history by promise and exaction, gives these stories an entirely different perspective from any the Homeric poems can possess. As a composition, the Old Testament is incomparably less unified than the Homeric poems, it is more obviously pieced together—but the various components all belong to one concept of universal history and its interpretation. If certain elements survived which did not immediately fit in, interpretation took care of them; and so the reader is at every moment aware of the universal religio-historical perspective which gives the individual stories their general meaning and purpose. The greater the separateness and horizontal disconnection of the stories and groups of stories in relation to one another, compared with the Iliad and the Odyssey, the stronger is their general vertical connection, which holds them all together and which is entirely lacking in Homer. Each of the great figures of the Old Testament, from Adam to the prophets, embodies a moment of this vertical connection. God chose and formed these men to the end of embody ing his essence and will—yet choice and formation do not coincide, for the latter proceeds gradually, historically, during the earthly life of him upon whom the choice has fallen. How the process is accomplished, what terrible trials such a formation inflicts, can be seen from our story of Abraham’s sacrifice. Herein lies the reason why the great figures of the Old Testament are so much more fully developed, so much more fraught with their own biographical past, so much more distinct as individuals, than are the Homeric heroes. Achilles and Odysseus are splendidly described in many well-ordered words, epithets cling to them, their emotions are constantly displayed in their words and deeds—but they have no development, and their life-histories are clearly set forth once and for all. So little are the Homeric heroes presented as developing or having developed, that most of them—Nestor, Agamemnon, Achilles—appear to be of an age fixed from the very first. Even Odysseus, in whose case the long lapse of time and the many events which occurred offer so much opportunity for biographical development, shows almost nothing of it. Odysseus on his return is exactly the same as he was when he left Ithaca two decades earlier. But what a road, what a fate, lie between the Jacob who cheated his father out of his blessing and the old man whose favorite son has been torn to pieces by a wild beast!—between David the harp player, persecuted by his lord’s jealousy, and the old king, surrounded by violent intrigues, whom Abishag the Shunnamite warmed in his bed, and he knew her not! The old man, of whom we know how he has become what he is is more of an individual than the young man; for it is only during the course of an eventful life that men are differentiated into full individuality; and it is this history of a personality which the Old Testament presents to us as the formation undergone by those whom God has chosen to be examples. Fraught with their development, sometimes even aged to the verge of dissolution, they show a distinct stamp of individuality entirely foreign to the Homeric heroes. Time can touch the latter only outwardly, and even that change is brought to our observation as little as possible; whereas the stern hand of God is ever upon .the Old Testament figures; he has not only made them once and for all and chosen them, but he continues to work upon them, bends them and kneads them, and, without destroying them in essence, produces from them forms which their youth gave no grounds for anticipating. The objection that the biographical element of the Old Testament often springs from the combination of several legendary personages does not apply; for this combination is a part of the development of the text. And how much wider is the pendulum swing of their lives than that of the Homeric heroes! For they are bearers of the divine will, and yet they are fallible, subject to misfortune and humiliation—and in the midst of misfortune and in their humiliation their acts and words reveal the transcendent majesty of God. There is hardly one of them who does not, like Adam, undergo the deepest humiliation—and hardly one who is not deemed worthy of God’s personal intervention and personal inspiration. Humiliation and elevation go far deeper and far higher than in Homer, and they belong basically together. The poor beggar Odysseus is only masquerading, but Adam is really cast down, Jacob really a refugee, Joseph really in the pit and then a slave to be bought and sold. But their greatness, rising out of humiliation, is almost superhuman and an image of God’s greatness. The reader clearly feels how the extent of the pendulum’s swing is connected with the intensity of the personal history—precisely the most extreme circumstances, in which we are immeasurably forsaken and in despair, or immeasurably joyous and exalted, give us, if we survive them, a personal stamp which is recognized as the product of a rich existence, a rich development. And very often, indeed generally, this element of development gives the Old Testament stories a historical character, even when the subject is purely legendary and traditional."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Anyone can pick apart the arguments, choices of translated passages, or the Eurocentric purpose of the whole enterprise, yet Auerbach has already explained his method in the “Epilegomena” appended to this stately edition. For his many critics who accused the book of missing points, clarity or depth, the author simply (well, not so simple is any part of the 574 page text) that the book is what it is, and I am quite proud that he did it. A developing sense of reality over two millennia could not h Anyone can pick apart the arguments, choices of translated passages, or the Eurocentric purpose of the whole enterprise, yet Auerbach has already explained his method in the “Epilegomena” appended to this stately edition. For his many critics who accused the book of missing points, clarity or depth, the author simply (well, not so simple is any part of the 574 page text) that the book is what it is, and I am quite proud that he did it. A developing sense of reality over two millennia could not have been written any other way: a scholar playing each textual choice close to one’s chest, and only telling the other literate players to make sense of the cards their dealt. Much like the obscure monk Gregory of Tours wrote of his own work: “... sed ita vobiscum integra inlibataque permaneant sicut a nobid relicta sunt. ... I yet implore you, do not destroy what I have written” (p. 93) .Any author who lived through the 1940s, or now, would appreciate how easily knowledge could be lost to the ages due to the whims of tyranny of the uncaring.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I wish I had more time and intelligence at my disposal to fully drink from Auerbach's well. His analysis and comparison of various literary texts and what it reveals about the societies that produced them yield enormous fruit, with much of it out of my reach. My only complaint is that, while he draws great insights out of Biblical texts, he is unnecessarily polemical in ways that are not important to his argument. For example, when discussing Genesis he talks of 'The Elohist writes' (referring t I wish I had more time and intelligence at my disposal to fully drink from Auerbach's well. His analysis and comparison of various literary texts and what it reveals about the societies that produced them yield enormous fruit, with much of it out of my reach. My only complaint is that, while he draws great insights out of Biblical texts, he is unnecessarily polemical in ways that are not important to his argument. For example, when discussing Genesis he talks of 'The Elohist writes' (referring to the JEDP authorship theory of the Pentateuch). For someone like me who takes the more traditional view, it produces a jolt of sorts. Auerbach is obviously entitled to his opinions. But, it seems to me he could have easily said 'The author seeks to . . .,' instead of 'The Elohist seeks to. . .' His points are the same regardless, and I am spared a double take. Still, none of this really detracts from the great value of his work.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Haengbok92

    Every essay I've read so far has been really interesting (which is only three). I've enjoyed the first one "Odysseus's Scar" the most. I'd never really thought to look at the Bible's narrative structure in contrast to Homer (I mean, why would I?) but I found the patterns that he pointed out were actually really useful in thinking about fiction (and the back and forth in the way people think about fiction over the centuries, ie: the stuff I studied for Comps). For a theory book especially, this i Every essay I've read so far has been really interesting (which is only three). I've enjoyed the first one "Odysseus's Scar" the most. I'd never really thought to look at the Bible's narrative structure in contrast to Homer (I mean, why would I?) but I found the patterns that he pointed out were actually really useful in thinking about fiction (and the back and forth in the way people think about fiction over the centuries, ie: the stuff I studied for Comps). For a theory book especially, this is quite clear and illuminating.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Seana

    This was why I read Mimesis. I sure am glad I did. It's only been a few years now, but it's probably time I read it again. This was why I read Mimesis. I sure am glad I did. It's only been a few years now, but it's probably time I read it again.

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