More with μίμησις

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During the Silver Age of Latin literature, which was occurring around the time that the Gospels were being written, the Roman writers were rediscovering what the Greek had already forgotten. One of these tools seem to be μίμησις which, as you know, carries a lot of different meanings, or perhaps nuances. It is, at the base, a rhetorical device of imitation. During the Silver Age as well, literary rhetoric began to develop. Anyway, I digress:

Since the objects of imitation are men in action, and these men must
be either of a higher or a lower type (for moral character mainly
answers to these divisions, goodness and badness being the distinguishing
marks of moral differences), it follows that we must represent men
either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are. It
is the same in painting. Polygnotus depicted men as nobler than they
are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysius drew them true to life.

Now it is evident that each of the modes of imitation above mentioned
will exhibit these differences, and become a distinct kind in imitating
objects that are thus distinct. Such diversities may be found even
in dancing, flute-playing, and lyre-playing. So again in language,
whether prose or verse unaccompanied by music. Homer, for example,
makes men better than they are; Cleophon as they are; Hegemon the
Thasian, the inventor of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the
Deiliad, worse than they are. The same thing holds good of Dithyrambs
and Nomes; here too one may portray different types, as Timotheus
and Philoxenus differed in representing their Cyclopes. The same distinction
marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men
as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.

There is still a third difference- the manner in which each of these
objects may be imitated. For the medium being the same, and the objects
the same, the poet may imitate by narration- in which case he can
either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own
person, unchanged- or he may present all his characters as living
and moving before us.

These, then, as we said at the beginning, are the three differences
which distinguish artistic imitation- the medium, the objects, and
the manner. So that from one point of view, Sophocles is an imitator
of the same kind as Homer- for both imitate higher types of character;
from another point of view, of the same kind as Aristophanes- for
both imitate persons acting and doing. Hence, some say, the name of
‘drama’ is given to such poems, as representing action. For the same
reason the Dorians claim the invention both of Tragedy and Comedy.
The claim to Comedy is put forward by the Megarians- not only by those
of Greece proper, who allege that it originated under their democracy,
but also by the Megarians of Sicily, for the poet Epicharmus, who
is much earlier than Chionides and Magnes, belonged to that country.
Tragedy too is claimed by certain Dorians of the Peloponnese. In each
case they appeal to the evidence of language. The outlying villages,
they say, are by them called komai, by the Athenians demoi: and they
assume that comedians were so named not from komazein, ‘to revel,’
but because they wandered from village to village (kata komas), being
excluded contemptuously from the city. They add also that the Dorian
word for ‘doing’ is dran, and the Athenian, prattein.

This may suffice as to the number and nature of the various modes
of imitation. (Aristotle – Poetics, II and III)

So, combine the two. Combine flourishing Rhetoric in Rome (think Quintilian) with the move to literary rhetoric – think Lucan and Pharsalia. Then, think Mark, Jesus and Vespasian. Tragedy, Comedy and Satire was used to tell a rhetorical truth for the Greeks. What if Latin-minded writers were using it, as Lucan did, to stand against Nero, or in our case Vespasian?

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2 Replies to “More with μίμησις”

  1. I’ve written pretty extensively on μίμησις. A section of my forthcoming book will focus on this and I write on it in the book which is in press currently. I love the subject and one that is sometimes overlooked by scholars in their exegesis, which is a shame.

    1. Cough, cough…. not me!

      Any helpful links, Tom? My suggestion is that Mark is using μίμησις throughout his Gospel, but especially in 5.1-17

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