Reading Anonymous Texts
Readers of ancient texts often assume that they are looking for the meaning intended by the author. Trends in modern literary theory, from the ‘New Criticism’ to structuralism and postmodern deconstruction, have called this into question. In its place readers look either for meanings supposedly inherent to the text regardless of the author's intention, or for meanings attributable to the text through creative ‘readings’, without any implication that the text has a ‘real’ meaning. Theorising of this kind has been more typical of the study of modern literature than of ancient texts, but the fact that so much ancient writing is anonymous or pseudonymous might make it an even more suitable case for a literary-theoretical treatment. However, such reading can produce meanings that are completely arbitrary. The work of Umberto Eco can provide a middle way between a textual determinism and total arbitrariness, through his concept of the intentio operis.
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