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Ancient Egyptian LiteratureTheory and Practice$
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Roland Enmarch and Verena M. Lepper

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265420

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265420.001.0001

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Intentio operis

Intentio operis

Reading Anonymous Texts

(p.11) 2 Intentio operis
Ancient Egyptian Literature

John Barton

British Academy

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.

Keywords:   intentio operis, literary theory, authorial intention, postmodernism, meaning, anonymous texts, reading, exegesis, reader-response criticism, reception history

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