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Saturday, January 24, 2009

With rhyme and reason, or ‘style with substance’

A while back on this blog, there was a discussion about the use of literary forms to predict the facticity of a piece of writing. To whit, Genesis 1. This arose from an article by John Dickson then a paid Christian of the Sydney Diocese presented at an ISCAST chinwag.

Dickson’s thesis seemed to be that because Genesis 1 was a highly structure piece of writing replete with numbers, literary devices and good spelling and so could not be factual.

Well, some interesting quotes below, admittedly about literature from many centuries after the date of composition or compilation of Genesis 1 (or Genesis 1-3, because it is this unit that fully treats the creation, IMO, but more of that another time), but still long before our modern approach to literature.

112: Manilius wrote, between AD 10 and c. 16, a poem on astrology, stressing throughout Divine Providence and the role of Fate. Unlike Virgil’s Georgics, it is a true didactic poem, that is, it is meant to give a thorough and reliable account of the subject in an attractive format. In that sense it is the verse equivalent of a prose text-book

119: Virgil’s intimate love of country life led him to follow the Eclogues with a more elaborate and more ambitious poem in four books on husbandry (the Georgics), which he composed between 35 and 30 BC [they counted backwards in those days]. Once again he chose a Greek model. About 700 BC Hesiod had written down a collection of Greek hexameters which contained much traditional lore about agricultural tasks and when they should be performed (Works and Days). The poem was intended to be of practical value: poetry is much more memorable than prose, and didactic advice can be conveyed more easily to a wider audience by that medium.

from Ogilvie, Roman Literature and Society, Harvester Press, Brighton, 1980.

The conclusion that one could explore from these quotes is that if an ancient work has highly refined literary structure, and wants to instruct, then it is probably factual, contra Dickson, who, surprisingly is a PhD in ancient history!!