Plato's Cratylus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and the Correctness of Names in Pope's Homer

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Abstract

Pope's translation of and commentary on Homer frequently raises questions about the nature of language in general, and poetic language in particular. The commentary mentions Plato's Cratylus once, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus' On Literary Composition many times. Through a reading of these and other relevant texts known to Pope (Stanley's History of Philosophy, Vida's De Arte Poetica), the article suggests that thinking about the nature of language heightens the vivid and performative qualities of Pope's translation for its readers. The main contention concerning the Cratylus is that Socrates offers an alternative to the extreme arguments of his interlocutors Hermogenes and Cratylus which recognizes that the relationship between words and things is neither simply arbitrary nor natural: by emphasizing the philosophical use of words, Socrates elides the two contrary positions. The article also suggests that his long etymological investigation si neither simply parodic nor sincere, but is meant to illustrate the poetic use of language, which seems at once 'rather ridiculous, and yet plausible'. It is this aspect of language which, it is argued, is most relevant to Pope's translation. Dionysius of Halicarnassus emphasizes the compositional effort necessary to make words achieve their fullest possible significance; this article argues that pope's translation achieves this full significance at moments of the greatest structural importance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-499
Number of pages16
JournalReview of English Studies
Volume53
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2002

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