Monday, November 21, 2005

Patriarchs, Auerbach, Rembrandt

On December 14th we'll return to Genesis, reading the rest of the Abraham story and continuing with Isaac and Jacob. Of interest here may be a superb reading of the sacrifice of Isaac offered in the first chapter of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. The chapter, entitled "Odysseus' Scar," offers a masterful literary comparison of the Biblical story with the scene from Homer's Odyssey in which the returned hero, disguised as a beggar, is recognized by his old nurse.

Here's a brief excerpt, where Auerbach sums up what he sees as key differences in the distinctive styles of Homer and the Biblical authors:
"We have compared these two texts [from Genesis and Homer], and, with them, the two kinds of style they embody, in order to reach a starting point for an investigation into the literary representation of reality in European culture. The two styles, in their opposition, represent basic types:

- on the one [Homeric] hand fully externalized description, uniform illumination, uninterrupted connection, free expression, all events in the foreground, displaying unmistakable meanings, full elements of historical development and of psychological perspective;

- on the other [Biblical] hand, certain parts brought into high relief, others left obscure, abruptness, suggestive influence of the unexpressed, "background" quality, multiplicity of meanings and the need for interpretation, universal-historical claims, development of the concept of the historically becoming, and preoccupation with the problematic."
Mimesis, chap. 1.
More about Mimesis here and here. Auerbach's description might be useful to keep in mind when we take a few minutes during the session to look at some of Rembrandt's images of Abraham and other Old Testament figures with Arline.

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