The masters of truth in Archaic Greece

Front Cover
Zone Books, 1996 - Philosophy - 231 pages
foreword by Pierre Vidal-Naquet

The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece, the acclaimed French classicist Marcel Detienne's first book, traces the odyssey of "truth," aletheia, from mytho-religious concept to philosophical thought in archaic Greece.

Detienne's starting point is a simple observation: in archaic Greece, three figures - the diviner, the bard, and the king - all share the privilege of dispensing truth by virtue of the religious power of divine memory, which provides them with knowledge, both oracular and inspired, of the present, past, and future. Beginning with this definition of the prerational meaning of truth, Detienne examines how truth in Greek literature, especially in the poetic tradition, first emerges as an enigma, a paradox defined neither by its opposition to nor its contradiction with falsehood or with lethe (oblivion and forgetfulness), but by its association with ambiguity and ambivalence.

Detienne then explains how sophists and orators alike figure into the lineage of these pre-Platonic masters of truth. Still distinct from the logic of correspondence and of noncontradiction that comes to characterize the mode of argumentation of the first Western rationalist philosophers, these masters' truth appears through their maneuvering of apate, deceit, and cunning.

In following this artful understanding and use of speech - its effect, techniques, and relation to the world and other people - Detienne identifies, particularly in the work of Simonides, a movement from a religious to a secular thought about truth. The study culminates with an original reinterpretation of Parmenides' poem on Being.

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Foreword by Pierre VidalNaquet i
Truth and Society
The Old Man of the Sea

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About the author (1996)

Marcel Detienne is the Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of L'Invention de la mythologie, Dionysos a ciel ouvert, Les Jardins d'Adonis, and many other books and articles, and editor of Transcrire les mythologies.