Critical Inquiry 16 (3):483-505 (1990)

Arnold I. Davidson
University of Chicago
Here we are witness to the great cultural event of the West, the emergence of a Latin philosophical language translated from the Greek. Once again, it would be necessary to make a systematic study of the formation of this technical vocabulary that, thanks to Cicero, Seneca, Tertullian, Victorinus, Calcidius, Augustine, and Boethius, would leave its mark, by way of the Middle Ages, on the birth of modern thought. Can it be hoped that one day, with current technical means, it will be possible to compile a complete lexicon of the correspondences of philosophical terminology in Greek and Latin? Furthermore, lengthy commentaries would be needed, for the most interesting task would be to analyze the shifts in meaning that take place in the movement from one language to another. In the case of the ontological vocabulary the translation of ousia by substantia, for example, is justly famous and has again recently inspired some remarkable studies. This brings us once more to a phenomenon we discretely alluded to earlier with the word philosophia, and which we will encounter throughout the present discussion: the misunderstandings, shifts or losses in meaning, the reinterpretations, sometimes even to the point of misreading, that arise once tradition, translation, and exegesis coexist. So our history of the Hellenistic and Roman thought will consist above all of recognizing and analyzing the evolution of meanings and significance. Pierre Hadot holds the chair of the History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France. He is the author of many books and articles on the history of ancient philosophy and theology. Among his works are Plotin et la simplicité du regard, Porphyre et Vitctorinus, Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres, and Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique. Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry, is associate professor of philosophy and a member of the Committees on the Conceptual Foundations of Science and General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He introduced and edited the “Symposium on Heidegger and Nazism” . He is currently working on the history of horror as it relates to the epistemology of norms and deviations. Paula Wissing, a free-lance translator and editor, has recently translated Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant’s The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks . She also contributed translations of articles by Maurice Blanchot, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Emmanuel Levinas for the “Symposium on Heidegger and Nazism.”
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DOI 10.1086/448543
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