Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics

Published online December 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI:

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Imitatio (μίμησις), the study and conspicuous deployment of features recognizably characteristic of a canonical author's style or content, so as to define one's own generic affiliation (see genre).Although Plato (Resp.10) and Aristotle (Poet.) often apply μίμησις philosophically to the semantic relation by which language or art represent their objects, the more widespread ancient usage of the term is rhetorical, to designate a later writer's relation of acknowledged dependence upon an earlier one. The Muse is the daughter of memory: poets have always learned from other poets (ἕτερος ἐξ ἑτέρου σοφὸς τό τε πάλαι τό τε νῦν, ‘one learns his skill from another, both long ago and now’: Bacchyl. Paean fr. 5 Snell–Maehler) and are listeners or readers before they become singers or writers. But starting already with the *sophists, the careful study and imitation of (usually written) models of discourse became an established educational technique. Throughout antiquity, a strong continuity in method and attitude linked school exercises on canonical texts (memorization, excerpting, paraphrase, translation, commentary, variation of theme or style, comparison) with a poetic practice which drew attention to its skilled use of models, ‘not so as to filch but to borrow openly, in the hope of being recognized’ (Seneca the Elder, Suas.

Article.  601 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature ; Classical Reception

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