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ENG 6018
Criticism and Theory I

Class 7: Hugh St. Victor, Maimonides

Reading Assignment:

    Hugh St. Victor, Moses Maimonides (NATC 201-226)

    Due: Post #6

Class Objectives:

  • Analyze excerpts from Hugh's Didascalicon;
  • Analyze excerpts from Maimonide's Guide to the Perplexed
  • Discuss John Jordan's report on medieval literacy theories AND Quincey Upshaw's report on Jewish hermeneutics.

This week our readings are firmly grounded in the medieval period. Although our reports will help us get acquainted with the era, you might want to do some additional reading on some aspects of the medieval period, including basic histories, world views, literary commonplaces, etc. Try searching on "medieval thought," "medievalism," or "Chaucer" and go from there. We will also continue to be concerned with the Bible and exegesis, and so continue to read and try to apply our theorists' ideas.

Notes and Discussion Questions:

Hugh of St. Victor

The editor's introduction suggests that Hugh's text is very much a product of the twelfth century in terms of its educational goals. How does historical context shape this text?

What are the four branches of philosophy Hugh discusses and their significance?

Hugh names seven sciences to be mastered because they excelled "the rest in usefulness" so that "anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than by listening to a teacher. For these, one might say, constitute the best instruments, the best rudiments, by which the way is prepared for the mind's complete knowledge of philosophic truth" (206). How might these assumptions work in a defense of liberal arts education today? Would they be effective?

What are the three orders of exposition, their function and their importance for interpretation? (208)

In the threefold understanding of scripture, Hugh advises that meaning be relegated to its proper place, historical, allegorical or tropological, "as reason demands" (208) Comment on the role of reason in this system of interpretation.

In his discussion of sense, he offers an example of this type of reasoning (ex. of seven women taking one man). Evaluate the role of history and allegory here. (209-10)

Regarding the assigment of "deeper meaning" he provides the following guide: "let us prefer above all what it seems certain that the man we are reading thought. But if this is not evident, let us certainly prefer what the circumstances of the writing do not disallow and what is consonant with sound faith. But if even the circumstances of the writing cannot be explored and examined, let us at least prefer only what sound faith prescribes" (210). Based on these ideas, what would you describe as the central concerns of interpretation for Hugh? How might these critical practices resonate with critical practices we share?


Who is the audience for Maimonides' text? What is the nature of perplexity addressed?

"For my purpose is that the truths be glimpsed and then again be concealed, so as not to oppose that divine purpose which one cannot possibly oppose and which has concealed from the vulgar among the people those truths especially requisite for His apprehension" (216). What is his method of arrangement and explanation, as he sees it, in this text? Why does he so carefully choose this method?

What is the purpose of parables?

What are the two types of prophetic parables? In his example of the ladder leading to heaven, he stops short of explaining the meaning of the phrases (220). Why?

Analyze Maimonides explanation of Solomon's parable of the adulterous harlot wife. How effective is this? What is his main point?

Evaluate the seven sources of contradiction in any book, described 223-226. How might these be useful for understanding texts today?

At the end of our excerpt, Maimonides claims that "Divergences that are to be found in this Treatise are due to the fifth cause and the seventh" (226). What does this mean? Comment on his intentions as an author and how that helps or hinders the understanding of his text.

What for Maimonides are the three central concerns in hermeneutics and how does he attempt to teach them?

What impact might this non-Greek emphasis on indeterminacy in meaning and continuity between text and interpretation have on later critical theories or practices?


Taking both Hugh of St. Victor and Maimonides together (perhaps also Macrobius), how would you describe the differences between the medieval critical theories and practices and the classical ones that came before them?

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