Criticism and Theory I
Class 7: Hugh St. Victor, Maimonides
Hugh St. Victor, Moses Maimonides (NATC 201-226)
Due: Post #6
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
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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