Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative

In the past 25 years, narratology has significantly enriched our understanding of the artfulness of ancient texts. ‘Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative’ sets out to broaden the scope of narratological studies through making its tools fruitful for a phenomenological approach to narrative. The technical analysis of narrative is used to explore narrative as a means of coming to grips with life. Being a central category of both narrative and life, time permits us to build a bridge between narrative studies and phenomenological philosophy. Through its reconfiguration of time, narrative lets its recipients reflect on experience and thereby engage with the temporality of their lives in a playful way.

Ancient literature offers precious material for such an approach. While under the sway of the linguistic turn the gap between narrative and life has been in the spotlight, ancient aesthetics emphasizes the experiential character of narrative. Thucydides and other ancient authors strive to put the reader right in the midst of the action, and such critics as Plutarch are highly perceptive of narratorial vividness. Incisively blurring the boundary between narrative and life, ancient writers alerts us to an aspect of narrative that has been downplayed in recent theory. While the focus on the modern novel and such concepts as Theory of Mind have generated a strong interest in the presentation of character and consciousness, the ancient novel in particular highlights the temporal dynamics of narrative.

The goals pursued are threefold: the project attempts to establish an approach that welds together the arsenal of narratology and linguistics with a phenomenological take on narrative. This will permit us to trace in the temporal structure of narrative a new answer to the question of its function. As applied to Greek and Roman material, the approach will open a new perspective on ancient literature. Such genres as epic, novel and historiography are interpreted as an engagement with temporality. Finally, the focus on the experiential quality of narrative offers a contribution to the current interest in experience in the humanities which, however, have not paid much attention to narrative so far.

Bringing together five scholars, ‘Experience and Teleology’ tackles narrative from different angles: individual genres are explored just as motives are investigated across genres. Narratological analysis is enriched by the examination of linguistic features. The understanding of narrative is deepened further through its comparison with picture as another form of representation. The discussion of narratives is complemented by an investigation of ancient reflections on narrative in a wide range of texts. Features of narrative are envisaged against the broader background of contemporary culture. In tackling both theoretical issues and ancient texts, a balance is struck between the transhistorical stance of phenomenology and historical narratology.​


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 312321.


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Letzte Änderung: 06.10.2014
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