Full Text


Kenneth Haynes

Subject Classics » Reception of Classical World

Place Europe

Period General

Key-Topics authority

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405175777.2010.00034.x


To call the Aeneid a classic is to make a claim about its value, but from antiquity onwards the meaning of the claim and the grounds for it have shifted in complex ways. A basic problem is an enduring ambiguity in the notion of the classic: it means both excellent in its kind and representative of its kind, best of its class and characteristic of its class. It may be used either to evaluate or to describe; it may mean either excellent or representative, archetypal or typical, normative or normal. The ambiguity inheres in the claim to exemplary status, which may be a claim either that something is or that something should be an example. The entangled connection between the nature of the class to which a classic belongs and the source of its value has been evident since at least the second century when Aulus Gellius extended the application of classicus from Roman social classes to literary rank ( NA 19.8.15: classicus adsiduusque aliquis scriptor, non proletarius; see Swain 2004 , 35). English, by means of the contrast between “classic” and “classical,” has some resources to indicate the difference since the former can be used with an evaluative meaning (OED 2 : “Of the first class, of the highest rank or importance; approved as a model; standard, leading”) and the latter with a more neutral, classificatory sense (OED 2 : “belonging to the literature or art of Greek and Roman ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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