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date: 16 January 2021


  • C. A. Martindale
  •  and Lorna Hardwick


‘Reception’, in the specialized sense used within literary theory, is a concept of German origin, associated primarily with the Constance school of critics led by H. R. Jauss and W. Iser, and often subsequently used to replace words like tradition, heritage, influence, etc. , each key-word having its own implied agenda (for a symbiotic relationship between reception and tradition, see Budelmann and Haubold in Hardwick and Stray (eds.) (2008)). Studies of reception-history (Rezeptionsgeschichte) are studies of the reading, interpretation, (re)fashioning, appropriation, use, and abuse of past texts over the centuries. In providing a theoretical framework for such studies Jauss started from the proposition, previously advanced within German hermeneutics, e.g. in Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method (1960; Eng. trans. 1975), that interpretation always takes place within history, and is subject to the contingencies of its historical moment; there is no permanently ‘correct’ reading of a text, but an ever-changing ‘fusion of horizons’ between text and interpreter. Thus reception-theory, like other modern theories of reading, stresses the importance of the reader, within the triangle writer–text–reader, for the construction of meaning. So Horace, as a man, as a body of texts, as an authority for different ways of living, has been diversely read in the west over the last 500 years, by scholars, poets, and ‘men of letters’, and our current images are shaped in response to that reception-history.

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