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Classical World LiteraturesSino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons$
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Wiebke Denecke

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199971848

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199971848.001.0001

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Starting avant la lettre

Starting avant la lettre

An Essay on How to Tell the Beginnings of Literature and Eloquence

(p.62) Chapter 2 Starting avant la lettre
Classical World Literatures

Wiebke Denecke

Oxford University Press

Beginnings differ from retrospective narratives of beginnings developed to sanction current practice. The gap between beginnings and narratives of beginnings is particularly blatant in cultures that cannot easily lay claim to independent emergence. This chapter shows how four Japanese and Latin authors developed comparable strategies to tell the beginnings of literature and eloquence in a way that allowed the indigenous tradition to compete with Chinese and Greek precedents. The first anthology of Sino-Japanese poetry, Florilegium of Cherished Airs (Kaifûsô), placed the beginning of literature in Japan at the end of a long process of civilization, but downplayed the importation of the Chinese writing system. The prefaces to the first imperial collection of vernacular poetry, Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetry (Kokinwakashû), challenged this vision and replaced it, polemically, with a timeless psychology of a universal, divine “Way” of poetry. Cicero’s account of the development of Greek and Roman eloquence in the Brutus resembles the strategy of the Kaifûsô compiler. While acknowledging Roman indebtedness to Greek oratory, Cicero boldly argued for a “natural history” of Roman oratory that downplayed Greek influence. In turn, the early imperial historian Velleius Paterculus, not unlike the Kokinwakashû Prefaces, envisioned a universal psychology of literary production.

Keywords:   literary history, history of poetry, eloquence, oratory, rhetoric, Florilegium of Cherished Airs, Kaifûsô, Kokinwakashû, Cicero, Brutus, Velleius Paterculus

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