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Erasmus And The New Philological Method

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  1. Read the text and find the answers to the following questions:

· What novel philological procedure appeared before the Reformation?

· What was Erasmus’ contribution to philological studies?

· What is the difficulty in interpreting the literature of the past?

· What is the right way to appreciate the literature of another country and time?



During the time of Erasmus just before and at the start of the Reformation, the new philological method was applied to the editing and interpretation of the Bible. This was a novel procedure. Previously, the Latin text had been interpreted in light of the usages of the medieval church, and a number of words were interpreted on the assumption that they reflected the meaning given to these words in the technical language of the church. Erasmus first demonstrated that the text used in the accepted version of the Vulgate was not actually the original version. Furthermore, he not only showed that even the corrected Latin version was often misleading when compared to the original, but attempted to show that the sense of the words with medieval meanings was often rather different when they were interpreted in the context of the contemporary language of Greco-Roman antiquity. In the various prefaces of his text of the New Testament he had to defend himself against those who belittled his grammatical endeavors and wished to preserve the traditional text, regardless of any arguments about its validity. Regardless of the theological implications, what he means is that it is only on the basis of a sound philological understanding of a text that it can be properly interpreted.

The ultimate goal of philology understood by Erasmus was clearly expressed many centuries later by the great Milman Parry: “The literature of every country and of every time is understood as it ought to be only by the author and his contemporaries. Between him and them there exists a common stock of experience which enables the author to mention an object or to express an idea with the certainty that his audience will imagine the same object and will grasp the subtleties of his idea... The task, therefore, of one who lives in another age and wants to appreciate that work correctly consists precisely in recovering the varied information and the complexes of ideas which the author assumed to be the natural property of his audience." (The Making of Homeric Verse, 1971).

Thus philology is the vehicle by which one attempts to arrive at the understanding of the past.



the Vulgate – Вульгата, латинский перевод Библии, осуществленный блаженным Иеронимом (4-5 век)

the New Testament – Новый Завет

on the assumption – исходя из

belittle – преуменьшать, умалять

sound – прил.правильный, здравый; тщательный (об анализе, исследовании и т.д.)

appreciate – воспринимать; ценить, понимать ценность

subtlety – тонкость, тонкое различие


  1. Look through the text again and find words and constructions you may use in your professional discourse (scientific terms etc.). Translate and memorize them.
  2. Find the transcription of the following words and practise pronouncing them: previously, medieval, antiquity, author.
  3. Make up a plan of the text.
  4. Decide whether the following statements are true or false according to the text:

· Erasmus’ research of the New Testament was highly praised.

· According to Erasmus, the key to proper interpretation of a text is philological analysis.

· Erasmus proved that the Vulgate was absolutely different from the Greek original.



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