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Symbolism and Linguistic Semantics. Some Questions (and Confusions) from Late Antique Neoplatonism up to Eriugena

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The notion of 'symbol' in Eriugena's writing is far from clear. It has an ambiguous semantic connection with other terms such as 'signification', 'figure', 'allegory', 'veil', 'agalma', 'form', 'shadow', 'mystery' and so on. This paper aims to explore into the origins of such a semantic ambiguity, already present in the texts of the pseudo-Dionysian corpus which Eriugena translated and commented upon. In the probable Neoplatonic sources of this corpus, the Greek term symbolon shares some aspects of its meaning with other words inherited from the ancient tradition, such as synthēma , eikōn , homoiotēs. Some of them, such as eikōn and homoiotēs, belong to the field of images and are associated with linguistic semantics in the Neoplatonic commentaries not only to Plato but also to Aristotle's logical works. Among the late ancient Neoplatonists, particular attention is paid to Proclus and to his use of the term agalma. In fact, the textual history of this word seems to be a privileged perspective from which to reconstruct the Neoplatonic semantic blending of symbol and image, as well as the main role played by linguistic issues in this conflation.

Affiliations: 1: Università di Bologna


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