When Festus said to Paul: ‘Much learning doth make thee mad’, Paul's answer was the instinctive defence of a scholar under attack: ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness’. Whether poets were mad or sober has been a question for critics ever since Gorgias pointed out the incompatibility; it is less frequently debated why scholars unlike poets should need to affirm their sobriety. I should like to concentrate on one aspect of ancient criticism, that of problem-solving, in order, as I hope, to put into a different perspective the whole business of what Alexandrians did with texts. Inevitably perhaps it will be argued that I am neglecting the vast philological and lexical labours of the Alexandrians and failing to appreciate their subtlety in textual criticism. I hope that my criticisms will not be construed in this way; yet I believe that the Alexandrians have been idealized and their critical attitudes over-simplified. By taking a problem from antiquity and setting it in its context, I will be trying to give what I consider to be a more correct perspective to the labours of our ancient predecessors.
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