9780393331172 198

Backing into the Future

The Classical Tradition and Its Renewal


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"Prospective readers puzzled by the somewhat enigmatic title Backing into the Future may well come to the conclusion that it is a reference to the amusing film produced in 1985, called Back to the Future. But in fact the source of the title is much older. The phrase is based on a number of expressions found in ancient Greek literary texts: the chorus's description of its bewilderment in Sophocles's Oedipus the King, for example -- 'not seeing what is here nor what is behind' -- or the characterization of an older man in Homer's Odyssey as 'the one who sees what is in front and what is behind.' The natural reaction of the modern reader is to understand the first of these expressions as 'not seeing the present nor the past,' and the second as 'who sees the future and the past.' But the Greek word opiso, which means literally 'behind' or 'back,' refers not to the past but to the future. The early Greek imagination envisaged the past and the present as in front of us – we can see them. The future, invisible, is behind us. Only a few very wise men can see what is behind them; some of these men, like the blind prophet Tiresias, have been given this privilege by the gods. The rest of us, though we have our eyes, are walking blind, backwards into the future." --from the Foreword

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