Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
It would be difficult, then, to imagine styles more contrasted than those of these two equally ancient and equally epic texts. On the one hand, externalized, uniformly illuminated phenomena, at a definite time and in a definite place, connected together without lacunae in a perpetual foreground; thoughts and feeling completely expressed; events taking place in leisurely fashion and with very little of suspense.
Auberbach opens his book contrasting the way reality is represented in Homer's Odyssey and in the Bible. Auberbach contends that each representation of reality reflects how the two different societies—Greek and Hebrew—viewed the world. As he notes in the quote above, the Greeks were concerned with external descriptions of reality that placed people concretely in a particular setting at a particular time. Thoughts and feelings were articulated fully through external dialogue. We learn the inside through the outside. Homer has no interest in keeping his audience in suspense.
On the other hand, the externalization of only so much of the phenomena as is necessary for the purpose of the narrative, all else left in obscurity; the decisive points of the narrative alone are emphasized, what lies between is nonexistent; time and place are undefined and call for interpretation; thoughts and feeling remain unexpressed, are only suggested by the silence and the fragmentary speeches; the whole, permeated with the most unrelieved suspense and directed toward a single goal ...
Looking at the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, Auberbach highlights the differences between it and Homer's style of presenting reality. The Bible, Auerbach argues, does very little to place us in space or time, emphasizes only the highlights of a story without the digressions of a Homeric epic, and gives us only fragments of information, leaving us in great suspense.
The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.
Auberbach makes the point that the goals of the two different texts differ: Homer meaning to please us and the Bible meaning to teach us the "truth." These different goals dictate the differences in how the two represent reality. If Homer's stories are told for the pleasure of the story, the Bible's stories are merely vehicles meant to convince us of God's presence in the universe. This underlines Auberbach's major point: social realities in different cultures lead to different forms of mimesis.
It is still a long way to a common life of mankind on earth, but the goal begins to be visible. And it is most concretely visible now in the unprejudiced, precise, interior and exterior representation of the random moment in the lives of different people.
Each chapter emphasizes a different form of mimesis or representation of reality, but the last chapter, on Virginia Woolf, brings us up to almost the minute of Auerbach's writing of his book. He sees in her stream-of-consciousness technique, with its focus on the minute details of everyday life, evidence of human's increased understanding of their commonalities and of the many ordinary threads that bind us together in the modern world.