This article explores the role of Athenian literary prizes in the development of ancient literary criticism. It examines the views of a range of critics (including Plato, Aristotle, Longinus, historians, biographers, lexicographers, commentators, and the self-critical poets of Old Comedy), and identifies several recurrent themes. The discussion reveals that ideas about what was good or bad in literature were not directly affected by the award of prizes; in fact the ancient critics display what is called an ““anti-prize”” mentality. The article argues that this ““anti-prize”” mentality is not, as is often thought, a product of intellectual developments in the fourth century BC. It is suggested that the devaluation of prizes is actually a contemporary, integral feature of prize-awarding culture in general. This article draws on recent approaches from cultural sociology to offer some conclusions about the way in which prizes function in popular and critical discourse.
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