2

Do we always use "more" to compare two things?

Among the various and conflicting interpretations of Aristophanes’ works, there is a general admiration for the poet’s seemingly boundless imaginative power and his habit of allowing the creative human spirit to triumph over all constraints of reality. Critics and scholars across the centuries have equated Aristophanes with the best of the Old Comedy, ignoring other representatives of this particular art, such as Cratinus or Eupolis, partly because only Aristophanes’ comedies have survived in complete form. Aristophanes’ fame eventually waned after his death, but he quickly became central to the Western literary canon. Among the early authors who wrote commentaries on Aristophanes were Photius, the erudite patriarch of Constantinople, and John Tzetzes, the noted encyclopedist. Plato’s attitude toward the comic poet was more ambivalent, but this was probably because of Aristophanes’ devastating portrayal of Socrates in The Clouds.

Source: GALE CONTEXTUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD LITERATURE

Does this context compare Plato with other people who criticize Aristophans? Or does "more" here just come to emphasis and means very?

Which paraphrase is better?

  • 1: Plato’s attitude toward the comic poet was more ambivalent than other.

or

  • 2: Plato’s attitude toward the comic poet was very ambivalent. ??

Source: GALE CONTEXTUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD LITERATURE

5

Offhand I can't think of any contexts where more doesn't carry strong (but perhaps implicit rather than explicit) connotations of "comparison" (with something / someone else that's less).

Unquestionably, the cited example states how ambivalent Plato was by comparison with Photius and John Tzetzes. But all it says is Plato was more ambivalent than them - he might still not be very ambivalent (by comparison with others).


But it's worth pointing out that although I think the comparative form more always carries the "literal" sense of to a greater degree than something else, this isn't the case with the superlative form most. For example,...

1: Thank you! You've been most kind
2: When I lost my job, the bank manager was most helpful
3: Your son is a most promising pupil

In all those cases, it makes more sense to understand most as meaning very, with no particular allusion to "more than any other".


EDIT:
Taking account of points raised in comments, I'd say that in and of itself, more carries no particular implications of very - it's purely a "relative comparative". As I understand it, I can truthfully say Light travels more slowly through water than through air. But that certainly doesn't imply light travels very slowly through water!

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  • I think it's only by implication that Plato's attitude toward Aristophanes was more ambivalent than those of Photius and Tzetzes. It's more about characterizing his (Plato's) commentary as more ambivalent, as opposed to unequivocally in favor of Aristophanes. – user3395 Nov 25 '19 at 14:26
  • I have no idea whether Photius and / or John Tzetzes were "unequivocally in favor" of Aristophanes - but to me the cited text itself doesn't particularly imply that. So far as I'm concerned, all it does is assert that relatively speaking Plato was more ambivalent than them. And your interpretation would completely vanish if we were to include just one extra word, that doesn't really affect my reading (Plato’s attitude ... was even more ambivalent). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 14:33
  • (Oh - not necessarily totally relevant, but here's the evidence that I myself am unequivocally in favor of Aristophanes! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 14:38
  • I didn't say Photius and / or Tzetzes were unequivocally in favor of Aristophanes. I said Plato was more ambivalent than those that were unequivocally in favor of him; those commentators that are described as possessing "a general admiration for the poet’s seemingly boundless imaginative power", and who have "equated Aristophanes with the best of the Old Comedy". What I'm saying is that Plato's commentary was more ambivalent than those. The text mentions Photius and Tzetzes, but it's not specifically them (rather, only by implication) that Plato's commentary is contrasted against. – user3395 Nov 25 '19 at 18:02
  • If by that you mean you think OP's cited text isn't explicitly comparing how ambivalent Plato was specifically by comparison with Photius and Tzetzes, all I can say is I disagree. In other contexts, it's possible more could be used "generically" (without specific reference to particular things/people which are "less") - but per the first sentence in my answer, I can't think of any clear-cut examples of that. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:08

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