In this wide-ranging meditation on the nature and purpose of hermeneutics, Gerald L. Bruns argues that hermeneutics is not merely a contemporary theory but an extended family of questions about understanding and interpretation that have multiple and conflicting histories going back to before the beginning of writing. What does it mean to understand a riddle, an action, a concept, a law, an alien culture, or oneself? Bruns expands our sense of the horizons of hermeneutics by situating its basic questions against a background of different cultural traditions and philosophical topics. He discusses, for example, the interpretation of oracles, the silencing of the muses and the writing of history, the quarrel between philosophy and poetry, the canonization of sacred texts, the nature of allegorical exegesis, rabbinical midrash, the mystical exegesis of the Qur'an, the rise of literalism and the individual interpreter, and the nature of Romantic hermeneutics. Dealing with thinkers ranging from Socrates to Luther to Wordsworth to Ricoeur, Bruns also ponders several basic dilemmas about the nature of hermeneutical experience, the meaning of tradition, the hermeneutical function of narrative, and the conflict between truth and freedom in philosophy and literature. His eloquent book demonstrates the continuing power of hermeneutical thinking to open up questions about the world and our place in it.