We currently have several questions about auhorial-intent, for example,
- How much weight is given to authors' intentions in literary analysis? and
- How much weight should we give authors' declarations of their intent after the fact?.
Some of these questions assume that statements by the author about his or her intentions are available. However, for most of the history of literature, I think such statements are not available. (The examples in the other questions are about 20th- or 21st-century literature, though older examples can probably be found elsewhere.)
When all an author has left behind are his literary works, and we have no letters, diaries or other sources of contemporary statements about his or her own works, how can a reader ascertain that he or she has identified the author's intent?