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Classical Epic Tradition

John Kevin Newman

Publication Year: 2003

The literary epic and critical theories about the epic tradition are traced from Aristotle and Callimachus through Apollonius, Virgil, and their successors such as Chaucer and Milton to Eisenstein, Tolstoy, and Thomas Mann. Newman's revisionist critique will challenge all scholars, students, and general readers of the classics, comparative literature, and western literary traditions.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

DURING Michaelmas Term 1946 Maurice Bowra lectured at five in the afternoon in Wadham College Hall on the history of epic poetry. Europe was moving into a hard winter, and Oxford into night, but from the speaker's lectern light fell through the gathering gloom ...

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I. A Map of the Terrain

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pp. 3-36

The classical epic tradition begins for us with Homer, and there are times when the reader of Homer, confronted by the inexhaustible riches which the Iliad and the Odyssey contain, is tempted to believe that the rest of European literature is merely a commentary on the first of its masters. ...

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II. Aristotle, Callimachus and the Ancient Critical Tradition

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pp. 37-72

The incomplete state of Aristotle's Poetics has never hampered dogmatic interpretation of the master's teaching.1 Sharing the fate of the rest of his work, it has become over the centuries a repository of authoritarian doctrine which has been more often used to bludgeon originality than encourage it. ...

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III. Apollonius Rhodius

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pp. 73-103

The three accounts we possess of Apollonius' life agree in making him the disciple of Callimachus. His epic Argonautica therefore acquires major significance as the first example, after Callimachus' own Hecale, of the direction that the new Alexandrian epic would follow.1 ...

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IV. Virgil

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pp. 104-187

The Alexandrian tradition passed to Rome, to a quite different civilization, more primitive and barbarous in many ways, more vigorous, more comic, more aware of manifest destiny. It was from this shadowed, refracted, often paradoxically elusive and imprecise culture that Europe, ...

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V. The Latin Epic after Virgil: Ovid to Statius

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pp. 188-243

The age that followed that of Augustus was preoccupied with its literary status, and usually convinced that it had come down in the world. In Rome itself, the causae corruptae eloquentiae were one of the burning questions of the day, as the works dedicated to them by Tacitus and Quintilian, ...

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VI. The Critical Failure: Dante and Petrarch

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pp. 244-292

The role of the literary critic is to maintain awareness of the resources of the literary tradition, and this function was well enough understood in Alexandria,1 especially in those early days when critic and creative artist were one. Unfortunately, the critic too often divorces himself ...

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VII: The Italian Tradition

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pp. 293-338

Boccaccio composed the Teseida delle nozze di Emilia expressly to fill a gap noted by Dante in Italian literature. There was no poem which dealt with the theme of arms.2 Finished probably by 1341, the youthful epic intended to answer this challenge occupies twelve books, and as many lines as the Aeneid. ...

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VIII. The English Tradition: Chaucer and Milton

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pp. 339-398

In spite of its geographical isolation across the misty waters of the Channel, England has not been lacking in feeling for the classical tradition. It is nevertheless necessary to understand just how paradoxical this feeling is. Drenched with showers and soot, pushing with his umbrella couchant...

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IX. The Modern Epic—I: Eisenstein and Pudovkin

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pp. 399-447

What then of the tradition we have ourselves inherited? Can epic be a concern of modern man at this remove from its first beginnings, and in an age when the attention span is probably shorter than it ever was even in Alexandria? These questions are to be answered by asking another: ...

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X. The Modern Epic—II: Tolstoy and Thomas Mann

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pp. 448-514

The poetic that unites such diverse figures as Apollonius Rhodius and Eisenstein runs the risk of losing all cogency. If its principles are so loose as to accommodate such strange bedfellows, can it have any critical fidelity? ...

Glossary of Chritical Terms

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pp. 515-534

Select Bibliography

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pp. 535-552


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pp. 553-566

E-ISBN-13: 9780299105136
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299105143

Publication Year: 2003