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“The Raven” as an Elegiac Paraclausithyron CHRISTOPHER F. S. MALIGEC “T he Raven” has spellbound readers and critics for generations with its ominous raven, the lost Lenore, and the narrator’s descent into self-torment and madness, not to mention its haunting meter and rhyme scheme. It has also inspired many to search for its literary origins.1 One previously unnoticed avenue to an enriched understanding of “The Raven” is to consider it as a type of elegiac paraclausithyron, a Greek (and Roman) poetic form consisting of the lament of an excluded, locked-out lover (exclusus amator) at the shut door of his beloved.2 Poe’s knowledge of Greek and Latin is well documented,3 so he probably would have been familiar with the paraclausithyron, which was widely known in Greek and Roman love literature—appearing not only in elegy but in genres as diverse as the lyric, epigram, idyll, pastoral, comedy, and mime.4 For Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid, the paraclausithyron was central to love poetry. In fact, Ovid saw poetry as the invention of the lover singing for admittance to his lady ad clausas fores (at the shut door), and Propertius made the door a synonym of love itself.5 Characteristics of the Paraclausithyron T he Greek paraclausithyron originated in the komastic song of drunken revelry,6 but as it developed into a literary form, the lover’s sorrow, helplessness, and self-pitying despair replaced the original rowdiness.7 Paraclausithyra contain at least some of the following topoi: 1. The exclusus amator’s passage from a symposium through the streets to the door of his beloved, where he is rejected and laments 2. His drunkenness 3. Torches 4. The lover’s vigil at the door 5. Bleak weather (wind, rain, snow) 6. The lover’s pleading and threatening 7. His complaints of suffering and his tears 8. His verses written on the doorway C  2009 Washington State University P O E S T U D I E S , VOL. 42, 2009 87 C H R I S T O P H E R F . S . M A L I G E C 9. A garland, worn on the lover’s head and often left at the door as a testimony of his vigil.8 The Romans added five main topoi: 10. The personification of the door: the lover addresses not the beloved but the door itself, as if it were a living being, in the hope of persuading it to open. The door is central in Roman paraclausithyra, probably because it held great importance as a religious symbol.9 11. The use of Gebetsparodie, a parodic appropriation of Roman prayer form, in the address to the door or other obstacles10 12. The treatment of the door as if it were a deity or an altar11 13. The concept of furtivus amor (furtive love), in which the beloved is not a free agent. As a result, the figure of the custos (guardian) who watches over the puella (the beloved)12 for a leno (owner) or a vir (husband) is a common, even stereotyped, element, especially in the elegy. As Roman elegy already made use of furtivus amor (in its love triangles), the elegiac paraclausithyron had to take on this same characteristic.13 14. The exclusion of the lover (thus the term “exclusus amator”), in contrast to the Greek paraclausithyron’s two possible endings: being locked out or admitted. This is probably because the locked door is a powerful symbol of unattainment, unfulfillment and lamentation. Paraclausithyron Topoi in “The Raven” “T he Raven” contains versions of the following topoi: 1. The procession through the streets The possibly implicit funeral procession to the beloved’s tomb (her new residence). Note that not all elements need appear for the poem to be considered a paraclausithyron.14 2. Drunkenness Perhaps the lover had been drinking before; later on he wishes to “quaff this kind nepenthe.” (PT, 85) 3. Torches “And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor” (PT, 81) “the lamp-light gloated o’er . . . the lamp-light gloating o’er” (PT, 84) 4. The vigil at the door “Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird...


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