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The disciplinary divide between classics and modern literary studies sets up an artificial boundary, which can obscure our view both of what poets are doing and of how they perceive their role. Such compartmentalisation is alien to the bilingual cultures of Renaissance Europe, where Latin was still a medium for prolific literary composition, and where ancient texts rediscovered and edited by humanist scholars appeared in print with the shock of the new. Though acutely aware of the historical distance between themselves and the ancients, educated readers and writers also experienced a sense of paradoxical contemporaneity with classical authors, often expressed through the common trope whereby an ancient poet is imagined as raised from the dead through imitation or translation, or present as friend and teacher in the pages of their books. The trope may seem naively ahistoricist, but the ‘revival’ of Anacreon in the verse of Herrick and Stanley’s royalist coterie during the English Civil War illustrates how central it can be to the poet’s engagement with contemporary politics, and thus to a fully responsive historicist reading. Petrarch, with his letters to the ancients, is often seen as the origin of the period’s uncanny sense of intimacy with classical ghosts, but he was joining a conversation consciously begun by Seneca. Senecan intertextuality also pervades the ‘Ascent of Mont Ventoux’ more deeply than has been recognised, suggesting that the extent even of Petrarch’s engagement with classical writers has been underestimated.


Classical and Renaissance intertextuality


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