Flying with the immortals
Reaching for the sky in classical and Renaissance poetics
in Conversations
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Poets take flight for an immortality of fame in the heavens, whether experienced in fancy by their own living selves, posthumously in the praises of other writers, or by proxy in the fictional flights of characters in their works. Ovid’s flight of fame in the epilogue to the Metamorphoses is a summation of previous poetic tradition, including Horace’s aspirations to undying fame, imagined in Odes 2.20 as flight in the form of a swan, and Ennius’ posthumous flight on the lips of men. Aspirations to flight are experienced as risky. In Odes 4.2 Horace warns against attempting Pindaric flights. Mythological high-fliers who come crashing down, Daedalus and Phaethon, are figures for poets’ anxieties about the chances of immortalizing themselves in flights of sublimity. The classical sources inform Spenser’s celebration of the deceased Sir Philip Sidney in ‘The Ruines of Time’, combining classical and Christian themes of ascent. The chapter closes with readings of Astolfo’s journey to the moon in cantos 34 and 35 of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Milton’s reworking of Ariosto’s Valley of Lost Things on the moon in the Paradise of Fools in Paradise Lost 3, a place of failed Satanic ascents in counterpoint with the poet Milton’s own aspirations to poetic and spiritual flight. Comparative attention is also given to a visual depiction of the apotheosis of poetry, Ingres’ ‘Apotheosis of Homer’.


Classical and Renaissance intertextuality


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