Adonis and literary immortality in pastoral elegy
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In the minor tradition of lament for a fellow poet which springs from the influential yet neglected Lament for Bion, the theme of literary immortality is closely bound up with the self-conscious, and self-reflexively foregrounded, practice of poetic imitation. Beginning with the Lament for Bion itself, we trace an intricate pattern of allusion to Bion’s Lament for Adonis and Theocritus’ fifteenth idyll, which infuses the grief-laden poem with an underlying optimism by evoking the resurrection of Adonis, celebrated annually in the Adonia festival, and implying that Bion will enjoy a similar immortality. The Lament presents its own imitative poetics as the channel of this ongoing life. Later poets working in this tradition not only imitate the Lament for Bion and follow the conventions it sets, but also understand the significance of its intertextual methods, and use similar means to the same end. This is shown through close readings of three examples: Statius’ Silvae 2.7 (celebrating the birthday of the dead Lucan); Spenser’s ‘Astrophel’ (on the death of Sir Philip Sidney); and Shelley’s ‘Adonais’ (on the death of John Keats). The subtextual presence of the Adonia in ‘Astrophel’ forges a link to the Garden of Adonis in The Faerie Queene, perhaps reflecting that episode’s relation to Mary Sidney’s mourning for her brother. In ‘Adonais’, meanwhile, Adonis’ resurrection is a fundamental subtext throughout, functioning as a symbol of nature’s seasonal renewal and of poetic immortality conferred through imitation, and necessitating reconsideration of Shelley’s supposed ‘Platonic turn’ at the end of the poem.

Conversations

Classical and Renaissance intertextuality

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