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.
This chapter offers a phenomenology of the waiting body, which is also the body we are waiting for. Through an attentiveness to the body’s extremities, particularly its hands, the chapter finds a way, with Dante’s pilgrim, out of hell and into a new, if fragile, tactile resilience. Philosophers Martin Heidegger, Karmen MacKendrick and Jean-Luc Nancy add their voices, and hands, to a handful of lyric poets, including Antonia Pozzi, for whom the body is never something to be grasped, though it cannot fail to touch.
Shakespeare’s Roman plays, republicanism and identity in Samson Agonistes
This chapter analyses Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’ as a conversation with Shakespeare’s Roman plays, tracing a pattern of allusion to the Shakespearean suicides Antony, Cleopatra and Brutus to deepen our understanding of Samson’s final act. This writerly conversation is a political one: the chapter builds on the argument of Milton and the Politics of Public Speech, comprehending the seventeenth-century public sphere in Arendtian terms, as a revival of the Greek polis or Roman republic, centred on public speech as political action. For Milton, poetry is a form of oratory, and drama, the art-form of democratic Athens, both represents and embodies public speech. Pointing out that groups disenfranchised in the classical state became metaphors for political disempowerment in early modern polemic (whether terms of abuse to delegitimise opponents or protesting political oppression), the chapter uncovers a strong republican undertow in ideas of effeminacy in Shakespeare and Milton, and brings a newly political perspective to their treatments of gender and sexuality. Yet Samson’s defining act, while fulfilling the republican ideal of selfless public service, and recalling the Senecan view of suicide as the ultimate assertion of individual liberty, goes beyond the masculinist terms of classical republicanism. For Milton draws on Shakespeare’s figuration of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s joint suicide as a ‘transcendent marriage’ to depict the regenerate Samson as androgyne in his union with God. The chapter at once reveals the availability to early modern readers of distinctively republican subcurrents in Shakespeare and illuminates the ways Milton justifies Samson’s suicide in a Christian framework.
For educated poets and readers in the Renaissance, classical literature was as familiar and accessible as the work of their compatriots and contemporaries – often more so. Their creative response to it was not a matter of dry scholarship or inert imitation, but rather of engagement in an ancient and lively conversation which was still unfolding, both in the modern languages and in new Latin verse. This volume seeks to recapture that sense of intimacy and immediacy, as scholars from both sides of the modern disciplinary divide come together to eavesdrop on the conversations conducted through allusion and intertextual play in works from Petrarch to Milton and beyond, and offer their perspectives on the intermingling of ancient and modern strains in the reception of the classical past and its poetry. The essays include illuminating discussions of Ariosto, Du Bellay, Spenser, Marlowe, the anonymous drama Caesars Revenge, Shakespeare and Marvell, and look forward to the grand retrospect of Shelley’s ‘Adonais’. Together, they help us to understand how poets across the ages have thought about their relation to their predecessors, and about their own contributions to what Shelley would call ‘that great poem, which all poets… have built up since the beginning of the world’.
Reaching for the sky in classical and Renaissance poetics
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’.
Diptych and virtual diptych in Marvell, Milton, Du Bellay and others
This chapter offers access to the kinds of conversation with antiquity made possible by instances of parallel Latin and vernacular composition in certain early modern poets. A substantial subset of Marvell’s poetry is in Latin; and of particular interest are instances in which the poet writes Latin and English versions of the same poem. Ros and Hortus now ask to be considered alongside ‘On a Drop of Dew’ and ‘The Garden’ as parallel and cross-referential compositions in which Marvell plays with, and thematises, his dual literary competence in English and in Latin. These are special cases; but the idea of ‘diptych’ composition offers a distinctive way of getting a purchase on literary bilingualism at large. In Marvell’s time, the matter is rendered most fully tangible in Milton’s double book of Poems English and Latin. However, the chapter’s midsection takes the idea of the cross-linguistic diptych in a different and hypothetical direction: what if one were to imagine a Latin ‘twin’ for every vernacular poem in the classical tradition, even in the 99% of cases in which no such twin exists? Such a thought-experiment finds traction in the case of the famously Latinate English of Paradise Lost; with an added twist in that translators were not lacking who took it upon themselves to do what Milton did not do, and to render the epic’s Latinate and Virgilian verse into post-virgilian Latin. The final pages briefly extend the conversation to the poetry of Ronsard and Du Bellay a century earlier in France.