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The Call of Classical Literature in the Romantic Age$
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K. P. Van Anglen and James Engell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474429641

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474429641.001.0001

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Gibbon, Virgil, and the Victorians: Appropriating the Matter of Rome and Renovating the Epic Career

Gibbon, Virgil, and the Victorians: Appropriating the Matter of Rome and Renovating the Epic Career

Chapter:
(p.313) Chapter 12 Gibbon, Virgil, and the Victorians: Appropriating the Matter of Rome and Renovating the Epic Career
Source:
The Call of Classical Literature in the Romantic Age
Author(s):

Edward Adams

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474429641.003.0013

This chapter proposes that the critical and popular triumph of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88) displaced Virgil’s Aeneid as the primary influence upon subsequent imaginings of Rome. More broadly, it holds that Gibbon’s narrative of decline became the dominant paradigm for numerous historians, poets, and novelists who together formed an increasingly self-conscious tradition of Romantic, Victorian, and Modernist narratives of epic decline beyond Rome. The chapter traces Gibbon’s shaping of his history, from its overall narrative structure down to its balanced sentences, with Virgilian epic in mind, but also argues that he systematically rationalized Virgil—eschewing, for example, in medias res, episodic structure, verse, and, above all, the consoling myth of eternity. It concludes with case studies of subsequent writers looking critically to Gibbon as Gibbon had to Virgil—with emphasis upon representative figures from John Ruskin and Henry Adams to H. G. Wells and Isaac Asimov.

Keywords:   decline, epic, history, Virgil, Gibbon, Rome

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