Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
Chapter Two studies how Rome figures in shifting conceptions of the problem of the self. The chapter’s emphasis is on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers and texts, ranging from Edmund Spenser and John Donne to Sir Thomas Wilson and John Milton. English perspectives on Rome, however, were mediated to a significant extent by continental writers such as Petrarch, Joachim Du Bellay, and Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. Writers trained within (and in Petrarch’s case, actively forging) the traditions of humanist inquiry celebrated their commitment to returning ad fontes. In practice, however, their engagements with a ‘text’ as complex and ramified as Rome risked leaving them endlessly navigating tributary brooks, creeks, streams, and rivers rather than reposing comfortably at the source. The chapter brings together scenes of schooling, staring, and travel in order to study tensions between understandings of the self as being an immured condition of metaphysical finitude, on the one hand, and as being formed via the absorption of capabilities that arrive from the outside, on the other.