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Chapter Three studies ‘the word’ by merging two fields of association: first, the agglomeration of human labours, social practices, cultural values, and codified grammatical systems that made possible and supported the acquisition of Latin; second, the inhuman order of the ‘verbum Dei’. Each of these fields of association has, as its ultimate aim, the transformation of individual lives. It is under the rubric of this shared objective that I bring them together here. The first half of the chapter explores aspects of the medieval Latin grammatical tradition and its early modern afterlives. My goal is to make some seventh-century wranglings on the subject of the Latin case system serve as a point of entry into later fashions of prose style, and into the pedagogical disciplines of systematic imitation that were developed to teach Ciceronian Latin to schoolboys. The second half of the chapter explores a range of texts associated with St Paul, St Augustine, and Martin Luther in order to characterize the linguistic and spiritual stakes of medieval and early modern Britain’s absorption into Rome.
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.
This chapter argues that Plutarch’s moralising works (especially the Progress in Virtue and Parallel Lives) show signs of having been significantly influenced by Roman exemplary ethics. Plutarch brings Roman ideas about exemplary ethics and imitation to bear on the Greek philosophical tradition, and his critique of Platonic mimesis is emboldened by the critical Roman framework which he must have encountered as a lived Roman tradition, not just in the Latin literature that he may have read as a source for his Roman lives and other writings, but also in day-to-day experiences with his Roman friends, such as Sosius Senecio, to whom he dedicates both Progress in Virtue and the Parallel Lives.
This introductory chapter sets out the terms of engagement for what follows: it defines Latin erotic elegy and its chaste rewriting by Petrarch; and it problematises Thomas Greene’s influential analysis of Renaissance imitatio. It establishes the broad research questions considered throughout this study and discusses the previous literature from which this book has developed. Two sub-sections engage with the theoretical interventions this project makes in terms of dialogic reception methodology and in reading problematically ‘lascivious’ verse. The first reconfigures Greene’s narrative of cultural loss as something more positive as borne out by the texts under consideration, and also discusses the question of what allows us to connect one text with another. The second sub-section explores the term ‘erotic’ as applied to the poetry read in this book, its problematic relationships to literary morality and pornography, and asks what the cultural potential of the erotic might be in each historical period under review.
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