Donne's Imagery: A Study in Creative Sources

By Milton Allan Rugoff | Go to book overview

VIII
MYTH AND CLASSICAL STORY

It is hardly necessary to enlarge upon the importance of classical mythology as a source of imaginative embellishment in Elizabethan-Jacobean writing.* The legends of the Gods and human heroes of the ancient world were extraordinarily popular as the subject of verse or prose and for the purpose of illustration and adornment. It was perhaps this very popularity, with its inevitable tendency to stereotype and render stale even the most fanciful of fables and the most inspiring of symbols, that affected Donne. In any case, our evidence seems to indicate that he was definitely reluctant in his verse and absolutely opposed in his prose to making use of those myriad characters and legends without which, some Elizabethan writers seem to have felt, no literary work could be complete. We look in vain in Donne for images from the tales and deeds of figures almost ubiquitous in the literature of his time; from the celebrated legends, for example, of Jove and Europa or Danae, Venus and Adonis, Orpheus and Eurydice, Daphne and Apollo, Diana and Endymion, Philomela, Procne and Tereus, Tarquin and Lucrece, Perseus and Medusa, and, although he mentions them, Hero and Leander, and Pyramus and Thisbe; from Aeneas, Jason and the Golden Fleece, Helen and Paris, Troilus and Cressida,

____________________
*
See, for example, Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry, University of Minnesota Press, 1932.
Miss Beatrice Johnson has attempted to make a case for Donne's interest in such classical matters. The examples she adduces in her paper, "Classical Allusions in the Poetry of Donne" ( PMLA, XLIII, Dec. 1928, 1098-1109), seem to me for the most part casual and therefore unconvincing.

-96-

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Donne's Imagery: A Study in Creative Sources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Acknowledgment 7
  • Contents 9
  • Introduction 11
  • I - The Image and Its Significance 13
  • II - The Nature of the Evidence 20
  • III - III 29
  • IV - Medicine and Alchemy 47
  • V - Geometry and the Circle 64
  • VI - Law Courts and Prisons 74
  • VII - Religion and the Bible 83
  • VIII - Myth and Classical Story 96
  • IX 103
  • X - Domestic Life 113
  • XI - Sports and Games 125
  • XIII - Commerce and Coinage 144
  • XIV - King, State, and War 151
  • XV - Metals and Substances 163
  • XVI - Men and Characteristics 169
  • XVIII - The Heavens 195
  • XIX - Rivers and Seas 201
  • XX - Animals--Real and Fabulous 207
  • Conclusion 215
  • XXI - Comparisons and Interpretations 217
  • Appendix - Table of Sources 247
  • Key to Abbreviation Used in References To Donne's Works 249
  • References to Donne's Works 250
  • Index 267
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