Classical Mythology in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser

Classical Mythology in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser

Classical Mythology in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser

Classical Mythology in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser

Excerpt

This study began as an attempt to supplement the work done by Dr. Alice E. Sawtelle in her The Sources of Spenser's Classical Mythology. As a guide and as groundwork, her book has been of very great assistance. It became apparent, however, that the subject demanded fuller treatment than she was able to give it. The range of Spenser's mythology was found to be broader and more varied than that indicated by her dictionary. There was need of a general estimate of the significance of classic myth in Spenser's poetry. There was also the need to reëxamine the whole question of the sources which he used. On this subject Dr. Sawtelle said: "Although in certain minor details he may have been indebted to intermediate authorities, like Natalis Comes . . . or to other poets of the Middle Ages, yet there is every evidence, from the paraphrasing of the Greek and Latin and from the vital, original spirit breathing through the mythological passages, that he drew his inspiration directly from the fountain-heads" (pages 8, 9). That Spenser did go to the fountain-heads, especially Latin ones, is quite plain. I have tried to show in some detail his indebtedness to the classics for mythical material and poetic phrase. But I have also, I hope, established the importance of other sources as well; and among these the books of Boccaccio and Natalis Comes stand first. Spenser is indebted to them for a great deal more than minor details. They supplied him, in large measure, with the material of myth; they shaped his conception of its meaning and its possibilities, and they were, in many instances, the media through which he found his way back to the fountain-heads. Source study of Spenser is a complex matter in which the certainty of final conclusions is hard to attain; but in the matter of classical mythology it seems clear that his sources were much more numerous and various than Dr. Sawtelle indicated, including, in addition to the . . .

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