The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age

By Joseph M. Levine | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
History and Theory

1

The battle of the books had gradually narrowed the focus in the old quarrel between the ancients and the moderns to one commanding issue. Long before Bentley's career concluded in derision, it was clear that the controversy was above all about history, about how to read and understand past authors, and about how to recapture and represent past customs, institutions, and events. The struggle between rhetoric and philology, between the critical standards of the poets and men of the world on the one hand and of the scholars and antiquaries on the other, was from this perspective really an argument about the respective claims of two different and perhaps incompatible ways of doing history. And so it is not surprising that both the ancients and the moderns wrote and deliberated about history during the battle of the books, about the meaning and method of getting at the past, and about what they thought had transpired in ancient and modern times. Thus was added a further dimension to the conflict.

In the next pages, we shall take a look at some of these works in order to see how they both reflected and deepened the issues that were at stake in the quarrel. Temple had taken up history as one of the traditional humanities and defended the ancients there, as in all classical literature, for their eloquence and practical value in furnishing examples to men of affairs. Herodotus and Livy were like Homer and Virgil, supreme in their own domain, models of form and content till the end of time. The best a modern could hope to do was to imitate, that is to say, to adapt the style and shape of the ancient works to later history, though necessarily at a lower level. Wotton had of course objected. Here, as elsewhere, he paid his respects to the ancients, but he tried to diminish the supreme

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The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Literature 11
  • Chapter One - Wotton Vs. Temple 13
  • Chapter Two - Bentley Vs. Christ Church 47
  • Chapter Three - Stroke and Counterstroke 85
  • Chapter Four - The Querelle 121
  • Chapter Five - Ancient Greece and Modern Scholarship 148
  • Chapter Six - Pope's Iliad 181
  • Chapter Seven - Pope and the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns 218
  • Chapter Eight - Bentley's Milton 245
  • Part Two - History 265
  • Chapter Nine - History and Theory 267
  • Chapter Ten - Ancients 291
  • Chapter Eleven - Moderns 327
  • Chapter Twelve - Ancients and Moderns 374
  • Conclusion 414
  • Index 419
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