Epic and Epoch: Essays on the Interpretation and History of a Genre

By Steven M. Oberhelman; Van Kelly et al. | Go to book overview

Toppling from Mount Olympus:
The Romantic Hero

Allan H. Pasco

Some basic assumptions within a society are so diffused, so taken for granted that the people making up the society never even think to formulate them, probably because the paradigms of principles and values on which they build their lives are so pervasive as to be invisible. These may include "assumptions … about the nature of reality, about the organization of experience, about the function of language and its capacity to express reality, about the operations of society and the kinds and strengths of the pressures it exerts" (Sullivan 1983, 49). When we read the works of a former age, we need to identify what thoughts, influences, inclinations constitute undeclared givens. We need to focus on what is most often only implicitly present. Only then can we make out the basic, unstated, perhaps unperceived impulses of the artist. Without such insight, we are likely to misread the work. There are many examples: Boccaccio's tale of Gualtieri and Griselda, which as Enrico de' Negri has pointed out, was long misunderstood by a public unacquainted with the book of Job, or, for a different kind of example, the belief that the child of the husband will bear the traits of the woman's first lover in Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin (1867). When Thérèse discovers she is pregnant, she is terrified that her child will resemble Camille, the husband

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