Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

By Neville Rogers | Go to book overview

13. Italian Platonics and Epipsychidion

FROM a poem inspired by Nature we pass to a poem inspired by love. Here again we shall see how poetry lurking in deep reserves of thought and feeling was stirred up in Shelley by a situation; here too we can identify the exact moment at which it burst into blaze and here too the necessary afflatus was at first a libertarian breeze. The situation of Emilia Viviani, immured in a Pisan convent pending the choice of a husband by her family, was just the thing to attract the Lockeian liberator; very soon it involved the Education of the Beautiful One in accordance with the ideas of Wieland, Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, and, above all, Plato. Hence came hours of 'studious zeal or love's delight' in which Emilia grew to be the supreme Ariadne, the culminating Woman-symbol of Intellectual Beauty. It is now possible to piece together some unprinted and, in part apparently unnoticed, manuscript scraps relating to Emilia, to Shelley's Italian studies, and to his manner of Platonically enlightening the Beloved which cast much new light on the beginnings of Epipsychidion.

Before we can apprehend the 'minute and remote distinctions of feeling' involved in the delights and torments of this particular Platonic love we must try to be clear about the Platonic basis of Shelley's general views on the sex matters involved. His purpose here was to broaden the basis of contemporary sex-morality by adding to it the best of what he found applicable in Plato. In his Discourse on the Manners of the Ancients Relative to the Subject of Love, a good deal of which is still inaccessible to most readers, he makes quite clear his views about the chief obstacle, Greek homosexuality.1 So far as personal feelings went although he realized the ennobling effects of deeply affectionate relationships between members of his own sex they formed no part of his own aspirations and towards what he called 'the operose and diabolical machination usually believed to accompany them' his feelings were of horror not unmingled with incredulity. His rejection of these ancient 'manners' was, however, not based on his personal pre-

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1
Cf. Jul. vii. 203-9 and the full text privately printed (100 copies) by R. Ingpen in 1931.

-230-

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Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • MANUSCRIPTS xv
  • Bibliography xvii
  • Part One - 'The Wanderings of Careful Thought' 1
  • 1. Shelley's Notebooks: 'Method in his Madness' 1
  • 2. The Mind and Its Path. Philosophy and Symbolism in Shelley's Poetry 15
  • 3. Thought, Feeling, and Symbols. Necessity and the New Birth 24
  • 4. 'Ariadne'. Love and Intellectual Beauty; Virtue and Power 37
  • 5. Daemons and Other 'Monsters of His Thought' 64
  • 6. Boats. Isles 91
  • 7. The Dome. The Eye and the Star. The Philosophic Imagination 105
  • 8. The Veil. Mutability 120
  • 9. The Cave 147
  • 10. The Dream of Life 169
  • Part Two - The Wind, the lyre, and the Labour 195
  • 11. Shelley at Work: A Closer View 195
  • 12. Shelley and the West Wind 211
  • 13. Italian Platonics and Epipsychidion 230
  • 14. 'Ginevra': Emilia to Keats 249
  • 15. Adonais: Keats to Intellectual Beauty and the One 255
  • 16 From Hellas to 'the Triumph of Life' 273
  • 17. Poetry and the Power of Mind 305
  • APPENDIXES 327
  • Appendix I 328
  • Appendix II 329
  • Appendix III 334
  • Appendix IV 339
  • Appendix V 340
  • Index 344
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