Homer, Ossian, and Virgil
THE TERM "ART-EPIC" did not become common currency in England until well along into the nineteenth century, until the theories of the Grimm brothers began to infiltrate literary criticism. Nevertheless, Romantic theorists were of course well aware that the modern epic, far from being the product of pure spontaneity, involved imaginative meditation and conscious craftsmanship. If they tried to show why a poem like Paradise Lost deserved its fame, they did not fail to mention that Milton had been an omnivorous reader, that he had pondered long the riddle of the cosmos, and that he had chosen and fashioned with extreme care the fable that appeared best suited to his over-all purpose. Furthermore, in the selection of imagery, language, and rhythm, he was believed to have proceeded with great circumspection and deliberation. "Milton," observed Wordsworth, "talks of 'pouring easy his unpremeditated verse.' It would be harsh, untrue, and odious, to say there is anything like cant in this, but it is not true to the letter, and tends to mislead. I could point out to you five hundred passages in Milton upon which labour has been bestowed."1To about the same degree, Paradise Lost and the Divine Comedy as well appeared to be both spontaneous and "conscious."
No such generalization could be made at that time about pagan epics. These poems belonged to various times, various nations,