Date of this Version
The Oxford Handbook of British Poetry, 1660-1800
Eighteenth-century epic is often said to have declined after Milton’s accomplishments in Paradise Lost. Because no major eighteenth-century poets wrote sober, “original,” formal verse epics, the period is envisioned as an emblematic instance of generic death. This chapter argues for a reappraisal. After noting recent challenges to this understanding of the genre and the period, I propose an alternate vision of the epic’s Restoration and eighteenth-century development. The period saw not a “decline” of epic but a consequential shift in how the genre was understood: from a notion of epic based on Virgil (epic as a “heroic” handbook for princes) to an understanding of epic centered on Homer (epics as lofty portraits of primitive, distant cultures). This transition informed translations and imitations, sober-spirited poems and mock-heroics, verse and prose pieces, and critical commentaries. Throughout the period, however, the epic remained closely associated with meditations on British “manners.”
This material was originally published in The Oxford Handbook of British Poetry, 1660-1800 edited by Jack Lynch, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit http://global.oup.com/academic/rights.
Foy, Anna M. (2016). Epic. In Jack Lynch, The Oxford Handbook of British Poetry, 1660-1800, (pp. 473-494). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Date Posted: 24 January 2017