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date: 17 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Poe displays deep if selective knowledge of ancient writers, Renaissance and Enlightenment literature, and continental aesthetics. His readings of the classics ranged widely, but he was as likely to have learned about the ancient world from anthologies and encyclopedias as from primary texts. Typical of the magazine culture of the nineteenth century, many of Poe’s allusions and references that sound biblical in fact are either Shakespearean or commonplace expressions of the day. His notions of aesthetics, initially drawn from Schlegel, Byron, and Coleridge, branched out to embrace esoteric and Neoplatonic considerations that he developed in his writings with characteristic originality, including metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls), Renaissance Hermeticism (prominently on display in Usher’s library), and Arabian cosmology (especially in “Al Aaraaf” and “Israfel”). Moving beyond mere source hunting, this essay examines the principal ways—and the ends to which—Poe incorporated key aspects of the Western cultural tradition into his works.

Keywords: Edgar Allan Poe, Western cultural tradition, aesthetics, classical literature, biblical allusions, Shakespeare, American magazine culture, nineteenth-century literature, esotericism, metempsychosis

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