This article fully considers the tradition and function of ancient Greek elegy. It is shown that the elegy uses its own peculiar hexameters existing in a codependent relationship with the elegiac pentameter. The article then addresses ‘the delights of elegy’. It concentrates on the hexameter as combined with the pentameter in the elegiac couplet. Additionally, the formal characteristics of elegy as a genre in the attested phases of Greek literature are explained. The article considers how the genre of elegy shows its capacity for performing the functions of forms that belong to the genres of epic and oracular poetry. There is a remarkably wide range of possibilities for the self-expression of a woman who is singing a lament. The lament of men in their sympotic singing of elegy may be a stylized and representational form of lament. There is a pleasure to be had in the sensuality of lament.
Jamie C. Fumo
This article highlights that ‘Elegy as a pure or self-articulated form did not exist in medieval England; when employed by modern critics with reference to poems such as Pearl or Book of the Duchess, the term is no more than a matter of critical convenience’. After offering its caveat about the nomenclature of elegy, it moves on to echo the thesis about the self-reflexive nature of the genre. However, this reflexivity plays itself out in a tension between a Stoic-Boethian assertion of loss and the creative potential of loss, a potential that yields poetry with a recuperative function. Moreover, the association of poetic identity and the ‘medieval’ more generally, with the temporal constructions of elegy is elaborated. For both Lydgate and Hoccleve, Chaucerian elegy serves as a point of origin for the development of a vernacular poetic identity and a national myth of English poetry.
This article considers whether the activity that we recognize as criticism existed in the literary culture of early Tudor England. Before the appearance of formal poetic defenses and literary treatises in English (an Elizabethan phenomenon associated with Sir Philip Sidney and George Puttenham), English vernacular culture of the early sixteenth century seems to have been devoid of a fully fledged poetics or literary theory. Yet the composite evidence of printed prefaces, various endeavors to translate classical rhetorical terminology, and poetic practice itself in these early decades reveals a series of literary-critical interests that recur in the writing and intellectual history of this period. Literary theory in early Tudor England evolves as it addresses a set of preoccupations that cluster around questions of authorial inventiveness, models of style and vernacular eloquence, the domestication of imported critical terminology, and the agency of readers.
Michael J. Roberts
This article highlights that elegy in the late Roman period was highly adaptable to subject matter, its form serving a variety of purposes, from the martyrdom of St Hippolytus to Christian moral instruction to the later life musings on earlier affairs by the mid-sixth-century Maximianus. The poems of Rutilius Namatianius, Orientius, and Maximianus represent the most ambitious and longest elegies from late antiquity. Venantius Fortunatus enhances the tendency for coincidence of metrical unit and sense both within and between elegiac couplets. Poetry in the elegiac metre continued to be written in large quantities in late antiquity, both epigrams and more extensive compositions, though the distinction between the two, if there ever was one, becomes increasingly blurred. The variety of poems surveyed in this article bears witness to the adaptability of metre, and to the special expressive possibilities that metre was capable of bringing to a poem.
This article emphasizes the linkage of the theme of exile with elegy, and observes what ‘elegiac instinct’ was pervasive in Anglo-Saxon literature, ‘as befits a culture torn between worlds’. This is also haunted by the spectre of an entire earlier elegiac tradition now lost to silence. This pervasive attitude has made the particular identification of individual poems as ‘elegies’ something of a tendentious business. Beowulf is particularly rich in an elegiac ethos, which is perhaps only appropriate for a poem that begins and ends with a funeral, and offers a sometimes surprisingly sympathetic Christian view of the heroic pagan past. If the mechanism of transmission has necessarily emphasised the central importance of literate and Latinate and Christian influence on what has survived in written form, there remain deep traces of an earlier elegiac tradition based on spoken words now lost to silence, distant echoes of which seem to have lived on.