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date: 09 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

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.”

Keywords: poetry, genre, epic, imitation, classics

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