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The Classical Tradition : Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature (1949)

de Gilbert Highet

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319361,838 (3.95)4
Originally published in 1949, Gilbert Highet's seminal The Classical Tradition is a herculean feat of comparative literature and a landmark publication in the history of classical reception. As Highet states in the opening lines of his Preface, this book outlines "the chief ways in which Greek and Latin influence has moulded the literatures of western Europe and America". With that simple statement, Highet takes his reader on a sweeping exploration of the history of western literature. To summarize what he covers is a near-impossible task. Discussions of Ovid and French literature of the Middle Ages and Chaucer's engagement with Virgil and Cicero lead, swiftly, into arguments of Christian versus "pagan" works in the Renaissance, Baroque imitations of Seneca, and the (re)birth of satire. Building momentum through Byron, Tennyson, and the rise of "art of art's sake", Highet, at last, arrives at his conclusion: the birth and establishment of modernism. Though his humanist style may appear out-of-date in today's postmodernist world, there is a value to ensuring this influential work reaches a new generation, and Highet's light touch and persuasive, engaging voice guarantee the book's usefulness for a contemporary audience. Indeed, the book is free of the jargon-filled style of literary criticism that plagues much of current scholarship. Accompanied by a new foreword by renown critic Harold Bloom, this reissue will enable new readers to appreciate the enormous legacy of classical literature in the canonical works of medieval, Renaissance, and modern Europe and America.… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porchrisvia, JuanMartinezMiguel, MariaElsa, minnesotaj, RAD66, staunchwoody, nillacat
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You will have to stop reacting to some archaic social values of the author to start appreciating and learning from the text. The juxtaposition is all to clear: barbaric societies, barbaric tongues of Europe receiving the light of civilization (which is not wealth but thought) and some grammatic goodness from the Greeks through Romans, enriched and transformed by the latter. There is some sympathetic treatment of women, but generally education is reserved for boys. There are some reservations and empathy, but homosexuality is perversion etc. In 1949 (or earlier?) some nationalistic tendencies seem to be still in vogue; for example, the author does not let Germans off the hook, although there is a clear disclaimer in the end, renouncing all characterization through national identity. The sheer number of artists "produced" by their era, country, society as well as periods and communities "not capable of producing any" etc. is extremely annoying, but all this may be taken just for a manner of speaking. It is fine to treat artists, even the greatest ones, as humans with all the corresponding faults, whims and the like; but sometimes the approach seems to be somewhat excessively judgemental and ad hominem (while, to be sure, still somehow always manages to remain respectful and probably fair).

Nevertheless it's a great book with a huge scope and a staggeringly rich source of information. GH is very particular about clear writing uncluttered by footnotes and scientific layering as well as uncontaminated by professional jargon. In short, here is stimulating, edifying, but enjoyable and very accessible reading. Sometimes the author is even drawn into the poetic realms - which is probably inevitable giving the subject matter - and soars among lofty metaphors and thrilling dramatic allegories.

Especially gratifying is the treatment of the most modern literature at the time; there is still some bafflement in GH's analysis of "Ulysses", delightful respectfulness and light polemic with the living T.S.Eliot and some more such stuff.

A highly recommended slow and/or occasional reading (does anyone do that any more?), but be warned: this will leave your reading list bloated and sore. ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
Famous Author
  richardhobbs | Dec 5, 2010 |
One sonnet I thought there would be more of, Sir Philip Sydney's, "Astrophila and Stella, is not discussed. Otherwise, Highet comprehensively surveys the classical tradition in later Western thought.
  gmicksmith | Sep 28, 2008 |
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Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.
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Originally published in 1949, Gilbert Highet's seminal The Classical Tradition is a herculean feat of comparative literature and a landmark publication in the history of classical reception. As Highet states in the opening lines of his Preface, this book outlines "the chief ways in which Greek and Latin influence has moulded the literatures of western Europe and America". With that simple statement, Highet takes his reader on a sweeping exploration of the history of western literature. To summarize what he covers is a near-impossible task. Discussions of Ovid and French literature of the Middle Ages and Chaucer's engagement with Virgil and Cicero lead, swiftly, into arguments of Christian versus "pagan" works in the Renaissance, Baroque imitations of Seneca, and the (re)birth of satire. Building momentum through Byron, Tennyson, and the rise of "art of art's sake", Highet, at last, arrives at his conclusion: the birth and establishment of modernism. Though his humanist style may appear out-of-date in today's postmodernist world, there is a value to ensuring this influential work reaches a new generation, and Highet's light touch and persuasive, engaging voice guarantee the book's usefulness for a contemporary audience. Indeed, the book is free of the jargon-filled style of literary criticism that plagues much of current scholarship. Accompanied by a new foreword by renown critic Harold Bloom, this reissue will enable new readers to appreciate the enormous legacy of classical literature in the canonical works of medieval, Renaissance, and modern Europe and America.

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