The Criticism of Didactic Poetry

The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid

ALEXANDER DALZELL
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442673601
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  • Book Info
    The Criticism of Didactic Poetry
    Book Description:

    Dalzell presents three of the major didactic poems in the classical canon: the De rerum natura of Lucretius, the Georgics of Virgil, and the Ars amatoria of Ovid, considering what tools are available for their understanding.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7360-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    This is the third volume of the Robson Classical Lectures to reach publication. The series takes its name from Donald Oakley Robson (1905–76), who graduated in Honours Classics from Victoria College in the University of Toronto in 1928. He went on to earn his MA (1929) and his PhD (1932) from the University of Toronto. After teaching at the University of Western Ontario for seventeen years, he returned to his Alma Mater, and taught Latin there from 1947 until his retirement in 1975. His wife, Rhena Victoria Kendrick (1901–82), also graduated in Honours Classics from Victoria College in...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
    Douglas Harbour
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    In the declining years of the Roman Republic and in the early years of the Empire, Latin literature produced a small number of didactic poems of considerable merit. This was a remarkable achievement, for didactic poetry is not a genre which can count among its members a large number of successes. Shelley thought all didactic poetry an ′abhorrence,′¹ and many critics, from Aristotle on, have questioned the poetic validity of the genre. But the Roman achievement makes it unwise to take such a dismissive attitude. This is a kind of poetry which raises difficult problems for the critic. Perhaps for...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Criticism of Didactic Poetry
    (pp. 8-34)

    Let me begin by defining terms. There is a sense in which every work of literature is didactic. Shaw once claimed that ′all art at the fountainhead is didactic, and that nothing can produce art except the necessity of being didactic.′¹ Much ancient poetry, like much modern poetry, can properly be called didactic. Pindar, Sophocles, and Horace, Eliot, Auden, and Pound are all in some sense didactic poets. ′I have always believed,′ wrote Auden, ′that, among the many functions of the poet, preaching is one.′² Even the Romantics, for whom the word ′didactic′ was often a term of abuse, hoped,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The De rerum natura of Lucretius
    (pp. 35-71)

    In 1755 the Berlin Academy of Sciences announced as the subject of a competition an essay on the philosophical position of Alexander Pope as expressed in the statement ′All is good.′ The contestants were required first to expound the meaning of this phrase, secondly to compare it with the system of Leibnitz, and finally to give reasons for accepting or rejecting Pope′s position. The young Lessing thought the topic ridiculous and, with the assistance of his friend Moses Mendelssohn, published an ironic response under the title ′Pope ein Metaphysiker.′¹ He argued that not only was Pope no metaphysician, but the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Philosophical Language of Lucretius
    (pp. 72-103)

    It is a commonplace of modern criticism that form and content are indissoluble. Something like this view seems to have been anticipated by the Epicureans themselves, for the philosopher Philodemus, a contemporary of Lucretius, made a very similar point and seems to have understood better than most ancient critics the importance of form in literature.¹ But Lucretius, if we may judge by what he says, or implies, in the poem itself, took an older view of the matter. His famous image of poetry as honey on the lip of the cup presupposes a very primitive doctrine of form and content:...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Georgics of Virgil
    (pp. 104-131)

    In the fifties, when it was still possible for the editor of a popular journal to count on some vestiges of a classical education among his readers,Punchpublished a piece with the title ′This Week in Your Garden.′¹ There was, if I remember correctly, a gardening program on British radio with that title, but the principal target was not the BBC, but theGeorgicsof Virgil. The piece began as follows:

    Monday. Not otherwise than when the North Wind with his icy breath sprinkles the beards of old men with silver, so is the hard ground impervious to spade...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Ovid: The Ars amatoria
    (pp. 132-164)

    On the face of it theArs amatoriashould not torment the critic with wrenching problems. A work, written in a light-hearted manner, which purports to instruct young men and young women in the art of seduction is unlikely to contain hidden depths of meaning and complexity. Yet criticism has found the poem slippery and difficult to construe: What was Ovid really trying to do? Is the poem a parody, and if so, what is being parodied? Is it genuinely didactic and if it is, what is its message? And how are we to define the moral position from which...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-196)
  12. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 197-212)