Chapter

Haunted City: the Shelleys, Byron, and Ancient Rome

Timothy Webb

in Romans and Romantics

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199588541
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741845 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199588541.003.0011

Series: Classical Presences

Haunted City: the Shelleys, Byron, and Ancient Rome

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Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Byron all encountered Italy both as a vivid reality and as ‘classic ground’. Although their sojourns in Rome (especially that of Byron) were relatively brief, that ‘delightful’ city played a significant part in the lives of all three and features prominently in the work of Percy Shelley and Byron. Like the Shelleys (whose son had died in the city), Byron was affected by a sense of Rome as essentially a city of the dead; he regarded contemporary Romans (like the Greeks who feature in his earlier poetry) as degenerate inheritors of traditions they could never emulate. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage finds some consolation in the durabilities of classical literature but is haunted by the recognition that history is monotonously predictable. The Shelleys allowed themselves an interpretation which was less melancholy: the enduring energies of nature could point towards liberation and an escape from the ghostly constraints of history.

Keywords: Byron; Childe Harold; ghosts ruins; Mary Shelley; Percy Shelley; two Italies; Virgil

Chapter.  8936 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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