Forgetting Epic

Andrew Wallace

in Virgil's Schoolboys

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199591244
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595561 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

Forgetting Epic

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This chapter studies the relationship between one of the central preoccupations of educators (the need not just to teach but also somehow to enforce the retention of knowledge) and one of pedagogy's principal anxieties (the fact not only that students forget lessons they have learned, but also that such forgetting is quotidian and unexceptional, a natural property of the mind). Schoolmasters, translators, and commentators were anxious that the schoolboy's experience of reading Virgil's Aeneid brought him into dangerous proximity with what David Quint calls the poem's investigation of ‘the therapeutic effects of forgetting’. This chapter engages with a broad range of materials, from the Aeneid itself and the translations of Books Two and Four executed by the Earl of Surrey, to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century directives for teaching Virgil's epic. It concludes with a reading of several significant Virgilian moments in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. The chapter argues that there is a sense in which the history of epic in early modern England can be read as a history of forgetting epic, and that the poetry of the 1590s manages to dwell not on the consolidating moment of the schoolboy's encounter with ancient epic, but on the seas of smaller texts those schoolboys encountered under the watchful eye of their masters. Counterintuitively, the project of forgetting epic is a form of remembering mastery, and poetic modes such as pastoral draw a significant amount of their power from the poet's dream (unless it is a nightmare) that a master is either watching him or about to re-enter the schoolroom.

Keywords: allegory; correction; epic; Faerie Queene; georgic; isolation; manicule; master; mastery; memory; Milton; pastoral; repetition; romance; schoolboy; Spenser; Troy; Turnus; Vergil

Chapter.  20665 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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