Spenser and Classical Literature

Syrithe Pugh

in The Oxford Handbook of Edmund Spenser

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199227365
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Spenser and Classical Literature

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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In the humanistic grammar schools of the sixteenth century, education centred on the acquisition of fluency in Latin through the study of classical poetry, drama, and prose. From an early age, boys were required to memorize, to translate into English and back into Latin, to vary, and to imitate passages from a wide array of Roman authors, including Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Martial, Plautus, and Terence. At Merchant Taylors' Spenser would also have studied Homer and probably Hesiod. This article focuses on the influence of classical literature on Spenser's writings. Confident of a readership intimately familiar with classical literature from their grammar school education, Spenser expects his reader not only to recognize his allusions to and imitations of classical poets, but to be alert to the ways in which he changes and combines them. His imitation of Virgil introduces pointed and systematic changes to his original, and is woven together with imitation of other models, classical and modern. Particularly prominent and pervasive is the presence of Ovid, a poet whose attitude towards political authority is oppositional at every turn.

Keywords: Virgil; classics; Latin; Ovid

Article.  8570 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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