Virgil and the British Empire, 1760–1880

Phiroze Vasunia

in Lineages of Empire

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780197264393
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734571 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Virgil and the British Empire, 1760–1880

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter reflects on the readings and uses of Virgil in British imperial contexts during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The British interest in Virgil heightened during the middle of the eighteenth century, when Britain was establishing its Second Empire. In the age of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, Virgil was often deployed by writers in different imperial situations. Writers such as Edward Gibbon turned to Virgil not because of a desire to promote monarchical imperialism but with the aim of evaluating the mechanism of the empire, to explore its limits and contradictions, and to question its durability. In Victoria’s reign, when the empire in India seemed to several Britons to be long lasting, many prominent figures highlighted the providential and prophetic interpretations of Virgil, and speculated about an empire that was divinely ordained and infinite. Among these prominent personages were Tennyson, Auden, Bryce, and so on. These themes of British Empire within the context of Virgil’s writings are examined from the time of Gibbon to the Victorians, in order to describe the interweaving relationships and patterns that link Virgil and the history of the empire.

Keywords: Virgil; British imperial context; Second Empire; Gibbon; Tennyson; Auden; Bryce; interpretations of Virgil; Elizabeth I; Victorians

Chapter.  15071 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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