The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in the Victorian Period

Hurst, Isobel. 2021. The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in the Victorian Period. In: Paula Rabinowitz, ed. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190201098 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Allusions to ancient Greece and Rome are pervasive in Victorian culture, in literary texts and material artifacts, on the popular stage, and in political discourse. Authors such as Matthew Arnold, Thackeray, Tennyson, Clough, Pater, Wilde, and Swinburne studied Latin and Greek for years at school or university and exploited their classical learning for creative purposes. The sheer familiarity of classical culture, based on years of studying Homer and Virgil at school, made it possible for intellectuals to draw parallels between contemporary political reforms and the democratic context of Greek tragedy, or to insist, like Arnold, that Periclean Athens should be a model for 19th-century Britain. At a time when the predominance of Latin and Greek in formal education was beginning to be questioned, there was increasing demand for translations and adaptations of classical literature, history, and myth, so that a wider readership could share in the richness of the classical inheritance. Outsiders were particularly eager to learn Greek or read Greek texts in translation, and authors such as Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Eliot achieved a remarkable degree of proficiency with little assistance. Greek epic and tragedy were appropriated by the authors of dramatic monologues, novels, and theatrical burlesques to engage with contemporary concerns about marriage and divorce, the role of women, and the apparent impossibility of heroism in the modern world. Toward the end of the period, classical literature was increasingly scrutinized from new perspectives: approaches based on anthropology, archaeology, and sociology presented familiar texts in new ways and opened up possibilities for redefining aspects of gender and sexuality in the contemporary world.

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Book Section

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Greece, Rome, Victorian Hellenism, reception studies, classical education, gender, translation, epic, tragedy

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature > Decadence Research Unit


29 November 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Dec 2021 11:27

Last Modified:

29 Nov 2023 02:26


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