Over the past two hundred years or so, Roman culture has often been characterised as unoriginal and imitative, especially in comparison with that of the Greeks. In recent years, this characterisation and the negative valuation to which it generally leads has increasingly been attributed to Romanticism — and castigated as such. This chapter seeks to put the record straight. Taking its examples from Wordsworth, Shelley, Staël and, above all, August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, it illustrates some of the diverse ways in which those we call Romantics today understood and applied concepts of originality in their interpretations of the Romans, not necessarily to negative effect. From there, it traces some of the subsequent routes by which these various notions of originality came to coalesce, as a consequence of their reception, into the simplified and homogenous notion of ‘Romantic Originality’ that is commonly evoked and attacked by classical scholars today.
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