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Romantic AntiquityRome in the British Imagination, 1789-1832$
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Jonathan Sachs

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195376128

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195376128.001.0001

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A Roman Standard

A Roman Standard

Byron, Ancient Rome, and Literary Decline

(p.115) Chapter Three A Roman Standard
Romantic Antiquity

Jonathan Sachs (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter evaluates the use of Roman precedent in Byron's understanding of the decline of literature and literary standards, of ancient civilization, and of the self. In his Letter to John Murray, Byron uses ancient Roman precedents and the transition from republic to empire to construct a model of literary decline, one which he then applies to the contemporary scene. Byron's invocation of Roman precedents in the Pope controversy to revalue negatively the Romantic movement shows Byron reaching behind his dissatisfaction with Romantic poetics to invoke a Roman standard. The same emphasis on decline seen in Byron's advocacy of Pope also forms a dominant theme in Childe Harold, canto four. Here, a focus on Byron's engagement with classical Roman authors and the decline of the Roman republic shows how Byron's sense of decline is more than self‐mythologizing and represents instead a post‐Waterloo historical consciousness. Together, both sections affirm the centrality of Rome for Byron's sense of self and for his understanding of literary history, while also revealing uneven and dissonant qualities within the category “Romantic” itself.

Keywords:   Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Romanticism, poetics, reception of Rome, Pope Controversy, decline

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