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Lighting Out for the Rough Ground: America’s Origins and the Richness of World

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PIC TRAVELS. WHATEVER ELSE MIGHT BE SHOWN OR ARGUED IN THIS essay, the that epic texts thematize, undergo, and facilitate E travel is crucial to understanding the of their presence in the United States and indeed around the world. One of the ,rst re- cords of an epic text traveling appears in Plutarch’s account of Alexan- der the Great, in which the general brings a copy of the with him on his campaigns, laying it under his pillow each night next to a dag- ger (544)—no mean feat, considering that the epic would have been in scroll format at the . ’s , the tale of ’s travels following the Trojan War, has entered modern languages as a word referring to a remarkable voyage. Dante inaugurated the modern epic (at least in post-Romantic readers’ minds) “in the middle of the journey of our lives.” -e Portuguese Camões narrated the voy- age of Vasco da Gama to India in his Lusiads, having traced da Gama’s journey himself as a diplomat in Calcutta. And North American epic began in an English courtier’s travels in , a poet laureate’s exile, and a French linguist’s frontier for recognition.. Such is the start of the historical that I wish to put forward here, one designed to point up the multiplicity of , genealogies, and anomalies that make up—and break down—the contested of epic. As I argue, this polyglossia of epics has an archival richness that shows the category of epic to be not so much a as a discourse, a historically contingent yet nonarbitrary strategy for meaning making. I focus my discussion on the literature of British North America CHRISTOPHER N. PHILLIPS is assistant professor of English at Lafayette College. and the United States here for two . First, I hope to counteract He is completing a on the uses of the “procession to popularized by critics from epic in the literature, fine , and con- F. O. Matthiessen to Harold Bloom, which until quite recently has stitutional of the early United States. rendered most of the preceding the 1910s virtually invisible

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to post–World War II literary of the nant criticism connecting epic and United States. Second, by engaging the post- shows some of these radical possibilities. national turn in American studies through the lens of world literature, speci,cally through Epic among the connections between form and world sys- tems recently articulated by Fredric Jameson, -e terms for current discussions of epic form Franco Moretti, and Wai Chee Dimock, I in modernity have largely been by the work stress the importance of the history of forms of Mikhail Bakhtin and Georg Lukács, both of for contextualizing texts concerned with whom deal with the epic in the history of the postcolonial and imperial politico-economic novel; their discussions of epic, while heuris- relations.> I intend to show that epics, as pe- tically useful, ultimately serve to flatten the culiarly social and ideological forms of dis- historical speci,city of epic (or epics, the term I course, have evolved in close connection with prefer) for the sake of highlighting the histori- colonial expansion and modern build- cal speci,city of the novel. Bakhtin’s view has ing, in which processes they o?en performed usually been read as the more simplistic of the vital, though inconsistent, cultural work. In- two: epic, as the older form and one complicit deed, the concept of world literature arose with monologism and its imperialist implica- out of a concern with the power of national tions, stands as the old champion to be chal- imaginaries to screen out international con- lenged and defeated by the upstart, dialogic nections, even as the economies that nation- novel. Lukács, in his !eory of the Novel, [email protected] states fueled increased the amount of physical a Hegelian variant of this narrative. While the border crossing that texts, titles, and authors novel does in some sense replace the epic, as the could actually do. And few writers combined rise of modernity makes the religious and national or imperial pursuits with as much political absolutism that stand behind heroic sensitivity to what Dimock calls “deep time” form increasingly untenable, the novel is also a as those who have engaged the epic kind of epic literature, one highly conscious of across centuries and continents. This essay its newfound limitations. As Lukács famously presents a series of case studies ranging from puts it, “The novel is the epic of a world that the early seventeenth to the early nineteenth has been abandoned by God” (88). In the only century, each overshadowed by the imagined book-length treatment of pre-1900 epic in the space of America, which is one of the most United States, John P. McWilliams, Jr., uses a important contributors to the development of version of Lukács’s narrative: epic sets in mo- post-Renaissance notions of epic. America and tion the rise of the novel, but it also disperses epic have de,ned each other in myriad ways itself piecemeal into mock epic, lyric, and nov- since the sixteenth century, even as their de,- elistic modes as the traditional form dies out. nitions changed. As America came to denote Such as Bakhtin’s, Lukács’s, not an entire hemisphere but the singular state and McWilliams’s have obviated the per- entity of the United States, the usage of epic ceived need for deep archival investigation changed during the ,rst years of United States of the modern history of epic, and one of the independence from nominal to adjectival, most important objections to their work for challenging the traditional of genre as epic studies is that they do not account for taxonomy and revealing a longing for totality the persistence of epics a?er the Renaissance, fed by the very vagueness of epic as adjective. whether in novelistic or encyclopedic hybrids -is vagueness allowed epic to connect, clash, (to name two possibilities) or in more tradi- and cross-pollinate with other discourses in tional forms—a key historical element radical ways, and a brief survey of the domi- of American literary . One of the ,rst /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips  major movements in American literature formal experimentation based on that read- a?er independence was a wave of epic writ- ing made Longfellow one of the most cos- ing, which coincided with a similar surge in mopolitan writers of his day, in any country. Britain in the wake of the French His method of focusing that experimentation and during the rising threat of Napoleonic into moderate about American (Curran 159–60). Furthermore, , politics, and domesticity might have Americans kept writing epics well after the made him a fascinating historical anomaly Napoleonic era, some with great critical and in the eyes of the academy, but his popular success. In the face of one particularly has become equated with his use of imported remarkable national and international suc- verse forms. One man’s cosmopolitanism is cess, McWilliams locates epic in Geist rather now many critics’ provincialism. than in form: “-e disgrace of the imitative I am calling for a reassessment of world verse epic [in the early republic] led authors to literature through North American literary portray American heroic subjects in new lit- history. -ough I con,ne myself in this essay erary forms more engaging to contemporary to the territory of the United States and the readers. If we mercifully except [!e Song of] colonies that precede it, I aim to show how Hiawatha, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is still multifarious, as well as how porous, that ter- the one work commonly believed to have ful- ritory is. -e larger project of such a reassess- filled this end” (2). While I agree with Mc- ment involves the excavation of buried Williams that the quest for new forms was an like Longfellow, of near-silent voices like those essential part of the American engagement of the Quaker Richard Snowden with epics, the problem of imitation was much or Boston’s Maria Gowen Brooks—who be- more complicated, and perhaps less disgrace- comes Maria del Occidente of Cuba. All the ful, than he implies. His “merciful” exception characters in this history share what I call the of H. W. Longfellow’s syncretic Hiawatha epic impulse, the drive to thrust oneself into signals an anxiety that has haunted Ameri- a tradition of canonical authors for the pur- can studies since the early twentieth century. pose of using that tradition’s cultural capital -e idea that Longfellow, the most inDuential to forward a career, a political viewpoint, an and commercially successful poet in English aesthetic credo, or an of devotion. That during the nineteenth century, could have epic, like any genre, is never an end in itself contributed to the progression of American has been shown by much of the best recent literature threatens the belief, reiterated from criticism on the form (see Jameson, F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance to 62–80; Kendrick; Dowling; Quint). Whether John Carlos Rowe’s New American Studies, in establishing an emperor’s legacy, elevating that American literature is about democratic the dignity of the individual , or justifying experimentation, liberal cosmopolitanism, the ways of God to man, epics have o?en been and revolutionary iconoclasm—and never remarkably candid about their extraliterary boring or imitative (two ways of saying the ambitions. Moretti’s Modern Epic has helped same thing). Patricia Meyer Spacks has ar- rede,ne the critical debate over epic by blend- gued that to find previously popular works ing formalist and Marxist approaches. Moretti boring or tedious is not so much an aesthetic treats epics from Goethe’s Faust onward as be- evaluation as an aggressive response to what longing to a supergenre—speci,cally, a phe- readers perceive to be a serious threat to their nomenon of what he calls a “world system” of fundamental assumptions about the world. encyclopedic literature in which a few great Longfellow’s remarkably broad reading in texts are written to both represent and create over a dozen languages and his interest in an entire world, while consciously seeking for  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

themselves an international readership. Mel- Odyssey through the two halves of his , ville’s Moby-Dick and Pound’s Cantos appear while Camões focuses on the Odyssey alone in in Moretti’s supergenre, alongside Wagner’s his narrative of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to In- Ring of the Nibelungs, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Gar- dia, with the addition of material from Iberian cía Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. travel narratives. Particularly from Camões’s Moretti’s more recent work, such as his era (the late 1500s) forward, writers of the European Novel, 1800–1900, itself enacts of epic became increasingly choosy about the a kind of epic, not unlike the Miltonic mount texts that would dominate the epic tradition in of vision in its attempt to make sense of global which they participated.E While unconscious history through geographic distance: and indirect connections between texts cer- tainly abound, the resemblances that [L]iterary history will quickly become very bind post-Renaissance epics together are to a [email protected] from what it is now: it will become considerable extent the result of chosen rela- “second hand”: a patchwork of other people’s tions, as I shall show in my case studies. research, without a single direct textual read- One of the most studied genealogies, that ing. Still ambitious, and actually even more between the epic and the novel, must be recon- so than before (world literature!); but the am- bition is now directly proportional to the dis- sidered in the light of the vagaries of literary tance from the text: the more ambitious the history, especially American literary history. project, the greater must the distance be. Critics for the last twenty years have sought (“Conjectures” 57) to dismantle the of American ex- ceptionalism inherited from Matthiessen and -is distance comes with a price, as Da- Perry Miller (among others). -e most inDu- vid Damrosch has observed in his assessment ential studies that participated in that disman- of Moretti’s project; Damrosch argues that to tling (Davidson; Rowe; Tompkins; Warner) abandon close reading and case studies for the have le? uncontested the claim that the novel sake of large-scale seems far from is the most characteristic form of American necessary to understand larger forces at work literature, a claim that Joseph Harrington has in and among texts (25–26). Dimock has also shown to have originated simultaneously with voiced a critique of “distant reading,” in which the academy’s institutionalization of modern- she objects to Moretti’s emphasis on universal ism before World War II. In , the Bakhtin- in his . As alternatives, Di- Lukács of argument amounts to a kind mock [email protected] two [email protected] kinds of laws: those of novelistic exceptionalism, with a politics of fractal geometry and those of Wittgenstein’s not unlike that of the American exceptional- “family resemblance” theory. Both of these ist claim to the high ground. Margaret kinds of laws are designed for talking about Cohen has called the novel “a constitutively categories and phenomena that defy classi,- international genre across its history . . . dis- cation, and Wittgenstein in particular empha- tinguished by its cosmopolitan thematics,” in sizes the need for maintaining so? boundaries which Homer’s Odyssey serves as an archetypal around certain , such as , for “pre-history” (481). Epic’s own claims to inter- which hard, logically consistent boundaries national and cosmopolitan distinctives are are highly problematic. I would push Dimock’s silenced, like Madeline Usher, in the tomb of genealogical methodology even further, for prehistory. Michael McKeon explains in his an- one of the understudied elements of intertex- thology !eory of the Novel that he begins with tuality is the ability of authors to (at least to genre theory because such study is “a ‘histori- some extent) choose their own intertexts: Ver- cal approach’ to literature” that “understands gil, for example, combines the Iliad and the literary categories in their contingency” (1). /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips 

Such an approach to genre requires going be- At their purest, concepts (such as that of the yond the novel, then, to consider more deeply epic) become so weak they prove useless to us, the genres that created the novel and that have and we thus ,nd ourselves returning to the since competed and traded with the novel, rough ground—to the archive. I appreciate commercially, aesthetically, and ideologically. Dimock’s Wittgensteinian resistance to the -is is not to say that American literary hermeticism of universal laws, but in order for studies has yet to loosen its obsession with us to work with any laws in , a the novel. The difficult move from deduc- detailed study of the archive must inform our tive theory to inductive archival work in pre- theorization inductively. As an impressionis- 1900 poetry is already occurring, through tic example of what I mean, I will now exam- the work of critics such as Shields, ine several texts, most of which are currently Virginia Jackson, Max Cavitch, Mary Loef- on the periphery of the epic canon and all of felholz, and Eliza Richards. Almost all this which are on the periphery of American liter- work, however, has focused on shorter lyric ature. -e question of what constitutes an epic forms rather than long narrative works. -is raises questions similar to that of what consti- essay brings the excellent recent work on lyric tutes American literature, and I argue that we into conversation with the most traditionally might make a bit more headway by pursuing prestigious form in Western literature, the these questions as if they were related—as in- epic, as a way into nation making as well as deed they are. On to the rough ground! into the transnational and systems that created various forms of and Reshaping the Origins of American Epic . -e richness of [email protected] among post- Renaissance epics must lead us to revise our George Sandys, a career diplomat and trans- conceptual understanding of the place that lator, began his “Englishing” of a?er his epic has in literary history—and the place of ,rst encounter with fantastic people, things, theory in that history. Moretti expresses the and locations, having ,nished a travel narra- paradox of literary history quite well: “We tive based on his time in Egypt and the Le- always pay a price for theoretical : vant in 1615. By the time Sandys prepared is in,nitely rich; concepts are abstract, for his next voyage, this time to Virginia to are poor. But it’s precisely this ‘poverty’ that become treasurer of Jamestown, he had com- makes it possible to handle them, to know” pleted the ,rst ,ve of the Metamorpho- (“Conjectures” 57–58). -e tension between ses, and he used his own physical translatio to conceptual knowledge and archival richness the New World as inspiration for his further must remain dynamic if literary history is to translation of Ovid. According to his account, provide a meaningful basis for generating and he translated another two books during the supporting further scholarship. voyage across the Atlantic and the remain- In his Philosophical Investigations, which ing eight books while in residence in Virginia Dimock invokes in her discussion of family (Pearcy 37), in hopes that such a literary resemblances, Wittgenstein famously states monument would win him a court appoint- the problem to which Moretti points, but ment on his return to London. Sandys’s work, the philosopher offers a solution: “We have in literature as well as in politics, is de,ned by got on to slippery ice where there is no fric- the dynamic between margin and center, be- tion and so in a certain sense the conditions tween the liminal and the hegemonic, and his are ideal, but also, just because of that, we ability to the role of insider and outsider are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we simultaneously comes across most explicitly need friction. Back to the rough ground” (46). in his Metamorphosis.  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

Sandys makes his ambition for his work part of a faction seeking to seize control of the clear from the first line; he renders Ovid’s Virginia Company from within Parliament. original opening thus: “Of Bodies chang’d -e younger Sandys’s engagements with Ver- to other shapes I sing” (1). Written within a gil and Ovid certainly had immediate po- generation of Vergil’s Aeneid, the Metamor- litical implications, but the translations also phoses has long defied easy generic classifi- served as exercises in preparing the imagina- cation.H The main for this difficulty tion for encounters with the Native American is that while the length of Ovid’s work and other. VI and VII, the books the use of —a meter largely re- Sandys translated en route to Virginia, relate served for epic poetry in —invite com- several famous voyages, most notably that of parison to Vergil’s masterpiece, the episodic and the Argonauts, a story that includes structure resists subordination to narrative Jason’s civilizing of and to the bar- unity, which for characterized the barian sorceress Medea—an acting out of the epic form. Furthermore, Ovid adopts many of what Greene has termed of Vergil’s and Homer’s distinctive devices: “unrequited conquest,” which describes well invocations, extended similes, catalogs. But the attraction and repulsion that Sandys had he slyly changes (metamorphoses?) many of for, and experienced from, the Natives of the these conventions so that they are clearly his Chesapeake region. own and not as clearly in line with the devel- Ovid’s treatment of the violence of the oping epic tradition. For example, in the in- Trojan War as yet another cycle in an endless vocation, which involves “singing” for Homer chain of changes would have served Sandys and Vergil, Ovid replaces the Aeneid’s “cano” well during the aftermath of a massacre of ‘I sing’ with “dicere” ‘to tell’. That Sandys over three hundred colonists by Natives. Like should choose “I sing” to translate Ovid’s the Trojans, Sandys had assumed with his cagey phrase pushes his poet ,rmly into the fellow administrators that violence at James- epic tradition, and the translator thus asso- town was over at the start of his appointment. ciates himself with the tradition as well: the Despite ominous reports and greatest of genres for any Renaissance poet, other warning signs, the leaders of Jamestown but especially for a royally commissioned one, renewed [email protected] to educate and evangelize the as Sandys hoped to become. James Ellison ar- Natives of the Chesapeake region; as a result, gues that Sandys’s own are closer to Sandys and his colleagues barely escaped Vergil’s than to Ovid’s, emphasizing the regu- with their lives. His administration proved a larity of line and expression rather than witty failure, and Charles I dissolved the Virginia agility; in fact, Sandys also translated the ,rst Company a few years a?er Sandys’s return to book of the Aeneid, probably before his Ovid England in 1625. Eager to regain political fa- project (Ellison 158, 101–08). Aeneid I, with its vor from Charles, Sandys quickly published explication of the Roman legacy of colonial- his Ovid translation, which he titled the Meta- ism and its account of Aeneas’s landing with morphosis, in 1626. In his dedication to the his crew on the shores of Carthage, the ,rst king, he attempted his own metamorphosing brave new world of Vergil’s epic, would have of administrative failure into cultural capi- been an ideal choice as a prolegomenon for an tal: “had it proved as fortunate as faithfull, in imperial project—such as the colonization of me, and others more worthy; we had hoped, Virginia. Ellison speculates that Sandys trans- ere many yeares had turned about, to have lated Vergil as a form of political posturing, presented you with a rich and wel-peopled hoping to win royal favor at a moment when Kingdome; from whence now, with my selfe, Sir Edwin Sandys, George’s older brother, was I onely bring this Composure.” /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips 

Sandys in fact achieved considerable fame which even texts seemingly on the periphery throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth of the epic tradition (like the Metamorphoses) centuries on the strength of his Ovid transla- are placed in that tradition in the service of tion, the only lasting legacy from his work in rhetorical capital, both for the work and the Jamestown. Part of what made the translation author. Unlike Vergil’s epic, which breaks [email protected] so valuable was the extensive commentary suddenly with Aeneas’s victory over Turnus that he wrote later for the 1632 edition, which in single combat, Ovid ends his work with an included engravings for each of the fifteen epilogue arguing the eternal glory of himself books—plus the Aeneid I translation, added as beside that of Rome; Sandys renders it thus: an appendix. -e commentary distills classical and medieval thought regarding Greco-Roman And now the worke is ended, which, Ioue’s and their interpretation, but Sandys rage, also provides examples from his experience in Nor ,re, nor Sword shall raze, nor eating Age...... the New World as well as his extensive reading And my immortall name shall neuer die. in the history of Spain’s New World empire. For, where-so-ere the Roman Eagles spread He likens to the initial appearance of -eir conquering wings, I shall of all be read: Spaniards on horseback in Mexico; the Span- And, if we true presages giue, ish lust for gold in South America is a modern I, in my Fame eternally shall liue. (510) antitype to Midas; and “Columbus by his glo- rious discoveries more iustly deserved a place Here the poet-exile makes a of his ig- for his ship among the Southerne Constella- nominious travel, for wherever his language is tions, then ever the Argonautes did for their so spoken—and it is the language of an empire— celebrated ” (Ovid 418, 389, 454).J Sandys, so far will his words extend their inDuence. We like his translation, stood between two worlds, may read Sandys here as ,guring his own po- as he comments in his dedication: “It [the litical failure as poetic exile transformed into poem] needeth more then a single denization, canonical fame, using his rhetorical position a double Stranger: Sprung from the as outsider to regain insider status. -at fame Stock of the ancient Romanes; but bred in the has its own weird history. In 1897, Moses Coit New-World, of the rudenesse whereof it can- Tyler declared the translation “the ,rst utter- not but participate; especially having Warres ance of conscious literary articulated in and Tumults to bring it to light instead of the America,” while Howard Mumford Jones al- .” Here the English language, as well as most ,?y years later argued that the Metamor- England the legal territory, becomes the space phosis was not American enough to warrant of denization; the act of translation natural- Tyler’s declaration (Davis 297–98). One of the izes temporal and cultural [email protected], even as ,rst instances of an American epic, Sandys’s it seeks to sublimate violence and failure into work situates the form at the geographic and an epic monument. Translation breeds new formal margins of both American and epic, forms in consequence of conforming to the margins arrived at and negotiated by the vi- authority of estranged spaces. cissitudes of textual and corporeal travel. -e double strangeness of Sandys’s Ovid would continue to be a problem for Ameri- Paradise Interrupted: Other American can epics in particular—using an imported Trajectories form to create a native literature seemed both paradoxical and inevitable even a?er the Civil Yet the origins of American epics also entail War—but along with the strangeness came a stories of failed “denizations.” In 1649, follow- certain ambition, an epic impulse, through ing the execution of Charles I and the Dight of  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

the Stuart court to France, the exiled Charles logic of his friends’ anticipation of the poem II appointed a new treasurer to Jamestown. reDecting their dreams for what the colonies His appointee, William Davenant,K was a might yield. Edmund Waller and Abraham soldier-poet whom Charles I had named poet Cowley equated the writing of modern epic laureate in 1638 and had knighted in 1643. with the attractions of discovery and empire in At the time of his Virginian appointment, their commendatory poems to Davenant, which Davenant was in France writing a work set appeared with the ,rst printing of Gondibert in medieval Lombardy and titled Gondibert: in 1651. Waller’s poem opens with the classi- An Heroick Poem. -e of Gondibert re- cal image of “the wise Nightingale” migrating volves around the eponymous knight’s refusal from the winter of “Her native Wood” to the to enter into an arranged political marriage warmer climates of “forraign Groves” as an for the sake of his private of a scientist’s analogy to Davenant’s impending departure daughter—Davenant’s rejection of traditional for America. Yet while the natural inevitability epic in the name of modernity was far from and “wisdom” of migration opens the poem, subtle. Already famous for his heroic plays, the of exile quickly takes over, as Dav- Davenant emphasized that his epic dealt only enant’s “Courage” is compared approvingly to with human characters, not with any of the the “drooping Hebrews banish’d” who aban- machinery or elements that had doned their “Harps unstrung” while in Baby- been considered obligatory but increasingly lon. -e next comparison places Davenant on irrelevant in Renaissance poetics. One of a par with another exiled poet: the poem’s ,rst readers was -omas Hobbes, whom Davenant befriended during the ex- So Ovid when from Caesar’s rage he Ded, ile and to whom he had shown the ,rst two -e Roman Muse to with him led; Where he so sung, that We through Pity’s books of Gondibert. Before the transatlantic Glass, voyage, Davenant addressed to Hobbes a pref- See Nero milder then Augustus was. (269) ace for his poem, in which the poet promised to send the rest of the un,nished work from Waller’s analogy between Ovid and Davenant America for Hobbes’s review. The preface is diLcult to parse. If Cromwell is Davenant’s was published without the poem in 1650, the Augustus, then he is the ,nal victor in civil same year that Davenant set sail to assume war, though a tyrant, and the only obvious his post, though now as lieutenant-governor candidate for a “Nero” is the exiled Charles, of Maryland; the next day he was captured by who would by no means have found the com- one of Cromwell’s privateers. He was impris- parison Dattering—especially since Davenant oned ,rst on the Isle of Wight and then in the was his poet laureate. Yet Waller’s viewpoint Tower of London, where the threat of execu- is not from the contemporary civil war but tion loomed daily. Nevertheless, he continued from “Posteritie,” the historical of to work on his epic, and the ,rst part of it was readers looking back across generations, even published in 1651, while he was still in the centuries (269). Not only does Gondibert re- tower. -e following year, a group of admirers quire another climate for its completion, it including pleaded for Davenant’s requires another age for its recognition. release, and he was made a “prisoner at large” Cowley saw Gondibert as actually mark- that fall, eventually receiving a full pardon in ing a change in ages, and he cast Davenant as 1654 (Bordinat and Blaydes 18–23). a Spenserian : Yet Davenant never completed his epic. Its interruption paralleled the interruption of Methinks Heroick Poesy till now, his entry into the New World, according to the Like some Fairy-land did show . . . /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips 

-ou like some worthy Knight, with sacred -us, Cowley’s poem closes with the blending Arms of poetic ambition and the drive to travel west Dost drive the thence, and end the to “seek new Worlds.” Yet this blending sig- Charms: nals an anxiety concerning the belatedness of Instead of those, dost Men and Manners plant, poetry and of epics. Cowley praises the artis- -e things which that rich soyl did chieDy tic success of Gondibert but sees the blessing want. (270) of heaven only in a more worldly : “If thou canst Plant” in Maryland as he did on Cowley symphathized with Davenant’s empha- paper “with like success.” sis on human actions and interactions while This anxiety over the relative “success” largely abandoning traditional machinery and of poetry and other pursuits would surface elements of the “fantastique.” For Gondibert’s continually in the writing of epic from this most recent editor, this realism constitutes point on (it was already at the forefront of !e the poem’s importance for literary history, Faerie Queene and had haunted works such which “has followed Davenant, though it has as Camões’s Lusiads as well), and rarely more celebrated Milton . . . the realism of Davenant so than in the words of Davenant’s similarly adumbrates a much more prominent strain in cagey and (at least initially) neglected succes- our present culture than does the theism of sor, Walt Whitman: “-e United States them- his predecessors” (Gladish xxiii). Neverthe- selves are essentially the greatest poem” (616). less, this historical argument again requires These words, which appeared in the 1855 the long view—Davenant is among the liter- preface to Leaves of Grass, argue for the inevi- ary winners but a century too early to enjoy tability of singing the chants democratic, but it—and Cowley’s of planting, care- it raises the question as to whether, if the na- fully couched in the language of colonization, tion (or the states, depending on one’s reading further suggests the length of time needed for of the antebellum “are”) is the greatest poem, the poem’s development in readers’ esteem. another poem is actually necessary. It further English ambitions for national and im- raises the question whether that new poem perial fame run through Cowley’s poem, as can successfully compete with its larger, more Cowley muses on the shame Italy feels in see- concrete if less easily digested predecessor, the ing “Her Conqu’rors call’d to life” by an En- United States—the weakness of poetry versus glish poet, as well as the “blush” that “ancient the richness of the nation. -e shadow of po- Rome” displays on seeing “her Wit o’rcome” etic belatedness that hangs over Whitman has by a modern. -e novelty of Davenant’s real- its roots in seventeenth-century colonialist istic epic, a work based structurally at least rhetoric, and the American bard’s struggles to as much on and heroic as on move beyond epic to another world of poetry classical epos, mimics the ambitious drive are at least as old as Sandys and Davenant. of the explorer-colonist, mapping out a new The epic impulse often involved the desire route for poetic adventurers: to escape from the tyranny of epic at least as much as the drive to pursue its glory. Pursuit -y Fancy, like a Flame, her way does make; runs both ways in the epic tradition. And leaves bright tracks for following Pens to take. Unlike Whitman’s fame, Davenant’s died Sure ‘twas this noble boldness of the Muse before he did, and only a?er his death could Did thy desire to seek new Worlds infuse; his widow arrange with a family friend for And ne’r did Heaven so much a Voyage bless, the publication of the former poet laureate’s If thou canst Plant but there with like success. works in a single folio volume, a production (271) she declared in a dedicatory note to be “his  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

great Desire” in life (Herringman). -at vol- house arrest in the English countryside. Dur- ume, completed in 1673, contained the in- ing his captivity, the younger Bonaparte oc- complete Gondibert together with the preface, cupied his time by working on an epic poem, Hobbes’s reply, Davenant’s a?erword written which he published in 1811. A?er Napoléon’s in the Tower of London, and the commen- ,nal defeat, his brother was released and lived datory poems by Waller and Cowley. -ere the rest of his life in Italy as Prince of Canino Davenant’s role in the history of epic seems (Stacton 39–42). Lucien never saw America, to end—until an aspiring American novelist, but his poem did; in 1816, two Philadelphia while peddling his latest manuscript to Lon- printers published the respective halves of don publishers in late 1849, acquires a copy Charlemagne; or, The Church Delivered, an of the 1673 Works in a Durry of folio buying English translation of Bonaparte’s exilic at secondhand stores. On the voyage back to work, which celebrated the pope’s power even , Herman Melville begins work on though that power failed to protect Lucien the manuscript that would become Moby- from his brother’s wrath. If Sandys could use Dick. Either during the voyage or after, he epic to make sense and capital of his Ameri- marks the following passage in Davenant’s can voyage, Davenant and Bonaparte adapted preface: “God ordain’d not huge Empire the form for their personal poetics of extra- as proportionable to the Bodies, but to the American exile. For all these ,gures, separa- Mindes of Men; and the Mindes of Men are tion from their homeland showed them how more monstrous, and require more space for trapped they were in the world of the nation, agitation and the hunting of others, then the and their epics represented not so much a Bodies of Whales” (qtd. in Olsen-Smith and longing for those homelands as a wish to Marnon 86). -e colonization of the Ameri- transcend nation by bringing international can Atlantic had, less than two hundred years forms and narratives to bear on it—a wish not later, become an empire of the mind that writ- unlike that contained in Goethe’s concept of ers like Melville would sublimate into a space Weltliteratur. Political exile seems to foster that encouraged not only oppression but also epic, and American epic in particular. Wil- rebellious escape from that oppression, if only liam Spengemann has argued that one of En- as an orphaned exile. Sir William Davenant, gland’s greatest political exiles, John Milton, poet laureate to two kings of England and wrote as an American poem buried in Westminster Abbey, remains only (94–117). Paradise Lost would provide not a footnote in literary history—but his Gondi- only essential content but also an indispens- bert is a leviathanic extract in Moby-Dick, an able grammar for epicists seeking cultural in- echo far enough into the past to strike an ex- dependence from the legacy of Europe. otic note in Ishmael’s prodigious rhapsody. Davenant’s example might indeed be Futurity as Transmutation: Temporal said to have inaugurated a dubious tradition Optics in American Epic of writing epic poems while unsuccessfully trying to reach America, one that includes Much has been made of Milton as an “Ameri- texts besides Melville’s “wicked book” (Mel- can poet,” and the inDuence of Paradise Lost as ville, Correspondence 212). A century and a a source text is well documented, for American half a?er Davenant’s arrest by English priva- poetry and for political prose on both sides teers, Napoléon Bonaparte’s radical younger of the Revolutionary War (see Sensabaugh; brother, Lucien, Ded to seek political asylum Schulman; Stavely). However, Milton’s epic in- in the United States; he was captured by the cluded an important formal innovation that, English navy and placed under comfortable while it forced virtually all American epicists /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips  to either accept or reject it, has been little dise Lost, a work similarly a product of its noted by Americanists or Miltonists. time, Milton seeks to transcend that time by The last two books of Paradise Lost, inDecting his narrative into the . which contain ’s vision of futurity with Epic was no longer about its own present but commentary by the archangel Michael, have about its own future, and the long-debated long provoked critical controversy. -e most Dattening of Milton’s poetic voice in books 11 famous assessment of these books is that by and 12 would serve as a stylistic point of entry C. S. Lewis, who characterized the books as into —and into the United “an untransmuted lump of futurity” (129). States’ epic poetry from the 1780s onward. Milton’s in these books certainly does -e mount of vision, by virtue of its asso- [email protected] from that of the ,rst ten books, in the ciation with the imperialist gaze of prospect relatively bare and relentless for- poetry and its futurist telos thanks to Paradise ward drive of the story. What interests me is Lost, attracted American authors and critics not so much the debate over the stylistic merit alike. Timothy Dwight’s Conquest of Canäan, of books 11 and 12 as what the debate has the first new epic published in the United bracketed: Adam’s vision continues not only States, expands the biblical story of Joshua to up to Milton’s time but all the way to “the include a book-long mount-of-vision passage, world’s great period,” the second coming of which encourages Joshua to complete his con- Christ and the foundation of the new heaven quest in the face of defeat. Sarah Wentworth and new earth (Milton 296). -is marks the Morton offers the first book of a projected ,rst time in the history of epic visions of futu- epic in her 1797 Beacon Hill, in which the re- rity—another device tracing back to Homer— membered view of the battle of Bunker Hill that the vision moves temporally beyond the from a neighboring promontory prompts a author’s own era. -e vision of futurity pro- sweeping overview of the Revolutionary War vides an apology—or, more precisely, a te- from a Bostonian vantage point. Part 2 of leology—for the work. In the Odyssey, this Longfellow’s Evangeline pans back to a bird’s- belongs exclusively to the past; in eye view of the American continent as the his prophecy at the edge of the underworld, narrator follows the eponymous heroine on Teiresias predicts only as far forward as the an odyssey traversing the American frontier circumstances of Odysseus’s death. Vergil from south to north, anticipating the open- shi?ed the tense of his teleology in the Aeneid ing of the West in a story set in eighteenth- by projecting Anchises’s Elysian prophecy to century North America (the journey ends Aeneas up to the death of Caesar Augustus’s in Philadelphia, site of the United States’ son, Marcellus: the poet’s present. In the national origin, in the 1790s). And Ishmael’s poet’s present the teleology rested, at least in epic gaze in Moby-Dick gains its perspective the Counter-Reformation works of Ariosto from the roving promontory of the masthead. and Tasso. But the uneasy alliance between -e mount of vision became the very site of Christian and epic teleology re- transmutation in American epics, the place sulted in the shi? from present to eternity in where a past-focused tradition suddenly tele- Dante’s Divine , and in the Redcrosse scopes into a future, whether apoc- Knight’s similarly antichronological glimpse alyptic or millennial (or both). Epics thus of the heavenly city in book 1 of Spenser’s became sites not so much of celebration as !e Faerie Queene. Yet the move from pres- of critique, able to do the cultural work that ent to eternity did not change the inDection Sacvan Bercovitch described in !e Ameri- of the works: Dante’s and Spenser’s respective can Jeremiad while narrating the community presents still dominate their texts. In Para- into , a powerful combination in an  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

age when were discovered not only by Blair’s one objection to Telemachus’s status as other peoples but also by themselves. an epic lies not in form but in content, spe- ci,cally the “minute details of virtuous pol- icy” that the highly didactic Fénelon speaks The Eighteenth-Century Invention of Epic through the mouth of Mentor to the young If the Miltonic mount of vision gave Ameri- hero. According to Blair, the “object” of an can epicists a grammar for their works, a epic is “to improve us by means of actions, complex web of European intertexts provided characters, and sentiments, rather than by the lexicon with which Americans could con- delivering professed and formal instruction” textualize their epics for readers at home and (508). Kames, while not as willing as Blair abroad. Two texts in particular, François de to welcome Telemachus into the epic canon, Fénelon’s Telemachus and James Macpher- uses the work as an occasion to disagree with son’s “translation” of ’s Fingal, played Voltaire’s argument that verse is essential to major roles in what amounted to the inven- epic. Kames notes that the lack of verse form tion of epic as a national form in the eigh- is the French critic’s “single reason” for deny- teenth century. Both texts enjoyed numerous ing Telemachus epic status, while unspeci,ed translations and reprintings throughout Eu- “others” who favor “substance” over form rope, and Ossian became a favorite figure (such as Kames?) “hesitate not to pronounce for Thomas Jefferson in his quest to escape that poem to be epic” (Home 2: 649). Instead the Anglo-Norman specter that haunted his of turning to his own critical judgment, as America (Degategno). Ironically, Ossian was Blair does, Kames turns to popular opinion also a common model for American elegists as the gatekeeper of the epic canon: “As to the of George Washington in 1800 (Cavitch 251). general , there is little reason to doubt, A vital element of the inDuence of Telemachus that a work where heroic actions are related in an elevated style, will, without further requi- and Fingal on epic theory and composition site, be deemed an epic poem” (649). -e rise was that neither was written in traditional of substance over form as the prime criterion verse form. Fénelon chose a metered prose for epic coincided in the eighteenth century as his form, which in translation could just with a growing disparity between traditional as easily be read as a novel or a poem,Q while formalist understandings of the genre and Fingal and the other Ossian poems were com- popular usage of the term epic. posed in highly ,gurative prose. Yet while the critical reception of Telema- The popularity of Telemachus led pro- chus made the writing of modern epics more modern critics, such as Hugh Blair and Henry feasible, the publication of Fingal and the Home, Lord Kames, to gesture toward a more other Ossian poems sparked nationalist anti- open epic canon. Blair anticipates Lukács’s dis- quarian projects in both Europe and Amer- missal of verse form as a requisite for the epic: ica, as nations emerging from the fallout of eighteenth-century empires sought to estab- In reviewing the Epic Poets, it were unjust to lish cultural independence through the “dis- make no mention of the amiable Author of the Adventures of Telemachus. His work, though covery” of their own Homeric pasts. Goethe’s not composed in Verse, is justly entitled to be Sorrows of Young Werther helped make Os- held a Poem. -e measured poetical Prose, in sian a standard author for sentimental readers which it is written, is remarkably harmonious; in the early nineteenth century, but equally and gives the Style nearly as much elevation as inDuential was Herder’s including Ossian in the French language is capable of supporting, his discussions of poetry as expressing the even in regular Verse. (Lectures 508) Geist of a nation. In English-speaking nations, /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips 

Blair emerged as a champion for Ossian, ar- “the pantheon of world poetry [Weltpoesie]” guing that the poetry contained native energy (x, xii; my trans.). now foreign to civilized nations, even exhibit- Thanks to new horizons for formal ex- ing “a remarkable resemblance to the style of perimentation, to which Telemachus had con- the ” (“Critical Dissertation” tributed, and to a new ambition to discover a 354). Indeed, Blair made an almost Herderian to answer Homer and the impe- statement on the power of primitive language rial shadow of the Western canon, epic forms in his often reprinted essay on Ossian: “An took on new meaning in the eighteenth cen- American chief, at this day, harangues at the tury: epic changed from a structural sum of head of his tribe, in a more bold metaphorical its parts to a vehicle for national and interna- style, than a modern European would adven- tional self-assertion. Such was the ambition ture to use in an Epic poem” (346). -e ancient that Freiligrath and other European writers vigor of Fingal trumped even the re,nement marked in Longfellow, and the creation of of Fénelon and Voltaire, according to Blair, American literature—and particularly Amer- who further attacked his French counterparts ican poetry—owes a great deal of its “calcu- by remarking, “To refuse the title of an epic lus of motives” to the eighteenth-century poem to Fingal, because it is not in every little invention of epic.R In one sense, the decline of particular, exactly conformable to the practice Longfellow’s reputation among critics may be of Homer and Vergil, were the mere squea- said to coincide with the decline of Weltlitera- mishness and pedantry of criticism” (358). tur as a context for American writing. Blair goes on to defend Ossian on Aristote- lian grounds, stating that Homer and Ossian Red Records and Forged Letters: both wrote from and that Aristotle Rafinesque’s Walam olum used Homer to examine nature: “No wonder that among all the three, there should be such What we might call the discovery move- agreement and ” (358). Little won- ment in epic poetry during the eighteenth der, too, that by 1840 the Ossian revolution and nineteenth centuries influenced not had helped numerous “primitive” European only Longfellow, Whitman, and some of the epics into print for the ,rst time, including more recognizable American writers of the the , , Sir Gawain and antebellum period. One of the most bizarre the Green Knight, several of the Icelandic texts in all of American literature, the Walam Eddas, and Elias Lönnrot’s construction of olum, or “red record,” of the or Dela- Karelian , !e . Most of these ware Indians, has inspired more controversy poems became familiar to American audi- than almost any other extracanonical epic. ences partly through Longfellow’s anthology C. S. Rafinesque, a French American bota- Poets and Poetry of Europe, in which Long- nist, ethnologist, and philologist (to name fellow [email protected] his own translations alongside just a few of his claimed areas of expertise), those of Sir Walter Scott and others. He also published a “translation” of the Walam olum based the structure of !e Song of Hiawatha in 1836 in his American Nations, which itself on a German translation of the Kalevala, and was to be a complete compendium of knowl- his own German translator, Ferdinand Freili- edge concerning the peoples of the western grath, commented on the Herderian roots of hemisphere. According to Rafinesque, the such a choice (ix–xiii). Indeed, as Freiligrath poem had been handed down orally and in observed, Longfellow’s ability to use European pictograph form; he had acquired a set of the forms to “discover America for the Ameri- pictographs and a transcription of related Le- cans” in his poetry gave him a high place in nape songs, which he used in his translation.  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

-e Walam olum begins with a creation story, peoples. -e same year in which he published then recounts the ’ journey from American Nations, Ra,nesque also published to the Midwest of North America, as well as another lengthy epic poem, ,rst anonymously a history of wars and kings down to the ar- and then under the pseudonym “Constantine rival of white explorers around 1600. Ra,n- Jobson,” entitled The World; or, Instability; esque also included a set of verses, which he this poem was to be a literary expression of said had no Lenape original, that narrated his Ovidian , by which the entire the story of encounters with whites and their universe operates foremost by the of oppression of the Lenape, up to around 1800. mutability. Two years later, Ra,nesque added -e poem was largely ignored for most of the to his literary credentials by publishing a trea- nineteenth century, but through the twenti- tise on translating the Hebrew . His was eth century it enjoyed increasing acceptance, an epic impulse, if ever there was one. despite doubts expressed from the 1830s on- Yet the Walam olum is also written out ward about its authenticity (Warren 149–53). of the frustration of failure and the threat of Only in 1994 did David M. Oestreicher utter obscurity. Ra,nesque was nearing the publish the first definitive case against the end of his career, and publishers had by 1836 authenticity of the Walam olum, in which he refused to consider any more of his works. demonstrated that the work was translated He had taken to publishing his works him- not from Lenape to English but versa. self, at the cheapest rates available, and many, Oestreicher’s work received so little attention perhaps most, copies of those works have that six years later the Walam olum appeared since been destroyed. Even in the opening in The Multilingual Anthology of American lines of !e World, the speaker expresses not Literature, without any mention of doubt of, the usual speech act—“I sing”—with which much less proof against, the poem’s authentic- Sandys started his Metamorphosis but only ity. Dennis Tedlock, in his foreword to the an- the desire for such an act: “I wish to sing the thology’s edition of the poem, remarks, “What changeful ample world” (9). The fragments makes the Walam Olum unique is the reach that make the sequel to the Walam olum of its narrative, stretching from the beginning also echo frustration and defeat, this time of the world to the arrival of the Europeans” projected onto the dwindling Lenapes in the (96).S -e narrative scope was certainly unique; face of white imperialism. -e Walam olum Leonard Warren called the poem “an unbe- proper ends with the verse “At this time north lievable story” spanning over three thousand and south the Wapayachik came, the white or years (148). Instead of reducing the Lenapes’ eastern moving . / -ey were friendly, story to an Aristotelian unity, Ra,nesque used and came in big bird-ships, who are they?” the comprehensiveness of the annals and the (American Nations 140). The sequel begins encyclopedia as his organizing . -e with an answer to this question: Walam olum provides that he des- perately wanted to vindicate his theories con- Alas, alas! we know now who they are, these cerning the Asiatic migration of the Indians Wapsinis (white people) who then came out of the , to rob us of our country. (in sharp disagreement with the Book of Mor- Starving wretches! with smiles they mon’s identification of the Indians with the came; but soon became snaking foes. lost tribes of Israel), his Herderian theories of -e Wallamolum was written by Lekhibit (the language (he named Herder as a main source writer) to record our glory. Shall I write for his methods in American Nations [4]), and another to record our fall? No! our foes his insistence that the Indians held the key have taken care to do it; but I speak to thee to an all-encompassing theory of the world’s what they know not or conceal. (141) /00.1 ] Christopher N. Phillips 

-e bitterness of exile results in a turn back ,nd a renewed understanding of what an “al- to origins, as the chiefs decide to “exchange ready antiquated” form.T is doing when it our lands, and return at last beyond the Ma- time-travels—when it antiquates and updates sispek (muddy water, Mississippi) near to our itself in a modern world. old country. . . . Shall we be free and happy there?” (144). This closing question signals the failure of the mount of vision, the ,nal obscurity of the future in the face of an apoc- NOTES alyptic present, a strained mind’s attempt to cope with the prospect of perpetual misun- -is essay has bene,ted greatly from research conducted derstanding and rejection. at the Library Company of Philadelphia on a Mellon Foundation fellowship. I would also like to thank Jay One of the most Damboyant expressions Fliegelman and Steffi Dippold for their incisive com- of the epic impulse, found in Edgar Allan ments and to give SteL further thanks for her assistance Poe’s prose poem Eureka, similarly addresses in translating Freiligrath’s German. the problem of failed vision. In a work pur- 1. An alternative story of the American epic might trace the proliferation of epics in Spanish a?er the Castil- porting to be a cosmology not unlike Ra,n- ian colonization of the Americas. Well over a dozen epics esque’s !e World, the narrator muses: recounting Spanish exploits in the New World had ap- peared in either hemisphere by 1626 (Peña 233–52). He who from the top of Aetna casts his eyes 2. See Jameson, Political Unconscious 103–50; Moretti, leisurely around, is [email protected] chieDy by the ex- “Conjectures”; and Dimock. Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s excel- tent and diversity of the scene. Only by a rapid lent Ambassadors of Culture discusses the place of epic forms in speci,c trans-American networks, though not whirling on his heel could he hope to compre- centrally. hend the panorama in the sublimity of its one- 3. -e Western epic tradition eventually adopted a ness. But as, on the summit of Aetna, no man more global perspective because of this selectivity: a?er has thought of whirling on his heel, so no man the rise in interest in Asian literature in late-eighteenth- has ever taken into his brain the full unique- century Europe, for example, epicists numbered among ness of the prospect; and so, again, whatever the authors who included Asian texts in their own ge- considerations lie involved in this uniqueness, nealogies. One example is Melville’s canto on the Rama- have as yet no practical existence for mankind. yana in (103–05). 4. For an excellent discussion of the history of this (1261) problem, as well as a modern case for the classi,cation of Ovid as an epicist, see Otis. -is impossible vision returns us to the 5. For a more extensive discussion of Sandys’s refer- quandary of weak concepts and rich reality. ences to America, see Davis. Can these truly be brought together, or must 6. I follow David F. Gladish’s spelling of “Davenant” we approach unity of vision only through di- rather than the 1673 Works’s “D’Avenant,” mainly for the sake of simplicity. versity of points of attention? From Sandys 7. Translations of Telemachus appeared in either form. to Melville, epics played a crucial role across It was ,rst translated into English prose in 1699, the year centuries in presenting America to the world of its ,rst French publication (Riley xvi); published verse and to itself, even as they defined that self. translations, such as Gibbons Bagnall’s in 1790, did ap- pear in London. American epics have always been a kind of 8. I take the phrase “calculus of motives” from Ken- world literature, in which the exceptionalist neth Burke’s description of the logic of constitutional in- stance is as likely to be critiqued as it is to be terpretation in his A Grammar of Motives (377). asserted. If we can move beyond seeing epics, 9. The Anthology dates the poem as “before 1833” in America or elsewhere, as a matter of de- (Tedlock 95), apparently basing the date on Ra,nesque’s own claim to have translated the work in 1833. Oestrei- cline and failure and understand them more cher established that the Walam olum dates from 1834 at in terms of strategies for damage control and the earliest (239–40). responses to the experience of failure, we may 10. I borrow this term from Bakhtin 3.  America’s Epic Origins and the Richness of World Literature [ PMLA

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