Representations of Roman antiquities in neoclassical literature

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

John Paul Russo - Committee Chair


The neoclassic tendency to write about the ruins of Rome was both an attempt to recapture the grandeur of the "golden age" of man and a lament for the passing of a great civilization. John Dyer, who wrote the Ruins of Rome in 1740, was largely responsible for the eighteenth-century revival of a unique subgenre of landscape poetry dealing with the ruins of the ancient world, particularly Rome. Few poems about the ruins had been written since Antiquites de Rome (1558) by Joachim Du Bellay, and Dyer was one of the first neoclassic poets to return to the decaying stones of a past civilization as a source of poetic inspiration. Dyer, as Du Bellay had done in Antiquites de Rome, regards the ruins from a nostalgic perspective. While following most of the rules and standards of neoclassicism, that of imitating nature and giving pleasure to a reader, Dyer also includes his own reactions and feelings in Ruins of Rome. The poem is composed from the perspective of a poet who serves as interpreter and translator of the subject, a characteristic of much "prospect" poetry in the eighteenth century. Numerous other neoclassic poets followed Dyer's example, including George Keate, William Whitehead and William Parsons. The tendency by these poets to write about the ruins of Rome from a subjective perspective was one of the strongest themes in what Northrup Frye has called the "Age of Sensibility" (formerly "Pre-romanticism"). Although the renewed interest in Rome's antiquities continued well into the nineteenth century, influencing many Romantic poets such as Lord Byron and William Wordsworth, the evolution of this type of poetry is a gradual process which begins with Du Bellay's poem and is fostered by the combined influence of seventeenth-century paintings of the ruins and the poetic interest in the imagination. All of these factors, including the tendency of the poet to write about his personal reactions to the ruins, are elements which proved to be instrumental, at least in part, in the development of Romanticism.


Literature, English

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