Sir Gawain and the Classical Tradition: Essays on the Ancient Antecedents

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E.L. Risden
McFarland, Jan 27, 2006 - History - 223 pages
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The 14th century English alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is admired for its morally complex plot and brilliant poetics. A chivalric romance placed in an Arthurian setting, it has since received acclaim for its commentary regarding important socio-political and religious concerns. The poem's technical brilliance blends psychological depth and vivid language to produce an effect widely considered superior to any other work of the time. Although the poem is a combination of English alliterative meter, romanticism, and a wide-ranging knowledge of Celtic lore, continental materials and Latin classics, the extent to which Classical antecedents affected or directed the poem is a point of continued controversy among literary scholars. This collection of essays by scholars of diverse interests addresses this puzzling and fascinating question. The introduction provides an expansive background for the topic, and subsequent essays explore the extent to which classical Greek, Roman, Arabic, Christian and Celtic influences are revealed in the poem's opening and closing allusions, themes, and composition. Essays discuss the way in which the anonymous author of Sir Gawain employs figural echoes of classical materials, cultural memoirs of past British tradition, and romantic re-textualizations of Trojan and British literature. It is argued that Sir Gawain may be understood as an Aeneas, Achilles, or Odysseus figure, while the British situation in the 14th century may be understood as analogous to that of ancient Troy.

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Contents

Preface
1
The Trojan Framework of Sir Gawain and
49
Ritual Sacrifice and the PreChristian Subtext of Gawains
65
Aeneas Gawain
82
The Tresounous Tulk in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
112
Classical AnaloguesEastern and Westernof Sir Gawain
135
Classical Magic and Its Function
182
About the Contributors
211
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About the author (2006)

E.L. Risden is a professor of English at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He has published books and essays on medieval and Renaissance studies as well as poetry and fiction.

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