“…it was a sign that the creative spark was fading.”

We should try to keep the different meanings of ‘classical’ distinct, but they easily bleed into one another. It should be clear from this book that plenty of ancient literature is ‘romantic’, in any of the senses of another elusive word. At the end of a survey of classical antiquity we may also be sturck by how original are all its greatest writers. This is worth stressing, as the idea is around that the ancients were not so much concerned with originality. it is commonly said that these authors were keenly conscious of the genres in which they worked, and of the rules or at least the expectations that each genre brought with it. There is a kernel of truth in this, but the ‘rules’ of genre should be understood as a description of those ways of writing which authors found congenial and rewarding, not as a set of pre-existent commands that authors felt obliged to obey. (One might compare a modern genre, the Hollywood epic, which has some familiar rules or conventions, but only because some cultural authority has imposed them.) Whenever rules hardened into commands (and this did happen sometimes in antiquity), it was a sign that the creative spark was fading. As we have seen, Latin literature as a whole was secondary, written under the shadow of Greece, but the best Latin writers are the ones who found ways of being original despite this.

And these are the truths that the great spirits of later centuries understood. Shakespeare and Milton, the architects of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Titian and Tintoretto did not find that their classical sources inhibited them; rather, they stimulated our parents, and on the whole they have been good parents. The healthy fledgling quits the nest, and it is among the achievements of the best ancient authors that, properly appreciated, they have enabled us to fly free.”

-Richard Jenkyns, Classical Literature. 

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