Description

Translations, and dictionaries of myth such as Lemprière’s and Tooke’s were vital to the development of John Keats’s poetry; a copy of this book was among his possessions when he died. 

When did Keats encounter it? 

Keats first read the book at Clarke’s Academy, where he received a liberally minded schooling before he began his apprenticeship as an apothecary at the age of 14. 

Why might it be controversial?

According to Keats’s biographer Nicholas Roe, some saw this book as ‘a primer in sedition’, and Keats’s older friend Leigh Hunt got into trouble for reading it. Classical learning was traditionally the preserve of the ruling class, and explaining it in English not only offered a broader section of society the chance to participate in literature, according to Roe, but explained history and politics, ‘including the doctrines of classical republicanism and democracy that had inspired the revolutions in America [1765-1783] and France [1787-99, 1830 and 1848].’ 

Which of Keats’s works can we link it to? 

As was typical of the period, all of Keats’s writing is dense with allusions to classical worlds. The long poems Endymion (1818) and Hyperion, however, both take their cues from Greek myth. This did not escape the notice of reviewers such as John Gibson Lockhart, for whom it was a sign of Keats not knowing his place. 

Were there any longer-term consequences? 

Later in the 19th century, the Pre-Raphaelites drew on Keats’s visions of history in their art, and the legacy of classical myth in English poetry stretches on to Derek Walcott and Carol Ann Duffy.

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