War in Western Literature (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
War is surprisingly inconspicuous among the topics of early Western literature. Most of the wars and battles featured in literature before 1800—including the Siege of Troy in Homer’s Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616), the First Crusade in Gerusalemme liberata (1581; Jerusalem Delivered, 1600) by Torquato Tasso, and the Battle of Agincourt in William Shakespeare’s Henry V (produced c. 1598-1599)—were historically distant to their authors and approached legendary status.
Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen was the one of the first writers to incorporate his own war experience—he was press-ganged into the Thirty Years’ War at the age of thirteen—into a major literary work, the satirical novel Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus (1669; The Adventurous Simplicissimus, 1912). In one of the supplements to this work, Bertolt Brecht found the story that inspired the bitter and brutal Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (pr. 1941; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1941); however, Grimmelshausen’s demolition by mockery of the guiding myths of aristocratic warfare—duty, chivalry and heroism—stood alone for more than a century.
Such retrospective analyses became common only when the era of political warfare began, and the slow spread of democratic responsibility began to engage whole populations—at least tacitly—in matters of diplomatic propriety....
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