By the time John Milton composed his pastoral elegy titled “Lycidas,” English poetry had long been influenced by the Greek and Roman classics. This was especially true during the English Renaissance (ca. 1550-ca.1660) and became, if anything, even truer in the decades following that period – thanks, in part, to Milton’s own enormous influence.
Like many of his educated contemporaries, Milton grew up reading the Greeks and Romans – not only the creative writers but also the philosophers. He knew the Greek and Latin languages as well as he knew English. He aspired to be an English poet in the classical tradition, as his choice to write a pastoral elegy clearly indicates. Like many European poets of his era, he sought to “Christianize” classical modes of writing – to adapt classical genres to the purposes of teaching Christian lessons. Certainly this is what he does, for instance, in Paradise Lost, a Christian epic clearly influenced by classical models.
It is not...
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