Guide to Literary Terms

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Canon

Canon - a standard of judgment or a criterion. It is also an approved list of books belonging in the Christian Bible, in addition to being the accepted list of any given order, and the list of books accepted as Scripture. The term is increasingly used to refer to those works of literature that have come to be considered standard in any anthology or course of study. In addition, it refers to the works of an author which are accepted as genuine, such as the Chaucer Canon.

The term is derived from the Middle French canon, which was adapted from the Italian cannone, meaning “large tube.” This definition evolved from the Latin canna, which meant “cane or reed.” Common usage eventually led to the term being defined as a straight rod or bar, a carpenter’s rule, or a standard of excellence. Greek authors were known as kanones or “models of excellence.”

Melville’s canon consists of Moby-Dick and Billy Budd.