Pope, Homer, and Manliness: Some Aspects of Eighteenth-century Classical Learning
The conflict between masculine and feminine values in eighteenth-century classical learning is problematic and controversial. In Carolyn D. Williams' searching study, Pope's Homer becomes a richly complex focus for new, gendered explorations into the nature of the masculine 'rule'. For two thousand years, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were used to teach privileged boys how to become manly citizens. Pope's Homer ensured the continuation of this tradition throughout the eighteenth century. Pope, Homer, and Manliness sets this process in its social, political, and literary context as part of a continuous debate on masculinity, pointing up the centrality, for both Pope and Homer, of feminine as well as masculine concerns. As the subject of gendered reading, Pope's Homer emerges as the fissured relic of a struggle to preserve masculine dignity from the encroachments of feminine characters and values within the text, and of female readers and critics. Carolyn D. Williams throws new light on the conflict between masculine and feminine values by focusing on the problems and difficulties of defining masculinity in the first place. Pope, Homer, and Manliness commands a knowledge of classical and early modern literature which has so far rarely been brought to bear on gender studies. This fascinating study reveals that 'masculinity' must here be seen not as an absolute standard, but as the product of unceasing conflict between competing and unstable models.
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