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Title: Shelley's reception of Greek antiquity : rationalism, idealism and historicism
Author: Yoneta, Lawrence Masakazu
ISNI:       0000 0004 5914 6485
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2015
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The central argument of this thesis is that Percy Bysshe Shelley perceived modern relevance in the experience of the ancient Greeks. While their art, architecture, literature, philosophy and mythology were a constant inspiration for his thought and writing, a knowledge of their moral values, religious beliefs, social customs, political institutions and historical events provided him with clues to ideal society. Three chief factors are identified that determined the ways in which Shelley formed an idea of Greek antiquity: rationalism, idealism and historicism. Rationalism was an intellectual legacy from the Enlightenment of the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It played a principal role in his evaluation of the Greek achievement. Its central criteria were reason, wisdom and benevolence. These qualities were polemically opposed to tyranny and superstition. Greek philosophy, literature and morality were celebrated for their power of reason, as a source of wisdom, and as exemplifying the spirit of benevolence. While rationalism concerned value judgment, idealism was a form of poetic representation. It found expression in Shelley's tendency to present Greece as perfection, often as more perfect than his actual historical perception would have allowed it to be. In his poetic imagination Greece figured either as a metaphor for ideal qualities or as a land where great bards and sages had once lived and bequeathed examples of excellence. Historicism was a habit of mind that became prominent in Shelley's commentary on the Greeks later than the other two elements, namely in the Italian period between 1818 and 1822. The historicist approach -- an approach in which cultural particularities are examined in the light of contextual factors -- led him to conceive the character of the ancients in contradistinction to that of modern Europeans. His exploration of the Greek character was based on the principles of Enlightenment historiography including the spirit of systematisation and the consideration of causality and environmental influence; among notable historians of the eighteenth century were Montesquieu, Voltaire, Hume and Gibbon. The cultural dualism between ancient Greece and modern Europe had its immediate sources and specific intellectual context in the historicist discourse of German Hellenists in the latter half of the century, especially Winckelmann and August Schlegel.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available