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Alliterative Poetry and the Time of Antiquity

Alliterative Poetry and the Time of Antiquity

This essay discusses the time of classical antiquity in English alliterative poetry, c. 1360–1420, a period of intense literary creativity. Alliterative poets in this period were attracted to what we now call Greek, Roman, and Judaeo-Roman antiquity, which they explored within the context of alliterative verse. In the process, they helped make English poetry a vehicle for deep and deliberate historicizing. This encounter with antiquity is particularly striking in PPl, the alliterative corpus’s most ambitious poem, but it also animates other long alliterative poems, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, St Erkenwald, the Siege of Jerusalem, and the Wars of Alexander. This essay examines the investments of alliterative poetry in classical antiquity, arguing that the time of classical antiquity posed historiographical, formal, and theological problems with which alliterative poetry proved especially equipped to deal.


The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature, I: 800–1558, ed. by Rita Copeland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 391–412.


Steiner, Emily