Q : Write a detailed note on Keats’s Hellenism. or Discuss Keats’s love for Greek culture.

Ans : Meaning of Hellenism : The ancient Greeks called their country Hellas and themselves Hellenes, the name of a tribe that (in the time of pre-historic migrations) had settled in on this land. Graecia was a name given by the Romans to Hellas. Thus, the word ‘Hellenism’ has been derived from the word ‘Hellene’, which means Greek. Therefore, ‘Hellenism’ may be defined as a love of Greek art, literature, culture, and way of life. Its Influence on the Romantic Poets : The dawn of the 19th century witnessed a growing dissatisfaction among poets with the materialistic life of their times. Wordsworth, in a mood of indignation1, expressed a strong desire to be a pagan2 and a Greek rather than remain a Christian. Shelley too had a fascination for Greece and his ‘Hellas’ represents his adoration of the Greek way of life and Hellenic attitude towards art. Byron was so greatly attracted by Greece that he joined the Greek army and sacrificed his life while fighting for Greek freedom against the Turks. But of all the Romantic poets, Keats had the warmest admiration for Greece. He was unmistakably a true representative of Greek thought in a sense in which Wordsworth and Shelley were not. Shelley had once remarked, ‘Keats was a Greek.’ Threefold Influence of Greek Culture on Keats : Keats did not know the Greek language, and therefore had no opportunity of reading Greek literature. He had never visited Greece to study the Greek ways of life. The Greek influence on Keats came through three agencies of literature, sculpture, and his innate tendency: (a) Keats had no first-hand knowledge of Greek literature. He derived his knowledge of the Greek classics from translations and books of reference like Chapman’s translation of Homer, and Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary. When Keats was sixteen year old, one of his friends lent him a copy of Chapman’s translation of Homer. It excited his vision and stimulated his interest in Greek literature and mythology. It revealed to him the new world of wonder and delight. On reading Chapman’s Homer, Keats felt as he had discovered a new planet and he himself expressed his feelings in the following lines:
1 2

indignation – anger; resentment. pagan – the word used in the past to describe a person who did not believe in Christianity or any other established religion of the world (a hierarchy of gods and goddesses in Greece before the birth of Christ are also called pagan gods).


‘On Indolence’. ‘On Grecian Urn’. dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. inscriptions and architectural structures that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. 2|Page . The great odes ‘To Psyche’. ‘Hyperion’. According to a critic. ‘Hyperion’ treats the ancient Greek legend of the overthrow of the old gods (Titans) by the new gods (Olympians). The ‘Ode to Psyche’ is based on the myth related to the love of Cupid. Greece. and the goddess Psyche. His Love for Greek Myths and Legends : The first and the most important trait which binds Keats with the Greeks is his love for their myths and legends. (b) The second source of Keats’s Hellenism is the Greek sculpture. A few of his sonnets like ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ and ‘On Seeing the Elgin Marbles’ are inspired by Greek literature and reveal the important influence exerted on him by Greek sculpture. *‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’. ‘Endymion’ deals with the Greek legend of the love of Moon goddess for the shepherd Endymion. and lastly its sense of proportion came to Keats through his knowledge of these marbles. and freely used it in his poetry. He had leant it by heart and was familiar with Greek gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. Its construction began in 447 BC and was completed in 438 BC. He had an inborn love for the Greek spirit. These sculptures of ancient Greece fascinated Keats’s imagination. His source was Elgin Marbles3 obtained chiefly from the Parthenon4 by Lord Elgin in 1811.’ (c) But the strongest source of his Hellenism is the inborn temperamental Greekness of Keat s’s mind. Keats was driven to the world of Greek beauty because he wanted to escape imaginatively from the harsh realities of the present. forming a part of the collection known as the Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures. ‘Hyperion is in poetry what the Elgin Marbles are in sculpture. For his subjects and themes. and ‘Lamia’ are based on Greek myths. ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and ‘Ode on 3 Elgin Marbles . ‘Lamia’ presents the story of the love of the serpent godde ss (Lamia) and a human being Lycius. He had a temperamental affinity with the ancient Greek writers and thinkers. and ‘To Maia’ owe their origin to Greek mythology and art. Several of his longer poems such as ‘Endymion’. a sonnet by Keats+ Keats was greatly fascinated by Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary. He loved every bit of it. symmetry and simplicity.Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken. whom the people of Athens considered their patron. the Greek god of love. The calm grandeur of Greek art. 4 Parthenon – The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis. he frequently goes to Greek myths and legends. their religion of joy and their religion of beauty.The Parthenon Marbles. its majesty.

The rising sun for Keats is not a ball of fire.Indolence’ are inspired by pieces of Greek sculpture. reference is made to ‘Dryad6 of the trees’. but a divinity in human shape. There are countless allusions to Greek legends and stories in his poems which are not directly based on Greek themes. there are also references to ancient rituals and ceremonies performed to propitiate9 pagan gods. Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind. All these poems show how deeply Keats’s imagination was steeped in the classical mythology. In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. sometimes as a reaper sound asleep on a half reaped furrow. He sees the moon as the goddess with a silver bow coming down to kiss Endymion. indirect references.e. Autumn sometimes appears as a thresher : Sitting careless on granary floor. rituals. ‘the blushful Hippocrene7’. pipes. tree-nymph. What the Greeks felt. This is what we find in the first stanza of ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. Keats attributes human qualities to various objects of nature. 7 Hippocrene – the fountain of the Greek Muses. the world of Greek paganism lives here in the poetry of Keats. The fragmentary ‘Ode to Maia’ is related to the ancient worship of the Greek goddess Maia. with all the wonder and mysticism of the natural world. For this. processions. His Use of Greek Allusions5 : Keats’s Hellenism is also revealed in the frequent Greek allusions found in his poems. Keats also felt. The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ alludes to the ancient sacrificial scene with its mysterious priest. In fact. ceremonies. and ‘Bacchus8 and his pards’. but Apollo riding his chariot. Thus like the Greeks. or as a gleaner steadying the laden head across a brook. pacify. Dryad – fairy of the woods. Keats creates a Greek atmosphere in his poetry. His Love for Beauty : 5 6 allusions – hints. celebration) who travels in his chariot which is drawn by leopards. His Manner of Personifying the Powers of Nature : Keats is a Greek in his manners of personifying the powers of nature. he presents typically Greek objects. to calm down. Autumn to Keats is not only a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. 9 propitiate – appease. 8 Bacchus – /ˈbækəs/ (Roman name for Dionysus) the Greek god of wine and revelry (i. Greek Atmosphere : Through his treatment of Greek myths and allusions to Greek characters. 3|Page . and sacrifices. shrines.

Conclusion : 10 11 unalloyed – unadulterated. The odes show an amazing sense of proportion in the Greek manner and present a well-designed evolution of thought. truth beauty’ (‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’). the beauty of shape. His poetry had no palpable11 design. It was the perfection of loveliness in Greek art that fascinated Keats. He enjoyed unalloyed 10 pleasure in beauty which for him did not carry any philosophical or spiritual message. It was the beauty and shapeliness of the figures on the Grecian Urn that started his imaginative impulse which created the great Ode. He was mainly a romantic poet and wrote in a manner differing from that of the classical poets. Their poetry was incarnation of beauty. his artistic method and mode of expression are not always Greek. Similarly Keats was a pure poet. His Manner of Treatment : Keats’s Hellenism is revealed not only through his treatment of Greek legends and myths but also in his manner of this treatment. The Greeks did not burden their poetry with philosophy or spiritual message. and luxuriance13 of style that we find in poems like ‘Endymion’. Keats exhibits romantic traits such as richness of imagination. To him ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’ (‘Endymion’).The Greeks were lovers of beauty. clear. exuberance12 of imagery. Thus there was in Keats the keenest sense and enjoyment of beauty. the expression of beauty is the aim of all art. palpable – definite. Sidney Colvin has rightly said that he does not write of Greek things in a Greek manner. richness. and ‘Beauty is truth. There is also a perfection of form as in his odes. But they are found only in a few of Keats’s poems. In place of these classical traits. the purity of outline. The perfection of form. Although he is Greek by nature. At places his poetry possesses the classical grandeur and sublimity such as in portions of ‘Hyperion’. 4|Page . These are the qualities that are opposed to the Greek qualities of restraint and discipline. To him. and so is Keats. Keats’s passionate pursuit of beauty shows the instinctive Greekness of his mind. He has also employed the heroic couplet which was a favourite verse form with the classical poets like Homer. However for him. the sense of beauty overcame every other consideration. it would not be completely right to regard Keats’s manner entirely Greek. 13 luxuriance – abundance. as to the Greeks. and restraint in expression — these are the qualities generally associated with Greek art and poetry. absolute. Criticism of His Manner : However. and this gave him a fellow-feeing with the Greek masters. 12 exuberance – strong and healthy.

5|Page . He neither knew nor cared anything about Greek history and civilization. In fact. we can say that Keats was a Greek in spirit but romantic in form. 14 exaggerated – overstated. the Greek influence has been vastly exaggerated14. He combined the classicism of Greece with the romanticism of the Elizabethan England. In the opinion of a critic. He treats the Greek themes in the romantic manner. Keats cared as much for Greece as for his own country.In conclusion. overstressed.

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