Literary criticism

Voltaire: Philosophical Letters on the English

D'après_Maurice_Quentin_de_La_Tour _Portrait_de_Voltaire_(c._1737 _musée_Antoine_Lécuyer)The Philosophical Letters or Letters on the English (French: Lettres philosophiques) is a 1733 work by Voltaire, revised  in 1778, composed as a series of letters reflecting on his sojourn in England from 1726 to 1728.

Voltaire's thoughts on English literature include a number of leading writers of the day who he met while in London, such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. His account of English political and religious institutions, Newtonian science, and the empiricism of Bacon and Locke, quickly became a formative influence on continental liberalism.

Letters on England at online book stores
Amazon | (US)| (UK)

Free online texts
English translations
Gutenberg: Letters on England. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Internet Archive: French and English Philosophers, Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hobbes (includes Letters on England). Harvard Classics Vol. 34. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
Internet History Sourcebooks: Letters on the English or Lettres Philosophiques. HTML format.
Liberty Fund: The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters). EPUB, HTML, MOBI and PDF formats.
Wikisource: Letters Concerning the English Nation. English translation. HTML and other formats.
French texts
Wikisource: Lettres Philosophiques. HTML and other formats.

Continue reading "Voltaire: Philosophical Letters on the English" »

Horace: The Art of Poetry

Adalbert_von_Rössler_HorazThe Art of Poetry (Latin: Ars Poetica) is a poem by Horace, originally included in the second volume of his Epistles, published in 14 BCE and sometimes known as the Epistle to the Pisos (Latin: Epistula ad Pisones).

It's reflections on poetry are personal and a touch satirical, contrasting with earlier extant literary criticism, such as that of Aristotle. It has nevertheless exercised a huge influence through its richness in maxims and pithy phrases, many of which are still in use as common literary terms.

The Art of Poetry at online book stores
Amazon | (US) | (UK)

Free online texts
Bilingual texts
Loebulus: L194 - Horace - Satires. Epistles. Ars Poetica. Public domain Loeb edition. PDF format.
English translations
Gutenberg: The Satires, Epistles & Art of Poetry of Horace, translated by John Conington. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Gutenberg: The Art of Poetry, translated by George Colman. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Internet Archive
Perseus: The Art of Poetry, translated by C. Smart. HTML and XML formats.
Poetry in Translation: Ars Poetica, translated by A.S. Kline (2005). Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Works of Horace, translated into English Prose by C. Smart. EPUB, MOBI and HTML formats.
Wikisource: Ars Poetica. Multiple translations. HTML and other formats.
Latin texts
Gutenberg: The Works of Horace. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats. 
Latin Library: Ars Poetica. HTML format.
Perseus: De Arte Poetica liber. HTML and XML formats.
Wikisource: Ars Poetica. HTML and other formats.

Other Resources
Librivox: The Ars Poetica and Carmen Saeculare, Dual Latin and English translations. Free public domain audiobook.
Literature and History: Episode 50 - Our Brutal Age. Episode 51 - Horace and Augustan Poetry. Podcast and transcript by Doug Metzger.
Wikipedia: Horace - Ars Poetica (Horace)

Further reading
Horace: Epistles - the larger work of which The Art of Poetry is part.
Homer: The Iliad - while Horace famously acknowledges that there moments when even Homer nods, he nevertheless regards him as the supreme poetic model.
Quintilian: Institutes of Oratory - the first source to treat The Art of Poetry as a separate work.
Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.

Pseudo-Longinus: On the Sublime

Zeus_Typhon_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_596On the Sublime (Greek: Περì Ὕψους Perì Hýpsous) is a work on literary criticism written in Greek at some point during the Roman empire. The manuscript tradition attributes the work to 'Dionsysius or Longinus' and its true provenance has been the subject of much debate.

The concept of the sublime reflects the author's commendation of writing in a grand, elevated style, citing many examples from classical literature. The work is not mentioned by any other ancient writer, but became particularly influential during the eighteenth century.

On the Sublime at online book stores
Amazon | | Hive (UK bookshops)

Free online texts
English translations
Attalus: On the Sublime, translated by W.H. Fyfe. HTML format.
Gutenberg: On the Sublime. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Internet Archive: On the Sublime, translated by H. L. Havell. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): On the Sublime, translated by W. Rhys Roberts. EPUB, MOBI and HTML formats.
Wikisource: On the Sublime, translated by H. L. Havell. HTML and other formats.
Greek texts
Internet Archive: Aristotle, The Poetics; "Longinus", On the Sublime; Demetrius, On Style. Bilingual Loeb edition. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
Perseus: De Sublimitate. HTML and XML formats.

Continue reading "Pseudo-Longinus: On the Sublime" »

Vico: The New Science

GiambattistaVicoThe New Science (Italian: La Scienza Nuova) is a work by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, originally published in 1725 and expanded in several later editions. It provides a history of civil society, interpreted, in opposition to contemporary Cartesian rationalism, through the principle of verum factum that what has been made by humans can be understood by humans.

Vico's account of human progress and his insight into the difference between ancient and modern ways of thinking has led many to credit him with being the first true philosopher of history.

The New Science at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Internet Archive: The New Science, translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harodl Frisch (Cornell, 1948). Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Italian text. HTML and other formats.

Continue reading "Vico: The New Science" »

Harold Bloom's Western Canon

51bVSG8KaFL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, by Harold Bloom is a 1994 book defending the concept of a central canon of Western writers against various modern critical approaches that Bloom characterised as a 'school of resentment'.

The book is perhaps best remembered for an appendix listing central canonical writers, an exercise which Bloom later repudiated. Non-Western works are included only in so far as Bloom recognised their influence on the Western tradition. This leads to the inclusion of a handful of major Indian and Middle Eastern works from the ancient and medieval periods, while Chinese literature is totally excluded.

Modern African and Asian literature is slightly better represented, but Bloom's list is best used with the understanding that it intended to be representative of western culture only and therefore excludes much of what is most valuable in world literature.

An adapted version of Bloom's list is presented below with links to relevant free resources. His recommended translations, mostly still in copyright, are omitted.

The Western Canon at Amazon

Continue reading "Harold Bloom's Western Canon" »

Aristophanes: The Frogs

The Frogs (Greek: Βάτραχοι,  Latin: Ranae)  is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes first produced in 405 BC. It won first prize at the Lenaea, a festival of the god Dionysus, who features as the play's protagonist. 

The Frogs was written shortly after the deaths of the tragedians Sophocles and Euripides, and the play opens with Dionysus determined to bring the latter back from Hades. While journeying in the company of the ferryman Charon he encounters the chorus of frogs which gives the play its name. Various adventures ensue in Hades before Dionysus is asked to judge a contest between the tragedians Aeschylus and Euripides. After much literary debate, Dionysus decides in favour of Aeschylus.

The choice of the older playwright has often been taken to reflect the same conservative values seen in Aristophanes' attack on Socrates and the sophists in The Clouds.

The Frogs at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Bacchicstage: The Frogs, translated by G. Theodoridis. HTML format. This text is also available at Poetry in Translation.

Bartleby: The Frogs, translated by B.B. Rogers. HTML format.

Gutenberg: The Frogs,  translated by B.B. Rogers. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: The Frogs, translated by Gilbert Murray (1912). Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: L 488 - Aristophanes II - Peace, Birds, Frogs. Bilingual Greek-English Loeb edition. Multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: The Frogs. English translation, HTML and TXT format.

Perseus: Aristophanes Comoediae, ed. F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart, vol. 2. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1907. Greek etext. HTML and XML format.

Perseus: The Frogs, translated by Dr Matthew Dillon. HTML and XML formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Frogs. English translation, multiple formats.

Wikisource: Βάτραχοι. Greek text. HTML, PDF and EPUB formats.

Wikisource: The Frogs. Anonymous translation, presumed to be Oscar Wilde (1912). HTML, PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats.

Other Resources Aristophanes' The Frogs.

BBC In Our Time: Comedy in Ancient Greek Theatre, Discussion with Melvyn Bragg and guests Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Nick Lowe.

History of Ancient Greece: o54- Old Comedy and Aristophanes. Podcast by Ryan Stitt.

Librivox: The Frogs, public domain audiobooks.

National Theatre: An Introduction to Greek Comedy and Satyr Drama - video, featuring Edith Hall, Sean McEvoy, Alan Sommerstein, Laura Swift.

New York Times, 'Frogs' They Would A-Swimming Go, by Paul Gardner, 19 May 1974.

TheatreDatabase: The Frogs, summary. The Frogs, summary.

University College London: Aristophanes' Frogs study guide.

Wikipedia: The Frogs.

Youtube: The Frogs by Aristophanes 2013, Matthew McCann.

Youtube: Aristophanes' Frogs (Cambridge Greek Play 2013). Performed with Aeschylus' Prometheus as the Cambridge Greek Play for 2013.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Aeschylus: The Persians.


Euripides: Andromache, Hippolytus.

 Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: The Frogs is listed.

Aristotle: The Poetics

The Poetics (Greek: Περὶ ποιητικῆς, Latin: De Poetica) is a treatise by Aristotle on literary theory. Like many of his other works, it exercised a formative influence on the discipline it examined up to the renaissance.

Aristotle divided poetry into tragedy and comedy and into narrative and dramatic forms. Like Plato, Aristotle saw the essence of art in representation or mimesis. In contrast to the critical view of mimesis in Plato's dialogues, Aristotle's theory of catharsis suggested that tragedy could have a positive effect through purging negative emotions.

The Poetics at, .uk, .fr, .de, .ca.

Free online texts

Gutenberg: The Poetics, translated by S.H. Butcher. Multiple formats.

Perseus: Greek text, ed. by R. Kassel (1966). English text, translated by W.H. Fyfe (1932). HTML and XML formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Poetics, translated by S.H. Butcher. EPUB, HTML and MOBI formats.

Wikisource: Translation by Ingram Bywater (1898). Translation by S.H. Butcher (1922).

Continue reading "Aristotle: The Poetics" »

Plato: Ion

The Ion (Greek: Ἴων) is a dialogue in which Socrates discusses the nature of poetry with a rhapsode, a professional performer who specialises in giving oral recitations from Homer. Socrates questions whether his ability is the result of skill or divine inspiration.

The dialogue is a key example of Plato's suspicion of mimesis or imitation. It could also be seen as a critique of the place of oral tradition in Greek culture, although as the Phaedrus shows, Plato also had doubts about the advantages of writing.

Ion at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France |  Germany | Spain | Italy

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: Ion by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: Ion, HTML and TXT formats.

Perseus: Ion. English text (Lamb 1925). Greek text (Burnet ed. 1903).

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Ion, translated by Benjamin Jowett. EPUB, HTML and MOBI formats.

Wikisource: Ion, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other Resources

Approaching Plato: A Guide to the Early and Middle Dialogues

Librivox: Ion - public domain audiobook.

Philpapers: Ion - open access papers.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry, by Charles L. Griswold.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plato's Aesthetics, by Nickolas Pappas.

Wikipedia: Ion

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Homer: The Iliad and the Odyssey - The high proportion of direct speech in these epics set the tone for the mimetic aspect of Greek literature which troubled Plato although it was, ironically, reflected in his own use of the dialogue form.

Plato: Phaedrus.

Plato: The Republic - in which the poets are famously banished from the ideal city.

Aristotle: The Poetics.

Ancient Greek resources: learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.