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From Many Gods to One

Divine Action in Renaissance Epic

Epic poets of the Renaissance looked to emulate the poems of Greco-Roman antiquity, but doing so presented a dilemma: what to do about the gods? Divine intervention plays a major part in the epics of Homer and Virgil—indeed, quarrels within the family of Olympian gods are essential to the narrative structure of those poems—yet poets of the Renaissance recognized that the cantankerous Olympians could not be imitated too closely. The divine action of their classical models had to be transformed to accord with contemporary tastes and Christian belief.

From Many Gods to One offers the first comparative study of poetic approaches to the problem of epic divine action. Through readings of Petrarch, Vida, Ariosto, Tasso, and Milton, Tobias Gregorydescribes the narrative and ideological consequences of the epic’s turn from pagan to Christian. Drawing on scholarship in several disciplines—religious studies, classics, history, and philosophy, as well as literature—From Many Gods to One sheds new light on two subjects of enduring importance in Renaissance studies: the precarious balance between classical literary models and Christian religious norms and the role of religion in drawing lines between allies and others.

240 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2006

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


"In this book Gregory examines the Renaissance reinvention of the divine action of classical epic. In five chapters covering Homer to Milton, he explains how Renaissance poets confronted the problem of adapting the narrative structure of classical polytheistic epic to Christian monotheistic norms. Gregory’s comparative approach will give readers an excellent sense of the distinctiveness of, and continuities between, classical and post-classical epic traditions. The book will be of particular interest to classicists working on the European epic tradition, reception studies, and neo-Latin literature, but it also makes an excellent general introduction to Renaissance epic. The clarity and fluency of Gregory’s prose, and the light but judicious annotation, will add to the book’s wide appeal, as will its economy—the book comes in at just over two hundred pages and at a very reasonable price to boot."—Pramit Chaudhuri, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Pramit Chaudhuri | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"This lively book is a stuimulating and much-needed study of the difficulties Renaissance epic poets faced, and of some of the solutions they found, when they had to replace the Olympian deities of classical herioc poetry with a Christian God. . . . Gregory has reanimated the comparative study of the epic tradition, and reaffirmed its value."

Daniel Javitch | Renaissance Quarterly

"Gregory’s hermeneutical explanations are . . . skilfully rendered, granting the reader a fresh glimpse into a known past. From Many Gods to One thus manages . . . to weave one cohesive and compelling tale: that of the demise of the epic."

Bendi Benson Schrambach | Comitatus

"An important, well researched contribution both to epic and Milton studies. . . . [Gregory’s] study aims at a broad range of readers by combining a detailed and accurate summary of Renaissance epic from its Virgilian sources to its Renaissance heirs."

Catherine Gimelli Martin | Studies in English Literature

"The book’s primary contribution is in offering a broad survey of the crucial question of the relationship between Christian conceptions of divinity and the classical models within which Renaissance poets attempted to represent those conceptions. . . . It is a pleasure to read a book written with such clarity."

Matthew Treherne | MLR

"[A] bright and delightfully readable study of divinity and divine action in epic poetry."

Diane Louise Johnson | Christianity and Literature

Table of Contents


Abbreviations and a Note on Translations


The Polytheistic Model:
Homer and Virgil

Neo-Latin Epic:
Petrarch and Vida

Providence, Irony, and Magic:
Orlando furioso

With God on Our Side:
Gerusalemme liberata

The Tragedy of Creaturely Error:
Paradise Lost

Works Cited

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