Classicism characteristics Source Authors and works

Literary classicism

The literary classicism refers to a style of writing that consciously emulated the forms and themes of classical antiquity, which was developed during the eras of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In this article we will provide you the characteristics of classicism.

In this sense, the great authors of the Greco-Roman period, especially their poets and playwrights, were imitated above all. The authors of literary classicism followed its aesthetic principles and critical precepts.

In particular, they were guided by the Poetics of Aristotle, the Poetic Art of Horace and On the Sublime of Longinus, reproducing the Greco-Roman forms: epic, eclogue, elegy, ode, satire, tragedy and comedy.

These works established the rules that would help writers to be faithful to Nature: write what is generally true and plausible. Thus, the style was a reaction to the Baroque, emphasizing harmony and grandeur.

The Golden Age of this movement occurred between the middle to the end of the 18th century. Its first representatives wrote in Latin, but later they began to write in their own European languages.


Literary classicism began when Europe entered the period of the Enlightenment, a time that glorified reason and intellectualism.

This arose after the rediscovery of the Poetics of Aristotle (4th century BC) by Giorgio Valla, Francesco Robortello, Ludovico Castelvetro and other Italian humanists in the 16th century.

From the mid-1600s to the 1700s, the authors exemplified these concepts in the form of the epic poetry of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

In particular, JC Scaliger’s dogmatic interpretation of dramatic units, in his Poetics (1561), profoundly affected the course of French drama.

In fact, seventeenth-century French writers were the first to align themselves with classical standards as part of an organized literary movement.

This appreciation of the ideals of antiquity began when classical translations became widely available during the Renaissance.

Later, literary classicism expanded from drama to poetry during the Enlightenment, and to prose during the Augustus Age of eighteenth-century English literature .

From about 1700 to 1750, the movement gained popularity particularly in England. For example, the Englishman Alexander Pope translated the ancient works of Homer, and later emulated that style in his own poetry.

Characteristics of literary classicism

Traditionalism and respect for classical authors

The authors of literary classicism exhibited strong traditionalism, often coupled with a distrust of radical innovation. This was evident, above all, in his great respect for classical writers.

Imitation of classical authors

The main assumption was that ancient authors had already reached perfection. So, the basic task of the modern author was to imitate them: the imitation of nature and the imitation of the ancients were the same.

Dramatic works, for example, were inspired by Greek masters such as Aeschylus and Sophocles. These sought to embody the three Aristotelian units: a single plot, a single location, and a compressed span of time.

On the other hand, in addition to Aristotle’s theory of poetry and his classification of genres, the principles of the Roman poet Horace dominated the classicist vision of literature.

Decorum: matching the style to the theme

Among these principles, decorum stood out, according to which the style must be adapted to the theme. Also important was the belief that art should both delight and instruct.

Likewise, in the face of the excesses of the Baroque and Rococo, in literary classicism, the search for correction, order, harmony, form, among others, prevailed.

Classicist prose

The concept of prose literature is post-antiquity, so there is no explicit classicist tradition in fiction that matches those of drama and poetry.

However, since the first novels appeared at a time when classical literature was held in high esteem, novelists consciously adopted many of its characteristics.

Among them, they took into account Aristotle’s insistence on moral courage, the Greek playwrights’ use of divine intervention, and the focus of epic poetry on the hero’s journey.

Authors and works

Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)

Pierre Corneille was considered the father of classical French tragedy. His masterpiece, El Cid (1636) broke with strict adherence to the three Aristotelian units.

Nevertheless, he developed a dramatic form that lived up to the standards of both classical tragedy and comedy.

Of his extensive work, Melita (1630), Clitandro or The persecuted innocence (1631), The widow (1632) , The palace gallery (1633), The next one (1634), The Royal square (1634) and Medea (1635) stand out. ), among other.

Jean Racine (1639-1699)

He was a French playwright well known for his 5-act play Andromache (1667). This work was about the Trojan War, and was successfully presented for the first time before the court of Louis XIV.

Some of his dramatic works include works such as La Tebaida  (1664), Alexander the Great (1665), Los Litigantes (1668), Británico (1669), Berenice (1670), Bayezid (1672) and Mithridates (1673).

Jean-Baptiste Molière (1622-1673)

Molière was a renowned French playwright, poet, and actor. In his works Tartufo (1664) and The misanthrope (1666), he especially demonstrated his mastery of classical comedy.

In addition, some titles of his extensive work are El doctor in love (1658), The precious ridiculous (1659), The school of the husbands (1661), The school of the women (1662) and The forced marriage (1663).

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

The Italian poet Dante is an outlier in the development of literary classicism, as his epic poemThe Divine Comedy (1307) appeared independently of any organized movement.

In his three-part work, Dante was consciously inspired by classical epic poetry, specifically Virgil’s Aeneid.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) 

The English poet Alexander Pope adopted classical techniques during the Age of Augustus. In The Stolen Curl (1712-14) he used the format of epic poetry, but parodying the tone (this is known as false-heroic).

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