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The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self written by John C. Shields

 

The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self written by John C. Shields

Overview:

“John Shields's book is a provocative challenge to the venerable Adamic myth so exhaustively deployed in examinations of early American literature and in American studies. Moreover, The American Aeneas builds wonderfully on Shields's considerable work on Phillis Wheatley. “?—American Literature??

“The American Aeneas should be of interest to classicists and American studies scholars alike.” ?—The New England Quarterly??

John Shields exposes a significant cultural blindness within American consciousness. Noting the biblical character Adam as an archetype who has long dominated ideas of what it means to be American, Shields argues that an equally important component of our nation’s cultural identity—a  secular one deriving from the classical tradition—has been seriously neglected.??Shields shows how Adam and Aeneas—Vergil’s hero of the Aeneid— in crossing over to American from Europe, dynamically intermingled in the thought of the earliest American writers. Shields argues that uncovering and acknowledging the classical roots of our culture can allay the American fear of “pastlessness” that the long-standing emphasis on the Adamic myth has generated.

John C. Shields is the editor of The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley and the author of The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self, which won a Choice Outstanding Academic Book award and an honorable mention in the Harry Levin Prize competition, sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association. 

Synopsis:

In The American Aeneas, John C. Shields exposes a significant cultural blindness within American consciousness. Noting that the biblical myth of Adam has long dominated ideas of what it means to be American, Shields argues that an equally important component of our nation's cultural identity--a secular one deriving from the classical tradition-has been seriously neglected.

The author finds various Early American texts, including pastorals, pastoral elegies, literary independence poems, tracts on educational theories, religious discourses, and political writings, laden with elements of classicism, particularly the myth of Aeneas as depicted by Vergil. Shields demonstrates that Aeneas, Vergil's hero of the Aeneid, was an especially apt figure for New World discourse in that he epitomized "the sailor who struck out onto dangerous, uncharted seas in order to discover a new land in which to build a new civilization. "Shields shows how both the myth of Adam and the myth of Aeneas, in crossing over to America from Europe, dynamically intermingled in the thought of the earliest American writers. This rearticulation of the myths of Adam and Aeneas became peculiarly adapted to the demands of the American adventure in freedom. Shields argues that uncovering and acknowledging the classical roots of our culture can allay the American fear of "pastlessness" that the long-standing emphasis on the Adamic myth has generated.

The author's probing analysis sheds new light on the works of such seminal figures as Edward Taylor, Cotton Mather, Phillis Wheatley, George Washington, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. But it does much more than that--it posits a new model for American studies. "This model," Shields writes, "is not composed of a single strand which can only direct the struggle to explore the dimensions of American culture in a linear fashion--an inevitable dead end. The image of two strands coming together, intertwining and interconnecting so as to accommodate virtually infinite possibilities, more accurately captures the dynamic of Americanness."

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Title: The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self

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