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Versions of Victory: Ben Jonson and the Pindaric Ode

VICTORIA MOUL
International Journal of the Classical Tradition
Vol. 14, No. 1/2 (SUMMER 2007), pp. 51-73
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25691146
Page Count: 23
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Versions of Victory: Ben Jonson and the Pindaric Ode
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Abstract

The Pindaric nature of Ben Jonson's late ode To the immortall memorie, and friendship of that noble paire, Sir Lucius Cary, and Sir H. Morison (Underwood 70) has long been recognised. One of the earliest, and most accomplished, examples of the 'Englishing' of Pindar, it has attracted ongoing, if not intense, critical attention. It has, however, always been treated as an isolated example, and without regard for the aesthetic or political implications of Jonson's adoption of a Pindaric mode of praise. In fact, several of Jonson's earliest odes show evidence of sustained Pindaric imitation, in both content and form — a feature which has gone largely unnoticed. In this paper I shall trace Jonson's engagement with, and deployment of, Pindaric material in two very early, ambitious, and largely over-looked odes, Underwood (=UW) 25 and Ungathered Verse (=UV) 6, before returning to the more famous Underwood 70. As I hope to demonstrate, the originality of these poems amounts to a transformation of the genre: Jonson's 'Pindarics' rewrite what is meant by 'victory', emphasising the poet's power to glorify and immortalise — to render 'victorious', like Pindar's triumphant athletes — even the unpromising, unfulfilled or unheroic. Both early and late in his career, Jonson uses Pindar's epinicia as a framework on which to model his own — different, but Pindarically-inflected — mode of poetic authority.

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