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This article is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

'And kis the steppes, where as thow seest pace/Virgile' Andrew Hadfield
DAVID SCOTT WILSON-OKAMURA, Virgil in the Renaissance (Cambridge) £55

We know just how important the founding fathers and mothers of our culture are because we see their influence everywhere. So many books record their debt, gratefully or sullenly, directly or in more subtle, nuanced and hidden ways that have to be carefully uncovered by literary historians. However, we often do not really know how such reading relations actually work or how important it is to understand the pervasive influence of stellar figures in any particular era. Of course, there are studies of reception, but these hardly make for exciting reading, even within academia, and they are invariably thought of as work for scholars who have either made their mark and now need to be put out to grass, or those who have not got the imagination to do anything more important. Most of us, surely, skip or nod off while reading the survey of theatre history in the fat introductions to the Arden Shakespeare.

Yet, understanding how a writer was imagined, conceived and refigured by later readers is not simply a dark alley of literary or cultural history into which no sensible, non-specialist should enter. Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, which argued that every strong poet had to struggle with a dominant father figure whom he needed to cast off through deliberate misreading in order to find his own voice, led to a critical sub-industry that continued for years after the book was first published in ...


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