Rhetoric, education, and the affections in seventeenth-century biblical epic.
This dissertation shows how three seventeenth-century biblical epics— Abraham Cowley’s Davideis, John Milton’s Paradise Regained, and Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder—use rhetorical praise and blame for the moral and spiritual formation of their readers. In my study of these authors’ biblical epics, I focus on their use of epideictic rhetoric: speech which directs praise and blame towards individuals, things, and actions. Chapter One examines Abraham Cowley’s affective poetics within his Davideis, showing how his biblical epic transforms the traditional links between heroic epic and epideictic praise. Chapter Two considers how Cowley’s poem and its accompanying commentary compare classical and Christian poetry as he seeks to “baptize” the epic tradition associated with classical polytheism. My third chapter explores how Milton uses epideictic rhetoric within Paradise Regained to reshape his readers’ understanding of the respective natures of kingship, glory, and wisdom. My final three chapters focus on Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder. Chapter Four considers how Hutchinson draws on language associated with the process of rhetorical composition to describe God’s creation of the world, thus presenting divine creativity as a form of epideictic speech aimed at showing forth divine glory and evoking human praise in return. Chapter Five argues that Hutchinson’s emblematic interpretation of the natural world not only demonstrates her engagement with early modern natural theology, but also shows her resistance to the beginnings of modern disenchantment. Chapter Six shows how Hutchinson engages with classical epic in Order and Disorder, recasting Virgilian similes and imagery to contrast biblical heroism and glory with the martial glory of classical epic and English Augustan culture. As I contend, all three authors use epideictic rhetoric not merely for the purpose of ceremonial or ornamental praise, but in order to reshape their readers’ imaginations and redirect their readers’ affections.