Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Tilottama Rajan


This study examines the aesthetics of Romantic Hellenism in theory and practice. I trace various forms of Hellenism’s ambivalence, which manifests in certain paradoxes. Such paradoxes include the aesthetic of desire, which longs for a union with ancient Greek culture even as it is aware of the impossibility of such fulfillment, and the Romantic notion of mythology, which exhibits a tension between order and system. Such tensions work to energize Hellenism with aesthetic potentiality by preserving the mysteriousness of ancient Greek culture, and thus frequently turn upon the interdependence of the reading of Greece with the writing of literature or philosophy. In my first chapter, I show how Hellenism became the ground of German Romantic aesthetic theory beginning in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In the works of Winckelmann, Schiller, Friedrich Schlegel, Hegel, and Nietzsche, the study of Greek art and literature forms a space in which certain irresolvable aesthetic issues, in the form of the relationship between the real and the ideal, play out. The second chapter takes up the topic of fragmentation in British Romanticism, analyzing texts by Richard Polwhele, Felicia Hemans, Byron, Keats, and Blake. I show how fragmentation in representations of the modern Greek landscape and of ancient Greek art serves to energize them with aesthetic potentiality for the reading and writing processes. The third chapter examines the sexualization of the aesthetic of desire in Hellenizing erotic poems. I read Keats’s Endymion and Lamia and Percy Shelley’s Epipsychidion in the context provided by Shelley’s preface to his translation of Plato’s Symposium. Such poems work to stage the failure of cultural translation, the passionate yet futile attempt to “know” ancient Greek culture intellectually, aesthetically, and sexually. The fourth chapter addresses mythology as embodying a tension between system and fragment. With reference to Romantic theories of mythology such as those of Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel, I argue that Keats’s Hyperion poems and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound work like mythology in staging their own failures at arranging Hellenic fragments into coherent systems, leaving the writing of Greece yet to be completed.