chapter  XII
24 Pages

EPIC IN MIND: CLAUDIANS DE RAPTU PROSERPINAE

Claudian manifestly entertained lofty ideals about the superem inent nature of epic, as his first Preface dem onstrates.1 In it the poet states his belief that the difficulties involved in composing epic require an apprenticeship in writing. He likens, in an epic simile, the writer’s gradual acquisition of expertise through practice and experience to the growth in expertise o f ocean-going vessels: just as sailors launched at first on timid voyages that hugged the shore-line, later attem pting the waters of bays enclosed by ju tting arms of land, and finally assuming a bold spirit to burst upon the open sea and conquer its dangers, so the poet must grow in courage and skill as the ultimate danger and the ultimate prize beckon. Skill, an acquired and carefully nurtured skill, is especially stressed. The Preface begins with words that seem to promise an attack on the first builder of ships; for the first builder of ships is usually reckoned to be a villain.2 But no. Invention is the key concept, pursuit o f an idea, giving space to ingenuity:

qui dubiis ausus committere flatibus alnum quas natura negat praebuit arte vias.