This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to explore two tightly interwoven aspects of the Renaissance epic tradition: its changing relationship with antiquity and its complex attitudes toward oral performance. This book seeks to show that a key transition in literate Europe's perception of oral culture took place in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: an emerging view of orality not simply as a fact of daily social life but as the lost and mysterious preserve of human societies far remote in space and time. It also shows how epic poets from Tasso to Milton constructed models of the past that are characterized by song and oral performance, and how, in turn, those models forced them to reassess their own art and vocation.
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