Although the Renaissance epic was the principal literary means of representing war in its time, modern readers of the epic often lack a basic understanding of the history of warfare. Michael Murrin here offers the first analysis to bring an understanding of both the history of literature and the history of warfare to the study of the epic.
Analyzing English, Italian, and Iberian epics published between 1483 and 1610, Murrin focuses on particular aspects of warfare (cavalry clashes, old and new style sieges, the tactical use of the gun, naval warfare) and the responses to them by authors from Malory to Milton. Throughout, Murrin traces a parallel development in the art of war and in the epic as it emerged from the romance.
Murrin demonstrates that with new technology and increasing levels of carnage, the practice of war gradually drifted from traditional epic modes. But before changes in warfare completely doomed the tradition in which the epic was rooted, this crisis provoked an unprecedented range of experiment which marks heroic narrative in the late Renaissance and ultimately led to the epic without war.
A much-needed introduction to the neglected subject of warfare in epic literature, this work is an uncommonly wide-ranging exercise in comparative criticism that will appeal to historians and students of literature alike.