“Th’ estate which wits inherit after death” : immortality in Pope’s Temple of Fame and the “Battle of the Books”
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In this report, I examine Alexander Pope’s Temple of Fame in terms of its rhetorical structure as well as its “place” in the post-classical canon. I offer three critical assessments: 1) that Pope’s poem frames itself as a response to Swift’s “Battle of the Books” within the historical moment of a Humanist split; 2) that both Swift’s text and Pope’s represent literary immortality as a central problem in the Ancient-Modern controversy; and 3) that Pope’s poem consciously locates itself within a classical and Humanist tradition of literary self-eternization. I suggest that for Pope, the significance of the Ancients was not merely their primacy or objective excellence, but also their status as a foundation on which the very possibility of literary immortality was predicated. Pope’s Temple, understood in the context of the “battle,” thus invites a reevaluation of the role of classical eternizing rhetoric both in shaping Pope’s own career and, more broadly, in defining the principles of Humanism.