Winged Words

Flight in Poetry and History

Piero Boitani

Winged Words
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Piero Boitani

240 pages | 3 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2007
Cloth $32.00 ISBN: 9780226065618 Published May 2007

Flight has always fascinated human minds, but until a century ago it remained a dream—the exclusive domain of birds, gods, and mythological heroes. From the myths of the ancients to the poetry of Pindar and Yeats, Winged Words traces the imprint of the human impulse to fly from premodern times to the age of terrorism in both literature and history.

Piero Boitani begins his analysis with an account of the way the myths of Pegasus and Icarus have persisted from classical to twentieth-century politics and literature. He then takes up the figure of Hermes; the roles of halcyons and eagles in classical, biblical, and later literatures; and literary response to Pieter Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus. Honing in on modern figures and concerns, Boitani also offers a fascinating discussion of author-pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and concludes with a meditation on the flight of the hijacked airliners on 9/11. Throughout, Winged Word brings a remarkable range of men of action, politicians, theologians, writers, and artists into dialogue with each other: Shakespeare with T. S. Eliot, Horace with Ovid, Leonardo with Milton, Leopardi with Mallarmé, Saint-Exupéry with Faulkner and Rilke, and the Ulysses of Homer with the Ulysses of Dante. Ultimately, by showing how writers and fliers have looked to the ancients for inspiration, Boitani testifies to the modern relevance of poetry and the classics.

Robin Kirkpatrick, University of Cambridge

Winged Words soars in flight over the widest range of subjects. Boitani brings great erudition, wit, and moral seriousness to his theme, demonstrating how comparative literature can express and animate the most vital of our concerns, from Homer to 9/11.”

Rachel Jacoff, Wellesley College

“Piero Boitani’s range of references, the fascinating and unexpected juxtapositions, the imaginative energy of the conceptual frames for each chapter, and the sheer delight in the literature discussed make the reading experience itself a delight. There are many ways to take literature seriously, and Boitani’s work consistently engages important questions of the relationship between literature, myth, history, and vision. For me Boitani’s work is exemplary and, like the books of Robert Harrison and Susan Stewart, reaffirms my faith in the illuminating power of literature.”

Victoria Moul | Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"This enjoyable book is an imaginative survey of the role of flight in literature . . . . and what we might term the 'cultural history' of the West. . . . A work of comparative literature at its most wide-ranging."
"In this wide-ranging, entertaining thematic study, Boitani examines humans' fascination with flight, both real and imagined, as manifested in canonical and noncanonical work of literature and visual art in Western culture from classical antiquity to 9/11.... Few will argue with the book's stated premise: explorations of flight and the appeal of flight across time can teach one about history, culture, and being. These learned and often delightful discussions will likely appeal to those interested in comparative literature, philosophy, and ethics, as well as to readers interested in flight as a thematic focus of literary criticism."
Preface to the English-Language Edition  
Note on Texts and Translations  
1. Pegasus
2. Icarus
3. Hermes
4. Halcyons
5. Eagles
6. Musée des Beaux Arts
7. Night Flights
8. 2001. The Mad Flight
Epilogue: Winged Words
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