Dr. Hareshwar Roy


The term Classicism is very confusing because it carries so many meanings. Despite this confusion, the term is still useful in describing particular styles and impulses in literature and the arts. Classicism means clearness, elegance, symmetry, and repose produced by attention to traditional forms. It is sometimes synonymous with excellence or artistic quality of high distinction. More precisely, the term refers to the admiration and imitation of Greek and Roman literature, art, and architecture. Order, maturity, harmony, balance and moderation are important qualities of Classicism.


Classicism developed so gradually and exhibited so many phases that a perfect definition is not possible. Classicism is based on the idea that nature and human nature could be understood by reason and thought. It has attached much more importance to reason than imagination. More broadly, Classicism refers to the adherence to virtues including formal elegance and correctness, simplicity, dignity, restraint, order, and proportion. In general, Classicism can be defined as a style in literature that draws on the styles of ancient Greece and Rome. It is often opposed to Romanticism.


Classicism is a force which is often present in post-medieval European and European influenced traditions. Some periods felt themselves more connected to the classical ideals than others, particularly the Age of Reason, the Age of Enlightenment and some classicizing movements in Modernism.


The study of ancient Greek was virtually unknown in Western Europe till the fifth century. Classicism first made an appearance during the Italian renaissance. It introduced a host of elements into European culture. Petrarch, the father of Italian humanism, first learned about and promoted classical learning.  His classicism was most strongly received by Boccaccio. Up to this point classicism had been mainly a literary pursuit. Outside Italy writers affected by the revival of classical conventions included Bacon and Jonson in England and Corneille and Racine in France.
The advent of printing is likely responsible for the permanent establishment of classicism as an integral part of Western civilization from the fourteenth century to the present day. Italians, no doubt, played the lead role in the revival of antiquity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But in the sixteenth century that role was assumed by northern Europe. Here classicism particularly flourished among scholars in France, Germany, Switzerland, and England.


In the 18th century the pursuit of these ideals became codified in terms of rules of decorum deriving from Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Art of Poetry. The Augustan age in England stretched from the time of Dryden to the middle of the 18th century, and included many self-conscious attempts to imitate the poets of the Augustan age in Rome. In German literature the classicism was revived when Goethe and Schiller wrote classical drama. The 19th century continued or extended many classical programs in the sciences.


In the early 20th-century there was a renewed interest in Greek literature. In the works of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot one can easily find classical ideals. Abstracted classical elements can be found in the paintings of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso. A more overt classicism has found renewed acceptance among many postmodern architects in recent years. In the present day philosophy classicism is used as a term particularly in relation to Apollonian over Dionysian impulses in society and art; that is a preference for rationality, or at least rationally guided catharsis, over emotionalism.


.           In short, Classicism has influenced not just literature but all of the arts. It has its effect on the entire world. It is clear that this movement has transformed Western culture in many ways. Some of its major precepts are surviving into the twentieth century and still affecting our contemporary period.       


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