Posthumous Glory and the Frustrated Death-Wish in Corneille’s Horace

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This article explores the complex relationship between fame, glory, and death through the case of Corneille’s tragedy Horace (1640). Horace eagerly welcomes the chance to fight – and probably die – in a brutal combat against his brothers-in-law, believing that he is being offered a unique opportunity to show his valour and fortitude to his contemporaries and to secure his glorious posthumous ‘immortality’. Yet, having emerged triumphant, Horace proves to be strangely ill at ease with a life of fame. He recognizes that public acclaim is precarious, and that he may never again be offered the chance to match his moment of glory. Horace fears a post-heroic life of compromise; as he later explains, he would rather have died straight after the combat so as to preserve his glory forever in a single act. Glory, he learns, involves a complex interaction between the hero, his dazzled and expectant public, and a wilful fate that may never again allow him the opportunity to prove his heroism. By outliving his single moment of glory, Horace thus leaves his reputation at the mercy of posterity – a posterity in which Corneille’s tragedy plays its own complex role, and in which survival proves more tragic than death.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-49
Number of pages14
JournalEarly Modern French Studies
Issue number1
Early online date19 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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