Classical past in Baudelaire's Le cygne: a reconsideration


  • Marko Marinčič University of Ljubljana



French literature / French poetry


In the the third preface to Les Fleurs du Mal, Baudelaire curiously refers to Virgil as the only 'source' for his Le Cygne. Ithas been seen that Horace's description of the living poet's metamorphosis into a swan (Carmina 2.20) is a much more obvious classical reference as far as the title character is concerned, and the mention of »l'homme d'Ovide« seems to point the reader to Ovid's narrative of the creation of man in the Metamorphoses (1.76-86) as a model e contrario for the degradation of the divine bird in Baudelaire's poem. Baudelaire's modem version of the classical symbol of the sublime at first seems to suggest an ironic response to Horace and Ovid. On a second reading, however, the basic 'negativism' orsaudelaire's swan myth reveais a hidden thread of continuity with the classical past: it reveals Ovid's experience as an exilee as the primary parallel to the situations of Andromache and the swan. Conversely, Horace's swan-metamorphosis, though essentially Platonic, provides, through its over-literal, grotesque realism, an ante litteram alternative to the Platonising aesthetics of the earlier Romantics.


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How to Cite

Marinčič, M. (2009). Classical past in Baudelaire’s Le cygne: a reconsideration. Acta Neophilologica, 42(1-2), 179–186.