François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire: The Henriade.
Voltaire attempts epic poetry.
The subject is Henri IV of France, who was seen by Voltaire as an apostle of toleration. He started life as a Huguenot (i.e. a protestant), survived the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre, eventually decided that ‘Paris was worth a mass’ and converted to Catholicism, then promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which allowed for freedom of belief and ended the wars of religion.
Voltaire consciously imitates Virgil’s Aeneid.
So, like all epics, the story begins in medias res;
a visit to the underworld is essential; and the hero is obliged to leave a woman – Gabrielle d’Estrées stands in for Dido.
The French alexandrines have been rendered into heroic couplets.
Extracted from Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire: A Contemporary Version. Volume: 38.
Translated by William F. Fleming.
Publisher: E. R. DuMont., Paris. 1901
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