Thomas Underdown

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Thomas Underdown, also spelled Underdowne ( fl. 1566 - 1587), was a translator. He translated the Æthiopian History of Heliodorus in 1566, and the Ibis of Ovid (1577). The Æthiopian History has been called "the ancestor in a direct line of the Novel of Adventure," and praised for anticipating every artifice of the historical novel. [1]


Aethiopica or Theagenes and Chariclea is an ancient Greek romance or novel. It was written by Heliodorus of Emesa and is his only known work.

Heliodorus of Emesa was a Byzantine writer for whom two ranges of dates are suggested, either about the 250s AD or in the aftermath of Emperor Julian's rule, that is shortly after 363. He is known for the ancient Greek novel called the Aethiopica (Αἰθιοπικά), sometimes called "Theagenes and Chariclia".

Ibis is a curse poem by the Roman poet Ovid, written during his years in exile across the Black Sea for an offense against Augustus. It is "a stream of violent but extremely learned abuse," modeled on a lost poem of the same title by the Greek Alexandrian poet Callimachus.

Underdown was an advocate for literature as a moral instrument, saying that the Æthiopian History was superior as an action story because people are punished for their misdeeds. [2] By contrast, chivalric romance permitted pointless murder and "unlawful lust." [3]

The first (1569) edition of Underdown's translation was dedicated to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The book went on to exercise a widespread influence on Elizabethan drama and prose romance. In 1587, the year of the 2nd or 3rd edition, anti-theatrical propagandist Stephen Gosson remarked that Underdown's book had "beene thoroughly ransackt, to furnish the Playehouses in London." [4] Among the early works markedly influenced by the translation is Robert Greene's Pandosto (1588), a major source for Shakespeare's Winter's Tale , and Phillip Sidney's Arcadia (1581–86). So strong was the influence of Underdown's translation on Sidney that 16th century commentator Marechel referred to Sidney as the "Heliodore d'Angleterre." [5] According to Moses Hadas, in the introduction to his translation of the Aethiopica, "in construction and a hundred details Sidney patiently follows Heliodorus, and the Arcadia was the principle model for Sidney's successors." [6]

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford 16th-century English peer and courtier

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was an English peer and courtier of the Elizabethan era. Oxford was heir to the second oldest earldom in the kingdom, a court favourite for a time, a sought-after patron of the arts, and noted by his contemporaries as a lyric poet and court playwright, but his volatile temperament precluded him from attaining any courtly or governmental responsibility and contributed to the dissipation of his estate. Since the 1920s he has been among the most popular alternative candidates proposed for the authorship of Shakespeare's works.

Stephen Gosson was an English satirist.

Robert Greene (dramatist) 16th-century English writer

Robert Greene (1558–1592) was an English author popular in his day, and now best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greene's Groats-Worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance, widely believed to contain an attack on William Shakespeare. Robert Greene was a popular Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer known for his negative critiques of his colleagues. He is said to have been born in Norwich. He attended Cambridge, receiving a BA in 1580, and an M.A. in 1583 before moving to London, where he arguably became the first professional author in England. Greene was prolific and published in many genres including romances, plays and autobiography.

Although the book's influence on Shakespeare is more diffuse, elements of Underdown's translation can be traced in a number of plays, prominent among them Cymbeline .[ citation needed ]

<i>Cymbeline</i> play by William Shakespeare

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  1. Whibdley, cited in Jonni Lea Dunn, The Literary Patronage of Edward de Vere, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Masters Thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 1999
  2. Steve Mentz, Romance for Sale in Early Modern England: The Rise of Prose Fiction (Ashgate, 2006), p. 40 online.
  3. Helen Moore, "Romance," in A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture (Blackwell, 2003), p. 317 online.
  4. Cited in Jonni Lea Dunn, ibid, 10
  5. Jonni Lea Dunn, 11
  6. Cited in Jonni Lea Dunn, ibid, 11

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature . London: J. M. Dent & Sons via Wikisource.

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John William Cousin (1849–1910) was a British writer, editor and biographer. He was one of six children born to William and Anne Ross Cousin, his mother being a noted hymn-writer, in Scotland. A fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries and secretary of the Actuarial Society of Edinburgh, he revised and wrote the introduction for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline in 1907.

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