Introduction: An epic or a heroic poem is a long narrative poem based on a serious subject matter. “The Davideis” is an unfinished epic by Cowley (1618-1667) on the subject based on the story from the Bible. Though Cowley himself has confessed to having failed to complete this poem, it fulfills the criteria of an epic.
The length: According to Aristotle, the length of an epic does not follow any limitations. Cowley designs his epic as a literary epic following the module of Virgil’s “Aeneid” which comprises twelve books and 9896 lines. Although Cowley has been able to finish four books out of twelve, his initial endeavor meets the demand of an epic.
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Hero of super qualities: The hero of a heroic poem must be a figure of great national or even cosmic importance. The hero of the poem “Davideis” is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance because the story narrates the adventures of King David who is mentioned as the third king of the united monarchy of Israel and Judah in the Hebrew Bible.
“I sing the Man who Judah’s Scepter bore
In that right hand which held the Crook before;
Who from best Poet, best of Kings did grow;
The two chief gifts Heav’n could on Man bestow.”
Ample setting: The setting of the poem is ample in scale and maybe worldwide or even larger. The setting of Cowley’s “Davideis” is really enormous. He gives the indication of heaven and narration of hell. The range of the story is undoubtedly long because of the link of the story from the first king of Israel namely Saul to the third king David. Thus, “Davideis” is an epic.
Infernal spirits or supernatural elements: One of the fundamental elements of an epic is infernal spirits or supernatural elements. The “Davideis” is full of infernal spirits or supernatural elements like Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Homer’s “Iliad”. Cowley narrates about the archangels like Gabriel and fallen angels like Lucifer and of course, he talks about hell. It is in Cowley’s tongue:
“Here Lucifer the mighty Captive reigns;
Proud, ‘midst his Woes, and Tyrant in his Chains.”
Starting from the middle: A heroic poem begins from the middle of the story. Cowley also starts his story from the middle. And he describes hell and Lucifer who is the prince of hell when the first king of Israel Saul was troubled by an evil spirit.
Battle: In a heroic poem, the action involves in superhuman deeds in battle. But in the “Davideis”, there is no such narration.
Grand style: As Cowley has been castigated for feeble diction or informal language, he cannot be able to apply a grand style to narrate his story.
Prayer to the muse: The narrator of the epic begins by stating his argument with the invocation to a muse, but Cowley is quite different.
Epic simile: There is no use of epic simile in the “Davideis”. Rather the narration is packed up with conceits for which Johnson criticizes Cowley and classifies him as the last but best metaphysical one.
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Conclusion: Now we are to say that Cowley’s “Davideis” meets the fundamental criteria of a heroic poem though there is lacking in it. Besides, Johnson designates the poem as an unfinished epic. So, as an epic writer, Cowley is like Virgil, Statius, and Spenser.