Mapped in Blood: Civil War and the Israelite State in Abraham Cowley’s Davideis

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Produced in the midst of the seventeenth-century British Civil Wars and French Fronde, Abraham Cowley’s two unfinished epics demonstrate an abiding interest in civil war as both a chronic problem and, more surprisingly and paradoxically, a flexible category of political analysis for charting the continuity of states across the contingencies of temporal history and combative relations among states. This interest may be precipitated by his historical moment but in his second epic, Davideis (1656), Cowley applies ideas of internal warfare begun in his first epic, The Civil War (1643), to the polity that early moderns saw as the archetype of nations: Israel. In relating the turbulent fortunes of Israel, Cowley mobilizes Roman and Augustinian theories of civil violence as the foundational political condition, while also situating that violence within a pragmatic, even realpolitik, realm of volatile and appetitive international relations. While Davideis is by no means only concerned with internal warfare, civil war and its overlap with other forms of organized violence play an influential role in Cowley’s depictions of the geography, history, psychology, and even genres of state formation. Indeed, creating what amounts to an epic romance of state, Davideis suggests that an errant and chronically conflicted Israel modeled ways to imagine the creation and survival of states across extreme mutations in political form and territorial reach. It also suggests that the Roman history recently analyzed by David Armitage was not the only example available to seventeenth-century writers invested in analyzing civil war’s paradoxically defining impact on polities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-185
Number of pages25
JournalModern Philology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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