Childe Harold's Pilgrimage | Study Guide

Lord Byron

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Childe Harold's Pilgrimage | Symbols



Athena is a symbol of war. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage begins Canto 2 with a description of Athena where the narrator calls her the "Goddess of Wisdom," but in Greek mythology Athena was also the goddess of war. The narrator asks Athena, "Where are thy men of might, thy grand in soul?" He notes that the men of might who defended Greece against an invasion by the Persians during the Persian Wars (492–49 BCE) are gone. War and fire caused the Greeks to stop worshipping Athena.

Lord Byron wrote and published Canto 1 and Canto 2 together. Both cantos discuss war.

In Canto 1, Childe Harold sees Mount Parnassus from a distance. He is sad that he cannot see it closely. He laments, "And now I view thee, 'tis, alas, with shame / That I in feeblest accents must adore." He wants to visit Greece and mentions it even though he knows he cannot go there yet. Greece is the home of Athena, so he thinks of the gods later when he describes the battles in Spain. He comments, "Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries, / But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance."

Lord Byron describes the battles of the Napoleonic wars where England, Spain, and France fought together in Spain. England and Spain were fighting against France for Spain's independence. He describes the battle by saying, "Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice," and describes France, England, and Spain as, "The foe, the victim, and the fond ally / That fights for all, but ever fights in vain." Childe Harold mentions Greece again when he refers to the Spanish women who joined the war. He states that they are, "no race of Amazons."

In Canto 2 Childe Harold thinks about the wars in Greece that destroyed the temples. He regrets that he did not get to see them when they were new and majestic.

Childe Harold talks about war even while on a ship leaving Greece. He calls the ship, "the little warlike world within!" He arrives in Albania and reflects on the wars fought there by saying, "Did many a Roman chief and Asian king / To doubtful conflict, certain slaughter, bring."

The Ocean

The ocean is a symbol of Childe Harold's freedom. He leaves Albion or England on a ship. The ocean surrounds England and he cannot leave without a way to cross it. He felt isolated in England and grew to hate living there. The narrator explains that Childe Harold, "loathed he in his native land to dwell." He wanted to leave England so badly that he would have died to escape. The narrator states that Childe Harold, "e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below." He could not stay in England, so he uses the ocean as an escape. The narrator recalls, "Without a sigh he left to cross the brine." Childe Harold does not hesitate to escape to the freedom of the ocean. He does not mourn when he left England but instead left without even sighing. Childe Harold is happy to leave and states, "Welcome, welcome, ye dark blue waves!" He believes that the ocean will bring him happiness that he could not find in England.

Childe Harold leaves the ocean after he reaches mainland Europe but frequently returns to the ocean to visit or to travel to new places. He sees the ocean during his visits to Spain and Greece and never fails to comment on its beauty. He sails from Greece to Albania even though the countries are close enough to travel by land, and he explores several Greek sites by sailing.

The narrator speaks directly to the ocean as Childe Harold finds his last and most complete freedom of death. He tells the ocean, "I wantoned with the breakers—they to me / Were a delight." Childe Harold has been lonely since before leaving England. He was able to escape the loneliness of England on a ship sailing over the ocean. He is never able to find relief from that isolation and finally finds the solitude and freedom that he seeks through death at the ocean shore.

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