Cimmerian Gloom

Pope visual satire

(Image #1: The Brothel Incident)

Despite his struggles growing up alienated by society due to his religious faith and fighting against his disabilities and illness, Alexander Pope managed to break through the realm of English Literature against all odds with his skills and poetic finesse. Unfortunately, his mass attention also drew in several critics and harassers who wanted nothing more than to ridicule Pope and tear down the success he worked so hard to build for himself. As a result, several examples of shameless bullying arose in the form of various drawings that teased Pope for his various features, such as his short size. One such image depicts Colley Cibber, a renowned English writer during Pope’s time, pulling a dwarf-sized Pope off a naked woman’s body as the seventh Earl of Warrick looks on this scandalous activity. No doubt this rumored event brought much shame and further harassment towards Pope’s established image, yet Pope would soon have his chance to return the gesture to his rival in his satirical pieceĀ The Dunciad.

Within his own epic poem in which society values sloppy writing and techniques over skillful ones, Pope, in he revised version of Book 4, places Colley Cibber himself as “the king of Dunces,” going so far as to tease his “Cibberian forehead” and “Cimmerian gloom” as Cibber once teased Pope over his own proportions and character:

“But she, good Goddess, sent to ev’ry child
Firm Impudence, or Stupefaction mild;
And strait succeeded, leaving shame no room,
Cibberian forehead, or Cimmerian gloom” (ll. 529;532)

Connecting Pope’s revenge for Cibber’s crude bullying shows how far Pope delved into his epic in order to retaliate at everyone who tried to put him down when he was at his most vulnerable state. Given the content contained within The Dunciad, Pope seemed determined to right all of the wrongs he had received throughout his career and use his developed satirical style to properly evaluate and criticize those who deserve it instead of the shameful bullying he endured.


–Jose Ramirez


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