Ligeia
Ligeia
by Edgar Allan Poe

What’s Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.

And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness, Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.
– Joseph Glanvill

So, you're probably wondering who Joseph Glanvill is, right? The quick answer is that he's an English writer and philosopher from the seventeenth century. Some more detail? Well, Glanvill had a lot to say about, among other things, the power of witchcraft, the supernatural, and the soul. So, naturally, he's the perfect guy for Poe to call upon for a choice quote. But the thing is, nobody has ever been able to find the quote that Poe uses for his epigraph. Poe probably just made it up, added some "-eths," and stuck Glanvill's name to it to make it seem more authentic. You know, sort of how you used to soak your fake pirate maps in tea and burn their edges with a candle so they'd look "real." (You did that when you were a kid, right?)

Fake or not, we can still make sense of "Glanvill's" statement. Looking at that first line, we can find the real star of the show: "the will." This will is apparently immortal – it "dieth" not. It's also unknowable and "vigorous," judging by the next line. Even more important, the will and God seem to be pretty closely related, for God is "but a great will pervading all things by the knowing of its intentness." (That last part is a little vague, but we think it makes the most sense if you just replace "intentness" with "intensity.")

So, now we know that, according to "Glanvill," the will: 1) doesn't die, 2) is unknowable and powerful, and 3) is or is like God. Which is all to say that the will is really, really important and pretty much everywhere.

Now to the last part: you know how the first line talks about the will being "therein," but doesn't specify where that "in" is? Well, we finally get an answer at the end of the epigraph. It seems that the will is in "Man." So in the last line "Glanvill" makes a bold claim: "Only through the weakness of his feeble will," he says, does man "yield himself to the angels" and "death utterly." In other words, he's saying that if you're gritty and determined enough, you can avoid death through will alone. Um….

We're not saying this is true or false, but we will tell you that it's important to keep in mind while you're reading "Ligeia." After all, it appears three more times in the course of the story.

Next Page: What's Up With the Ending?
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