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In his definitive edition of Gray's poetry,(1) Roger Lonsdale has assembled a list of the verbal sources - thirteen in all - which might or might not have shaped the concluding lines of the 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College': 'No more; where ignorance is bliss,/'Tis folly to be wise.' However, he and other scholars have not listed precedents for the circumstance that governs that utterance - what we might term its situational or figural sources. If we reduce the dynamic of the ode to its essentials, we have a spectator who looks from afar (and from above) at happy people who, unlike himself, have no sense of their distressing future.
At the very start of the ode, Gray establishes a vantage point above the fields of Eton ('And ye that from the stately brow/Of Windsor's heights the expanse below/Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey') and at a distance from them ('Ye distant spires, ye antique towers/That crown the watery glade'). This is precisely the view that Xerxes enjoyed on a height near Abydos. In Herodotus' Histories VII.46 we read:
It now occurred to Xerxes that he would like to hold a …