The epithalamium tradition is characterized by variations of theme and form.
Thomas Greene traces the epithalamium from Sappho and shows its use in Homer (Iliad, XVIII), Hesiod (The Shield of Herakles), Theocritus, and the later Latin poets, including Statius, whom Claudian imitated.
An examination of them shows that what I consider to be Fielding's comic epithalamium in prose answers the expectations of the genre: They are:
The Fielding epithalamium clearly conforms to the primary characteristics of the genre with obvious alterations inherent in the prose narrative method and the style of Fielding's realism: James McPeek lists nineteen rhetorical events characteristic of the epithalamium in Spenser's poem:
21) The eclectic manner of the poet of the epithalamium has close parallels in the wide range of the narrator throughout Joseph Andrews.
Fielding's appreciation of the epithalamium tradition can be demonstrated by a comparison of passages in Spenser's Epithalamion with the prose of Joseph Andrews.
Just how deeply the pagan gods were embedded in the poetry is clear from Alan Cameron's commentary on the Latin poet Claudius's full-scale epithalamium celebrating the forthcoming marriage of the Emperor Honorius and Maria, daughter of Stilico, Roman regent: 'The epithalamium, too, is highly charged politically.
Cameron tells us that Paulinus of Nola proved a 'dissentient voice' and 'wrote a truly Christian epithalamium to show that it could be done', presumably omitting the pagan gods.
Fielding's decision to omit mythology from his epithalamium has its rationale in his use of mythological figures elsewhere in the novel.
It is, instead, the epithalamium that resolves the crux between the serious and the jocular in wedding literature and binds the humour of courting and love-making to the serious business of union, procreation, and generation.
34) The characterization of Fanny comes from a tradition different from Restoration comedy and draws its inspiration from the epithalamium.