This article addresses P.B. Shelley’s ‘Hymn to Mercury’ and allusions to classical literature in ‘Ode to Liberty’. Congruities emerge between Shelley’s poetic practice, his conception of poetry’s social role, and his understanding of the relationship between antiquity and the present. When translating and reshaping ancient Greek poetry, he brings to the surface morally significant features of that poetry which only emerge in the dialogues that his writing creates. In doing so, he enacts literary history as a process that both reflects and enables expansions of the moral imagination.