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The Classics Which Is (Not) Ours

We have framed this collection of writing about ancient Greek and Roman literature around the contrary idea of the "Greece which is (not) ours" in an attempt to capture the dynamic and creative tensions that arise when doing classical scholarship in full awareness of the different ways in which... ... more

We have framed this collection of writing about ancient Greek and Roman literature around the contrary idea of the "Greece which is (not) ours" in an attempt to capture the dynamic and creative tensions that arise when doing classical scholarship in full awareness of the different ways in which successive generations of readers and scholars have constructed ancient Greece and Rome in their own image. This entails full consciousness that the "classical" in classical scholarship is itself a prepossessing move that leapfrogs the classics of other literatures and civilizations, as Harish Trivedi reminds us. Our title echoes José Martí's clarion formula that "the Greece which is ours must replace the Greece which is not ours" ("Nuestra Grecia es preferible a la Grecia que no es nuestra," 1891). Written in the context of anti-colonial independence movements in Cuba and Latin America, Martí's elegant antithesis recognized the role that ideological appropriations of classical antiquity have played in the fashioning of different imagined communities, from literary salons to empires. In turn, Martí proposed a counter-ideological, regional, Latin American cultural and historical narrative that would supplant the symbolic power of "Greece."

We have chosen a selection of works that pose these questions individually and collectively. We hope that the conversations that readers will have around these works will provoke fresh discussions about what it means to study ancient Greek and Roman classics in the still awakening wake of history; or, to put it more prosaically, what it means to do classical scholarship in the countercurrents of contested identities, ideologies, and theories. We combine scholarship on the ancient world with reception studies, in recognition that scholarship is a kind of making and that later responses to ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology continue to extend the horizons of these texts. Both modes of engagement speak to the complex fascination produced by the worlds of the ancient Greeks and Romans. We are drawn not only to the study of these worlds and to the creation of new art by means of them but increasingly to the difficult work of deconstructing their ideologies, their receptions, and the discipline dedicated to them by channeling aspects of our own lived identities.

Such tasks require us to take on the difficult legacies of Classics as we attempt to reconcile its attendant histories with our own hopes, visions, and values. In effect, we have an ethical responsibility for the way in which we construct and "do" Classics, whether or not Classics can ever really be "ours." The works gathered in this colloquy explore the entanglements inherent in entering the worlds of ancient Greeks and Romans both because of a classicizing ideology and at the same time in spite of that ideology and its encumbrances. All of the scholarship that we have selected analyzes the historical and cultural situatedness of interpretation. Variously, the extracts bring ancient debates into dialogue with debates in the present (Kasimis); consider the politics of going to Classics (Bond, Stead and Hall, Padilla Peralta, Rankine); explore the uses of Classics in fashioning counter-cultural historical identities (Nisbet), and offer imaginative interpretations to seemingly familiar works (Devecka, Quint, Underwood). Finally, three pieces offer meta-reflections on the state of Anglophone classical scholarship in current political climates (Harloe, Güthenke and Holmes, and Padilla Peralta's blog post). The majority of works included in this colloquy are broadly contemporary (published in the last five years). We have included a few works outside of this time frame to show the longer arc of this conversation.

 

Emily Greenwood's picture
Curator Emily Greenwood

Emily Greenwood is Professor of Classics and the University Center for Human Values at Pri

Emily Greenwood is Professor of Classics and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. In her research and teaching she focuses on ancient Greek prose literature, especially history writing, and the uses of ancient Greek classics in the modern world with a particular interest in conversations between Classics, Black Studies, and Postcolonial Thought. Her books include Afro Greeks: Dialogues between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century (2010), which was joint winner of the 2011 Runciman Award, and Thucydides and the Shaping of History (2006).

Boris Shoshitaishvili's picture
Curator Boris Shoshitaishvili

Boris Shoshitaishvili is a scholar of epic poetry interested in resonances between its anc

Boris Shoshitaishvili is a scholar of epic poetry interested in resonances between its ancient and modern forms.

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The Doubleness of Dido

by David QuintNewBook Chapter
from 
Virgil's Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the Aeneid
Virgil's Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the Aeneid
 Aeneas and the Aeneid transform the tale of Dido, the Punic city’s own national myth. At the same time, Virgil’s rewriting criticizes that myth on its own terms. more

Questioning the Democratic, and Democratic Questioning

by Katherine HarloeNewBook Chapter
from 
Classics in the Modern World: A Democratic Turn?
 A 'democratic turn' in classical reception studies would then mean a whole-hearted commitment to cultivating and participating in such spaces. more

The Death of a Discipline

by Dan-el Padilla PeraltaNewEssay
 It is well past time for this contemporary configuration of Classics to die, so that it might be born into a new life.   more

Penelope’s Wonder: Navigating the Mythos of Masculinity

by Charles UnderwoodNewBook Chapter
from 
Mythos and Voice Displacement: Learning, and Agency in Odysseus' World
Penelope’s wonder encapsulates both her amazement and an act of speculation, of reckoning her position among others in her social world. more

The Republic as a Metic Space

by Demetra KasimisNewBook Chapter
from 
The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy
In Plato's presentation of Athenian democracy in a metic frame, Athenian membership re-emerges as a question, not a given, for political life. more

Classics and the Victorians

by Gideon NisbetNewBook Chapter
from 
Greek Epigram in Reception: J. A. Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and the Invention of Desire, 1805–1929
The Victorians have been ridiculed for romantically construing ancient Greece as the sunny childhood of humanity, but doing so made sense to them. more