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Abstracts: Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds, 2004

Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds - an international, interdisciplinary conference, 19-20 May 2004, The Open University, Harborne, Birmingham 

Following the Project’s 2004 conference Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds, an edited collection was published that included papers from the conference and some additionally commissioned essays:

Hardwick, L., and Gillespie, C., eds., 2007, Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This volume can also be accessed at Oxford Scholarship Online.

An examination of the Boudica speeches to her troops found in the works ofTacitus (Ann. 14.35) and Cassius Dio (62.3-6)
Eric Adler, Dept of Classical Studies, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

Recent scholars, including Steven Rutledge, David Kennedy, and others influenced by post-colonial theory, have argued that the works of various Roman historians demonstrate a persistent demonization of Rome's enemies.  To such critics, the jingoistic and xenophobic mindset of the Roman historian makes his writing ineluctably a textual colonization of alien societies--an elaborate justification for Roman imperialism.

But the reality is not so clear-cut, as we can see from a case study: An examination of the Boudica speeches to her troops found in the works of Tacitus (Ann. 14.35) and Cassius Dio (62.3-6).  This paper argues that both of these orations, put in the mouth of a "barbarian" enemy, demonstrate an inclination on the part of both Tacitus and Dio to criticize the vicissitudes of Roman rule.

Far from demonizing Boudica, Tacitus presents her as a matron wronged by the injustices of imperial rule.  He focuses on the Romans' torture of Boudica and the rape of her daughters--clearly serious and indefensible charges of provincial misconduct.  Although terse, Tacitus' Boudica oration offers trenchant moral appeals against the rapacity of Rome.  To be sure, we cannot assume that this harangue formfits to Tacitus' own views on the Empire.  But his Boudica speech portrays Tacitus as fully capable of examining his own society's collective sins.

The same can be said for Cassius Dio, whose Boudica oration has been viewed as weaker than Tacitus' on essentially aesthetic grounds.  Granted, Dio's garrulousness is no match for the stylistic virtuosity of Tacitus.  Still, Dio's Boudica harangue contains many savage, deep-rooted criticisms of Roman rule in the provinces.  In this long oration, Boudica decries the unfairness of Roman taxation and portrays Rome as a decadent, effeminate society.

To be sure, neither historian offers a Boudica speech that merely demonizes Roman imperialism.  Both Tacitus and Dio are also critical of Boudica and her revolt from Rome.  Even so, both authors have at least partial sympathy for Boudica and the Britons.  This casts doubt on postcolonial readings of Roman imperialism, as such exegeses view the matter as too cut-and-dry: Either the author is utterly supportive of the natives' rebellions, or, far more likely, superciliously condemns all anti-Romanism.  Why must these orations be seen as the equivalent of medieval morality plays?  Why cannot ancient authors perceive Roman rule to be both a blessing and a curse?  It appears as if both Tacitus and Dio, in their speeches of Boudica, are asking these very questions.

Fémi Òsòfisan's The Women of Owu’
Felix Budelmann, Lecturer, Dept of Classical Studies, The Open University, UK   

This paper focuses Femi Osofisan's second Greek tragedy adaptation after his 1994 Tegonni: an African Antigone. The world premiere of this play will take place in Chipping Norton Theatre in February this year. The paper discusses the play in the context of Osofisan' other writings as well as other Greek tragedy-based work by West African writers, and analyses its relationship with the Euripidean source. It will engage with a range of issues including performance, audience, themes and language.

Imperial Reflections: The Post-Colonial Verse-Novel as Post-Epic
Katharine Burkitt, Salford University, UK

The contemporary verse-novel can be understood as a modern representation of narrative poetry in a convention which can be traced back to the classical epic text. This paper aims to investigate the possibilities of reading the post-colonial verse novel as a form which consciously sets itself within this genre, acknowledging and critiquing a tradition which stems from the Homeric epic. Through engagement with the epic text the poet is able to interrogate the post-imperial inheritance of colony and globalisation, whilst also establishing the form as a poetic representation of imperial discourse and deconstructing it as such.  Furthermore the epic hero acts as a device to juxtapose the certainties of Western modernity with the analytical eye of the cultural outsider.   The ambivalent nature of these modern epic texts suggest them as outsider/stranger or ‘anti’-texts, undermining Western modernity by calling into question its very form.  This is the disquieting nature of the verse-novel in global terms, not only forcing re-appraisal from a post-colonial perspective, but implying the viability of an alternative world-order.  I would like to posit these texts as ‘post-epic’, that is, inhabiting a paradoxical location; at once fundamentally post-colonial but also located with the imperialist epic tradition.  

I will initially consider Derek Walcott’s Omeros in these terms.  This work set itself up against understandings of the epic as a ‘closed’ or ‘completed’ genre.  I will then go further to consider Bernadine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe: A Novel, a work which interrogates the restricted approach to women which characterises the epic.  Through its engagement with questions of diaspora, empire, the agency of the woman poet and the historicity of the epic form, this text questions both Walcott’s work and the genre as a whole.  The trajectory of this paper is to acknowledge the post-epic as a specifically post-colonial mode of re-writing the classic epic, and to suggest that within its scope reflection on both cultures can be made.

Medea from Brazil: Canonical counter discourse in Postcolonial Latin America
Concetta Croce, L'Aquila University, Italy

In the paper I will try to point out postcolonial issues from a Latin-American version of Medea’s myth: Gota d’àgua (1975) by Brazilian Chico Buarque de Hollanda and Paulo Pontes.

Particularly, I will try to show that the versions can be linked to Tompkins and Gilbert’s concept of “canonical counter discourse” or to Rushdie’s “writing back” (that is the same idea): the texts can be considered as a response of so-called Third World to canonical works in Western culture.

Then, I will underline specific aspects in the texts referring to postcolonial theatre, and explicitly:

  1. neo-imperialism topics: the text is a rewriting of the myth, based on Brazilian society after decolonising process and economical boom.<br>
  2. the political point of view: it reveals a strong attention to political aspects of the myth, which it reinterprets in order to a conflict between poor people and capitalistic entrepreneurs;
  3. ritual and dance: the dance reveals all its power in Gota d’àgua: particularly the samba plays a fundamental role in action, both as structural element of tragedy and as metatheatrical reference;
  4. body language: it is particularly evident in the text, linked to the issue of the samba itself

The analysis will be linked to the discourse of reception of the classical text, with a specific attention to some really important elements in Euripides’ tragedy, like the betrayal, the vengeful plane and infanticide.

Can tragedies staged in post-colonial settings be tragic?
Freddy Decreus, Professor of Theatre Studies, University of Gent, Belgium

As one of the many contemporary attempts at deconstructing traditional Western structures of the mind and at denaturalizing the ‘natural’, postcolonialism has been criticizing universal and essentialist categories of thinking, indicting their ‘eurocentrist’ character. Recently, a number of intriguing questions has been asked about (Greek) tragedy and its epistemological position in a debate on universals. Are both tragedy (as a literary convention) and the tragic (as an ontological and philosophical hypothesis) merely Western inventions? Is the tragedy a typical product of Western logocentric imagination? Since tragedy, in four or five waves, massively came back in Western history, one has to consider the possibility that the tragic experience is really constitutive of the Western perception of life. And if this tragic feeling so dominantly and necessarily characterizes the West, can tragedy, staged both in colonial and postcolonial settings, be anything more than a superficial borrowing from the Western homeland, a peripheric and hybrid construction, bound to profoundly disturb local visions on man, his language and imagination?

Finding Classical civilization in darkest Africa: Greek/Roman material culture
and the construction of colonial myths
Thomas Dowson, School of Art History and Archaeology, University of Manchester, UK

Sun City, an internationally renowned resort in the centre of South Africa, is said to be pure fantasy, and that it has a “unique heartbeat and an African rhythm of its own”. It is made up of a number of different venues, the most interesting being the Palace of the Lost City, a five star hotel that is said to have once been the palace of an ancient king. The architecture of the palace draws inspiration from the Classical world; a (con)fusion of ancient Greek and Roman material and visual cultures. Surrounding the hotel is a 25-hectare especially created botanical jungle. Beyond the jungle there is a recreational water park and a vast entertainment centre. The entertainment centre is strikingly different to the hotel; it is decorated with imagery of Southern Africa’s wildlife and indigenous hunter-gatherer rock paintings. I explore the representation of Classical art and southern African rock art at Sun City, and show how both are used to negotiate colonial mythology. The idea of an ancient city lost in the heart of southern Africa is an old one, and one that has been drawn on in a number of different contexts. Not surprisingly then much of southern Africa’s archaeological heritage has long been attributed to various Mediterranean cultures. The Queen of Sheba, made famous in Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s mines (1885), is one well-known myth that relies on denying Africa an indigenous heritage. The juxtaposition of Classical and indigenous visual cultures at Sun City, far from being innocent and fun, continues to construct colonial knowledge and perpetuate specific power relations between Europe and Africa. The fantasy of Sun City is an old one – the fantasy of Europe’s control and domination of Africa.

‘O, Sing, Ulysses!’ Jonas Mekas and the Home Movie of Displacement
Richard Fletcher, Downing College, Cambridge University, UK 
‘O, sing, Ulysses/Sing your travels/Tell where you have been/Tell what you have seen/And tell a story of a man who never wanted to leave his home/Who was happy and lived among the people he knew and spoke their language/Sing how he was thrown out into the world.’

This invocation begins Jonas Mekas’ 1975 film Lost Lost Lost – a film diary of the years 1949-1963, beginning with Mekas’ arrival in New York as a Displaced Person after World War Two, who like many of his fellow Lithuanians refused to return to their country, because of its occupation by the Soviet Union. This paper will consider the importance of the figure of Odysseus/Ulysses throughout Mekas’ life and works, with specific reference to Lost Lost Lost as a film that manipulates the mode of the Home Movie to explore the tensions between ideas of exile, loss and memory and also discovery, exploration and creation in the identity of a Displaced Person.

Ulysses has been described as a ‘guardian figure [who is] omnipresent in Mekas’ work and life’. For example, when he renounced his Lithuanian citizenship under Soviet occupation, he signed under the fake name ‘Niekasa’ meaning ‘Nobody’, to protect his family back home, recalling the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey. Furthermore, towards the end of I Had Nowhere to Go, Mekas’ written diary of 1944 to 1955, he writes to an imaginary Penelope, while during the years in which Lost Lost Lost was made he wrote a collection of poems called There is No Ithaca.

The main focus of this paper will be the relationship between the invocation of Ulysses in Lost Lost Lost and the use of the Home Movie mode in offering varying perspectives on the position of the Displaced Person. For example, the invocation of Ulysses and the ensuing voice-over by Mekas himself were recorded upon his later re-viewing of the footage. Mekas manipulates this belated re-viewing to commentate on the footage, switching between narrative voices, from simply describing the action to addressing the viewer. These shifts in narrative voice are directed by the movement of the camera, as the film, as a Home Movie, incorporates the personal nature of the recorded events into ideas of memory and loss. The end of reel two returns to the invocation to Ulysses, with a renewed focus on this form of personalised documentation: ‘O, sing, Ulysses, sing. Tell about the places you have been. Tell what you have seen. And I was there, and I was the camera eye, I was the witness, and I recorded it all, and I don’t know, am I singing or am I crying?’.

Of Sirens, Science and Oyster-Shells: Hypatia the philosopher from Gibbon to Black Athena
Robert Fraser, Senior Research Fellow, Literature Department, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK 

Since her assassination by a Christian mob in March 415 CE, the Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia has obsessed the imagination of Europe. Memorably portrayed by Edward Gibbon in his unflattering account of the Egyptian church in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, she has ever since been used by anti-clerical writers to demonstrate the perversity of the clergy, by Christians to illustrate the follies of paganism or else of fanaticism in their own ranks; she has become a nationalist, feminist and, most recently, an anti-colonial icon. Fictional, and would-be historical, accounts of her life and death have appeared in many languages, notable in French, Italian, English and, most recently, in German. At one point too, her legend became intertwined with that of St Catherine of Alexandria, a confusion that has caused her to act as a thorn in the flesh on many sides. This paper starts by looking at original sources of the story, and at the history insofar as we can reconstruct it. It then moves on to uncover successive layers of myth that have been ladled onto this Hellenistic intellectual from the Enlightenment to the present day. Hypatia has an odd habit of getting under the skin of her observers, wherever they may be found. Her story can be used as a case study by several different ideological lobbies; but because she does not quite fit any of the proposed paradigms, she has a tendency to expose the fault-lines in all of them. Unsurprisingly she has an especially interesting relationship with Catholic and post-Catholic societies, for which reason she has proved of enduring interest to authors over several centuries in Italy, and in recent years in Quebec. Her availability as a political symbol has recommended her to nationalists since the Risorgimento. Her ethnic ambiguity – was she Greek; Berber; African? – has also given her a worried fascination for postcolonial and Afro-centric critics, notably for Martin Bernal, who in his famous (or notorious?) book Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (1990) adopts Hypatia as a representative of a last ditch stand by an authentic African intellectuality in the face of a crushing Hellenistic hegemony. Hypatia deserves to be better known in postcolonial circles. She is one of history’s magnificent martyrs – but for what cause?

Antigone and her African Sisters: an examination of work based on Antigone produced in Ghana, South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria (1962-1994)
James Gibbs, Senior Lecturer, School of English and Drama, University of West England, Bristol, UK

The study of adaptations and productions of Antigone in Ghana, South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria provides an insight into the cultural and political issues confronted in each country. ‘Under the cover of’ Antigone, grasping firmly the shape of the tightly focused play, or ‘taking off from moments in it’, African writers, and others in Africa, have been ‘released’ by Antigone to comment on the Post-Colonial African world.

The background to the production of Odale’s Choice, a play based on Antigone, by Edward Brathwaite at Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, Ghana  (1962), included the production of classical plays, sometimes partly in Greek, in what was dubbed ‘The Athens of West Africa’.  In the text, Brathwaite, an historian from the Caribbean, raised a series of pertinent issues. With Felix Morriseau Leroy’s Antigone in Haiti, that was produced in Ghana (also 1962), Odale’s Choice marks an important stage in trans-Atlantic creative and intellectual engagement.

When the Serpent Players production of Antigone was postponed because members of the cast were sent to Robben Island, Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona created a play out of ‘the ruins’ (1972). Using the experimental style that Fugard was introducing into the Republic, their version of Antigone, The Island, engaged with the realities of South African politics and its penal system. The play has proved itself as a radical reworking of a classic text, and exists as a vital piece of theatre still relevant in post-Apartheid South Africa. 

In Zomba, Malawi, during the mid-seventies, I directed Antigone, using the Penguin translation and with costumes that suggested an East African setting. I was able to put on the provocative play that included such lines as ‘a one-man state! What kind of a state is that?’ in Hasting’s Banda’s Malawi because of the regime’s high regard for, and ignorance of, the classics. The production showed how, despite an ever- present Censorship Board, the classics could be used to create a space in which political issues could be raised. It also prompted questions about the adaptation and relocation of the classics.

The history of classical drama in Nigeria includes the production of ‘the two Antigones’ (Sophocles and Antigone) at the University of Ibadan in the early sixties. Major local playwrights have since adapted Oedipus Rex (Rotimi, 1971), The Bacchae and Oedipus at Colonus (Soyinka  1973 and 2002), and Antigone. (Osofisan 1994). In Tegonni: An African Antigone, Femi Osofisan brings his characteristically radical  perspective to bear on material that has shown itself to be particularly suitable for adaptation.

Sophocles’ Antigone has spawned work that raises many of the issues discussed in debates about post-colonial world. Antigone and her African sisters both defy and negotiate, providing an introduction to the classical presence in Post-Colonial African theatre.

Antigone’s Boat: the colonial and the postcolonial in Tegonni by Fémi Òsòfisan
Barbara Goff, Lecturer, Dept. of Classics, University of Reading, UK 

Adaptations of classical drama by writers of African descent are increasingly important to students of classics and the humanities generally, not least because they raise questions about what it means to claim a ‘western’ tradition in the wake of colonialism.  Such adaptations must struggle with the fact that the very presence of Greek and Roman classics within African culture, however fruitful for creative endeavour, testifies to the disruption of African history.  Among such adaptations the story of Antigone has proved popular, but it poses special problems if we see it as a drama of liberation, because Antigone presumably only comes to Africa by way of colonial Europe.

In western rewritings Antigone often figures resistance against an overweening state, and in African Antigones, one might expect Creon to be identified with the colonial occupiers.  In fact this scenario is persistently complicated by other factors.  Tegonni, which centres on a young Yoruba woman’s resistance to British imperialism, directly dramatises the nineteenth-century colonial encounter.  However, Osofisan is known mainly for his probing analyses of post colonial, and especially post-civil war, Nigeria.  The colonial and postcolonial perspectives in the play are coordinated through the figure of an Antigone who claims to come from Greek mythology but who operates alongside the heroine Tegonni.

The play thoroughly castigates the British colonialists, and the Governor-General is shown to be even more dangerous than Creon.  But Antigone herself is not free from the tendency to subordinate others.  Despite the best efforts of other characters, she insists metatheatrically on the necessity for her story to play out exactly as it did before.  She may thus be identified with the coercive force of the colonialism that makes her available to the Nigerian writer.  However, the strongest indictments in Tegonni are reserved for current Nigerian political conditions, so that the critique of the colonial is modified into a critique of the postcolonial situation.  The Yoruba town in the play is seen to be divided even before the arrival of the British, and the black Africans are shown to be adept at oppressing one another.  The soldiers who accompany Antigone, and who offer a clear reference to contemporary military coups, amply demonstrate this.  This postcolonial dimension is reinforced by another consideration, which is that the play deliberately bypasses questions of its colonial inheritance.  When Antigone arrives on stage, she is carried in the boat of the Yoruba water goddess Yemoja.  Although there are conflicting interpretations of this boat, I shall suggest that Antigone thus claims descent from a tradition that has by now moved away from Europe, and is African.

Use of Greek Hubris as a Concept Applied to Contemporary History Events
Jaime Gonzalez, Associate Research Member, Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur l'Antiquite, Groupe "Texts scientifiques et techniques anciens", Universite de Caen, France

It is not uncommon for writers and thinkers today to use classical concepts or ideas in order to characterize or analyze contemporary politic or historic issues. Authors have established often, all during the 20th century, parallels between Greek history (or historiography), and the events and transformations of the modern world. Such use is common, both in scientific, specialized papers, as well newspapers and media addressed to a general public, who are not supposed to have any special education in history and the Classics.

Such is the use of hubris by modern intellectuals and authors. We will briefly explore the use of hubris by intellectuals in four different cultural areas: the United States, Great Britain, France and Spain. In this countries’ media, Greek hubris is often quoted as a concept to describe political and international affairs patterns of conduct. It is especially used applied to two contemporary issues: the US government international policy in the Iraq conflict (before, during, and after the 2003 war); and the Middle East crisis between Israel and Palestine.

However, Greek hubris, as a concept playing a role in the history of civilizations, goes back to Herodotus. Curiously enough, Herodotus’ thinking has been considered irrational and primitive by a great number of classical scholars; it belongs to the myhtos Greek cultural era (using J.-P. Vernant’s well-known terminology). Greek historian Thucydides, whose work has also been used frequently during the last century as a model to echo modern history episodes, also introduces the term hubris in his accounting of the Peloponnesian War.

In our paper, we will try to raise three initial points of discussion:

1. How appropriate is to use a Greek, pre-logos, historic concept applied to our modern historical events (as Herodotus’ conception of history is based on ideas completely opposed to modern scientific history)?

2. Why did authors and thinkers keep going back to Greek hubris to describe not only individual politics, but also those of states and governments? Is it that, as Thucydides pointed out in his “always-actual” history, we can truly appreciate “the constant character of human behavior” in the political sphere?

3. In our 21st century world, one in which losing our cultural and historic connection to the past is becoming a major universal issue, is it admissible or helpful to undertake comparisons between such different historic periods, as those of classical Greece and our contemporary society? Can historic concepts be applied to different eras?

Between Colonialism and Independence:Classics in Trinidad in the 1950s and 60s
Emily Greenwood, Lecturer, School of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, University of St. Andrews, Fife, UK

There has been much fruitful research on the sociology of Classics in Modern Europe: who studies it, when, where, and how. In so-called ‘post-colonial’ contexts, classics is frequently regarded as a relic from pre-independence days, or is associated with neo-colonialism in the developing world, as exemplified in Banda’s Malawi.

Taking political debate in Trinidad in the 1950s and 1960s as a case study, I want to examine the role of classics as the definitive form of insider knowledge in political debate, which politicians both democratised, to bring their audiences on side, and deployed from on high to ‘govern’ their audiences.

The paper will concentrate on the essays of the Marxist intellectual C.L.R. James, the political rhetoric of the historian and politician Eric Williams, and the archives of the Trinidad Guardian. Where pertinent, I will also draw on other Anglophone texts from the Caribbean, which illuminate the experience of a ‘colonial education’ and the part that Classics had to play in this education, such as Austin Clarke’s memoir of his childhood education in Barbados (Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack).

In a society (1950s Trinidad) where education was viewed as the preserve of a racial and economic elite, and where a bookish interest in learning amongst the poor was regarded as ‘foolishness’, classics (primarily in the form of Latin) was perhaps the ultimate folly. However, in the drive to educate the masses for independence, politicians seized on the demotic implications of Athenian democracy, and produced their own local readings of writers such as Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle. I will argue that, far from being a case of one-way traffic, the inequalities of knowledge that governed the popular debates in Trinidad offer an interesting commentary on the relations between the rhetores and audiences in Athenian assembly debates in the fourth century BC. Arguably it is this model of reception as ‘interaction’, where post-colonial texts revise approaches to the ancient world, that promises to be the most exciting dimension of the growing area study of ‘Classics in post-colonial worlds’.

Invoking the Muse and performing your name: Derek Walcott’s approach to one aspect of epic tradition in Omeros
Rhona Hammond, The Open University, UK

The role of the ancestral epic poet and Walcott’s troubled assumption of that role provides further evidence of his awareness of and attitude towards the traditions which surround the epic poet.  This paper will analyse Walcott’s approaches to the traditional figure of the epic bard, starting with Homer, and the invocation to the Muse who provides the bard’s inspiration and strengthens his memory in Omeros.  This role relates to Walcott’s sense of apprenticeship within the guild of poets, choosing to abide by certain of their rules, and also the role-playing elements of Walcott’s naming, his belief in the need to become a name and identity.

The assumption of identity has two forms in Omeros; assumption in the sense of taking up the identity and accepting it for yourself and also the assumptions which the reader supplies as they read the names.  These assumptions may come from the reader’s knowledge of the classical originals or their understanding of the colonial and post-colonial use of those names.  Each reader will inevitably bring their own level and type of knowledge to the reading process. 

But what is Walcott invoking and why is he doing it?

Multi-lingualism in classical representations in post-colonial contexts
Lorna Hardwick, Professor of Classical Studies, The Open University, UK

This paper explores different conceptions and contexts of bi-lingualism and multi-lingualism in modern receptions of classical drama and poetry. A variety of verbal and semiotic examples from African, Caribbean, Irish and Scottish translations and adaptations will be analysed in order to discuss how:

(i) multi-lingualism in text and performance receptions can be used to map and critique literary, cultural and socio-political migratory paths from ancient to modern
(ii) multi-lingualism as an aesthetic construct is opening new areas of audience and reader response in the contemporary interpretation and appropriation of classical texts.
(iii) taken together these aspects provide a nexus in critical debates about the place of classical material in post-colonial contexts

Performativity and Conflict in Greek Tragedy: A Postcolonial and Postliberal Reading
Michiel Leezenberg, University of Amsterdam, Holland

In the wake of the September 11 assaults, the perception of an irreducible clash or conflict between different cultures or civilizations has gained ground. Classical Greek tragedy may help us rethink this allegedly irreducible antagonism. It involves a sense of inherent conflict, but not so much a clash between civilizations as a clash within the city, within the family, and within the self. One scholar (Rehm 2003) has recently described classical Greek tragedy as ‘radical theatre’, treating it as providing resources for criticizing aspects and policies of liberal democracies (and more concretely, American empire).  But in a perhaps even more radical way, tragedy challenges a number of almost self-evident liberal and humanist assumptions, like the valorization of the rule of law over power, or the belief that there is something inherently cooperative about linguistic communication. Specifically, tragedy offers an alternative to the still widespread view that our social and political institutions, and indeed our linguistic institutions, are based on consensus, or on different forms of social contract (cf. Leezenberg 2002). Most importantly, it presents something like an anti-liberal view of the political as inherently involving conflict (cf. Schmitt 1976), but it is much more alive to the ambivalence of the moment when a legal and cultural order is established.

This emphasis of conflict comes especially to the fore when we focus on the performative dimensions of tragic language use. Butler (2000) takes an important first step in this direction, but does not nearly pay enough attention to the rich and ambiguous performative utterances that appear in tragic texts.  Tragic texts turn out not to treat language as a social contract between speakers: rather, tragic actors perceive words as potent weapons, which can create or destroy (social) realities. By the mere utterance of a word, an individual may be excluded from the city as polluted, barbarian, mad, or otherwise; and conversely, a single word may turn a stranger into a citizen, a friend or a guest. In linguistic communication as in political action, tragedy explicitly acknowledges the priority of power over justice, and rejects human freedom, or free agency, as either the source or telos of such action. Indeed, speaking is treated as an inherently dangerous and agonistic, and indeed antagonistic, form of action. Languages are not, however, seen as defining civilizations. Indeed, tragedy in action shows (rather than asserts) that ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’ are not given but are continually, and performatively, (re-) constituted and contested.


J. Butler 2000 Antigone’s Claim. Columbia University Press

R. Rehm 2003 Radical Theatre. Duckworth

M. Leezenberg 2002 Power in Communication: Implications fro the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface. Journal of Pragmatics 34

C. Schmitt 1976 The Concept of the Political. Rutgers University Press

Hellenistic India
Rachel Mairs, Faculty of Classics, St Catharine's College, Cambridge, University, UK

Given the long colonial domination of India by Britain and the traumatic emergence of the modern independent states of the Indian Subcontinent, it is hardly surprising that the question of earlier relations between India and Greece - a western ‘colonialist power’ - has been an extremely emotive one. The classically-educated officers of the Raj saw themselves as the heirs of the ancient Greeks and Romans, a ‘civilising influence’ on the barbarian East. In contrast, Indian nationalists sought to emphasise the antiquity and sophistication of Indian civilisation, playing down any western influence. Both sides made a clear identification between the ancient Greeks and the modern British (each perceived as representatives of 'European' culture and colonialism), an identification which has continued to be made without more careful consideration of the evidence.

This paper will consider the development of Indo-Greek studies, with special reference to the Indo-Greek states of the north-western Indian Subcontinent from the third century BC to first century AD. Historians of different periods and different nationalities have approached this subject in ways which closely relate to ideas on colonialism and East-West relations in their own . Throughout, perceptions of the Indo-Greeks have been closely tied to perceptions of modern European colonialism.

'Hellenistic' has therefore become a dangerous word to use with reference to ancient India. To some, it is reminiscent of outdated, Eurocentric scholarship. This, however, fails to do justice to modern developments in historiography of the Hellenistic period. The Hellenistic world is now viewed as a more complex entity, which was populated by a diversity of ethnicities and cultural groups and responded in diverse ways to the problems and opportunities this created. This development provides an opportunity for the Indo-Greeks to be studied within a more productive intellectual framework than that within which they have previously been treated.

 Classical Influences on Sculpture in Post-Colonial Zimbabwe
Jessie Maritz, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy, University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe.

Against a hill some 7 kilometers from the centre of Harare, on the main Harare-Bulawayo road, lies the National Heroes Acre, an area of 57 hectares set aside after Independence in 1980 to commemorate and honour the heroes of the liberation struggle. Bronze relief on two walls approximately 15m long and 7.5m high depict a continuous historical narrative of the so-called Second Chimurenga, i.e. the struggle against colonial rule and the attainment of political independence. Classical influences can be seen in :

  1. Technique and Material
  2. Function
  3. Form – composition, anatomy, dress, emotion, landscape, symbolism.

However, the monument was built by the North Koreans, and very definite similarities can be seen between the Zimbabwean monument and the Mansudae Monument in Pyongyang as well as other Korean and Chinese monuments.
This paper will look at the similarities between the Zimbabwean monument and examples of Greek and Roman sculpture, as well as comparing the Korean and Zimbabwean monuments. It will then consider how the Classical influence reached the Far East.

Classics and the Indian Civil Service
Phiroze Vasunia, Dept. of Classics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA

One of my main research interests is the relationship between Classics and the British Empire.  Some of the main problems posed by the project on Classics and Empire can be illustrated by the example of the Indian Civil Service.  When it came to ICS entrance requirements and the education of officers, racial fears and anxieties about British cultural solidarity and assimilation intersected with the study of Greek and Latin.  For many years, the ICS was not open to native Indians and only to white Britishers.  However, even when the ranks were theoretically opened to Indians, the number of natives who were able to gain admission was not high.  One reason for the inability of natives to enter the ICS was the insistence on Greek and Latin as entrance requirements into the service.  Even after the introduction of competitive examinations for the ICS in which Indians were able to participate, Greek and Latin were central to the education and training of ICS officers in the nineteenth century.  Thus, it was precisely when the idea of British citizenship was in danger of becoming hard to define that the competitive examinations of the ICS stressed requirements in Greek and Latin.  The consequence of these policies was that the ICS consisted mostly of British men who were often better trained in classical Greek and Latin and in Roman law than in local Indian languages or cultures.  ICS men often looked at India through the lens of the ancient Graeco-Roman world, and they implemented policies on the ground that can only be explained in terms of their classical training.  The research at the heart of this paper on the Indian Civil Service, then, has ramifications for Classics in Britain; and it also affects our understanding of nineteenth-century ideologies of class, race, and nationhood.

Cicero's Verrines and British Imperialism
Jonathan Prag, Lecturer in Ancient History, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, UK

Cicero’s Verrines have entered upon a slow renaissance in recent years in classical scholarship. But for much of the twentieth century they have been passed over, with but slight attention directed towards II.iv and II.v, texts which provide suitable passages for schools, and the Actio Prima, which has the merit of brevity. The speeches achieved much greater circulation in, e.g., eighteenth-century England, and early nineteenth-century France. One obvious explanation for this is the speeches’ relevance and potential interest for actively imperialist societies. The quoting of an early twentieth-century American study of Verres (F.H. Cowles) by a website supporting the American Civil Liberties Union (, 24.8.2003) merely reinforces the point.

As Boris Rankov recently observed, the speeches provide the best evidence for Republican provincial administration, but simultaneously are responsible for its almost universally negative reputation. This role, as the epitomy of corrupt administration is visible already in Juvenal, Satire 3. The role of the speeches, and of this perception of the speeches, in determining, e.g., the historiography of Sicily in modern is undeniable (cited even as having explanatory force in a review of a recent CD, ‘La Musica della Mafia’).

In this paper I propose to examine the evidence for the speeches’ circulation in eighteenth-century England, and their manipulation in the political rhetoric of the age: intellectuals such as Swift and Hume made reference to Cicero and Verres; the first ‘Prime Minister’, Robert Walpole was attacked through the medium of the speeches; Edmund Burke explicitly indicted Warren Hastings as a modern-day Verres for his actions in India; and the principal translator of the Verrines simultaneously authored a pamphlet on the abolition of the slave trade. The Verrines thus play a formative role not only in Roman perceptions and constructions of Roman rule, but in British perceptions and constructions of British rule. Inevitably, this has, in turn affected the way in which the speeches have been read in classical scholarship ever since. Ironically, post-colonialism is probably in itself partly responsible for the speeches’ current gradual rehabilitation.

 A Divided Child, or Derek Walcott’s Post-colonial Philology
Cashman Kerr Prince, Assistant Professor of Classics, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada

The study of Derek Walcott is divided terrain, not unlike the confrontations of Classics and Caribbean life staged in his poetry.  Classicists concentrate on Omeros, Walcott’s 1990 epic, leaving the plays and lyric poems to scholars of postcolonial literature; yet Walcott’s oeuvre reads as a continuous engagement with Classical texts.  In Another Life, Walcott’s 1973 autobiographical poem, his schooling in Classics is an explicit theme:  “Boy! who is Ajax?” the schoolmaster asks (I.3).  The question introduces an “alphabet of the emaciated, . . . the stars of my mythology,” Ajax and Helen rubbing shoulders with the local characters Choiseul and Gaga.  Homer’s Troy comes to Walcott’s Caribbean Troy town; Old and New Worlds meet.  The result is a divided child, leading another life from his daily existence.

Walcott’s lyric poetry abounds with over-determined references to the Classical past.  To take one example, “Cul de Sac Valley” from the 1987 collection The Arkansas Testament contemplates the metapoetics of crafting a poem—within a highly crafted poem.  As the poet-narrator scrolls fragrant consonants “off my shaving plane,” he simultaneously acknowledges the inherent impossibility of making English of this Caribbean wood (and language).  In these meditations are Classical allusions to Homer, Theocritus, and Catullus (to name but three).  The attempt to unite the Classical literary past with daily Caribbean life is palpable; Walcott grapples with the division instilled by his schooling.  We observe Walcott’s task of expanding English to encompass his Caribbean province; for him this is a fruitful project.  In “A Far Cry from Africa” (1962) Walcott asks, “how choose / Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?”  The answer, as attested by the poetic oeuvre, is not a divisive renunciation of either one.

In Walcott’s poetry these confrontations serve less as a sign of rupture than as an occasion for creation.  Greece and Rome, Troy and Pompeii, Homer and Propertius—all fuse with Walcott’s Caribbean province.  This is an instance of what Walcott describes as the Adamic covenant of naming; the result is not Bloom’s killing of a strong poetic father but a creative amalgamation.  Walcott’s poetry is marked by a skillful joining:  tradition molds with innovation to produce a new and inclusive poetics.  Focusing on Another Life and “Cul de Sac Valley,” I trace Walcott’s engagement with Classical poetry as he builds a poetic world from Mediterranean and Caribbean materials.

The Curse of the Canon: Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to blame
Michael Simpson, Lecturer, Dept of English and Comparative Literature,
Goldsmiths' College, University of London, UK.

Among those Greek tragedies adapted by African dramatists across the diaspora, the plays of Sophocles’ Theban Cycle figure prominently and even preponderantly.  How can plays that dilate on the power of the past, as the inexorable curse of Oedipus, claim to articulate the postcolonial moment in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States?  One answer is that the figure of Oedipus has been so widely disseminated, especially through the discourse of psychoanalysis, that he can feature not only as an object within the canon, bequeathed, like a curse, from one generation to the next, but also as the interstitial medium of the canon itself, complete with its many variations. 

Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame challenges even this expanded notion of cultural inheritance by its characterisation of Oedipus, and itself, as a miscegenated entity.  Insofar as Oedipus/Odewale’s father can be read allegorically as an aggressive colonialist and his mother can be construed as what the colonialist leaves behind as his conquered territory, Odewale is a bastard child of the rape of Africa.  In his very procreation, however, he has altered his mother, because the colonialist’s encounter with her has transformed her nature into a version of his own culture, which is what he leaves behind when he is slaughtered by the colonised subject, his own son Odewale.  With this culture Odewale then enters into an excessively intimate relationship.  The allegorical import of these oedipal dynamics in this Nigerian play is that the elimination of the political power of the coloniser is the easy part, whereas cultural decolonisation is impossible.

Even as this impossibility extends to the play itself, insofar as the play is a hybrid of Yoruba and Greek cultures, it does not dictate the full range of the relationship between the play and the European canon.  If it did so, the oedipal model of cultural transmission derived from Greek culture by Freud and Bloom would be a sufficient account of this relationship.  As it is, the play both participates in such an oedipal relationship, by virtue of its ambivalent adherence to and departure from canonical precedent, and provides an alternative to it. 

This alternative is represented by the Yoruba notion of fate as it is articulated in the play by Baba Fakunkle, the equivalent of Tiresias.  Based on Ifa divination, this notion of fate is much more flexible than the Greek version and thus suggests that the play exceeds its oedipal relationship to the European canon by also conducting a relationship with the canon that is not dictated by it.  This argument leaves aside the question of the play’s relationship to Yoruba tradition and focuses instead on the play as ‘canonical counter-discourse’.  This focus serves to advance several strategic conclusions about postcolonial adaptations of classical literature: such adaptations may well be conflicted in their hybridity; such conflict can enable a formal and cultural self-consciousness; this self-consciousness is not necessarily sufficient to countervail the contradiction that produces it; and the relationship between adaptation and canon is not always fully pre-programmed into the canon.  The curse can be worked.

Post-Apartheid Electra in the City of Paradise
Elke Steinmeyer, Lecturer, Classics Programme, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

In the City of Paradise is a post-apartheid theatrical production of the ancient Electra myth, directed by Mark Fleishman in Cape Town in April 1998, the same director, who put on a Medea two years before, which dealt with the racial problems in a post-apartheid South Africa, " struggeling not against apartheid, but against its legacy", as Margaret Mezzabotta puts it. The students of the Speech and Drama department of the University of Cape Town, who acted also as the cast, reworked the ancient sources of the Electra myth, i.e. Aeschylus' Oresteia , the Electra plays of Sophocles and Euripides plus Euripides' Orestes into a new play, set against the backdrop of the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose work left the question open, whether reconciliation is possible by granting amnesty to repenting political criminals. After the matricide, Orestes and Electra are faced with by the angry parents of Clytemnstra , Tyndareus and Leda, who accuse them of having taken justice in their own hands instead of following the correct legal procedure. The chorus, like a township mob wants to stone Orestes and Electra in another act of self justice, but is persuades by a messenger to grant them amnesty. The play ends with the chorus carrying the siblings on their shoulders, while the old couple leaves the stage disappointed and unreconciled,

The paper will discuss, how the Electra myth is used to illustrate the eternal question of justice and revenge in South Africa at the end of the last millenium

Ulysses’ Gaze – on the Balkan Conflict, War and the Greek Soul     
Trish Thomas, University of Wales Swansea, UK

Momigliano’s view that “war was an ever present reality in Greek life” accepted as "a natural fact like birth and death about which nothing could be done"1 is one which might have been horribly familiar to those caught in the Balkan conflict of the late twentieth century, and which might now have global resonance. The film Ulysses’ Gaze, made by Theo Angelopolous in 1995, can be read as an informed and reflexive response to such a view – using the journey of a Greek-American film-maker, beginning in Greece, through Albania, and across a succession of borders to the violence of Sarajevo. Perhaps this is a Post-Soviet rather than a Post-Colonial World, yet it develops as a profoundly human film, which never descends into hopelessness - referring instead to "a Hellenic tradition of contemplation and philosophical inquiry"2, and beginning with a quote from Plato on screen:


And thus the soul to, if it wishes to know itself,

                                                will have to look into the soul.


In his films Angelopolous says he is “dealing with borders, boundaries, the mixing of languages and cultures today, I am trying to seek a new humanism, a new way.” This paper (hopefully illustrated with clips from Ulysses’ Gaze on video) will discuss the use of Classical texts and images by Angelopolous, as a positive alternative to the "petrifying gaze of ideological systems" identified by Michael Shanks in his Classical Archaeology of Greece3. Horton argues that Angelopolous, like some Soviet and Russian film-makers, has used cinema “as a means of dialectically exploring history, culture and politics4.

Does Ulysses’ Gaze succeed in this respect, and should it be seen as an example of critical engagement with Greek tradition, or is it just another kind of epic film?

1. Amaldo D. Momigliano ‘Some Observations on Causes of War in Ancient Historiography’ in Studies in Historiography (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 120. Also cited by Peter C. Manicas, in ‘War, Stasis and Greek Political Thought’ (Web/Journal reference to follow)

2. Andrew Horton from The Films of Theo Angelopolous – A Cinema of Contemplation (USA/UK: Princeton University Press, 1997), 181

3. Michael Shanks in his Introduction to Classical Archaeology of Greece – Experiences of the Discipline (London & New York: Routledge, 1996), 7

4. As above (Endnote 2), 87

Western Classics: Indian Classics Contestations in Postcolonial Space
Harish Trivedi,  Dept. of English, Dehli University, India

There would seem to be a wide gap between current postcolonial discourse which is by definition all in English, and classics which are distinctly precolonial and certainly not in English. Besides, can one civilization’s classics, i.e. foundational texts, serve as another civilization’s classics even if backed by colonial authority, as contrasted with modern texts which the colonizer often adduces as evidence of its advancement and superiority?

I propose in this paper to look specifically at the unique situation in this regard in colonial India where, as Orientalist scholars beginning with Sir William Jones quickly (and often enthusiastically) discovered, we had classics of our own to pit against any classics that the West may have wished to bring to us. In fact, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, many Indian writers newly trained in English translated even-handedly Western as well as Indian classics into their own particular modern Indian languages; it was as if they wished to appease at once both the good angel and the bad angel.

Another complicating factor in India was the imperial assumption, first articulated probably by Lord Macaulay, that English in India was going to be what the Greek and Latin classics had been in the West. This assertion or aspiration may be viewed in the larger, more widely classical claim that British rule in India was as the Roman Empire had been in Europe.
Finally, I will survey the postcolonial situation in my own university where, through a recent act of resistance, Sanskrit classics such as the Mahabharata and Kalidasa are now taught alongside Western classics such as Homer and Euripides, and at the cultural climate generally in the country where, after the Raj has come and gone, the recent long-running serial TV versions of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have earned the highest ratings of any TV broadcasts ever.

‘The shades of borrowed ancestors’: Greek and Roman Classics in the Post-Colonial Poetry of Derek Walcott
Richard Whitaker, Professor of Classics, University of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa

The complex relationship of Derek Walcott’s Omeros to the Greek and Roman classics has been much discussed. But the ambivalence we find there – the fluctuating use, and then rejection, of parallels between Caribbean experience and the classics – begins much earlier in Walcott’s poetry and runs like a thread right through it.  The classics in fact set up a field of tension that is enormously productive for Walcott’s poetry. At the positive pole, the classics represent an inexhaustible source of characters, allusions, emotions and situations from which Walcott freely draws. His education in Latin and his use of the classics also enable him, at least in his youthful poetry, to stake his claim as a poet who, though provincial in origin and education, deserves international attention. The classical element in his poetry, understandable and acceptable to an international readership, can help to win sympathetic attention for the new, strange, unfamiliar, Caribbean experience, as yet unnamed in English poetry. (‘The blind giant’s boulder heaved the trough / from whose groundswell the great hexameters come / to finish up as Caribbean surf . . .’)Yet at the same time Walcott constantly suggests that there is something furtive and illicit about his use of the classics (‘I had entered the house of literature as a houseboy, / filched as the slum child stole, / as the young slave appropriated / those heirlooms temptingly left . . .’) Even as he introduces classical parallels he undermines or rejects them as inadequate to mirror his experience. The classics represent not only a source of cultural prestige; they also stand for a repressive imperial, colonial, slave-owning order. I argue that, even before Omeros, Walcott came to use his own poetic relationship to the classics as a kind of shorthand, as a metaphor, for the whole relationship, political as well as cultural, of the colonized to the colonizers. He turned the difficulties of this relationship, characterized by love-hate, mutual interdependence, suspicion and admiration, into a wonderfully productive theme of his poetry. At the same time, by forging his own direct, post-colonial relationship with the classics, independent of their European reception, Walcott opens up a whole new way for post-colonial writers to use the Greek and Roman classics.    

The Empire Never Ended
Ika Willis, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Leeds, UK

This paper uses and expands on Derrida's coinage 'mondialatinisation' ('globalatinization') to think about the ways in which Rome has been taken up as a model for modern forms of global imperialism by writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Shelley, for example, 'credit[ed] Rome merely as a means of spreading Greek civilization',* and the Roman empire was also understood as an efficient global delivery system for Christianity. T.S. Eliot wrote: 'We are all, so far as we inherit the civilization of Europe, still citizens of the Roman Empire'. Here 'the Roman Empire' designates an inherited framework of legibility and communicability, a shared culture and language. This figure of Rome, that is, designates a model of near-contentless imperialism, a colonialism that succeeds by making itself an invisible and virtual connector of spaces, presenting itself as a transparent carrier, rather than a producer, of meaning.

Late-twentieth-century technological innovations have transformed thinking about telecommunication and virtuality (I rely here on Kittler's work on the phonograph, in Discourse Networks, and Ronell's on the telephone, in The Telephone Book). I argue that these new apparatuses of telecommunications intervene into our understanding of this quasi-contentless Roman imperialism in ways which allow us to think more rigorously about imperial space. As a 'test case', I read Philip K Dick's autobiography/novel Valis. His psychotic narrator's claim that 'the Empire never ended' resituates the scholarly claim that 'we are all still citizens of the Roman Empire' or 'Rome's Empire continues to be

irresistible'* in more apocalyptic terms. Dick/Fat withdraws the Roman communications network from its immanence in the earth: it becomes a satellite projecting a hologrammatic illusion of continuous history onto a world which is in reality still in 70AD and the site of a Manichean battle between the Romans and the Christians. That is, Dick takes up the model of the Roman Empire as a medium of transmission of information and uses this metaphor to pose questions about historical chronology, representation and biopolitical forms of control. This paper asks why he needs to use Rome, specifically; what is unsubstitutably Roman about this satellite, this empire which has never ended?

* Asterisked citations are from Edwards (ed), Roman Presences


"The positive hero is always sticky" - Roland Barthes

Finding a Post-colonial Voice for Antigone: Seamus Heaney's Burial at Thebes
Stephen Wilmer, Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

In his programme note for the recent production at the Abbey Theatre of Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney identifies two imperialist targets for his version of Antigone: Britain and the United States. In my paper I will discuss the postcolonial discourse implicit (and at explicit) in his translation and also in the production directed by the Québecoise Lorraine Pintal.