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At the end of the century the whole Platonic corpus was available in Greek and in translation. Between the Council of Florence in 1439 and the Cardinal Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis (ICP) in 1469 a controversy raged over the respective merits and understanding of Plato and Aristotle.The paper will examine the impact of Bessarion’s advocacy of Platonic thought in fifteenth century Italy. It will argue that the cultural and religious context heavily influenced interpretation of the philosopher.

In 1397 Leonardo Bruni wrote that for seven hundred years no one in Italy had been able to read Greek. By 1439 there were still few texts of Plato available in Latin translation: the Timaeus, partially translated by Calcidius in the fourth century, Henricus Aristippus’ twelfth century translation of the Meno and Phaedo, William of Moerbeke’s partial rendering of the Parmendies. Bruni’s translations of the Phaedo, Gorgias, Apology, Crito and Phaedrusappeared only shortly before 1439. Uberto Decembrio produced a crude translation of the Republic before 1402 which was retranslated by his son, Pier Candido, in 1439.

Bessarion moved from Byzantium to Rome in 1443 where he had become a papal diplomat. He was a scholar steeped in Platonic thought. He made it his mission to make Plato’s teachings better known and to demonstrate the convergence of Plato and Aristotle. In the opening chapter of ICP he wrote that Plato’s teachings were little known in Italy.

Bessarion faced three challenges, ignorance in Italy of the Greek language and of Plato, suspicion in the church of pagan literature in general and of Plato in particular, and the entrenched position of Aristotle in the teaching of theology and philosophy accompanied with a conviction of the incompatibility of Plato and Aristotle.

In Calumniatorem Platonis, published in 1469, is a defence of Plato against the anti-Platonic work of George of Trebizond, Comparatio Philosophorum Aristotelis et Platonis (1458). Bessarion sets out to defend the compatibility of Platonic philosophy with Christian orthodoxy. Conservative church circles objected to the obscurity and ambiguity of the dialogues which contrasted unfavourably with Aristotle’s text book style; some of Plato’s teachings were repugnant to Christians, particularly his belief in pre-existence of souls, creation by the demiurge from pre-existent matter and his tolerance or even approval of homosexuality and wives held in common.

This paper will argue that Bessarion interpreted Plato through a theological and moral filter by applying a neo-Platonic interpretation which he had imbibed as a student of Gemistus Plethon. It will assess the work still to be done on Bessarion’s influence and relationship to Ficino and other Florentine humanists.


In Rome in 1468 a monumental scandal broke when Pope Paul II arrested Pomponio Laeto, Bartolommeo Platina and their colleagues. Cast into the Castel Sant’Angelo and tortured, they were accused of plotting to overthrow the Curia to restore the Roman Republic. In this paper I would like to look at the hostility towards the revival of classical Antiquity during the Renaissance. This conspiracy provides a platform to consider the lack of sympathy certain powerful men felt for this humanist agenda.

Humanists in Rome in the mid-fifteenth century gravitated towards two academies: that of Pomponio and one established around the figure of Cardinal Bessarion. These were loose organisations in which scholarly men gathered to discuss classical literature and philosophy. Pomponio’s group became more extreme, adopting Roman names and appointing a Pontifex Maximus. They may have revived certain pagan practices.

Pomponio’s Roman academy was accused of immorality, in particular sodomy and blasphemy. The humanist model whereby classical literature provided the examples of a lifestyle and political ideal was viewed by some as morally depraved. These issues were being raised at the same time with regard to printing – critics of the new technology gave hysterical rants about the spread of corrupting texts such as works by Ovid.

Paul II represents the ambiguity of attitudes towards the revival of classical antiquity. He was very supportive of archaeological projects and his collection of classical medals was renowned. But his opposition to the humanist movement, and in particular the growth of neo-platonism, was more significant than mere personal preference. I will demonstrate in this paper that his conservatism and aggression masked a fear that the revival of Antiquity was a threat to the fundamental nature of the papacy and thus to Christianity. It was as much his duty to resist its incursions as it was to rescue Christendom from the Turkish infidel.

Back in the 1970’s the BBC’s I Claudius used a fictionalised representation of Roman history to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to contemporary viewers in terms of sex and violence on television.  In the twenty-first century these boundaries were pushed further, first by HBO’s Rome and then by the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, boasting graphic violence and full frontal nudity.  Polarised reactions to theses series have sprung up on web forums and fan sites, with viewers not only writing about the series because they love them, but also because they hate them, whether this is because of the sex and violence, the storylines and characterisation or the (lack of) historical accuracy.  Like Ien Ang’s early viewer study, published in English in 1985, Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination , where Dutch viewers wrote in to explain why they loved or hated Dallas, strong reactions from viewers provide a useful opportunity for researchers.  Reviews from fans of films and television series are easy to obtain, but material from viewers who are less disposed towards the subject are not so readily available, and help to provide a more balanced study of viewer reactions .   Using online material created by viewers I will discuss how viewers are engaging with the classical world via Rome and Spartacus; Blood and Sand, and whether the strong reactions the series invokes are linked to the ancient setting of the series.  In order to illustrate the dialogic nature of viewer research I will be experimenting with using the voices of colleagues throughout my paper.

The ancient Maya temples rising out of the mists and the rainforests of Central America have long intrigued many. Recently, popular culture and media have used this curiosity as a product to generate income. Movies, such as 2012 (2009), and music videos, such as Jay Sean’s 2012 (It Ain’t The End), both signify how the concept of the Maya “apocalypse” on the 21st of December 2012 has become embedded in popular thought and understanding. However, within scholarship, this 2012 date is not one of ending, but of beginning. The great Maya calendar is a series of great cycles, and in December 2012 one of these will simply reset, and begin anew, rather than signify the end of the world in fiery destruction. As such, this paper aims to explore how and why the ancient Maya culture has been employed in films and music videos as a source of entertainment, with specific reference to the phenomenon of 2012. This research stems from the recent Maya Meetings conference on 2012, where scholars, particularly Dr. Reese-Taylor, called for experts to verse themselves on popular interpretations of the Maya, rather than dismiss them as inaccurate. Sociologically, the interest in the Maya by the media needs deeper understanding, and this paper stands as one of the first studies of this nature. By exploring music videos and films, and their interpretations of the 2012 event, I will explore how the producers have imposed their own cultural expectations on the Maya, in order to access the ancient peoples to successfully present them to a wider audience.

Arnold Wycombe Gomme, the son of a suffragette, is famous for publishing an article in 1925 that critiqued what he regarded as the current paradigm on the issue of the ‘position’ of classical Athenian women, and offered a rebuttal, utilising ancient and modern texts and works of scholarship. Gomme argued that previous scholars had misread the ancient evidence and fostered an unnecessarily bleak view of the Athenian male’s attitude towards women by taking expressions of misogyny too seriously and ignoring evidence of women being honoured in Athens. This article has been widely accepted as constituting a radical break in the discourse on the lives and ‘status’ of women in classical Athens, and spawned several positive responses in the decades that followed. However, while the importance of this article has been duly noted, it has attracted little interest as a site for the study of classical receptions, and as a complex and fragmented text in its own right, a response to the anxiety of the extended franchise and the discovery of new non-classical civilisations, such as Minoan Crete, that seemed to offer more ‘modern’, freer female figures. The essay itself is the site of multiple receptions: of Greek literature and art, of nineteenth-century texts and of contemporary scholarship, and was itself received and continually sited by the peers of Gomme who applauded his approach to the topic. Gomme explores Attic tragedy, comedy, sculpture, pottery and historiography, and compares the attitudes found therein with those seen in nineteenth-century novels, as well as excerpting passages from classicists writing on Athenian women and critiquing them. In my paper I will discuss the content and impact of the article, concentrating on its interest for scholars of historiography as a site for multivalent and conflicting receptions, and as an expression of anxiety and dis-ease at a time of intense social change. I will draw attention to the impressive number of texts appealed to and cited by Gomme, which range from Menander and Aischylos to Jane Austen and Phyllis Bottome. Most importantly, I will analyse the shifting and uneasy relationship of the figures of the ancient and modern woman in Gomme’s text, remarking upon the ways in which these two constructions continue to haunt historiography today.

The invasion of Egypt in 1798 is a well-documented instance of Napoleon’s conscious mimicry of the founder of Alexandria. Less well explored is how Alexander was used by British politicians, pamphleteers and historians as a marker for Napoleon’s achievement and ‘greatness’, and also how the British cited him in an effort to understand the threat Bonaparte posed as their imperialist competitor in India or even as a potential conqueror of England. There had been a demand for ancient role models who displayed concern for the protection of society and the law, and for the promotion of the common good, which was manifest in a turn towards the heroes of republican Rome and democratic Athens in the eighteenth century. Concomitantly, Alexander’s reputation had been slandered by moralists and novelists, amongst whom Henry Fielding scorned his ‘virtues’ of ambition, pillage and murder. With the threat of Napoleon came a need to comprehend such ‘virtues’ and the achievements of a general unparalleled in recent times. The responses covered in this paper demonstrate how linking Alexander and Bonaparte was especially useful in conceptualising foreign policy and bolstering national self-esteem, but also how the ambivalence of their association made for tendentious, uncomfortable comparisons and revealed latent self-doubt. By suggesting Napoleon was another Alexander, for example, one could express moral indignation at his conquests, but also expose fear of his military genius and admit a certain admiration for his methods. The Napoleonic threat was significant in making Alexander a necessary, if not unproblematic, paradigm once more. After beating Bonaparte the British would start to appropriate Alexander for themselves.

The Prussian Cadet-Corps was well-known – and decried – as a bastion of reactionary conservatism during Germany’s Second Reich. In this ‘nursery’ for the ultra-monarchist Prussian Officer-Corps, whose loyalty lay far more with the Kaiser than with new-fangled notions of democracy, cadets were taught to abhor above all else the evils of Social Democratic politics (which had been banned until 1890).

The cadet-schools also cultivated a tradition of encouraging their charges to identify themselves with Spartan boys, and to see their tough training in the cadet-corps as a modern-day reflection of ancient Spartan educational methods. Thus, cadets took an extraordinary amount of pride in designating themselves as ‘Spartanerjünglinge’ (Spartan youths), and a hugely popular cadet-school novel of that name was published at the turn of the century by Paul von Szczepanski, which went into more than a dozen editions over the next two decades.

This Spartan self-identification did not go unnoticed amongst those critics of the cadet-corps with Spartacist or Social Democratic sympathies, who saw the schools as a blight upon the nation, and wanted them abolished. After Germany’s catastrophic defeat in World War I, no holds were barred in their accusations of brutality, which they often saw as being caused by the schools’ flawed appropriation of ‘Spartan’ values. Thus one Social-Democratic author, Hans-Joachim Freiherr von Reitzenstein, wrote a short story entitled ‘Sparta’, in which the hideous consequences of a ten-year-old cadet’s bullying by his seniors nearly led to his losing an arm. Similarly, the new Social-Democratic teachers at the schools – which the Ebert government tried to demilitarise following the demands of the Treaty of Versailles – attempted to demonise the way in which the cadets had always been taught Spartan history (focussing on the glories of Spartan warrior life and the spirit of Thermopylae). The new teachers insisted instead on the selfishness and bloodthirstiness of the Classical Spartan kings, and on the primacy of the ‘democratic’ innovations of the Hellenistic reformer-kings Agis IV and Cleomenes III.

In disgust, the ex-cadets and their reactionary supporters fought back by emphasising what they saw as the true Spartan virtues of the cadet-corps, identifying themselves ever more strongly as ‘Spartanerjünglinge’ in the teeth of Spartacist and Social-Democratic opposition.

My paper would aim to explore this ideological struggle over the ‘true’ meaning and value of Spartan identification during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic in detail – a subject which has thus far found no mention in any of the relevant scholarly literature.

Recent treatments of the politics of modern versions of Greek tragedy have given pride of place to their capacity to act as vehicles for protest by drawing attention to social and political problems.  In this paper, I show how the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, in his rewritings of two Euripidean tragedies set after the Trojan War, conforms to this stereotype in his use of anachronistic contemporary references.  More significantly, I also point to the limitations of this analysis by showing how he moves beyond it by demonstrating the transformative power of drama in laying claim to (in the case of Euripides’ Hecuba) literature’s capacity to mediate past experiences and (in the case of Euripides’ Helen) its capacity to teach.

I then consider how these political functions relate to the texts’ statuses as translations of their Greek originals.  Often, modern versions of Greek tragedies are viewed as distortions rather than translations of the political effects that their source texts had on their original audiences.  I suggest that this perception may not be altogether fair.  Drawing on the work of Nida and others, I argue that the ways that I have identified in which McGuinness’ versions respond to contemporary political concerns may be understood as achieving ‘dynamic equivalence’ according to particular interpretations of their source texts.

Finally, I ask whether this articulation of the effects of tragedies comes at a price.  In laying claim to particular possible original political effects of tragedies, McGuinness’ versions seem to to direct or to close down our possible responses.  But how does this relate to modern scholarship’s emphasis on the diverse range of emotional and intellectual reactions that original audience members (presumably) had to ancient tragedies?  What does it mean, and does it matter, if we find in McGuinness’ Hecuba not the catharsis that it seems to advertise but didaxis?

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad was first published in 2005 as part of the Cannongate Myth Series which commissioned authors to retell a myth in ‘a contemporary and memorable way.’  In an introduction to the project, myths are defined as ‘universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives – they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human.’ In the fractured, multiple narratives of The Penelopiad, Atwood collapses, what she perceives to be the culturally constructed gendered tension between written and oral texts.  Here, Penelope and her twelve hanged maids are constructed as female authors who, in their alternate myths, present wildly different accounts of female lived experience in ancient Greece. These, in turn, are allowed to play out with the canonical version of patriarchal myth represented in the source text of The Odyssey. Atwood’s construction of female authorship enacts a transformation and manipulation of The Odyssey that contests the myth of The Penelopiad’s commission and the gendered hierarchy of the cultural text itself. Myths are presented as narratives that are especially open to manipulation and the imposition of new and often ideologically motivated meanings and values that are not ‘timeless’ and ‘universal’ but contingent on the new socio-historical context into which they are transposed.

In contrast, Ursula le Guin’s Lavinia, does not deconstruct the gendered tensions she perceives as present in her source text from the outset, rather she utilises this perceived tension to produce an over-reading of The Aeneid. Here, Lavinia is constructed as a frustrated female author who feels trapped by the limitations of her representation in a patriarchally dominant text. Through the use of temporally fractured narratives and slippages of focalization, Le Guin transforms Lavinia into a female storytelling figure that is an equal to her male creator and is shown to surpass, contest and transgress the confines of her patriarchal construction as a silent caricature of femininity.  Le Guin utilizes the myth of Lavinia to represent the canonical text, and its interpretation, as a product of chance survivals and accidents of history.  In doing so she suggests that it is the value that we place on the process of canonisation itself that should be questioned.

In this paper I will compare these two techniques of narrative fracture and their function in the transformation of classical myth. I will argue that both authors use techniques of narrative fracture to contest the ‘universal’ cultural values placed on canonical texts in an attempt to bring the representation of female characters to equal status with their male counterparts within the texts in question.

In northern European nation states in the 19th century figures from the narratives of Tacitus who opposed
Rome were appropriated in various manners to contemporary ideologies of nationhood and ethnicity. The
articulation of legendary characters such as the German chieftain Arminius, the leader of the Iceni
Boadicea and the Caledonian Calgacus, found various manifestation in national art in the duration of the
century. A complex phenomenon, this process of appropriation of prototype heroes – or, in some cases,
enemies – was not as simple as might at first sight appear.
My doctoral project looks at the various incarnations of these three tribal leaders in art from 1800
up to the fin-de-siècle, in Germany, Britain, Austria-Hungary and France, as well as other smaller
emerging northern European states, and compares this process of appropriation. Local factors and artistic
trends and schools both worked to influence the manner in which these figures and their legends were
interpreted by artists. The manner in which an artist such as Ernst Bandel, in his great Hermannsdenkmal
chose to portray Arminius in Germany may be contrasted with that of the Czech artist Alfons Mucha,
working in Paris at the end of the century and illustrating a French historian’s history of Germany. Whilst
looking at the same legend and the same source, the two artists reach a very different interpretation of
Arminius, which is influenced by their patrons, locations, their own nationalities and the different
historical circumstances in which each work was created.
Variation in approach can also be found within what are today identified as nation states. Thus,
for example, Bandel’s portrayal of Arminius in the middle of the 19th century can be seen to be very
different from that of Caspar David Friedrich, painting at the beginning of the 19th century and in the
context of the Freiheitskrieg. Both historical circumstances and artists’ individual styles influence their
articulations of the legend. In Britain Boadicea, the leader of the Iceni tribe who rebelled against the
Romans under Claudius, is assimilated to a personification of the new emerging commercial and military
power, in an awkward process whereby the warrior queen who resisted imperial aggression must function
as a symbol of the nation, but of a nation now with imperial ambitions of its own. A further contrast may
also be found in Calgacus, a figure employed by Celtic nationalists as well as British imperialists each for
their own ideologies.
In my paper I would like to discuss some of the work I have been doing and the artists I have
been looking at. I would be especially keen to compare methodologies with other scholars in Classical
Reception and use this as an opportunity to share ideas and suggestions.