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Classical Reception Seminar Series

The Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series (CCRSS) seeks to explore classical reception in all its dimensions and modalities.

Our events, which can cover any aspect of the reception of the ancient world, are designed to appeal to a wide interdisciplinary audience and interested parties from any department are warmly invited to attend. Seminars, consisting of an approx. 45-minute presentation followed by Q&A, are held several times a term – normally on a Tuesday or Thursday – at 17:15 in the Faculty of Classics (room may vary); there is usually also the opportunity to join the speaker for a drink in a social setting afterwards.

For further information, or to express interest in giving a paper at the CCRSS, please contact the current series chair (until June 2019): Dr Maya Feile Tomes ( For events from October 2019, please contact the new co-convenors: Zack Case (, Sofia Greaves ( and Nathaniel Hess (

All welcome!





Room 1.02, Faculty of Classics

Dionysus after Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy in twentieth-century literature and thought’  

Dr Adam Lecznar (UCL)


This paper explores the methodology and the approach of a broader monograph project entitled Dionysus after Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy in twentieth-century literature and thought (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press). Taken from the introduction to the work, it sets out what is at stake in examining the impact of Nietzsche’s vision of Dionysus and the Greeks, especially as elaborated in The Birth of Tragedy, on later writers including Jane Harrison, D. H. Lawrence and Wole Soyinka. The paper focuses on the model of temporality and history that such a study requires, and its connection to debates surrounding reception, tradition and classicism.



Room G.21, Faculty of Classics

‘Returning to Salamanca: a Telemachan Odyssey’

Dr Kathleen Riley (Independent, Australia)


In his very personal exploration of Homer’s Odyssey, Daniel Mendelsohn points out: ‘As much as it is a tale of husbands and wives, this story is just as much—perhaps even more—about fathers and sons.’ The poem, in fact, begins and ends with a son in search of his father.

Luis Gabriel Portillo (1907-1993) was a poet and left-wing intellectual who arrived in Britain as a refugee at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Sixty years later, his youngest son Michael, fresh from losing his parliamentary seat, made a televised pilgrimage back to the land of his father’s heroes, to the village of his formative years, to the front line of the civil war, and to the ancient university city of Salamanca. It was a moving Telemachan odyssey in which the themes of exile and nostos were potent and many-layered. Salamanca was Luis Portillo’s Ithaca, invaded by barbarian suitors in the form of Franco’s Falangists, its resilient beauty tenderly preserved in his memory and celebrated with flourish and delicacy in his exilic verses, the tristia he composed in suburban north London. His reverence for his alma mater, and his abiding bitterness towards the regime that had robbed him of his true place in the world, fuelled an unappeasable sense of loss and impossible nostos. ‘I had the feeling all my life’, Michael said, ‘that he was nursing a wound, that a terrible hurt had been done to him and he was always thinking about being in another place and another time. There was a tremendous nostalgia for what had been and what might have continued to be’.

Eighty years after Luis Portillo’s flight from Spain, this paper recounts his story through the prism of his son’s railway journey, illustrating along the way its Odyssean strands of displacement, memory, and homecoming.







Room G.21, Faculty of Classics

'The mythic method. Subversive classicism in Giorgio de Chirico and British painting of the late 1920s'  

Sofia Greaves (Classics, Cambridge)


As Marinetti best expressed, the pre-war avant-garde rejected the classical tradition with belligerence in its ‘dance towards the common apotheosis of the Future’. Subsequently, post-war art of the 1920s has been evaluated pessimistically; ‘abstract’ has been taken to be synonymous with ‘modern’, permitting the preconception that classicism is regressive. Such an argument informed Benjamin Buchloh’s polemical ‘Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression’, in which post-war art was assaulted for its ‘bleak anonymity and passivity’, and ‘compulsively mimetic modes’. My paper aims to show how the classical tradition proved to be a disruptive, rather than conservative force in modern painting. Changes to the field of classical studies and in particular the interpretation of myth in Nietzsche, Freud and Frazer provided artists with a means of exploring the modern condition. The paper takes as its focus the painters Giorgio de Chirico and John Armstrong. I first explain de Chirico’s adaptation of Nietzsche’s antiquity into his own ‘modern mythology’. De Chirico’s influence on British painting has not been explored. I show de Chirico’s influence on the British painter John Armstrong, and explain why he offered British artists an attractive framework for subverting the classical ideal, with opportunities for satire and irony. I then explore how John Armstrong applied this framework as a means of exploring Freudian psychoanalysis. 




'Pornographic Ovid, grotesque translations, and proto-surrealism in nineteenth-century Brazil: Bernardo Guimarães’ A Origem do Menstruo'

Connie Bloomfield 


The erotic poem ‘A Origem do Mênstruo’ [The Origin of Menstruation], published in 1875 by the nineteenth-century Brazilian Romantic poet Bernardo Guimarães, claims to be a translation of a translation of a lost Ovidian aetiology, unearthed in the Pompeiian excavations. Whilst this labyrinthine Ovidian reception is fictitious, Guimarães’ poem itself also has an extraordinary reception history: it is fragmented by censorship, passes between marginalised groups, both elite and popular, and survived for almost a century through oral performance and clandestine chapbooks, before being rediscovered by the avant-guard poets and translators of the 20th century as a key precursor to surrealism. In a parodic integration of elements from across Ovid’s corpus to Virgil, Lucretius, and Homer, the poem imparts the origin of menstruation: a comic episode recounting Venus’ unfortunate mishap during some intimate grooming. This peculiar poem, which might at first seem a light-hearted scatological game, is a brilliant fusion of the breadth of Ovid’s work, which, through a political exploration of Guimarães’ own relationship to the Brazilian canon, both directly engages with and disfigures contemporary receptions of the classical tradition. ‘A Origem do Mênstruo’ thus opens an illuminating window onto the subtle postcolonial literary politics of classical literature in nineteenth-century Brazil. 



'Censoring Juventius? The reception of Catullus’ homoerotic poems by Tiffany Atkinson, Nathaniel Moore and C. K. Stead'

Dr Maxine Lewis 

(University of Auckland)

Since the seventeenth century, a steady stream of Anglophone writers have used Catullus’ poems as inspiration for their translations, poetic adaptations and novels. Many of the works have both emphasised the female love interest Lesbia and erased the male object of Catullus’ affection, Juventius. This erasure has fallen into three distinct patterns, with writers commonly not translating the suite of poems associated with homoeroticism, bowdlerizing obscene and homoerotic language, or performing a gender swap by rewriting Juventius as a female character. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some writers explained that these aesthetic choices were motivated by their distaste for or discomfort with the homoeroticism of the poems. 

In this paper I examine three recent responses to Catullus’ male paramour Juventius and contextualise them in the history of Catullus’ reception. While homophobia long had an impact on literary responses to the Juventius poems, the landscape of Catullan reception has shifted significantly in recent times, beginning with C. K. Stead’s ‘Clodian Songbooks’ (1982 and 1988), and continuing with Nathaniel Moore’s Let’s Pretend We Never Met (2007) and Tiffany Atkinson’s Catulla et al (2011). Recent treatments of Juventius still employ some of these techniques but through close examination of the works by Stead, Moore, and Atkinson I show that these authors have different motives and have generated novel aesthetic outcomes. The reception of Juventius has thus taken a new turn with these works, particularly in the depiction of hypermasculinity, sexual violence, and sexual agency. These innovative portraits of gender roles, especially masculinity and homoerotic desire, thus challenge not only Catullus’ own poems, but those works which have so far constituted the Catullan chain of reception.




‘Aztec Latinists: Classical learning and native legacies in post-conquest Mexico’

Prof. Andrew Laird

(John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and Humanities, Brown University, USA)


Soon after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, missionaries began teaching Latin, classical rhetoric and Aristotelian philosophy to youths from the native Nahua or Aztec nobility. Andrew Laird's talk will explain the nature and purpose of that training, and show some unexpected ways in which indigenous scholars used and connected their knowledge of Greco-Roman literature and history to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic world as well as to the colonial environment in which they lived. This subject also raises some important (and possibly threatening) questions about the study of classical reception in general. 



'Kratos before democracy: force, politics, and signification in Derrida and Homer'

Dr Charles Stocking

(Western University, Canada)


In Iliad Book 2, Odysseus delivers a speech to the dēmos, which has been quoted extensively throughout antiquity and modernity as a distinctly anti-democratic claim for monarchic sovereignty. He exclaims, “Rule by many lords is not good. Let there be one lord, one king, to whom the son of crooked counseling Kronos has given the scepter and right of judgement” (Iliad 2. 204-206). In one of his last major publications, Rogues (Voyous), Jacques Derrida used this speech as a center piece for broader arguments on the problematic relationship between force and politics.  In particular, he suggested that the speech represents a principle of “ipsocentric,” self-referential force, which has a divine correlate with the kratos of Zeus. Ultimately, Derrida argued for the notion of kratos as ipsocentric force in order to contrast it with the institution of democracy, which, for Derrida, is a political manifestation of his philosophy of différance. This paper will take up Derrida’s use of Homer in Rogues as a starting point for analyzing the political logic of force in Homer’s Iliad. As I shall argue, we do not necessarily need to posit a future “democracy,” as Derrida does, in order to deconstruct the model of ipsocentric force represented by the “one king” speech of the Iliad. Rather, I suggest, such a unified notion of force is already deconstructed in the Iliad itself. Such deconstruction is most readily observed in the general cultural semantics of kratos, in its mythological implications for the rule of Zeus, and in the uniquely discursive role that kratos plays within the narrative of the Iliad.



“The Best Greek Poets Used a Kind of Free Verse”:  The Imagists, Vers Libre, and Ancient Metrics

Prof. Elizabeth Vandiver

(Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin and Classics, Whitman College, USA)


The use of vers libre was one of the hallmarks of Imagist poetry; one of the six principles of Imagism printed in the Preface to the 1915 anthology Some Imagist Poets (edited by Amy Lowell) said ‘We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea’. But alongside this insistence on the newness and individuality of vers libre, the most prominent Imagists—Ezra Pound, H. D., Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell, and F. S. Flint—all claimed that their own free verse was directly modelled on ancient poetry, especially on Sappho and the tragic choruses. These poets explicitly and repeatedly claimed that Greek lyric poets wrote ‘free verse’ and that scholars who had worked out scansions were deluded; Pound’s term for such scholarship was ‘conventional imbecility’. Yet the Imagists’ claim that their own free verse was based on ancient metre is (obviously) factually untrue; their vers libre had by definition no fixed number of syllables or stresses per line and clearly bears no resemblance to, e.g., the Sapphic strophe. This paper examines the contexts in which the Imagists made this strange claim, and tries to reconstruct what they may have meant by it, why they may have thought it true, and why they considered it important to claim an ancient pedigree for their own form of verse. 




‘Magnesia and Brasília: planning cities and fostering values’

Prof. Gábor Betegh

(Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Cambridge)


In this paper I propose to compare two planned cities, Plato’s Magnesia, as set out in his late dialogue the Laws, and Lúcio Costa’s Brasília, a landmark of modernist city planning. It is rarely remarked that Plato in the Laws does not only outline the legal, institutional and educational framework of the city to be founded, as he does in the Republic, but also gives detailed indications about the new settlement's urban planning. I will suggest that Plato’s urbanistic ideas, stemming from his ethics and political philosophy, and Costa’s pilot plan, deeply inspired by Le Corbusier’s theoretical writings, are governed by the same fundamental principles. By their radical designs, they criticise and reject traditional cities and the values they represent. More importantly, their primary aim is not to cater for the existing life-styles and values of the new inhabitants. Rather, the spatial arrangement and architectural features of the city are meant to instil virtues and values, form and change the members of the urban community.



 *Please note that this is a special event organised in collaboration with the Modern Greek Seminar*

Archaeo-politics and the Greek crisis'

Prof. Dimitris Tziovas

(Professor of Modern Greek Studies, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham)


The crisis has induced Greek society to rethink its values, to revisit its founding myths and to re-examine its earlier certainties. This involves to a certain extent a narrativisation of the traumas of history, an interrogation of past practices and a critical search for what went wrong using the past as a guide. It is also common for people to try to draw parallels between past and present momentous events and compare the present crisis with other debt crises or traumatic experiences. History plays a significant role in the way Greeks negotiate the crisis. On the other hand, many foreign commentators and journalists have used ancient Greek mythology or imagery in order to illustrate the country’s dire economic situation and the predicament of its people. Embodying the past in the present suggests that the experience of the crisis is ‘polytemporal’, involving past instances of suffering and hardship. Through affective references to those moments, the crisis is historicised and temporalities collapse. This paper aims to explore how and to what extent Greeks and others read, revisit or revise the country’s ancient past in the light of the crisis. The past is destabilised and at the same time acts as a source of strength. The aim is to explore the ways the crisis has made the ancient past more public, more controversial and more relevant. 




*Please note that this is a special event organised in collaboration with the Modern Greek Seminar*

"Antony and Cleopatra and Cavafy"

Dr Anthony Hirst


Room G.21, Faculty of Classics


This presentation examines C. P. Cavafy’s interest in Shakespeare (which perhaps dates from Cavafy‘s early teenage years in England) and focuses on the Alexandrian Greek poet's adaptations, in several poems, of elements of Shakespeare's Alexandrian play, Antony and Cleopatra. Behind this play, of course, lies Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Life of Marcus Antonius; and in his Antony-related poems (and others) Cavafy also draws directly on Plutarch, short-circuiting what is elsewhere the tortuous linguistic journey from Plutarch's Greek prose through Jacques Amyot’s French translation of Plutarch and North's English translation of Amyot (both sixteenth-century) to Shakespeare's seventeenth-century transformation of North's text into an English verse drama, and back to Greek in the twentieth-century poetry of Cavafy.


For further details about this event, please contact Maya Feile Tomes ( CCRSS or Dr Liana Giannakopoulou ( at the Modern Greek Seminar.





Richard Thomas (Harvard University)

Why Bob Dylan Matters: Becoming a Classic


Room G.21, Faculty of Classics



Tschernikovsky’s Songs of Anacreon: Translation as Cultural Strategy

Prof. Patricia A. Rosenmeyer

(University of Wisconsin-Madison / Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics


In 1920, the Greek Anacreontics were translated into Hebrew by the Jewish Russian poet Shaul Tschernikovsky. His Anacreontics were part of a larger literary project including translations of Homer, Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Goethe, among others. For Tschernikovsky and his contemporaries, the Anacreontics seemed to represent a kind of universal mark of high culture and civilization. In the introduction to his translation Shirei Anakreon (Warsaw 1920), Tschernikovksy wrote: “It is impossible to find a cultured nation whose body of literature does not include those poems that are known as the ‘Anacreontics’”. Why did the Anacreontics in particular appeal so strongly to this poet? How did he go about translating the Greek verses into a language that was precariously balanced between an over-determined written past––the language of the Bible––and an imaginary spoken future: the modern Hebrew of a Zionist homeland? I argue that the Anacreontics functioned as a kind of passport to high culture at a time in history that was particularly fraught for Jewish European intellectuals. 




'Plautus' Amphitruo in Brazil and Spain: (post)modern receptions'

Dr Rodrigo Tadeu Gonçalves (Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil)


5.15pm, Room G.21, Faculty of Classics



This talk will examine two fascinating yet little-known (post)modern receptions of Plautus' Amphitruo: Guilherme Figueiredo's Um Deus Dormiu Lá em Casa ("A God Slept Here", Brazil, 1949) and Alfonso Sastre's Los Dioses y Los Cuernos ("The Gods and the Cuckolds", Spain, 1995). The talk will consider the major features of these receptions and their relations with cultural, literary, dramatic and political contexts, focusing on their recovery of important metatheatrical effects of Plautus. Figueiredo's play is a radical rewriting in which the gods are absent and in which the mortals imitate the gods imitating themselves, putting into perspective the possibility of the myth in a postmodern dramatic setting. In his turn, Sastre's work accumulates layers of self-awareness by mixing the process of reception through translation while destabilizing the ontological nature of the resulting text: the play is by both Plautus and Sastre at the same time.

Speaker biography:

Rodrigo Tadeu Gonçalves is Professor of Classics at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) in Brazil, having received his PhD from the same institution and completed his postdoctoral research at the Centre Léon Robin, Paris (ENS-Sorbonne-CNRS). His recent work deals with poetic and rhythmic translations of the classics, the reception of Roman comedy (especially in Brazil), and the philosophy of language and translation. With Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Rodrigo has recently published Performative Plautus: Sophistics, Metatheater and Translation, providing a theoretical and philosophical framework for the analysis of Plautus within a performative and philosophical perspective on language and theatrical performance. He is currently working on a full hexametric translation of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. 



Tuesday 10th May 2016

 "Coming down with the Classics. A case report (Aristophanes, Lucian, Wieland et al.)"


(University of Basel / University of Cambridge)


Room G.21

Dr Rebecca Lämmle is lecturer in Greek Literature at the University of Basel and Visiting Scholar at the Faculty of Classics in Cambridge. She is also the holder of an advanced postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (awarded 2015). She is best known for her work on Greek satyr play (e.g. Poetik des Satyrspiels, Heidelberg 2013) and is currently writing a book on Poets and Philosophers in the Underworld, the first instalment of which focuses on comical and satirical traditions in ancient Greco-Roman literature.


 This paper deals with the canonisation of Greek Tragedy and various resonances of this process in later literature – particularly in the work of the German writer, poet, publicist, literary critic, translator and classical scholar Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813).

 For both poets and their audiences, exposure to the poetic achievements of the past may result in the following symptoms: moderate to blind admiration, anxiety, misreading, parrotism (most common), fetishising, idolatry, inferiority complex, irreverence (common), abuse, mania, necrophilia (less common), suicidal tendencies (rare cases).

 My main interest will be the coincidence of these symptoms in the so called ‘Abderite disease’ (ἀβδηριτικὸν πάθος), an epidemic of acute Classicism first caused by the performance of Euripides’ Andromeda in the theatre of Abdera at an unknown date.


Tuesday 31st May 2016

"Myth, Misogyny, and Magic: Mansplaining Medea in the Middle Ages"

Dr Adam Goldwyn

(North Dakota State University)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics


Please note that this event will be held on a Tuesday - not Thursday.

Dr Adam Goldwyn is Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature and English at North Dakota State University, specialising in the reception of Classical Greek literature, particularly in Byzantium and the Middle Ages. From 2011-2013, he was a post-doctoral researcher in Byzantine and Greek Studies at Uppsala University (Sweden), also spending time at the Swedish Institute in Athens. He is editor of The Trojan Wars and the Making of the Modern World (Uppsala: 2016) and co-translator of John Tzetzes' Allegories of the Iliad (Harvard: 2015). In the coming term he will be Visiting Professor in the Department of Classical Philology at the University of Silesia (Katowice, Poland), to which we owe his presence in Europe and, hence, the opportunity for this talk at the CCRSS; next year he will be a research fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard's Center for Byzantine Studies in Washington, DC. 



Translation in the Middle Ages, as today, is not simply a philological issue of transferring words and phrases from one language to another.  It is also, inevitably, a transferring of one culture and ideology into another. The twelfth century Roman de Troie of Benoît de Sainte-Maure offers an opportunity to examine this truism with regards to Classical reception in the Middle Ages. This paper will compare Benoît’s treatment of the meeting of Jason and Medea with the same scene in five translations: Ο πόλεμος της Τρωάδος, an anonymous Greek translation of the 13th century; Guido delle Colonne’s Historia Destructionis Troiae, a Latin translation of 1287; and three versions of the tale which use Guido as their source: the anonymous Catalan Cronica Troyana and the anonymous Middle German Trojanische Krieg, both of the 14th century; and the Englishman John Lydgate’s Troy Book of 1412-1420.

An examination of these texts alongside the often elaborate manuscript illuminations that accompany them will demonstrate the ways in which six male authors condemn this most confounding of mythological women with various levels of misogynistic vitriol for her forthright expressions of sexual desire, her heretical use of black magic, and her lack of rational self-control. As a woman, a pagan, and a foreigner, Medea is a thrice-marked other, and her treatment over time and across cultures by several authors all producing different translations from the same source material is therefore illustrative of differing cultural attitudes towards these three aspects of her character. 


Friday 6th November 2015

 "Latin and the Latin American subaltern: a classicist's qualms on reading literary texts from colonial-era Hispano-America"

 Maya Feile Tomes 
(University of Cambridge)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics



 This paper will explore ways of reading early modern Neo-Latin texts written in, or about, (Hispano-)America during the Spanish occupation and how those ways might (or might not) be made to speak to the efforts and aims of the postcolonial project more broadly. The focus will be on the reception of Virgil's Aeneid, and the epics in question will be tested as sites of overlap and intersection between literary-critical reading strategies familiar to classicists and those familiar to Latin Americanists and other early modernists more broadly. Maya will welcome feedback and contributions from a wide range of perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds.

Tuesday 17th November 2015

 "Metalepsis and Metaphysics"

 Professor Duncan Kennedy

(University of Bristol)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics



Perhaps the most interesting recent venture to exploit the narratological model of metalepsis is Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie, Inception. Three distinct narrative levels ‘down’ (the van chase; the tilting hotel; the snow-fortress/hospital) are presented as dreams and dreams within dreams, with a fourth, limbo or unconstructed dream space, below that. Metalepsis becomes a ‘diegetic concept’ within the movie (and is visually represented as a cartoonish machine that, complete with large button, enacts the metaleptic jump). The orchestrator of these embedded narratives is Cobb, together with the team he has assembled, and the plan is, at the instigation of a business rival Mr Saito, to insert an idea (breaking up his father’s business empire after his death) into the mind of Robert Fischer within these dreams in such a way that it will seem to have occurred spontaneously to him as the right thing to do (‘inception’ in the movie’s terminology). The narrative frame for these embedded dreams is a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, during which Cobb and his team have placed themselves and Fischer in an induced sleep. The movie ends on arrival in LA with the apparent success of Cobb’s plan, and with Cobb’s longed-for re-union with his children, but at this point Nolan introduces a metaphysical conundrum characteristic of his plots: as Cobb goes out into the garden to see his children, the camera focuses in on the spinning top which he has used as a ‘totem’ to ensure himself that he is not ‘within’ a dream. Before we know whether the top will fall, Nolan cuts to black, generating a trope for the moment metalepsis gives way to metaphysics. Is this level, to use a crude term, Cobb’s ‘reality’, or is he within a dream (his own or someone else’s)? One could happily discuss the metaleptic strategies of Inception at length, but this is not my plan; it is rather to accept the movie’s challenge to relate metalepsis and metaphysics. Cut to black. For many (though the crucial question may be: for most…or for all?) who inhabit the world of empirical experience, that world is not ‘reality’, which rather lies at one level removed. Thus they might see themselves as characters ‘within’ some grander plot. The locus classicus for this is of course Virgil’s Aeneid, and (as in Inception), metalepsis is a diegetic concept, troped as particular manifestations of narrative: in telling the story of Rome’s history and empire, the Virgilian narrator seeks to descry the master narrative of Fate or History, personified in the figure of Jupiter the narrator, and accessed by the human characters through various modes of supernatural revelation (dreams, prophecy, oracles). But one might also see this (as I have argued in Antiquity and the Meanings of Time [2013]) in providential (personified) or quasi-providential (non-personified) explanation, such as Augustine’s City of God, Marxism, or Fukuyama’s ‘end of History’; or the ‘Invisible Hand’ of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, or Hegel’s Reason. If these can be accounted ‘metaleptic’, what about the Platonic appeal to the world of the Forms? The Forms that even Socrates himself can do no more than ‘dream’ of (e.g. Republic 533b6-c3, but often elsewhere; a metaleptic trope that will come in for close analysis)? There is, of course, resistance to such appeals to a ‘higher’ reality: Lucretius represents Epicurus as rebelling against a religion that ‘stands over’ (super…instans, 1.65) humankind, and many would raise their eyes and stand up against equivalent modern ‘superstitions’ that similarly enjoin unthinking submission and obeisance (the Market of neo-liberal economics, perhaps, though examples from across the ideological spectrum could readily be multiplied). However, Lucretius no less appeals to another level of ‘reality’, in his case troped as ‘below’ (nec tellus obstat quin omnia dispiciantur / sub pedibus quaecumque infraper inane geruntur, 3.26-7), the unconstructed space of primordial atomic motion visible only in ‘the mind’s eye’[2]— an Epicurean idealism of matter equivalent to the Platonic idealism of form, and accessible only through an equivalent metaleptic jump. But this brings us to the metaphysical crunch-point: are all attempts at explanation or understanding metaleptic in this sense, appealing to another level of ‘reality’, another world that in some sense exists beyond what ‘appears’ to be the case? How many of us have never uttered words along the lines of ‘This is really all about such-and-such’, appealing that other ‘world’ (and perhaps oblivious of the tropes we use to access that world, or – Inception-wise – of ideas and concepts that have been historically ‘planted’ below our conscious awareness and strike us as being, just, ‘right’)? This term taken from Miklós Kiss, ‘Narrative Metalepsis as Diegetic Concept in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010)’, Acta Univ. Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 5 (2012), 35-54. For all their familiarity, Daryn Lehoux has recently reminded us how unusual Lucretius’s appeals to visualize the unseen world of atoms and void are in ancient philosophical discourse: ‘Seeing and Unseeing, Seen and Unseen’ in (eds) Lehoux, Morrison and Sharrock, Lucretius: Poetry, Philosophy, Science (Oxford, 2013), 131-52.

 Myth, Misogyny, and Magic: Mansplaining Medea in the Middle Ages

LENT 2016 TERM CARD (Past Events)

Thursday 21st January 2016

"Trojan Temporality and the Materiality of Literary History"

Professor Marilynn Desmond
(Binghamton University)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics


Marilynn Desmond joins us from Binghamton University, where she is Distinguished Professor. She is an expert in French and English medieval literature, and the reception of Classics in those fields. She is the author of, among other things, Reading Dido: Gender, Textuality, and the Medieval Aeneid and Ovid's Art and the Wife of Bath: The Ethics of Erotic Violence. In 2014 she was the recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, enabling her to kickstart her new research project on the reception of the Fall of Troy in medieval literature. 


The matter of Troy in the medieval Latin West sustains a vision of the city of Troy as ever present yet always already destroyed: a city that exists outside of time. In medieval historiography, the Fall of Troy results in the Trojan diaspora and the settlement of Europe by Trojan refugees who flee the burning city; the fall of Troy consequently makes the narrative of European history possible. This vision of Trojan ancestry as a myth of origins is often invoked to express a vision of European futurity. This paper will explore how the translatio of the matter of Troy generated its own temporality. 

In the absence of the Homeric epics, the matter of Troy was transmitted to the medieval West by the Latin prose texts attributed to Dares and Dictys. These texts represent themselves as the translatio of ancient Greek textual traditions and simultaneously as the material transmission of these traditions from papyrus to parchment. The vernacular itinerary of the Latin texts of Dares and Dictys create a distinct Trojan temporality. In the twelfth-century Roman de Troie, Benoît de Sainte-Maure insists that the materiality of translation practices allows the reader to participate directly in the Trojan War, while two centuries later, the visual program in a manuscript of Raoul de Presles’ translation of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei encapsulates the atemporality of Troy as transmitted by Dares.


Tuesday 23rd February 2016

"Starring Hypatia: Amenábar's Ágora and the Tropology of Reception"

Dr Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle

(University of Basel / Visiting Scholar, Faculty of Classics, Cambridge)


Room G. 21, Faculty of Classics


Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle is Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge (2015-17). He joins us from the University of Basel, where he has wide research interests in Latin literature and ancient literary theory. His current project is the preparation of a new commentary on Cicero's De domo sua.



The reception of the female philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Hypatia of Alexandria is governed by a fundamental tension: while her œuvre has largely been lost and testimony for her life and works is notoriously thin on the ground, Hypatia’s Nachleben in Western philosophical and artistic discourse is exceptionally rich and diverse. Indeed, it may be suspected that the scarcity of ‘original’ sources has paved the way for the formation of a proper legend of Hypatia, susceptible to later re-imagination and re-appropriation. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially, have witnessed the expansion and proliferation of the Hypatia myth which was called upon as an illustration (and argument) in discussions of themes as controversial as the relation of science and religion, the secular state, gender asymmetry and inequality. The richness and diversity of Hypatian reception has arguably resulted in a complex and multilayered narrative of Hypatia’s life shaped by the partisan views and agendas of the many stations of its retelling.

This paper proposes to discuss Alejandro Amenábar’s Ágora (Spain 2009 | dir. A. Amenábar | screen play: A. Amenábar/M. Gil) against this backdrop. The first large-scale movie to feature the figure of Hypatia, Ágora is arguably the single most influential station in Hypatia’s recent reception. It has incited lively public debate on Hypatia’s legacy and sparked the wider public’s interest in a chapter of late antique studies previously limited to specialists. At the same time, however, the movie acutely reflects Hypatia’s previous reception. Indeed, while paying lip service to an aesthetics of historical accuracy and authenticity, Ágora not only references previous re-imaginations of Hypatia in art and literature but it also meditates on the tropology of reception more broadly: as will be shown, the plot line concerning Hypatia’s astronomical speculations is vital in this respect. Not only is Ágora’s Hypatia configured as an embodiment of astronomical learning per se but she is credited with specific experiments and findings from thelongue durée of scientific astronomy. As the movie explicitly points to this origin, it reveals the fictionality of its own retelling of Hypatia’s story and lays bare the dialectics between the obliteration and the inscription of meaning germane to all acts of reception.

Dr Adam Goldwyn is Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature and English at North Dakota State University, specialising in the reception of Classical Greek literature, particularly in Byzantium and the Middle Ages. From 2011-2013, he was a post-doctoral researcher in Byzantine and Greek Studies at Uppsala University (Sweden), also spending time at the Swedish Institute in Athens. He is editor of The Trojan Wars and the Making of the Modern World (Uppsala: 2016) and co-translator of John Tzetzes' Allegories of the Iliad (Harvard: 2015). In the coming term he will be Visiting Professor in the Department of Classical Philology at the University of Silesia (Katowice, Poland), to which we owe his presence in Europe and, hence, the opportunity for this talk at the CCRSS; next year he will be a research fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard's Center for Byzantine Studies in Washington, DC.

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