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Classical Reception Seminar Series

The Classical Reception Seminar Series (formerly known as the Classical Reception Discussion Group) is the only seminar series in Cambridge dedicated exclusively to the study of classical reception.

(2017-18 programme to follow)

Seminars are held several times a term at 5.15pm in Room G.21, Faculty of Classics. Sessions consist in an approx. 45-minute presentation by an invited speaker, followed by questions and discussion. The talks, which can cover any aspect of the reception of the ancient world, are designed to appeal to a wide audience and interested parties from any Faculty are warmly encouraged to attend. There is usually the opportunity for a drink with the speaker in a social setting afterwards as well.

For further information, or to express interest in giving a paper, please contact the series chair: 

Dr Maya Feile Tomes


2017-18 Term card to follow



(past events) 



*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. 




MICHAELMAS 2016 TERM CARD (past events)

'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. 

'For further information, or to express interest in giving a paper, please contact the series chair: 

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