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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 new co-convenors: Zack Case (, Sofia Greaves (, and Nathaniel Hess (

All welcome!




G.21, Faculty of Classics

The Sphinx and Another Thinking of Life

Katherine Fleming (Queen Mary)

Taking its cue from Derrida, this paper will suggest ways in which we might read the Sphinx as a rich figure for contemporary issues which adhere around the post-human and ask whether we might deploy her inherent liminality to re-stage critical ethical questions about the relationship between the human and the animal, and about subjectivity. Embodying both human and animal, can the Sphinx be recalled, cyborg-like (we might imagine her as a riddling machine, programmed to repeat her puzzle until short-circuited by Oedipus), to mediate those intellectual networks, perhaps always already existent, between animality and humanity, between the human and what is called the non/in-human?

If you would like to join the speaker for dinner afterwards, please make sure to email one the co-convenors at least a day before the event.




G.21, Faculty of Classics

Shakespeare's Aristotle: The Poetics in Renaissance England

Micha Lazarus (Cambridge)

Aristotle's Poetics has long been thought embarrassingly absent from Renaissance England, despite its transformative impact on the Continent. In fact there is plenty of hard evidence, on the contrary, that this work was a real force in the period, which casts new light not only on the Poetics and its influence but also on the methods we use to trace the larger narratives of classical reception. In this paper I will present two approaches to a restored Poetics. The first traces its arrival in 1540s England through the Byzantine trivium, the Greek pronunciation controversy, scriptural tragedy, and academic readings of classical drama, locating the Poetics within a network of intellectual affiliations now mostly forgotten. Yet restoring the Poetics to critical prominence opens new paths for literary criticism as well as literary history. My second case study will suggest how we might read the Poetics into the fabric of literary composition itself, as close comparison of Hamlet and King Lear finds Shakespeare on the trail of Aristotle's elusive notion of catharsis.

If you would like to join the speaker for dinner afterwards, please make sure to email one the co-convenors at least a day before the event.






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. 


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