Have a look at Benjamin Straumann’s post here:
Have a look at Benjamin Straumann’s post here:
An exciting one-day workshop comprising both research papers from several disciplines and roundtables on pedagogy. Please follow the links to register:
Paul Cartledge recorded an interview with David Runciman for his Election series. Here is the link:
“This piece first appeared on the OUPblog April 14th 2016”.
What do the pamphlets of the English Civil War, imperial theorists of the eighteenth century, Nazi schoolteachers, and a left-wing American artist have in common? Correct; they all see themselves as in dialogue with classical antiquity, drawing on the political thought of ancient Greek writers. Nor are they alone in this; the idea that Western thought is a series of ‘footnotes to Plato’, as Alfred Whitehead suggested in 1929, is a memorable formulation of the extensive role of ancient Greece within modernity. Further reflection, however, will show that the West does not have an unbroken connection with ancient Greece, as knowledge of both language and culture declined in the mediaeval period – even the great Renaissance scholars sometimes struggled to master their ancient Greek grammar and syntax. Once the West does recover a relationship to ancient Greece, is its own role confined to writing ‘footnotes’ under the transcendent authority of Plato? Perhaps we can reconstruct more varied forms of intellectual engagement.
One thing to remember is that the political thought of ancient Greek was not itself monolithic. The democratic experiment of classical Athens, the idealistic militarism of Sparta, the innovative imperialism of Alexander – such plurality of political forms gave rise to a wealth of commentary that ranged across the ideological spectrum. Moreover, texts that are not only political but have other identities too, like Athenian history or tragedy, also involve sustained reflection on the organisation of society and the workings of power. So the political writings of ancient Greece are not confined to Plato, or to Plato and Aristotle, and they offer a range of political positions.
Conversely, Western thought does not simply accept the authority of Greek texts, despite the huge cultural clout that the classical world undoubtedly wielded during much of European history. Instead, we can see later writers using the classical past as a partner in dialogue, to be variously embraced, rejected, modified, and sometimes transformed out of all recognition. For instance, recent research has shown how Xenophon has been understood as forerunner variously of Romantic exploration, American militarism, and Nazi ideology. From the opposite perspective, an appeal to the classical past has often shaped and altered the discourses of modernity, calling its basic assumptions into question. The study of this complex kind of engagement is currently undertaken by scholars in classical reception, and the present Special Issue of the Classical Receptions Journal is put together by a research network dedicated to the topic. The Legacy of Greek Political Thought Network enables classicists, historians and political theorists to learn from each other how the classical past has been debated, interrogated, and contested in post-classical political writings.
The Network is interested particularly in studying the political work of ancient Greek writers other than Plato and Aristotle, and we also want to move away from debates about democracy to investigate how ancient writers have been deployed to pursue many other arguments. Topics we have studied recently range from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, taking in republicanism, colonialism, pedagogy, Aesop and Antigone. Pamphlets from the English Civil War include reflections on Sparta as ideal democracy, which challenge our current understanding of Spartan politics; imperial theorists of both Britain and France focus on Athens as paradigm of imperial power and decline, with considerably less interest in the city’s democratic identity. German pedagogues in the 1930s drew on Xenophon for characterisations of political leadership that they applied to the autocratic politics and culture developing in their own society, while Aesop provided a way of figuring radical politics for an artist in 1930s New York. New readings of Antigone, via political philosophy as well as drama, enable further consideration of the relations between classical reception and political thought via. The current political context presents challenges both relatively familiar and wholly surprising, but we can expect a dialogue with antiquity to continue.
Early Call for Papers
Fifth Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in the Reception of the Ancient World
14th-15th December 2015
University of Nottingham
Abstracts deadline: 31st August 2015
It is with great pleasure that we announce the fifth Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in the Reception of the Ancient World. AMPRAW 2015 will be a two-day conference aiming to provide both UK and international postgraduate students from all disciplines with the opportunity to present their research to the growing academic community focusing on classical reception.
This year’s conference will be held from Monday 14th to Tuesday 15th December 2015 at the University of Nottingham.
We will build on the successful trend of recent AMPRAWs, and this year the focus will be “Orthodoxy and Dissent”. This theme relates to many aspects of reception studies, and will further widen the scope of AMPRAW into the areas of material and visual culture, translation studies, and political thought.
We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers (with a subsequent 10 minute discussion). Proposals may consider, but are not limited to, the following questions:
In addition to this year’s panels, AMPRAW 2015 will feature a keynote lecture, and a wide-variety of practitioner-led workshops from visiting speakers. Confirmed details are to follow in due course.
Please send your title and a 200-300 word abstract (including your name, affiliation and level of study) to firstname.lastname@example.org, by the 31st August 2015.
For up-to-date conference news and further details, please visit our website: ampraw2015.wordpress.com and get involved on twitter @AMPRAW2015.
We look forward to receiving your abstracts!
The AMPRAW 2015 Organising Committee
John Bloxham, Harriet Lander, Annie Zourgou, Melanie Fitton-Hayward
Thanks to Carol Atack for this informative update
Classical reception was a significant theme of the 2015 Classical Association conference, not surprisingly as the host department at Bristol has such strength in this area. Political thought and critical theories took their place alongside literature and popular culture, a parallel strand on the sensory turn, and a series of panels and workshops on Classics education and outreach.
The intersection between politics and the reception of the classical tradition was the focus of the Theorizing Reception panel, in which the LGPT was represented by John Bloxham (Nottingham/OU) and Carol Atack (Oxford). Janina Vesztergom (ELTE Budapest) and Rogier van der Wal (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), presenting together in dialogue form, completed the line-up, with ‘Translation as Reception that Makes Sense: Caesar through Hungarian eyes’. The political range and intellectual diversity of 20th-century responses to the ancient world was illustrated by the three papers; from the conservatism of US cultural critics such as William Bennett and Allan Bloom, to the radical anti-Platonism of French philosopher Jacques Rancière, to the historical fiction of Hungarian writer Sandor Márai, ancient concepts and thinkers provided ways to grapple with contemporary problems.
John Bloxham opened the session, with ‘The Classicizing of the American Mind: Plato versus Theory in the Culture Wars’, a dissection of appeals to ancient texts in the US ‘Culture Wars’ of the 1980s, and resistance to attempts to broaden the undergraduate curriculum beyond the established canon of ‘Great Books’. William Bennett, in his 1984 report on the state of humanities education, and Allan Bloom in his 1987 best-seller The Closing of the American Mind both saw the reading of Plato as a means of accessing universal and timeless truths, against the perceived threat of relativism arising from educational reforms and the introduction of contemporary texts. Bennett’s proposals glide seamlessly from ancient world to modern America, conflating the two, and one might worry that hurrying through the books themselves would result in superficial readings. But Bloom’s more sophisticated Plato attempts to offer something with which to oppose the nihilism and decadence of modern philosophy – even if he has to be read ironically to generate the required arguments.
Discussion of the paper further teased out nuances in Bloom’s thought and his position relative to others in the Straussian tradition (and session chair Ellen O’Gorman should be thanked for weaving together the papers and discussion as skilfully as if she were a Platonic statesman). The differing contexts of thinkers within this tradition should be considered – as Bloxham showed with Bloom, his experiences of student unrest at Cornell inspired his thought on education.
The second paper was Carol Atack’s ‘Rancière’s Lessons from Plato: reception as methodology in the history of political thought’. The abiding interest of French radical political theorists in Plato generated equally impassioned but quite different political arguments from those of the American conservatives. Atack used Jacques Rancière’s reading of Plato to explore the methodologies that might help in interpreting and understanding the complex thought of theorists whose use of ancient thinkers simultaneously embraces and opposes their thought and the authority of the classical tradition. The conflict between historicist and textual approaches features in the methodologies of both the study of political thought and of classical reception.
Jacques Rancière’s combative anti-philosophical engagement with Plato provides a counter-example to the American conservatives, and shows that the appeal of invoking ancient writers is not limited to conservative perspectives. For Rancière the canon of political theory (that Bloom sought to preserve) continues to repeat the same story of the exclusion of workers from political debate: it is difficult to disentangle Rancière’s direct engagement with Plato’s arguments and the context and motivation he provides for his work. By placing himself on the shores of Plato’s corrupting sea, Rancière evokes not just ancient psychogeography but also contemporary ideas of liminality.
Vesztergom and van der Wal used Sandor Márai’s historical novel, Something Happened in Rome, which tells the story of an unidentified tyrant from the perspective of the people, to explore the importance of translation and retelling in reception. Again, historical context was key to interpreting a writer and his work, as well as its complex reception history from original publication in Hungarian to rediscover and republication in Dutch translation. Márai’s context as a political activist and then exile from Hungary illuminates his choice of themes. The role of historical fiction in classical reception highlighted by the paper sparked a lively debate – does retelling a story from the ancient world generate a more powerful connection for the modern reader than a translation of an ancient text? Why is historical fiction valued more highly as a genre and a vehicle for political reflection and argument in some literary traditions than others?
Beyond this panel, the conference themes of reception and the sensory turn generated interesting interactions between ancient and modern. The plenary papers explored modern engagements with concepts from the ancient world. Miriam Leonard opened the conference with an exploration of the use of tragedy, and particularly the figure of Oedipus, by thinkers such as Nietzsche and Lacan. Could the Greek distinction between man, beast and god, as elaborated by Sophocles in the Oedipus at Colonus, contribute to contemporary debates on what it means to be post-human? In using ancient texts to explore new problems and answer new questions, both Miriam Leonard and fellow plenary presenter, Shane Butler with his concept of ‘deep Classics’, showed that classical reception offers a potent way to explore contemporary cultural and philosophical issues.
Carol Atack, St Hugh’s College, Oxford
CA conference: Legacies of Greek Political Thought in America
The Legacy of Greek Political Thought group recently organised a successful panel for the 2014 Classical Association Conference. The challenge was to provide a narrow enough focus that the four papers provided an integrated and coherent narrative, while still appealing to a varied audience of classicists. With that in mind, the panel was focused upon American receptions of Greek political thought, and its aims were to examine and challenge the links between ancient Greek political thought and its modern invocations in the United States.
The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States is a reminder of the Founding Fathers’ ambition to create ‘A New Order of the Ages,’ unlike any previous society. Yet correspondence between the Founders shows a keen awareness of and engagement with past societies. In ‘Is there space for a Greek influence on American Thought?’ Nicholas Cole (Oxford) considered the American revolutionary period and addressed this paradox head-on. Nicholas argued that Greek history and thought made important contributions to American thinking, and that these help to explain the development of American thought in the early republic. But historians need to move beyond the narrow debate on political borrowings towards an appreciation of the wider multiplicity of ways that early Americans engaged with Greek thought.
Vaulting forward to the twentieth century, Sara Monoson (Northwestern) explored contrasting attitudes to antiquity in ‘Classical sources and the promotion of literacy in radical critique: Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads (1933) and Hugo Gellert’s Aesop Said So (1936).’ Her paper focused on the presence of classical imagery in 1930s expressions of radical critique by visual artists. In his controversial mural for the Rockefeller Center in New York, Diego Rivera used the imagery of damaged yet formidable classical statuary to suggest the corrosiveness of weighty traditions and to question the value of harking back to antiquity. Though sharing his political viewpoint, Hugo Gellert challenged that view of antiquity. He produced books that combine text and illustrations to find other narratives in the sources (chiefly, the figure of Aesop as a view ‘from below’) that were, to him, able to inspire class consciousness and a sophisticated examination of problems like the greed and corruption of the high and mighty.
In the first of two papers looking at the conservative thinker Leo Strauss, Liz Sawyer (Oxford) presented ‘Leo Strauss, in context: Classical Literature as Political Philosophy in 1950s/1960s American Universities.’ She examined how Strauss’ use of classical literature, especially Aristotle, Plato and Thucydides, fitted within the broader context of how political philosophy and Western literature were taught in the 1950s and 1960s. By studying Strauss’ writings in the light of the educational methodologies of his time, Liz demonstrated how Strauss’s legacy as the ‘founding father’ of today’s neoconservative movement developed. In the final paper, ‘The original neoconservative? Leo Strauss’s version of Xenophon’s version of Socrates,’ I argued that Strauss’s interpretations of Xenophon have been overlooked by political commentators seeking to praise or malign the Straussian influence on American politics. Using Strauss’s commentary on Xenophon’s Oeconomicus as a case study, I argued that Xenophon, rather than Plato or Thucydides, is the classical key for unlocking Strauss’s political ideology.
The focus on Greek thought in America gave the panel coherence, whilst differences in the subject matter and methodological approaches of the speakers ensured variety. Each of the other papers gave me fresh insights into my own work, and the discussions which followed were almost as fruitful as the papers themselves (and gave no indication that any audience members might have over-indulged at the previous night’s gala dinner). Having spent the build-up to the conference worrying about my own paper, which passed in a flash, it is only in retrospect that the real benefits of attending a conference like this became apparent – the unexpected connections and the perceptive and creative conversations with fellow delegates made attending this CA conference an enriching experience.
John Bloxham (Nottingham)