Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS Report: 6/11/2015

This week’s GIS was something special – a joint with our friends in the Classical Reception Seminar Series (ably chaired by Maya Feile Tomas and Ben Folit-Weinberg). The aim of this collaboration (no doubt the first of many), was to begin the process of opening up the world of reception studies to those engaged in ‘ordinary’ classics, and to demonstrate the potential of reception’s concerns and methodologies to enrich our use of ancient sources. The meeting was very well attended by classicists, classicists with strong interests in reception, and (very pleasingly) researchers with interests outside the classical world altogether. This was in no small part due to the rich and thought-provoking paper delivered by Maya: “Latin and the Latin American Subaltern: a Classicist’s qualms on reading literary texts from colonial-era Hispano-America”. Maya’s paper was doubly focused on reception: her paper addressed Classicists’ reading modes of the Aeneid in the context of its reception in Early-Modern epics written in Latin on the conquest of South America. Maya refocused the problem, in particular, through the practices of postcolonial Latin Americanists looking at texts written in vernacular in the same cultural milieu as the ones she analysed. Indeed one of Maya’s most pressing questions was: do texts written in vernacular warrant a different treatment to those written in Latin? Maya in fact showed us how Classicists and Latin Americanists often deal with similar questions, and even use similar methodologies to get to different results. She stressed that while the reading of the Aeneid for voices of dissent to the Augustan project is only one of several different approaches classicists can adopt in interrogating the poem—now increasingly a waning fashion in scholarship—the literary-critical approach of reading ‘against the grain’ for ‘further voices’ is, by contrast, an ideological imperative for the post-colonial project. Where do texts written in Neo-Latin stand amid these modes of reading? Is it legitimate to look for the voice of the Latin-American subaltern subject position here? Maya gave a response to these questions by showing us postcolonial readings in action, looking at the figure of the Devil as one of the most strikingly productive site for ‘further voices’ in these epics of conquest. Comparing narratives of Spanish conquest in South America, written in Latin, with the Vergilian epic they were consciously modelled upon, Maya set out not only the ways in which the Aeneid was used by some Spanish writers as inspiration for reflection upon the colonial project, but the way in which this work gets us to refocus attention on Vergil’s own problematic attitude to colonialism.

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