Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS report – 10/03/17

GIS concluded this term with two fascinating presentations by Antonia Schrader and Chiara Monaco, respectively focusing on Greek tragedy and linguistic debates in imperial Greek literature.

First to speak was Antonia Schrader, who presented a paper entitled “Patterns of undress in fifth-century Athenian tragedy”. In her paper, Antonia looked at moments of undress in fifth-century tragedy, that is, moments in which characters are staged or imagined on stage as fully or partially divested of their clothes. She began this examination by placing it against the well attested and unprecedented significance of nudity in contemporary Athenian society off stage: firmly established in the contest, ritual and festival practice of the time as well as in the city’s visual landscape, it is with the habitual undress at the public gymnasia and wrestling schools emerging around the fifth century BCE that public nudity becomes a marker of civic, male distinction, a ‘costume’ of the citizen (Bonfante 1989). And yet, in a traditionally clothed society that otherwise considers undress, particularly in its women, as a shameful and vulnerable exposure, the citizen’s civic nudity inherently rests on unstable and contested grounds. In this light, Antonia discussed different instances of tragic undress, ranging from tragedy’s variant of athletic nudity in Euripides’ Heracles to the vulnerable exposure of the tragic naked corpse in Sophocles’ Antigone to the deliberate self-unveiling of Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra and Euripides’ Helen, and explored the question of how these on-stage instances of nudity relate to the complex patterns of undress in contemporary off-stage Athens.

In the second half of the seminar, Chiara presented on “the importance of linguistic fragments in Middle and New Comedy as evidence of the first Atticism”. Part of Chiara’s research focuses on the analysis of Menander’s linguistic fragments in which the playwright discusses the correct use of different words. These kind of fragments are common in Middle and New Comedy and they are useful to investigate what the contemporaries thought about the evolutionary process of Greek language and what kind of stance they took with regards to the language during Menander’s age. The playwright plays a central role in the linguistic debate from two different points of view: he does not only use a modern vocabulary (which reflects the development of the Greek language and the main aspects of the koiné) but also gives important information about the contemporary linguistic debate; he often ridicules some pedants who resented non-Attic vocabulary, thus making clear that a sort of Atticism ante litteram was already flourishing in his time even before the Second Sophistic Age. What is interesting in these fragments is that the use of certain expressions (widespread in the later Lexicographers), the type of debates and the characters depicted in the plays (features common in the texts of many Sophists in II century AD like Lucian, Atheneus and Plutarch) are not only simple comic devices. Indeed, they seem to allude to an early Atticism whose prodromes were set during the Hellenistic period but which could be anticipated through the evidence of these earlier linguistic debates. Thus, Chiara’s research aims to highlight the importance of these fragments to have a complete knowledge of the cultural phenomenon of Atticism in a productive dialogue with later texts.

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