Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS report – 05/05/17

At the first GIS of the term we had two excellent presentations, which gave us insights into ways of restoring classics in two very different areas: while Ed Millband showed us how some textual issues in the Pseudo-Senecan Octavia may be solved and the text thus restored, Aleksander Musiał showed us what kinds of aggressive restorations were inflicted upon the marble statues of the Swedish King Gustav III.


In his presentation on “Textual Conjectures in the Pseudo-Senecan Octavia” Ed proposed a number of new conjectures for the Pseudo-Senecan Octavia. This play poses a number of editorial challenges above and beyond those faced by editors of the genuine Senecan plays. The text has reached us in a somewhat imperfect state, by way of a manuscript tradition which is demonstrably corrupt and interpolated. Although transmitted as part of the Senecan tragic corpus, it is absent from one of the two main branches of the tradition, meaning that there are no ε-branch witnesses against which passages in the α-text, which are thought to be corrupt, can be compared. In addition, the author of the Octavia is neither Seneca nor any known imperial poet, rendering it difficult to establish linguistic, stylistic and metrical criteria against which potential corruptions, and the appropriateness of individual conjectural solutions, can be judged. Nonetheless, on the basis of research undertaken by Rolando Ferri (2003), John Fitch (2004) and Anthony Boyle (2008), the Octavia can be shown to be wholly classical in its Latinity, and a literary product of the Flavian dynasty (70–96AD), produced with the aim of imitating Senecan style. It is against these stylistic criteria that corrupt passages, and the suitability of conjectural emendations, can be judged. Ed’s paper discussed three significant corruptions in the Octavia which, as yet, lack satisfactory solutions. Ed commented on the merits and drawbacks of previous scholars’ emendations, and he tentatively proposed three new conjectures. In one of the passages, a textual lacuna of one hemistich was identified, and the discussion focused on divining the text which stood in it. As with any exercise in conjectural emendation, certainty is impossible to achieve. Nonetheless the discussion certainly provided a clearer picture of the challenges faced by editors of the Octavia and some fresh ideas as to how its numerous textual difficulties can be solved.


In his presentation “Carving Classics – Gustav III’s marble Muses and the making of the past in the 18th century” Aleksander looked at the making of antiquity in 18th century Sweden. When was antiquity made? In what interactions with subsequent periods was it entangled? Addressing these questions, Aleksander’s paper concentrated on the object-history of the Muses statue group bought by Gustav III of Sweden during his trip to Italy (1783/4). The complex visual metamorphoses of these aggressively restored antiquities offer an exemplary story of fabrication and naturalisation of both modern taste and contemporary agendas visualised through the lens of the classical past. By contextualising the group within contemporary international court culture in Europe and local visual discourses in Stockholm, one is able to appreciate the ideological dimension that both shapes and is provoked by restoring Classics. Yet should it entail dismissing them as simply hollow propagandistic simulacra? Arguing for a more nuanced picture, Aleksander explored contemporary artistic and literary responses to these objects especially potent in their orchestrated multiplicity. Initiated by the king famous for his passion for scenic performances, their treatment as a visual spectacle outlived the latter’s expectations and dramatic death. As an alternative to more static discourses of connoisseurial authenticity, Aleksander’s paper presented the making of classical antiquity as an ongoing process predicated upon the constant migration of the aura before the eyes of the audience.


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