- A Companion to Classical Receptions
Until recently, anglophone engagement with Greek and Roman literature has been dominated by the study of the classical tradition. Positivist in nature, this subfield of classics has been largely occupied with divining a continual classical influence and legacy throughout later periods. In the past decade, classical reception studies, invigorated by reception theory, cultural studies, and increasing interdisciplinary scholarship, has emerged as a new, rapidly expanding field, one that often takes theatre as its subject (see, for example, Hall and Macintosh’s landmark Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, 1660–1914). Defining “reception” as “the ways in which Greek and Roman material has been transmitted, translated, excerpted, interpreted, rewritten, re-imaged and represented” (1), editors Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray present a collection that not only locates the presence of antiquity in subsequent periods, but places it within historical and theoretical contexts.
This volume, with nine sections and thirty-five chapters, offers the most extensive survey to date of the field’s current activity. The book covers what the editors hope is a “cheerfully and creatively anarchic” (2) collection of subjects, ranging from Alexander Pope’s Iliad to Star Trek. Most contributions are geographically focused on Western Europe, with notable exceptions of receptions in Egypt, South Africa, Persia, and Israel. Grouped by theme, the chapters in each section offer an eclectic mixture of topics and periods.
The first part, “Reception within Antiquity and Beyond,” sheds light on the extent to which the ancients were already debating the shape of their own past. “The Ancient Reception of Homer” by Barbara Graziosi takes a fresh look at the prolific, and often contradictory, ways that classical authors interpreted Homeric epic. Chris Emlyn-Jones’s “Poets on Socrates’ Stage: Plato’s Reception of Dramatic Art” is particularly valuable for engaging ancient dramatic theory. He reads Plato’s dismissal of performance in the Republic alongside other dialogues, such as the Ion and Symposium, as well as against the dialogic form itself. Rather than depicting Plato as a virulently antitheatrical voice, the philosopher emerges as a nuanced thinker on public entertainment.
Part 2, “Transmission, Acculturation and Critique,” takes the reader into modern history, focusing on the role of classics in forming educational and public policy. Especially interesting here to any study of the postclassical Greek presence is Seth Schein’s consideration of the implications of canon formation, “’Our Debt to Greece and Rome’: Canon, Class and Ideology.” Throughout the book, unexpected connections emerge, urging the reader to skip between the sections. Schein, for example, can, and should, be read with later essays such as Pantelis Michelakis’s historiographic “Performance Reception: Canonization and Periodization” and Edith Hall’s “Putting the Class into Classical Reception,” which offer a methodology for negotiating contemporary scholarship with the concerns of a historically elite field.
Since so few audiences experience classical texts in their original languages, translation is a necessary component of the reception process. This topic has attracted a lot of attention lately, and the four chapters in part 3 do justice to the complexities of debates in translation and enumerate common issues in the theoretical and practical aspects of grappling with texts that have such long histories of translation and commentary. By contrast, part 4, “Theory and Practice,” is diffuse. Its four articles, split between overviews and case studies, offer fragmentary glimpses of an area that deserves more attention.
The longest section, “The Performing Arts,” brings together essays on methodology, production, and dramaturgy in theatrical and operatic adaptations [End Page 662] of classical plays. Fiona Macintosh’s “Performance Histories” establishes key research issues that are well complemented by the two contemporary case studies of a post-dramatic Oresteia in Italy and an Aristophanes in Jerusalem, respectively. Taking a different approach to the subject, Angeliki Varakis’s essay, “’Body and Mask’ in Performances of Classical Drama on the Modern Stage,” provides a succinct discussion of the ancient mask. Grounding her analysis in ancient concepts of ritual, identity, collectivity, and physicality, Varakis’s contribution provides...