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Reviewed by:
  • Utopia and Distopia
  • Fátima Vieira
Maria de Fátima Silva , ed. Utopia and Distopia. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2009. 285 pp. €15.75, ISBN: 978-989-8074-74-4.

The volume consists of twenty-four essays written in Portuguese, French, and Spanish presented in 2008 within the activities promoted by the classical studies research group of the University of Coimbra. It opens with a one-page presentation note wherein Maria de Fátima Silva stands for the idea that utopia should not be seen only as a literary genre, as it is at the crossing of different literary genres, on the one hand, and it intersects with philosophical and scientific discourses, on the other. At first glance, this brief note may seem insufficient for a collection of essays on utopia and dystopia, and my first criticism of the book could well be that it lacks a good theoretical introduction to the topic. This absence is nevertheless filled in by the first parts of several essays, where we are confronted with successful reflections on the topic of utopia, dystopia, and classical literature.

Utopia, dystopia, and classical literature is, in fact, the theme that concerns most of the authors who have contributed to this volume. From a total of twenty-four essays, sixteen deal with the literary production of classical antiquity (presenting articles on Plato, Homer, Petronius, Herodotus, Hippolytus, Euripides, and Lucian, among others), whereas the other contributions deal with different topics ranging from the Portuguese literature of the fifteenth century to the American cinema of the post-World War II period. The volume could well benefit from a division of the essays into at least two parts, from a subtitle indicating its main concern to the reader, and from the presentation of biographical notes on the authors of the different [End Page 182] contributions. Still, these absences do not undermine the interest of the volume, which makes a relevant contribution to the field of utopian studies, namely, as concerns classical literature.

A description of the contents of each of the twenty-four essays would be beside the point of a book review. I will therefore concentrate on some of the articles only; this strategy does not, by any means, indicate that the other articles are not worth reading.

The volume opens with an essay by Philippe Rousseau, which presents a thorough reflection on the relationship between utopian literature and the ancient world. Rousseau devotes the first part of his essay to the definition of the concept of utopia, making a clear distinction between utopian literature and utopian thought, revising Raymond Trousson's (restrictive) definition and striving to present the history of the concept in such a way that renders its relationship with the literature of classical antiquity as evident as possible. Rousseau manages in fact to persuade the reader of the legitimacy of the study of the utopian dimension of the literature of classical antiquity, putting forward strong arguments for his case. At the end of his essay, he defends a broader definition of the concept of utopia, one that would include in the group of utopian works imaginary voyages, the myth of the Golden Age, and texts with an evident didactic dimension.

The second text, by the Portuguese writer, translator, and academic Frederico Lourenço, also contributes to the discussion of the relationship between utopia and classical antiquity. Lourenço claims to be aware of the anachronism of the term utopia when we are dealing with texts such as the Iliad or the Odyssey, but he shows us the benefits of a reading that surpasses the doubts created by that situation and points out Homer's writings as a very fascinating lode to all those who have an interest in utopian studies.

Javier Campos Daroca adds to the discussion by stating that we can find in Plato's Republic the matrix of utopian thought, although it is necessarily distinct from the modern political idea of utopia. Daroca argues that if we explore the classical utopian texts with that matrix in mind, we can not only devise new utopias in them, or read them in a utopian way, but also understand their grammar, which is characteristic...


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