- Receptions of the Classics in the African Diaspora of the Hispanophone and Lusophone Worlds: Atlantis Otherwise ed. by Elisa Rizo, Madeleine M. Henry
Within the first paragraph of their concise and yet provocative Receptions of the Classics in the African Diaspora of the Hispanophone and Lusophone Worlds: Atlantis Otherwise, Elisa Rizo and Madeleine M. Henry re-define the Atlantis of their title: for them, it “signif[ies] the array of identities that emerged from the contact between Africa, Europe, and the Americas . . . identities that have often remained obscured, silenced and/or dismissed by dominant Eurocentric paradigms” (1). The writings here interrogate the interpretation of classical texts within the African diaspora, taking into account the specificities of each site and examining how the authors within these Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries “have challenged and transformed Greco-Roman elements to open pathways for exploring/examining the alternative experiences of modernity in their respective societies” (4). In this way, the editors call attention to an educational system within the Western hemisphere that continues to identify as foundational certain texts from Greece and Rome, thereby identifying a rudimentary aspect of colonization that remains unchallenged.
In addition to the introductory chapter, the collection consists of six essays. In “From Cultural Appropriation to Historical Emendation: Two Case Studies of Receptions of the Classical Tradition in Brazil,” Andrea Kouklanakis compares the use of Greek mythology in the work of folklorist Luís da Câmara Cascudo (1898–1986) and poet Domício Proença Filho (1936–). [End Page 329] She is critical of Cascudo, a canonical ethnographer who argues in his 1951 study Meleagro: Depoimento e pesquisa sôbre a magia branca no Brasil that the African diasporic religious practice of catimbó, found in the Northeast, originates primarily in Greco-Roman antiquity. She then turns to Proença’s epic poem, Dionísio esfacelado: Quilombo do Palmares (1984) to reveal how this Afro-Brazilian writer revises the Dionysus myth to invoke the story of Zumbi, the leader of Brazil’s most storied quilombo.
While Kouklanakis contextualizes Cascudo as coexistent to Brazil’s Modernismo, Rodrigo Tadeu Gonçalves and Guilherme Gontijo Flores examine the work of one of his contemporaries, white playwright Nelson Rodrigues (1913–80), in “Black Angel: Classical Myth, Race, and Desire in a Brazilian Modernist Play.” Fifteen years after Gilberto Freyre put forth the argument that miscegenation had strengthened Brazil in Casa Grande e Senzala (1933), Rodrigues explodes the myth that would come to be known as the racial democracy in his play, Anjo Negro (1946). Gonçalves and Flores highlight the tragic elements of a play that incorporates fratricide, filicide, and incest in order to critique, as per their argument, “how Brazilian racial tensions imply the repression of human desire because of social constructs” (38).
The reinterpretation of these classics as a tool of consciousness-raising is also central to the third essay, César Augusto Baldi’s “Decolonizing Greek Theatre: Black Experimental Theatre.” There, he offers an overview of Abdias do Nascimento’s woefully understudied Teatro Experimental Negro (TEN), focusing on the presentation of two plays, Além do Rio (1957) by white writer Agostinho Olavo, and Sortilégio (1951), by Nascimento himself. Both works include entities from Candomblé and both are critical of a discourse of mestiçagem that means the erasure of African heritage. Baldi’s examination of these works, which both have resonances from Greek classics, reveals Nascimento’s overall project of resistance and defiance.
Continuing this theme, both John Maddox in his “Changó el Gran Putas: A Drama of Memory,” and Madeleine Henry in her “Resurrection of the Dead: Manuel Zapata Olivella’s Caronte Liberado” examine works of the Afro-Colombian writer, poet, dramatist, and activist Manuel Zapata Olivella. Analyzing his masterpiece, the 1983 novel Changó el Gran Putas, Maddox argues for the work to be read as tragedy, following the manner in which early Greek historians narrated events. Henry looks at one of Zapata Olivella’s lesser-known works...