[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]
I take it as a sign of the health of our discipline that it seems no longer possible to dismiss reception studies, or, what used to be called the “Classical Tradition,” as a minor or even marginal subfield of the discipline of classics. Classicists, slowly catching up with members of other academic fields, have begun realizing that it is no longer sufficient to devote ourselves to the recovery of some positivist philological truth while ignoring the historical, social, and political circumstances that have conditioned the reading of these ancient texts from which these so-called truths have been recovered. Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds, a collection of nineteen papers originally presented at a conference in 2004 at the Open University and published in the Oxford Classical Presences series, is an important indication of the newly prominent place of reception studies in the field of classics and also an interesting barometer of the current state of such studies. It is co-edited by Lorna Hardwick and Carol Gillespie. Hardwick has been an important pioneer in the field and has, in numerous essays and books, laid the groundwork for what these new reception studies might look like. Carol Gillespie is the Project Officer of the Classical Receptions Project at the Open University, of which Hardwick is Director, though unfortunately there is no biographical notice for Gillespie in the list of contributors. This volume takes its place among other recently published collections such as the Blackwell Companion to Classical Receptions (edited by Hardwick and Christopher Stray), and Classics and the Use of Reception (edited by Charles Martindale), all of which perform the important function of exposing scholars to some of the new directions in which the field of classics is expanding.
What distinguishes this volume from the others is its exclusive focus on the role of classics in “post-colonial worlds.” Hardwick explains in her introduction (3) that the terms ‘colonial’ and ‘postcolonial’ were, for the purposes of the conference on which this collection is based, “used in their widest sense to include domination and emancipation through educational, ideological, cultural economic means, as well as through physical force.” In its exploration both of the role that classics played in colonialism and in the “writing back” against the empire, this volume serves as an important next step following the volume edited by Barbara Goff in 2005 and published by Duckworth, Classics and Colonialism, which is a collection of essays based on a conference in 2001 at the Institute of Classical Studies in London. Goff says, in her introduction to that volume (1), that the essays “investigate a selection of the ways in which the projects of the British Empire have been furthered or undermined by a cultural politics focused on the classics.” Scholars new to this subfield of reception studies will find a rich sampling of the kind of work being done in this area, and scholars already engaged in questions surrounding the intersection of classics and colonialism will surely find many of these new essays stimulating.
The book is divided into three sections. The first, called, “Case Studies,” is (4) “devoted to a detailed examination of a series of examples from different parts of Africa.” The second, called, “Encounter and New Traditions,” contains essays which attempt (5) to widen “the framework [and]…to review the conventional categories of time, genre, and place as elements in critical judgment,” and the third, called “Challenging Theory: Framing Further Questions,” contains essays which (5) “take a broader view and problematize some of the theoretical standpoints in the field.” As these categories are fairly broad, I offer here some other ways of classifying the book’s 19 essays:
(1) Genre of Study: 12 of the 19 essays deal with adaptations of Greek tragedy, 4 discuss other literary genres, and 3 focus on architecture.
(2) Ancient Culture of model or ante-text: 13 of the 19 deal with Greek models and 3 with Roman.
(3) Modern Context: 11 of the 19 deal with work coming out of Africa, 2 discuss the Caribbean, 2 Ireland, and 1 India.
(4) Scholars: Of the 19 it appears that 10 are trained as classicists; the remainder come from other disciplines. 13 of the 19 contributors are working in the UK, 3 in Africa, 2 in the United States, and 1 in India.
The preponderance of scholars from the UK makes sense, of course, given the fact that the former colonies discussed in all of these essays are all British, but one wonders whether this also signals a greater resistance among American scholars to doing this kind of work. One hopes that the publication of this book will help the process of exposing more American scholars to the work being done in this field and encourage them to expand their teaching and research repertoires accordingly.
While the volume will, at first glance, be of particular interest to Hellenists concerned with adaptations of Greek tragedy, it will also open up several exciting new areas of inquiry. Here I would single out the essays of Maritz (Chapter 7) on the sculpture at Heroes’ Acre in Harare, Zimbabwe and of Evans (Chapter 8), on the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa, both of which consider the complexities of classical influence on art and architecture in some unlikely places. On the role of (Homeric) epic in a post-colonial world Burkitt, Prince, and Greenwood (Chapters 9, 10, and 11) all offer stimulating discussions. Finally, of the essays which tackle more general theoretical questions about the place of classics in a post-colonial world, Decreus on the use and abuse of theory in constructing the ‘Classical Tradition’ (Chapter 14), and Richards on the kind of ‘temporal uncoupling’ that makes the discussion of classics and postcolonialism both possible and interesting (Chapter 19) are both especially useful. Questions of particular interest to Romanists are also not entirely lacking; Maritz’s discussion of Heroes’ Acre considers analogies with the Ara Pacis, Burkitt discusses Linda Evaristo’s Verse Novel The Emperor’s Babe, set in Roman Londinium, and Ika Willis, (Chapter 18), offers a provocative but dense discussion of the “the use of the Roman Empire as a metaphor or analogy for global sovereignty.”
Overall, the essays in this collection are uneven. This stems partially from the fact that the contributors come from a variety of disciplines and the level of sophistication that they bring to their discussions of ancient texts and cultures is quite varied. It’s sometimes hard to know what standards of evaluation one should be using. A related difficulty I had with the book was in making consistent sense of the very categories into which the essays were divided. I often had the experience of reading an essay from one section and feeling that it could have just has easily been placed comfortably under one of the other headings. One is sympathetic, though, to the difficulties of organizing the essays into some coherent sub-sections. It could be that this logistical problem itself is indicative of larger questions raised by this increasing interest in the intersection of classics and colonialism. This expansion of the field is exciting, but raises a lot of questions and caveats too, some of which Hardwick herself addresses in her introduction. In addition to her questions, I would add: What counts, exactly, as classics in this kind of context? How are we to process, organize and analyze this new mass of material that we are becoming increasingly exposed to? What criteria of evaluation do we use for this work? The greater trend towards interdisciplinary work should, I believe, be enthusiastically embraced by classicists, but we also need to be self-conscious and self-reflective about how we proceed.
Some of the book’s most important and probing questions in this regard are raised by Felix Budelmann in the first essay. It is a study of Women of Owu, an adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women by Femi Osofisan, a Nigerian playwright. In his essay, Budelmann explores the way that the play, an adaptation of a Greek tragedy set in Africa that was commissioned and first performed in England, engages in a three-way conversation between ancient Greek, postcolonial Africa, and England, the former colonizer. He argues that this three-way conversation distinguishes this play from many other postcolonial adaptations. Beyond, though, his thoughtful and sophisticated analysis of this conversation, Budelmann ends his essay with some pointed and, in my mind, crucial questions about the type of work that he, and other scholars represented in the volume, are engaged in (36-7):
Classics has been so long-lived a subject not least because of its Proteus-like ability to change and re-change its shape, and this latest extension of its boundaries is exciting, perhaps even liberating. However, as a classicist, the question that I find difficult to avoid at this point is what Classics has to offer postcolonial studies, or postcolonial literary studies, in return. In concrete terms: why should anybody interested in postcolonial literary studies read this chapter? One way relationships can be good, but dialogue is better . . . Perhaps indeed there is little potential for dialogue, and what we will see over the next few years is classical literary studies learning from postcolonial literary studies without being able to give much back. Classicists interested in interdisciplinary work in this area should I think be conscious of this possibility. Their excitement may not be shared as widely on the other side.
Budelmann gets to the crux of the issue here. Certainly the opening up of the study of classics that can happen with the application of theories and methods learned from postcolonial studies can be important and exciting, as many of the essays in this volume demonstrate. In addition to the chapters that I cited above, some other excellent examples of this new kind of work include Goff’s analysis of Femi Osofisan’s Tegonni (Chapter 2), Trivedi’s discussion of the use of the idea of classics in India (Chapter 16), and Hardwick’s discussion of multi-lingualism in modern productions of Greek tragedy (Chapter 17).
But important as this kind of work is, and I truly believe that is fundamentally important for classicists to emerge from their ahistorical bubble and learn more about the uses and abuses to which the texts they study have been put, this kind of post-colonial classics is certainly not enough if we want to be able to justify on its own terms the traditional philological work that we have been trained to do. What can we give back? The key lies in Budelmann’s observation that dialogue is much more interesting and productive than a one-way process of transmission. Several essays in this volume model exactly the kind of two-way reading that I think contains the key for a vibrant and mutually productive relationship between classics and post-colonialism. The contributions that do this most successfully, all, in mind, do it by explicitly reading “backwards and forwards” (as Hardwick has called it elsewhere), or, to put it another way, by consistently committing themselves to a kind of analysis that seeks to actively model an acknowledgement of the fact that, as Budelmann says, “traffic is more than one way.”
Two examples of essays in this collection that do an especially good job of demonstrating this kind of analysis are Simpson’s (Chapter 5) and Rehm’s (Chapter 12). Both consider contemporary African adaptations of plays of Sophokles. Simpson looks at Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame, an adaptation of the Oedipus Tyrannus, Rehm considers Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona’s The Island in relationship to Sophokles’ Antigone. What these chapters have in common is that they both offer an analysis that reads the ancient and contemporary plays against and in relation to each other. Simpson (whose book length study of African adaptations of Greek tragedy, Crossroads in the Black Aegean, coauthored with Barbara Goff, has recently appeared in the same Oxford Classical Presences series as this volume), looks at the way that the OT itself (91) “contains within itself a highly assertive account of the phenomenon of cultural transmission, of how all traditions, including itself, are perpetuated,” and thus lends itself to the kind of interrogation of the canon that Rotimi engages in his adaptation. An appreciation of this feature of the OT gives one a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of Rotimi’s challenge to the classics in his adaptation. Rehm performs a similar kind of two-way reading when he argues that both Sophokles’ and Fugard, Kani and Ntshona’s plays (213) “use the theatre to explore female characters (via male performers), to ‘womanize’ male characters, to demonstrate solidarity within gender boundaries, and to extend that solidarity beyond them-all struggles against political oppression, colonial or otherwise.” In making this claim about both of these plays, Rehm elegantly uses each of the plays, the ancient and the contemporary, to shed light on the other.
Both Rehm and Simpson demonstrate the way that a close reading of the ancient text can illuminate its modern adaptation. In so doing they suggest some of the ways that philologists can continue to do the kinds of close readings that they have been trained to do (though it is perhaps worth mentioning that Simpson himself is not a classicist) while simultaneously letting themselves be open to the new forms of knowledge and models of reading that postcolonial studies can offer us.
I must conclude by mentioning that this book contains an exceptionally large number of typos and mistakes, especially in its first 35 pages. This sloppy editing is disappointing and surprising in a book from Oxford that sells for $150.
1) P. xii, monography instead of monograph, and a problem with italics, the whole sentence is italicized instead of only the book title.
2) P. xiii, Ttransformation instead of Transformation.
3) P. 2, eight lines from the bottom, fourth word should be text instead of test.
4) The possessive ‘s is missing from Osofisan’s name in all of the following examples: p. 5, second line of first full paragraph; second line of p. 6; p.16, n. 5; p. 20, two lines before the second full paragraph; p. 20, n. 9; p. 24, n.11; p. 32, 6 lines from the bottom of the first full paragraph; p. 33, n. 25, p. 34, first line.
5) P. 7, 6th line in the first full paragraph should read “as a means” instead of “as means.”
6) Pp. 171-2, the author seems to have confused the terms ‘protasis’ and ‘apodosis’.
7) P. 380, the two bibliographic references to Edith Hall 2004 should be distinguished (a and b).
Table of Contents:
Introduction , Lorna Hardwick
1. Case Studies
(1) Trojan Women in Yorubaland: Femi Osofisan’s Women of Owu, Felix Budelmann
(2) Antigone’s Boat: The Colonial and the Post-colonial in Tegonni: An African Antigone, by Femi Osofisan, Barbara Goff
(3) Antigone and her African Sisters: West African Versions of a Greek Original, James Gibbs
(4) Cross-Cultural Bonds Between Ancient Greece and Africa: Implications for Contemporary Staging Practices, John Djisenu
(5) The Curse of the Canon: Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame, Michael Simpson
(6) Post-Apartheid Electra: In the City of Paradise, Elke Steinmeyer
(7) Sculpture at Heroes’ Acre, Harare, Zimbabwe: Classical Influences?, Jessie Maritz
2. Encounter and New Traditions
(8) Perspectives on Post-Colonialism in South Africa: The Voortrekker Monument’s Classical Heritage, Richard Evans
(9) Imperial Reflections: The Post-Colonial Verse-Novel as Post-Epic, Katharine Burkitt
(10) A Divided Child, or Derek Walcott’s Post-Colonial Philology, Cashman Kerr Prince
(11) Arriving Backwards: The Return of The Odyssey in the English-Speaking Caribbean, Emily Greenwood
(12) `If you are a woman’: Theatrical Womanizing in Sophocles’ Antigone and Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona’s The Island, Rush Rehm
(13) Finding a Post-colonial Voice for Antigone: Seamus Heaney’s Burial at Thebes, Stephen E. Wilmer
3. Challenging Theory: Framing Further Questions
(14) `The same kind of smile’: About the `Use and Abuse’ of Theory in Constructing the Classical Tradition, Freddy Decreus
(15) From the Peloponnesian War to the Iraq War: A Post-Liberal Reading of Greek Tragedy, Michiel Leezenberg
(16) Western Classics, Indian Classics: Postcolonial Contestations, Harish Trivedi
(17) Shades of Multilingualism and Multivocalism in Modern Performances of Greek Tragedy in Post-Colonial Contexts, Lorna Hardwick
(18) The Empire Never Ended, Ika Willis (19) Another Architecture, David Richards