Somewhat unexpected controversies happened recently about the field that hasn't been perceived as controversial for a long time – the classical studies.

It seems that everybody loves ancient Greek myths, characters, and plots. They inspire national theatres across the world; musicians, artists, and writers refer to it throughout the centuries; children read adapted versions of it and that's how they fall in love with literature and history. Why would, then, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a leading historian of Rome who teaches at Princeton, call the classical studies “equal parts vampire and cannibal”, and say that „he’s not sure the discipline deserves a future”? This debate, which started at a Society of Classical Studies conference in January 2019, offers us many topics about which we can speak up and engage in a debate.

While having in mind that classical studies have been used to discriminate against non-white people, and to oppress them, it's still up to question which perspectives and theoretical approaches are adequate to criticize the classical studies. The object of classical studies, we mustn't forget, is, among other subjects, cultural heritage vital to the identity of Greeks – it's one of the cores of their contemporary culture. People often identify „Greek culture” as something that occurred in ancient times, which is somewhat unusual, because Greeks are still here, living their culture, while their heritage is being used, mostly by the West, as an example of either white superiority, or Western colonialism.

So, the first question is – what critique can be made to the way Greek classics have been studied? For sure, we have to ruthlessly criticize every racist or discriminatory usage of cultural heritage. Which approaches are adequate for this? Can we speak about racism and colonialism, when we speak of classical works per se, or should we use these approaches only to criticize other approaches to classical works? How does this reflect on our perception of Ancient Greece, as a context in which those works are made, and are to be interpreted?

The second question is – if relevant experts on the field have the problem with the field to that extend, that they question the necessity of the field itself to exist – how does that reflect on the reception of contemporary Greek poetry? Is saying „classics are racist” a necessary re-evaluation of the world history of literature, or a discriminatory act towards Greek culture?

The third question is – what does this problem mean for the contemporary Greek poets. On one hand, abroad, Greece is often reduced to its past. It is something that is encouraged and instantly recognizable. On the other hand, it is also becoming something that is criticized from abroad. Does this make a life of a contemporary Greek poet easier or harder? What are the pros and cons of having such a famous (and, recently, controversial), cultural history? Is a controversy better than invisibility?

On the one hand, the internal critique of the field exists, but on the other hand, numerous poets, artists, and musicians have been conversing with Greek culture, which still is better than no communication at all. So, we can also focus on positive aspects and examples of this exchange.

What did Lord Byron learn from Ancient Greeks?

What are the Latin American perspectives on Greek and Latin classics – from "neutral universality" to "embodiements of evil"?

Whan can the Ancient Greek perception of animals offer to „zoopoetics” of today?

What can the field of classics learn from the use of the ancients in contemporary literature, esp. poetry?


Vassilis Lambropoulous

Tatiana Faia

Phoebe Giannisi

Roberto Salazar

The event will be moderated in English by Marija Dejanović.

Vassilis Lambropoulos is the C. P. Cavafy Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. He was a Professor of Modern Greek at the University of Michigan (1999-2018) and The Ohio State University (1981-99) where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in Modern Greek language, literature, criticism, and culture, as well as literary theory and comparative literature. His main research interests are modern Greek culture; classical reception and the classic; civic ethics and democratic politics; tragedy and the tragic; word/poetry and music.

Phoebe Giannisi, born in Athens, is a professor at the Department of Architecture of the University of Thessaly and a poet. She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Ομηρικά, (Athens, 2009), published in German and in English. Her last books is Χίμαιρα (Chimera, Athens, 2019). An architect, Phoebe Giannisi holds a PhD in Classics (Lyon II-Lumière), published as Récits des Voies. Chant et Cheminement en Grèce archaïque, (Grenoble: 2008). Her work transverses the borders between poetry and performance, installation, inscription and representation, investigating the poetics of voice, body and place.

Tatiana Faia is a Portuguese poet based in Oxford. She holds a Ph.D. in Ancient Greek Literature. As a doctoral student she held an Academic Visitorship at the Archive for the Performances of Greek and Roman Drama at the University of Oxford (2012-2015) and a teaching position in Portuguese Literature at the University of Cambridge (2013-2014). While reading for her doctorate, she has collaborated with The European Network of Research and Documentation of Ancient Greek Drama and she has authored essays on classical theatre and Fernando Pessoa and the reception of epic poetry in theatre. Her postdoctoral research is focused on classical reception in Southern European Modernist Poetry. As a writer, she is the author of four collections of poetry and one of short stories. In 2019 her book of poems Um Quarto em Atenas (A Room in Athens), has won the Portuguese Pen Award for Poetry. In 2020 her libretto for the opera Echo/Archipelago, loosely based on the myth of Echo and Narcissus, was awarded funding for production by the Portuguese National Theatre. Echo/ Archipelago was taken to the stage in the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon. She has translated Anne Carson and the Homeric Hymns into Portuguese.

Roberto Salazar is a classicist and multilingual translator. He works as a language coach and specializes in teaching Latin and Greek as living languages.