Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar – 01/11/2013

Claire Jackson started off this week’s GIS with a paper on ‘Ancient Fiction and Forgery in Antonius Diogenes’. After explaining some of the problems with studying the concept of ‘fiction’ in the ancient world, she looked specifically at Antonius Diogenes’ novel τα ὑπὲρ Θούλην ἀπίστια (‘The Unbelievable Things Beyond Thule’ – Thule being a semi-mythical land located somewhere to the north of Europe), which survives only in fragments and a plot summary by Photius. This summary reveals the strategies used by the author to present the novel as ‘documentary’, backed up by authentic sources, but simultaneously to undermine that status by referring to these claims as false.

Instead of thinking of in terms of an opposition between ‘fiction’ and ‘forgery’, Claire suggested, reading this novel as deliberately enacting the tension between these two as very similar concepts can help us to a better understanding of the ancient novel in general. Claire’s paper was followed by a wide-ranging discussion covering the reliability of Photius as a reader and summariser, the difficulty of defining ancient terminology relating to ‘fiction’, and comparisons to modern literature making use of similar strategies of ‘pseudo-documentarism’, from Frankenstein to The Da Vinci Code.

Elena Giusti’s paper on ‘Persian Dido’ explored the ways in which literary allusions in Aeneid Book 4 relate Dido to other “oriental” female characters. In particular, references to Aeschylus’ ‘Persians’ link Dido to Atossa, the paradigm of an Eastern queen, while possible references to lost tragedies like Ennius’ Medea suggest another link to a similarly strong-willed ‘barbarian’ woman and the mythical ancestor of the Medes. Allusions like these are not just a part of Dido’s portrayal as a Phoenician queen, but also equate the Punic Wars to the Persian Wars, and so align Roman ideology with the Greek ‘invention of the barbarian’. In the context of the Augustan period, Elena suggested, this could equally be read in terms of the wars against the Parthians, while also giving some insight into Roman ideology from the time of the Punic Wars themselves.

Discussion following this paper focused on the difficulty of tracing allusions to specific figures, compared to the use of paradigmatic characteristics shared by all ‘barbarian’ women or queens – for instance, later works use Virgil’s Dido as a model for their own portrayals of Medea – as well as on potential parallels for Elena’s reconstruction of Roman Punic War ideology from earlier texts or iconography. The meeting then adjourned in the usual way to the Granta.

Just as a reminder, GIS will not be taking place on November 8th due to a clash with the Gray Lectures. Normal service will resume on the 15th, with papers by Robrecht Decorte on Latin legal syntax and Ruth Allen on ‘Gemmed Gods’.

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