Classics in the Modern World: Eidolon

It is often a challenge for scholars to make clear the relevance of Classics in our ever-changing modern world. Eidolon attempts to address this issue: it seeks to bring together classical scholars with the goal of producing unique content that is accessible for a broad, general audience interested in the ancient world.

Eidolon does not, however, try to replace peer-reviewed scholarship. The point, rather, is to create a place where timely, relevant content can be easily produced and absorbed in the swiftly-moving world of the Internet and social media. The platform Eidolon uses is Medium, which is a blogging service similar to WordPress.

Vergil reads sections of the Aeneid to Emperor Augustus. 1790-93 painting by Jean-Baptiste Wicar

Based on what I have seen, Eidolon succeeds at producing articles with unique perspectives on the relation between the ancient and modern worlds. Let me share with you some of my favorites:

Donna Zuckerberg in Burn this Book discusses the controversy behind the recent publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman as it relates to Vergil’s desire to have the unfinished Aeneid burned upon his death. The issue at hand is the ability to circumvent authorial intent:

Readers have always had an undeniable fascination with texts that authors didn’t consider quite finished. We feel a voyeuristic thrill knowing we’re going against the author’s wishes by reading something they didn’t want to be read. The relationship between writer and reader is typically an orderly one, mediated by the text itself. But when the writer asks that a book be burned, its subsequent publication creates an unregulated and anarchic world of interpretive possibility.

Michael Fontaine in Aeneas in Palestine analyzes the nationalist themes of the Aeneid as a mirror of the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Of all modern mass movements — national, religious, cultural, colonial — and ancient literature about mass movements, only do Virgil’s Aeneid and Zionism invoke a latter-day return to an ancestral homeland, a claim doubly premised on history and religious revelation. In both cases the claim is preceded by war, holocaust, and the survival of displaced persons who vow to live on, despite the existence of a transcendent racial animus that follows them everywhere, and in both cases it meets with native rejection, accusations of colonialism, terrorism, and reciprocal violence seemingly without end.

H. Christian Blood (who taught the first Classics course I ever took) writes on the depiction of transgender identity in Apuleis’ ancient novel, Metamorphoses, in his article Apuleius’s Book of Trans Formations

With this sense of supple subtlety in mind, I wish to offer a place to start: a new look at one episode from Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, that of the Phrygian followers of Cybele. Apuleius scholars have long appreciated the episode as a humorous exposé of religious fraudsters. However, I see not only an ancient subculture of gender non-conformists — some of whom are assuredly transgender women — but also a chilling and prescient account of the violence endured by minorities marked along lines of ethnicity, economic status, and gender identity.

Johanna Hanink in Ode on a Grecian Crisis critiques the way in which the discussion of the Greek economic crisis has relied upon classical references and ponders what role scholars should have in that discussion:

I’m not saying that antiquity has no place at all in the conversation: my heart has certainly leapt at seeing graffiti and banners in Athens calling for debt cancellation under the Solonic slogan of seisachtheia. But given the current circumstances, it is surely classicists who must better inform themselves and the public about the history of their field, the legacy of Romantic Philhellenism, and the consequences that the construct of the ‘Hellenic Ideal’ had for the branding of modern Greece (on these issues see e.g. the accounts of Calotychos and Leontis). For centuries, outsiders looking into Greece have lamented the observable decline of the culture and people with respect to glorious antiquity. The cheeky cartoons and turns of phrase that today package the disaster in cheery shades of ignorance are thus really heirs to a long tradition — a tradition at the foundations of both the academic discipline of Classics and the Greek nation state.

Mali Skotheim in Classics Through Bars reflects on what he has learned teaching prison inmates about Vergil’s Aeneid and other classical works:

The students in the prison demand honesty. They frequently ask teachers to hold them to the same standards as students on the outside (we do), and to be honest in our evaluations. They do not want white lies or sugar-coating. They are not interested in bullshit. They are there to learn. This is something that I have carried with me out of the prison, and I can honestly tell you that I have been constantly amazed by the dedication, intelligence, and creativity of the students in my classes.

I would highly recommend checking out Eidolon if you are interested in what the classical world can tell us about the modern.


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