Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.
This essay employs hip-hop theory, specifically the ideas of the sample (incorporating text or music from another source) and the mashup (a free blending of two songs to form a third), to engage and explore the different iterations of Will Power’s The Seven, a rap adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Seven against Thebes. Specifically, The Seven is examined as a mashup that samples Aeschylus. Power does not merely transculturate a Greek tragedy into an African-American context, the different audiences for Power’s work and competing claims on it by audiences, critics, and scholars problematize the relationship between Greek original and twenty-first-century American adaptation, resulting in The Seven being perceived as both the product of shared cultural space and a work that itself creates shared cultural space.
Aesthetic, Sociological, and Exploitative Attitudes to Landscape in Greco-Roman Literature, Art, and Culture
This article introduces and discusses ancient and contemporary approaches to landscape and proposes model readings for their evaluation. Model readings suggest strategies drawn from environmental and ecocritical studies alongside art historical, and more traditional literary studies approaches. This article emphasizes in particular the benefits of evaluating architectural and agricultural interventions in nature alongside one another. Perceptions of landscape in the Greco-Roman world were strongly associated with cultivation and human invention. In order better to understand how and why aesthetic interest, sentiment, mood, and movement can also be significant, this article explores what makes for “improvement” and value in landscape. It also investigates how contemporary theory offers new ways of evaluating ancient depictions of landscape and responses to the natural environment.
The analysis and periodisation of the events and changes that take us from the Roman Empire at its height to whatever came after it have long occupied a distinguished place in European historiography. The collapse of the Roman state, however understood, issued in multiple polities of greater and lesser stability, as well as multiple vernaculars in law and language. This historiographic tradition was a European tradition, produced first in Latin and later in Romance and Germanic languages, and was preoccupied with explaining a European past and present. In the analysis of cause, much attention was focused on barbarism and religion, and in both cases there was a sharp divide in assessment. In addition, however positively the emergence of Europe was esteemed, the fall of Rome and the changes consequent to it were construed as a decline, a falling-off from classical ideals in reason, classical aesthetics in literary and decorative arts, and classical standards of prosperity in urban and economic life. This article explores when classical antiquity ended, focusing on literatures of the Roman decline and fall.
“Greek Dramas in America: An Archival Interrogation” is a meditation on the timing of interest in Greek dramas in the U.S.A. that is informed by archival theory. The chapter argues that until the “culture wars” of the late twentieth century, Americans interested in Greek drama resisted the impulse to collect traces of them in American culture because they exposed the tension between an egalitarian ideal and the real distribution of power along lines of race and gender. Building on Derrida’s notion of the archive as the charge of those in power and as a symbol of the law, the chapter shows how Greek dramas inspired women and people of color to challenge the laws that limited their actions; it explores in depth the responses to Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century and the founding of “The Frogs,” an African-American social club in the early 1900s, to make the case.
The chapter studies the reception of Aristophanes in American musical theater, with a focus on three productions that represent the span of approaches to Aristophanes and the variety of twentieth-century musicals. In 1925, Lysistrata, a touring production directed by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko of the Moscow Art Theatre, brought to the U.S.A. an avant-garde Soviet adaptation of Aristophanes’ play. In 1961, E. Y. Harburg, using music by Jacques Offenbach, adapted Lysistrata as a traditional musical comedy, which he called The Happiest Girl in the World. In 1968, Greenwich Village minister and composer Al Carmines and poet Tim Reynolds turned Aristophanes’ Peace into an anti-Vietnam War protest to be performed at Judson Memorial Church. The chapter studies each production’s approach to adapting Aristophanes for its own time, with particular attention to how music was integrated (or not integrated) into the storytelling and how characters were reshaped to suit authors’ purposes and audiences’ expectations.
This chapter focuses on theater productions that have crossed the Atlantic. It explores questions, sometimes contentious, about how performance is shaped by overt and covert assumptions concerning the cultural horizons and socio-political perspectives of audiences. This in turn raise issues about the distinctive agendas of writers and producers, including the commercial considerations that underlie festival and global touring productions. The examples analyzed represent cultural traffic across the Atlantic in both directions: Tony Harrison’s Hecuba, Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troy, and Lee Breuer’s Gospel at Colonus. The discussion also contributes to wider debates about the relationship between aesthetic and contextual aspects of performance and its histories, and of translation. The role of the spectators (actual and imagined) is crucial in negotiating this interface and includes theater critics as well as the bulk of the audience.
In this chapter, Rankine argues for August Wilson’s place in the discussion of Greek drama in the Americas. Although Wilson never staged any of the big three Greek playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides, and his advocacy for telling specifically African-American stories sometimes led to a strident public stance against black actors’ and playwrights’ uncritical engagement with European drama, his own reading of Aristotle’s Poetics and blackface minstrelsy belied his political stance. Given Wilson’s reading of Poetics, Wilson’s position in Greek drama is firm and operates at a theoretical level, while onstage his subversion of the stereotypes attendant to blackface minstrelsy challenges a Modernism central to the emergence of American drama. Owing to the Wilsonian understanding of Aristotle’s spectacle, opsis, Rankine argues that Wilson’s Radio Golf is Greek drama in America.
This chapter looks at the reception of two popular nineteenth-century figures, Medea and Cleopatra, that plot tensions between American Philhellenism and Egyptomania. Surveying their representations in nineteenth-century international expositions, fine art, popular theater, and evolutionary theory, the chapter examines how these queens troubled social and cultural hierarchies by places them on the boundary between the respectability of classical culture and the thrill of barbarian excess. Covering the years 1856–91, the chapter focuses on sculptors Edmonia Lewis, William Wetmore Story, as well as actresses Matilda Heron, Adelaide Ristori, Fanny Davenport, and Sarah Bernhardt. Public engagement with antiquity and its barbarians suggests that American classicism was deeply contradictory. As many elites adopted antiquity to define their idealized values, audiences hungered to experience the emotions and sensuality that were, they believed, the exclusive domain of barbarians.
This article discusses the biblical story of the Old Testament hero Samson in order to exemplify the various modes of biblical discourse in medieval Latinate culture. Whether in prose or verse, the medieval writers dedicated their efforts to finding the meaning of creation and to establishing how the human relates to the divine. A few representative works illustrate the multifaceted role that the Bible played in the medieval literary imagination. The various modes of expression discussed show unequivocally that understanding and explaining the message of the sacred page was the defining feature of the literary discourse. The variety of approaches to the Scripture exhibited by the writers demonstrates that their relationship to the truth and mystery of the Bible was not dogmatic and uniform; rather, it was an impetus for intellectual curiosity and an inspiration for literary creativity. The text of the Bible opened many doors of understanding and showed a multitude of paths to enlightenment. Sacred Scripture, albeit inerrant, did not imply one meaning for the thinkers. They did not approach the text of the Bible mechanically. Sacred Scripture was their point of departure but also their font of inspiration.
O pagador de promessas (Payment as Pledged, by the Brazilian playwright Alfredo Dias Gomes) involves classical elements of tragedy, in particular the collision of positive values exemplified in Sophocles’ Antigone and famously discussed by George Friedric Hegel, plus a solid grounding in Brazilian culture. Joe Burro, a cross-carrying pilgrim, espouses values of individual piety and inclusive charity (he desires a cure for his pet donkey). In refusing to allow Joe entrance to the chapel because of certain “heretical” particulars of his promise, Father Olavo demonstrates a commitment to institutional values, such as religious orthodoxy and obedience. The two characters thus constitute a clash of opposing systems of values, consistent with Antigone and other ancient tragedies. Following its own inclusive agenda, the play combines echoes of classical tragedy with much local color, playful satire, and protest against contemporary political realities.