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date: 16 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: barbarians, expositions, nineteenth-century, fine art, theater, drama, Greece, Egypt, popular culture

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