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from c.1970 to the Present

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General Introduction to the Project

About The Research Project

This long-term research project on the modern reception of classical texts was set up to document and analyse the upsurge of interest in Greek and Roman material which has been a feature of the late twentieth century (and shows every sign of continuing into the twenty first). Classical receptions are important both for their acknowledgement of the lasting importance of the ancient texts and contexts and their interpretation and also for their impact on the receiving cultures, which are far removed in time, place and language from ancient Greece and Rome . The study of classical receptions also involves analysis of the mediating aspects, such as translation, scholarship, cultural narratives (oral, written and performed) and the artistic and literary practices that create these. The research investigates how these relate both to their own times and contexts and also to the histories and traditions associated with the classical material. Any particular reception occupies its own place at the intersection of different traditions and histories and approaches to reception therefore have to take account of both diachronic and synchronic perspectives. The importance of classical receptions in the late twentieth century is signalled both by the fact that major writers draw on Greek and Roman material (for instance the Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney, Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott have all in different ways made extensive use of Greek and Roman authors and themes) and the ways in which classical plays and poetry have been reworked in different contexts to become emblematic of resistance to oppression and icons of cultural invention (for example in the work of Athol Fugard and Femi Osofisan).

Progress so far

The work of the Project to date (2007) has focussed on theatrical and literary receptions from c. 1970 to c.2005 and in addition to its exploration of relationships with the ancient texts it also aims to create research resources and put forward research questions that will link classical receptions to broader aspects of cultural change. Two main approaches have been developed:

•  A series of case studies examines the formal, discursive and contextual relationships between classical texts and new creative work in drama and poetry. The studies map ‘correspondences' and overlaps in situation, relationships, figurative language and formal elements. They map convergences and divergences between ancient and modern and analyse ways in which complex discourses are ‘translated' and ‘transplanted' across linguistic, cultural and temporal boundaries. The case studies are published in printed journals and books (Publications).

•  The second major result of the research is the electronic publication of searchable data bases of late modern examples of these processes of transmission and rewriting.

The Drama research and its resources

The drama section of the project is devoted to modern reception of Greek drama in Anglophone contexts. It documents performance as well as text and its database draws on primary evidence from programmes, annotated scripts, prompt books, interviews and theatre records as well as published and unpublished texts. Theatre and poetry performances in the original languages and in translation are included as well as versions, adaptations and more ‘distant' relatives that draw on classical themes or myths.

Documentation of the processes of performance creation also includes interviews with translators, directors and designers which are held in the Project archive. The drama data base is designed so that it can be searched for the careers of individuals and theatre companies as well as for Greek and modern authors, plays, themes and reviews. The aim is to enable classical reception studies to address performance with the same degree of rigour and attention to the critical handling of evidence which is expected in textual studies and to develop ways of documenting performance that recognise its cross-disciplinary and creative dimensions.

The initial stages of the drama research were supported by a Research Development Grant from the Open University. ( Introduction to the Drama Section and Database )

The Poetry Research

The second phase of the Project's work began in 2006 with the aid of a British Academy Research Grant. This research examines the reception of Greek and Latin material in late modern poetry. As with the drama section, a series of case studies is being developed, together with a searchable database that identifies the extent and typology of classical allusions, excerpting and close and free translations embedded in poetry in English. The early stages of the work are focussing on major poets and we shall extend the work to include regional poets and lesser-known writers in order to assess the extent to which classical features permeate modern writing and to enable fuller comparison of the subject matter, idiom and techniques that are used. ( Introduction to Poetry , Case study and sample pages ).

Future Research

The third phase of the Project is now being planned (to start in autumn 2008). This will extend the investigation into the reception of Greek and Roman historiography and ideas and will document and examine their role not only in the field of literature and theatre but also in the public discourses of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (for example the interpretation and reworking of Greek and Roman concepts of citizenship, democracy, heroism, liberty and virtue and their appropriation in public rhetoric in contemporary contexts).

Taken together, the three phases of the Project will document the evidence and critically assess the impact of the reception of Greek and Roman material in Anglophone theatre, literature and cultural politics c. 1970 – c. 2005 and will contribute to broader analysis of organising concepts such as cultural memory, identity and temporality. The case studies and data bases will provide a corpus of material to which cultural historians will be able to refer in the future. To this end, we place particular emphasis on the transparency of the methods and categorisations we use. So, in addition to identifying and preserving primary sources (some of which would otherwise be ephemeral) we hope that we shall also have provided a snapshot of how classical reception scholarship operated at a particular time and place (and thus left a different kind of primary source).


The Project's activities also include:

Conferences and Seminars

The January Conference 1996 - The Reception of Classical Texts and Images

The January Conference 1999 - Theatre: Ancient and Modern

The Open Colloquium 1999 - Tony Harrison's Poetry, Drama and Film: The Classical Dimension

The Open Colloquium 2002 - The Role of Greek Drama and Poetry in Crossing and Redefining Cultural Boundaries

Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds Conference, 2004
(Selected proceedings now published in Hardwick and Gillespie (eds) Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds . Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2007)

Current Debates in Classical Reception Studies Conference , 2007

E Seminar

We also have an annual international electronic seminar:

For archived seminar papers 1998–2007 see:

E Journals

New Voices in Classical Reception Studies:

Practitioners' Voices in Classical Reception Studies

Classical Reception Studies Network

The Project hosts the Classical Reception Studies Network (, a collaboration between UK universities with research and teaching specialisms in Classical Reception. The CRSN has organised a national series of themed workshops with the support of a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2006 -8) and has a strong commitment to training for graduate students and to the development of links with overseas researchers and those from other disciplines.