Spring 2016

Tragedy in the Crosshairs of the Present

Brooke Holmes

A number of developments in the study of Greek literature over the past few decades have broken down boundaries of canon and genre, opening up a wide range of texts once deemed degenerate or unavailable to literary analysis, expanding the networks within which literary texts are interpreted, and bringing renewed attention to the reception of ancient texts in later periods up to the present. The rise of reception studies, in particular, raises new questions about how our own position within specific present moments not only imposes constraints on the interpretation of ancient texts but also enables it. In this essay, I survey these developments using Greek tragedy, the most canonical of genres, as a case study. I argue that we need to develop strategies of interpretation more attuned to resonances between contemporary quandaries and our extant tragedies while remaining committed to forms of social and historical difference. I pay particular attention to the problems of agency that tragedy raises at the juncture of the human and the nonhuman worlds.

BROOKE HOLMES is Professor of Classics in the Department of Classics at Princeton University. She is the author of The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece (2010) and Gender: Antiquity and Its Legacy (2012). She is currently at work on her next book, The Tissue of the World: Sympathy and the Nature of Nature in Greco-Roman Antiquity.

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