Reworking classicism project

Description We’ve seen in this course how the classical tradition can serve authors and artists as a seemingly inexhaustible source-material to rework, adapt, expand, and reinvent anew – think, for example, of the way that Homer’s epics, themselves spun out of earlier tales, served (and continue to serve) authors from Aeschylus to Virgil to Margaret Atwood. In this final project, you are asked to take up some element of the classical tradition — a person/ god/goddess/monster — and explore them in greater depth, conducting research and producing your own creative adaptation. Your project may include other works that revive or reinterpret those aspects of the classical tradition you’re considering (visual works, literary texts, musical or theatrical adaptations, and so on). Who, or what, is this? How can we interpret them in their classical context, and through our own contemporary lens? The form this takes is largely up to you; you will decide on the balance of creative work to scholarly-academic writing, but your project must include both (and have sufficient evidence of research to satisfy this component of the project). Ultimately, you should produce a text of roughly 6-8 typed pages (or 1500-2000 words), referencing a minimum of 5 scholarly sources. An example: you could choose the figure of Electra, from Aeschylus’s The Libation Bearers. Your research would necessarily involve researching this character, looking at how she appears in this and other classical texts, and drawing perhaps on what other modern and contemporary scholars have argued about her. You might decide that her fairly minor role in Aeschylus’s trilogy doesn’t do her justice, that she’s capable of being a more central and complex figure. You might look at Strauss’s opera (1909), a later adaptation that gives the central role to Electra [Elektra]. You could also look at Frederic Leighton’s 1868 painting of her. How do these fin-de-siècle works frame her? What’s the potential significance of this character? What can she tell us about the classical tradition, or its revivals? What can she say to us today? And who would she be, today? Your creative piece (in any medium) can either pose a new narrative for her in the classical past, or bring her fully into our present, to reimagine this character and make her ‘live’ in our time. Your writing should also directly address your creative piece, outlining what you’re trying to express in this work. Alternately – taking the same figure, Electra, and conducting the same academic research – you could frame your written text itself as a creative work (supplemented by substantial footnotes or endnotes unfolding the historical or scholarly references). This could take the form of diary entries, reviews, or commentary written by Elektra herself, as she responds to various depictions of her in performances of the Oresteia, Strauss’s opera, exhibitions of painting… her texts or social media posts to friends about these, asking questions, offering critiques, etc.? (again, with reference notes citing/providing sources for her observations, grounding them in scholarship). Or, you could write the missing Electra back into the Libation Bearers: what does Electra see, what does she do, what does she think, once she disappears from Aeschylus’s stage? What’s her take on Orestes’ actions? What is she doing when he’s killing his mother and her lover? (again, supporting your creative interpretation here with academic sources). If you choose a figure whose story is quite limited (Eurybates, or Palamedes, or Scylla…) you’ve got room to unfold it yourself, to reinterpret it within the classical past/our present, which might also mean broadening the context of this figure in your text (think of Camilla, in the Aeneid: who is she? what’s behind this myth of the Italian warrior-woman? How does she relate to other female warriors, like Artemis, the Amazons, Penthesilea… is there historical evidence for this figure? etc. ). If you choose a very well-known figure, you’ll want to focus in on some aspect of their character, or some detail of their narrative, and reimagine it differently, or from the other side, or through different versions (what would the story of Polyphemus look like from his point of view? Is there more to the Cyclops than Odysseus/Homer suggests? Virgil shows the Cyclopes working for Vulcan in his forge, for example…). How would myth look, seen through the lens of contemporary issues or genres? Your paper could be a series of journalistic articles about Zeus and the #MeToo movement; you could adopt the voice of Tiresias as a sex advice columnist for other mythical characters… And so on…. You might also take up a particular interpretation or adaptation as your starting-point, and which will ultimately drive your own text (and creative project): Freud’s psychoanalytic reading of Oedipus; feminist interpretations of classical myth (Medea, Pandora, Iphigeneia, …); Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and 20th-century existentialism; Nausicaa and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind…; the ‘two’ Aphrodites as seen in Titian’s 1514 painting Sacred and Profane Love… etc.

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