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Africa and the Making of Classical Literature


This module considers the import of north Africa in the shaping of Western Classical Literature in the Mediterranean, and investigates the simultaneous erasure of Africa from the Western Classical canon - an erasure which originated in the ancient Greek and Roman texts and was further crystallised in their subsequent critical history. Over the course of the year, students will analyse and discuss both Greek and Roman portraits of Africa and Africans (with an emphasis on Berbers, Egyptians and Ethiopians) and the various ways that the relationship between centre and periphery affects the works of north-African authors writing in Greek and Latin. The course will also explore and discuss the history of the equation of the Classical world with modern (and colonialist) Europe, and the more recent attempts to 'decolonise' the Western Classics, together with the reactions to them (such as the famous 'Black Athena Debate' of the 80s). A final section of the module considers the effects that preconceptions and assumptions about the Graeco-Roman heritage have on the engagement with classical literature by people of African descent, both in Africa and in the Western World. We shall explore some critical positions of black classicism (such as Classica Africana) and investigate the reception of Greek and Roman literature in selected African and black authors.

In 2018-2019 the module is available as a Latin Language option.

Module convenor: Dr Elena Giusti