School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

UKZN Academics Review and Contribute to New Classics Book

Seen with the book: South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical Confrontations is (from left) Dr Elke Steinmeyer, Professor Grant Parker and Dr Suzanne Sharland.

The Classics Department from the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) hosted a visit by Professor Grant Parker of Stanford University, USA, who presented a seminar on Charisma – Then and Now; a concept that originated in the New Testament and has multiple, sometimes controversial connotations still relevant for modern societies today.

In the framework of the ‘Classics Research Colloquium’, Prof Parker presented a paper on ‘Writing Resistance: Making Sense of Roman Literature’. Citing a wide range of texts, he showed the ways in which Roman authors could challenge the political establishment, usually at their peril.

Prof Parker also presented an evening lecture to staff and students on ‘Decolonising Classics’. He looked at the idea of metamorphosis which ‘allows us to consider a number of apparent antitheses around colonialism and decolonisation: between kairos and khronos as different kinds of time; between exclusion and inclusion in the role of Classics in SA; between black and white within SA’s race-obsessed society; and finally, between forward-looking and retrospective approaches to SA Classics’.

The lecture was directly linked to the presentation of a recently published book: South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical Confrontations (Cambridge University Press 2017) which he (Prof Parker) edited. The book was showcased at the Classics Museum at the Howard College campus. The edited volume canvasses architecture, literature, visual arts and historical memory.

Classics lecturer, Dr Elke Steinmeyer, contributed a chapter on ‘The reception of the Electra myth in Yaël Farber’s Molora’. In her chapter, Dr Steinmeyer looks at the ancient Greek myth of Electra; a tale of pain, mourning, hatred, the desire for revenge and the impossibility of forgiveness. She identifies that this particular myth has been very popular among authors and playwrights in South Africa especially after the end of the apartheid era and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). ‘For years afterwards, media reports and footage of the TRC hearings would generate public debate and even controversy among South Africans concerning the very questions that were already the core of the ancient Electra myth. In the same way, the ancient Greek tragedians struggled to come to terms with the underlying problems of the myth and offered different, tentative solutions. Modern South African writers have proposed other possible interpretations,’ she said.

The book received its first review from Classics lecturer, Dr Suzanne Sharland, in the prestigious Bryn Mawr Classical Review. In the review, Dr Sharland sees the edited volume as the most substantial work to date on the interaction of the ancient world of Classical antiquity with the southern tip of the African continent: ‘I find it intriguing that in the choice of his title, Dr Parker puts South Africa first before Greece and Rome. This could be seen as counteracting the Eurocentric conviction that the cultures of classical antiquity should be viewed as the ‘older’, parental civilisations from which we colonial youngsters gratefully derive our ‘civilisation’. South Africa was, of course, here all the while that the civilisations of the ancient world flourished to our north around the Mediterranean Sea. If human evolution began in Africa, perhaps even southern Africa as the ‘cradle of humankind’ fossils would seem to suggest, then South Africa could arguably come first,’ said Dr Sharland.

According to Dr Sharland, Dr Parker’s book is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch that could draw in more black South African students to postgraduate study.

‘Many Classics programs, including my own, are working hard to attract more Nguni-language speaking black students to study the ancient world, looking especially at the interface between Latin and isiZulu. Unless this situation is rectified, South Africa’s dalliances with the classics will eventually be nothing more than a post- colonial curiosity,’ said Sharland.

Image Caption:

Seen with the book: South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical Confrontations is (from left) Dr Elke Steinmeyer, Professor Grant Parker and Dr Suzanne Sharland.