Survival of Culture


Twenty First Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2006


Lecture 2   :   27 January

Edith Hall

Durham University



The Survival of Culture and Cultural Survival signify quite different, even antithetical, phenomena. For a scholar of ancient Mediterranean antiquity, the survival beyond the arrival of Christianity, the overthrow of Constantinople, and twentieth-century aerial bombardment of every single manuscript, scrap of papyrus, painted vase, graffito or inscribed monument from antiquity is a matter for celebration and constant fascination. Yet the intimate link between the Renaissance and Enlightenment rediscovery of antiquity and the era of world colonisation and empire has implicated the study of Greek and Roman authors in the legitimisation of the western domination of the globe; this had brought with it a fundamental assault on other, equally or even more ancient cultures, languages, artefacts and traditions the world over. Not for nothing have anticolonial and postcolonial writers associated the canonical European classics, so revered by those implementing western domination, with both historical exploitation and ongoing threats to non-western identity and indigenous culture.

The lecture focuses on the cultural impact of the Homeric Odyssey, a seminal text whose transhistorical popularity and influence have always resulted in part from its glorification of the intelligent, culturally sophisticated travelling warrior who sacks cities and accumulates capital as he takes control of less developed distant shores. The lecture takes as a test case the famous story of the blinding of the Cyclops, a victimised and vilified figure who has recently been identified, like Shakespeare's Caliban, as a product of an imperial imagination. Yet he can perhaps also offer the postcolonial world an alternative way of thinking about the survival of the 'master texts' of classical culture that is less threatening and alienating to those working for cultural survival in its other, more urgent sense.


Edith Hall has taught Greek cultural history and its reception at Cambridge, Reading and Oxford Universities and is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Archive of Performances of Greek & Roman Drama at Oxford. Since 2001 she has been Leverhulme Professor in the Classics Department at Durham, but will be moving to Royal Holloway, University of London, later this year. Her books include "Inventing the Barbarian" (OUP 1989), an edition of Aeschylus' "Persians" (1996), "Greek and Roman Actors" (CUP 2002, co-edited with Pat Easterling), and "Greek Tragedy and the British Stage 1660-1914" (OUP 2005, co-authored with Fiona Macintosh). She is currently finishing a book on the recent impact of the Homeric "Odyssey". 

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