PANEL 1: Reinventing Classical Texts in the Modern World.

Chaired by Mark Halperin, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

“Pan in the West”: California and the Mediterranean metaphor – Kevin Batton, Graduate Student in Classics, UC Irvine

Since it first entered the American literary landscape, California has been a region defined by its metaphors: it is an Eden, an Arcadia, a Hyperborea. The classical metaphors have been the most persistent and evocative, owing to the literal climatic and geographical resemblances (isomorphism) between the Pacific coast and the South Mediterranean. As their book titles suggest, “Our Italy” and “America’s Mediterranean Shores” were how nineteenth century geographers characterized the region, and thus bequeathed to subsequent generations an ecological vocabulary in which California is understood by its Old World analogues, where California is ever described as having a Mediterranean climate. The dominance of the Mediterranean metaphor over the geography of California is mirrored in the history of its literature—in the attempts by regional poets to inaugurate a native poetic tradition in a land both new and familiar, on the one hand to approach and reproduce the rhythms and contours of the land in a way that does justice to its awesome beauty while acknowledging the inherited poetic repertoire of the American/European civilization whose unstoppable progress continues to colonize and endanger that very landscape. This paradoxical project is seen most clearly in the frequent adaptations by California poets of classical genres and topoi such as Theocitean and Vergilian bucolic, hymns, and even tragedy. This paper, part of a larger and ongoing project of studying “landscape reception” and the inheritance of the Classical world in American poetry, will examine a selection of work by California poets of the early twentieth century and chart the development in strategies for employing a matrix of Classical allusions in order to assert a regional identity within a national/historical literary landscape. These efforts come to maturity in the heavily classically-informed work of Robinson Jeffers, the first “strong” nature poet of California who stands both as a culminating figure for the poets who preceded him and a foundational one for those who followed, especially Kenneth Rexroth, William Everson, and Gary Snyder.

A Third Antike: Hans Henny Jahnn’s “Medea” and the Introduction of the Babylonian to Modern German Literature – Adam Siegel, Bibliographer at Shields Library, UC Davis

Of his 1926 tragedy “Medea,” the German writer Hans Henny Jahnn said, “[it] hearkens back to the oldest forms of myth that have come down to us. It is more ancient than Euripides’ tragedy.” Jahnn’s “black Medea” mounts the Euripidean plot against an archaic Babylonian universe, foregrounding the role of Medea’s sons against the motif of Gilgamesh and Enkidu). While Jahnn’s significance as an expressionist dramatist is well known, his most important contribution, I argue, remains unacknowledged: “Medea” represents an apex of German literary modernism, as it resolves a constellation of overlapping and often contradictory impulses in 20th-centry German drama by introducing a “third stream,” which might be called the “Babylonian,” to reconcile two opposing strains in German-language letters, viz., Barock, with its fascination with excess, violence, and bombast, and Klassik, with its concern with harmony, wholeness, and aestheticism. I will show how the decipherment of cuneiform and the discovery of the “Babylonian” in the late 19th century exerted an subtle yet significant impact on the German Geist far beyond the scholarly: I hold that it had an outsized influence not only Jahnn, but on his generation of playwrights (e.g., Bertolt Brecht and “Baal”), and beyond. The introduction of this literary “third stream” of antiquity (after the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman) on German literature (and beyond) is deserving of far more than the scanty critical attention it has received to date.

Formal Experiments in Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad – Zina Giannopoulou, Associate Professor of Classics, UC Irvine

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2005) is the latest to date feminist rewriting of the Odyssey. In my paper I use the novel as the springboard for an exploration of the function and ramifications for classical reception of formal polyphony, the interplay between uniform narrative and literary pastiche in the same text. In the novel, Penelope and the maids rewrite the Odyssey by issuing strong, and strongly feminist, autobiographical voices. Yet their voices assume different narrative forms: Penelope soliloquizes in short prose chapters, whereas the maids sing songs, playact, deliver an anthropology lecture, and present a videotape of Odysseus’ trial. Penelope’s chapters are situated before those of the maids, and she chooses the topics (e.g. birth, marriage, dreaming, gossip) with which the maids subsequently engage. Her uniform story evinces a passive acceptance of her fate, whereas the maids’ piebald accounts betray restlessness and disquiet, which culminate in the final lyric threat always to persecute their murderer, Odysseus. The Penelopiad thus pits Penelope against the maids, the queen’s yarn against her slaves’ stories, and out of these formally (and substantively) contrasting accounts it weaves an intricate tale about gender, class, and female subjectivity. Some of the questions I want to address are: how does the reading or awareness of a prior text (be it the Odyssey or Penelope’s narratives in The Penelopiad) affect the crafting of the posterior text (The Penelopiad as a whole and the maids’ tales in it, respectively)? How does formal polyphony problematize epistemic authority? And what is the novel’s relevance for feminist receptions of the classics?

The Invention of Chinese Poetry in the English-Speaking World” – Michelle Yeh. Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

T. S. Eliot called Ezra Pound the “inventor of Chinese poetry of our time.” With this observation as the premise for the discussion, this paper focuses on the reception of classical Chinese poetry as manifest in English translations from Ezra Pound to contemporary American translators (many of whom are also poets). Exploring the nature of the paradigm shift from Pound to the later generations of translators, the question addressed here is “who are the inventors of Chinese poetry of our time since Pound?”

PANEL 2: In Conversation with Arturo Arias, University of Texas, Austin

Chaired and Moderated by Emilio Bejel, Distinguished Professor of Spanish, UC Davis

“Wheels Working Together: The Popol Wuj and Time Commences in Xibalbá as Markers of a Maya Cosmovision” Arturo Arias, Professor of Latin American Literature, University of Texas, Austin

Maya Time is cyclical. A set number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin. In this paper, I will first explain the importance of the Maya classical book, the Popol Wuj– from which Luis de Lión’s foundational contemporary Maya novel Time Commences in Xibalbá (1985) derives its title, its topic, and its symbolism—which constitutes the heart of the Mesoamerican cultural matrix that still lingers within contemporary Maya identity. Then I will explore the intertextual relationship with De Lión’s text, to argue that both texts frame a cosmovision whereby humans are understood as relational beings; that is, as subjects conceived within multiple relations with all created elements, the living and dead, and all connected to the cosmos, to argue that contemporary issues of indigenous cultural production and agency transcend subalternized identities originally associated with specific Latin American nation-states.


Epic Worlds Ralph Hexter, Distinguished Professor of Classics & Comparative Literature, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor UC Davis



Chaired by Joseph Sorensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

Re-Orientalizing Alfred Chang:” Objects and the Power of Pedigree at the Cleveland Museum of Art – Christa Adams, Lecturer in History, University of Akron, Ohio

This paper explores the relationship between objects and the politics of appropriation and display enacted at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the early twentieth century. Specifically, the paper focuses upon the Museum’s purposeful acquisition of antiquities and art objects from China and Japan; it argues that these objects were acquired expressly because the Museum’s director, Frederic A. Whiting, and curators believed they both possessed and were representative of the superior historical pedigree of East Asian nations. This intrinsic pedigree could, by virtue of display, be transferred to the Museum, enhancing its own cultural cachet.

The perceived success of the Museum’s program of appropriation will be examined through an analysis of the experience of Alfred Chang, a young man who, in 1926, regularly visited the Museum to view and later draw the objects on display. Chang, a Chinese-American, was allegedly “re-Orientalized” as a result of his contact with objects from the Museum’s collection of East Asian art and antiquities; this belied the ability of the antiquities and art objects on display to retain elements of the long historical pedigree of their regions of origin. It was also a testament to the purported success of the Museum’s program of cultural appropriation.

This paper thus seeks to evaluate and complicate the existent discourses related to American perceptions of East Asia in the early twentieth century, using the practices of acquisition and appropriation employed by staff at the Cleveland Museum of Art as a lens.

The Apparatus that Cannot Mistake: John Thomson’s Portrait Photography of Chinese People – Menglu Gao, Graduate Student of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

As Alan Thomas pointed out, the “first views of remote peoples and places brought back to the western world by a pioneering generation of expeditionary photographers” are “the most important photographs of the nineteenth century”. The portrait photographs in John Thomson’s (1837-1921) travel books on China framed and pictorialized these first views of “remote peoples”; and, by projecting them through the printing press, these photographs carried the message from the remote country and served as the producer of knowledge in the Victorian era. On one hand, the faithfulness of Thomson’s portrait photographs depended on its “incapacity for abstraction”—by pictorializing different individuals in their natural states, Thomson’s photographs filled the blind spots of textual description and overcame the limitation of language.

On the other hand, as a knowledge producer, Thomson’s portrait photography could not convey the knowledge of Chinese people without exposing its “fatal tendency to produce abstractions from human reality”. How did Chinese people in Thomson’s portrait photographs “travel” via a medium—the objective visualization, which Roland Barthes calls “a message without a code”—that intrinsically gets rid off the language barrier between cultures? How did the visualization cross the color line and get translated during its travel? As illustrations in Thomson’s travel books, how did these photographs interact with words and participate in the narrative, and how were these visual images rearranged and reinterpreted by the textual description? Furthermore, how did Thomson in his portrait photography do to international misconception, misunderstanding, stereotyping and racialization? In answering these questions, this essay will introduce the intercultural context into the picture theory and shed new light on the reception of colonial photography in the Victorian era.

The Notion of the Notebook: The Reception of Leonardo da Vinci’s Manuscripts at the Dawn of the Age of Photomechanical Reproduction – James Housefield, Professor of Design History, UC Davis

From the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century, a phenomenal number of books and articles were written about Leonardo da Vinci. By some counts, more books were dedicated to the study of Leonardo than to any other single cultural or historical figure. From these books emerged a new image of Leonardo that expanded upon stories that had been rehashed since Vasari wrote the Lives of the Artists in the sixteenth century. New studies of Leonardo that emerged in the late nineteenth century moved beyond the recycled tropes and tales. The “new” Leonardo emerged as an ideal worthy of emulation by modern artists seeking to bring together art and science. This reception of Leonardo as both artist and scientist was promoted, especially, by facsimile editions of Leonardo’s notebooks published between 1881 and 1893 under the supervision of Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, curator of the Louvre Museum. New photographic technologies developed by Gustave Arosa facilitated the creation of exceptionally well duplicated reproductions. This paper analyzes the role of this technology for photomechanical reproduction in shaping popular and scholarly understandings of Leonardo at a time when the Renaissance held critical significance for contemporary critics and artists. In particular, this paper asserts the importance for the facsimile notebooks in promoting a wide range of activities – encompassing literature, science, engineering, design, and visual art – for Leonardo and for those modern artists who might follow in his footsteps.


Chaired by Brenda Schildgen, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Davis

Assailing Kampaṉ: Civañāṉa Muṉivar and the First Verse of the Tamil Rāmāyaṇa – Blake Wentworth, Professor of South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley

Civañāṉa Muṉivar (d. 1785) was a master of polemics, a reputation that most dramatically rests on his withering critique of a single verse of the Rāmāyaṇa of Kampaṉ during an exchange with Vaiṣṇava scholars. What was Civañāṉa Muṉivar’s motivation in choosing this revered literary text for his formidable display of argumentation, and what can his critique tell us of the place of Kampaṉ’s Rāmāyaṇa in contemporary south Indian religious traditions? His subsequent resolution of the doubts that he himself had raised in debate, moreover, offers a rare view of the importance granted to Kampan’s masterpiece by the Tamil Saiva tradition — an esteem powerfully affirmed a century and a half later by U. Vē. Cāminātaiyar, when discussing his tutelage under the great Mīṉākṣicuntaram Piḷḷai at the Tiruvāvaṭutuṟai Ātīṉam, a staunchly Saiva mutt.

Double Reading: Literature Into Theology in Rāmāyaṇa Commentary – Ajay Rao, Professor Of Religion, University of Toronto

The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki is considered by many contemporary Hindus to be a foundational religious text. This understanding is in part the result of a transformation of the epic’s receptive history, a hermeneutic project which challenged one characterization of the genre of the text, as a work of literary culture, and replaced it with another, as a work of remembered tradition. Interpretive engagement with Vālmīki’s epic was perhaps nowhere as intense as in the Śrīvaiṣṇava order of South India, where intellectuals from 1250 to 1600 reconceptualized Rāma’s story through the lens of their devotional metaphysics. Śrīvaiṣṇavas applied innovative interpretive techniques to the Rāmāyaṇa, including allegorical reading, the application of vernacular performance techniques, and “śleṣa” reading (reading a verse as a double entendre ). This paper examines the śleṣa reading of the verse known as mā niṣāda, considered the first instance of poetic composition in Sanskrit.

Rumya Putcha, Professor of Music, Earlham College

The Ramayan, like much of Hindu mythology, has provided inspiration for classical dance choreography and narrative content for generations. The ways in which contemporary artists have chosen to reinterpret and reimagine characters, both major and minor, speak to broader trends across the performing arts as dancers and choreographers engage in discourses of historiography, gender and caste equality and global south feminism. In 2009, the organizers of the premier annual dance event in Chennai, the Natya Kala Conference, chose the Ramayan as the theme, encouraging dancers and dance scholars from around the world to revisit the motifs and messages of the epic from a contemporary socio-political perspective. What emerged, and what this talk will explore, is how anti-heroines or other marginalized female characters such as Soorpanaka or Mandodhari have emerged as spaces in which female behavior and archetypes are debated through dance and the social commentary that dance provides. Drawing on ethnographic and film analysis, this presentation examines the agency performance artists harness in such performance practices. Focusing specifically on the (re)interpretation of liminal characters and the interventional approaches inherent in such presentations by prominent and established (i.e., urban high caste) female performers, this talk explores how and for whom performative texts like the Ramayan participate in discourses of social change and social mobility

Keynote Address: Wai Chee Dimock

“Recycling the Epic: Gilgamesh on Three Continents.”

Through Yusef Komunyakaa and Joan London — American poet and Australian novelist — this talk explores the new geographical coordinates of the epic of Gilgamesh and its reworkings into three contemporary genres: drama, lyric, novel.

PANEL 5: Reading Thought Entire: The Mahābhārata as Literary Event

Chaired by Archana Venkatesan, Professor of Religious Studies and Comparative Literature, UC Davis

The Goddess in the Mahābhārata and Viṣṇu on Freud’s Desk – Alf Hiltebeitel, Professor of Religion, George Washington University

In a recent attempt to write about the Goddess in the Mahābhārata, I argued that what the epic does is “domesticate” her, by which I mean primarily that it introduces “Devī”—that is, it presents the debut narratives not only of various goddesses but of heroines who are linked with her—in what I call uncanny domesticities. The phrase draws on two studies by Diane Jonte-Pace (1996, 2001), who reads Sigmund Freud through what she calls an “undeveloped” “non-Oedipal counter-thesis” (1996, 82) that she traces through Freud’s scattered treatments of mothers, death, dead mothers, matricide, the hereafter, and the uncanny or “unheimlich.” My study has thus led me back to Freud and what Christiane Hartnack (1999, 2001) has called the “missed opportunity” that impresses her as the outcome of Freud’s 12-year off-and-on correspondence with India’s first psychoanalyst Girindrashekhar Bose. In 1929, in a middle phase of this correspondence, Bose wrote, “I do not deny the importance of the castration threat in European cases; my argument is that the threat owes its efficiency to its connection with the wish to be female. The real struggle lies between the desire to be male and its opposite the desire to be female. … My Indian patients do not exhibit castration symptoms to such a marked degree as my European cases. The desire to be female is more easily unearthed in Indian male patients than in European. … The Oedipus mother is very often a combined parental image and this is a fact of great importance. I have reasons to believe that much of the motivation of maternal deity is traceable to this source.” Hartnack comments, “Although in 1929, … [Freud] was working on cultural and religious topics, he did not seem to be interested in discussing the representations of patriarchal and matriarchal social structures in the individual, as symbolized by their respective deities. Maternal deities were—unlike the patriarchal figure Moses—never at the centre of Freud’s attention.” She imagines him “joking with Jones, or somebody else, in private that he should now work those awful Indian goddesses into his concepts” (2001, 141). That much behind us, this presentation will focus on the last phase of this correspondence, which was initiated when Bose and his colleagues chose to pick a “suitable gift” for Freud’s 75th birthday and chose to have sculpted for him in Calcutta a small image of a seated “Vishnu Ananta Deva” in an iconography from far-away Kerala. Although the title “Vishnu on Freud’s desk” has been used twice (Vaidyanathan and Kripal, 1999; Hartnack 1999), as far as I can see no one has offered even a thought to the question of why Bose and his colleagues found this particular icon (and an accompanying Sanskrit stotra to Freud, with English translation) so “suitable.” My paper will pose an answer to this question: one what will complement Hartnack in imagining Bose joking with his colleagues, and one that will also draw from what Jonte-Pace calls Freud’s undeveloped counterthesis. The goal, however, is also to shed some more new light on the relation between Viṣṇu, Śiva, and the Goddess.

The Mahābhārata: Rules of Engagement, Rules of Representation – James W. Earl, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Oregon

Of all the challenges that the Mahābhārata presents to the Western reader, perhaps the battle books (6-10) are the most difficult. Their style is extremely resistant to Western analysis and interpretation. The representation of reality in the earlier books is challenging enough, but one comes to sense a coherent system of ideas, beliefs and narrative conventions which permit and encourage interpretation. One can teach the Dicing Match of Book 2, or the Bhagavadgītā, to American students with results good enough to justify the attempt. The representation of the battle itself, however, is another matter. In this paper I restrict myself to two stylistic features of these books. First there are the rules of engagement, primarily that the main combatants fight in large chariots, and only with bows and arrows. This fact alone guarantees a slow, cumbersome, and ineffective form of combat in which it is virtually impossible to kill one’s enemy. Killing the enemy seems not to be the point in most cases: victory consists in killing the opponent’s horses, perhaps his charioteer, and in breaking his standard, umbrella and bow, forcing him finally to step down from his chariot or to retreat. Second, there is the frequent use of hyperbolic or celestial weapons: for example, a single warrior confined to his chariot and to the use of his bow may kill thousands of soldiers (or elephants) at a time, shooting tens of thousands of arrows simultaneously—his primary opponent remaining unharmed even if he receives a hundred arrows in his chest or forehead. Thus the narrative alternates between episodes of Iliad-like realism and cartoonish super-hyperbole. Western readers find these narrative conventions puzzling and contradictory, whereas Indian readers seem to accept them as normative.

Rethinking the Presence of Goddess Ambā through the Narrative of Ambā in the Mahābhārata – Veena Howard, Instructor of Religion, University of Oregon

The grand epic of the Mahābhārata presents a variety of female characters endowed with characteristics ranging from self-effacing feminine virtues to fierce vengeance—archetypical of the attributes of the goddess, Ambā. Scholars have analyzed the roles of female figures, like Draupadī, Kuntī, and Satyāvati for the purpose of describing their importance and understanding how they shape the plot of the epic. These studies make visible a dichotomous Hindu attitude toward women: they are considered the embodiment of divine power, on the one hand; and a victim of subjugating dharma laws, on the other. I suggest that many narratives in the Mahābhārata, in particular the story of Ambā, who considers herself the victim of Bhīṣma’s actions and is intent on revenge, present a more multifarious view of gender attitudes and the perception of the female nature and autonomy in the Mahābhārata. The Ambā story’s placement between the only two hymns to the Goddess and its unconventional themes invite us to analyze the nuanced views of gender issues and female empowerment in the epic.

At the Crossroads of Time and Eternity: Or Why the Mahābhārata’s Narration is set in the Naimiṣa Forest – Professor of Philosophy, Vishwa Adluri, Hunter College

The architecture of the Mahābhārata consists of certain morphological elements such as its circular composition, frame narratives, meaningful division into parvans and the pervasive and modulated use of the dialogic form. Narratalogical elements include repetition and elaboration, use of the upākhyānas or sub-tales, use of flash-backs, and the weaving of action narrative with thoughtful discussions. The fabric of the epic is woven out threads of philosophical argument such as the dialogue between puruṣārthas and daivam, time and eternity, pravṛtti and nivṛtti, and the transactional and transcending aspects of sacrifice, cosmology, genealogy and war. The architecture of the Mahābhārata is best understood as a consequence of its philosophical project. Any approach that does not take the philosophical project of the epic into consideration will miss the architecture and plan of the work. To such an approach, the epic will necessarily appear monstrously chaotic, and the resulting mechanical ‘scientific’ methods will consequently lead the reader into a blind alley (unaufgeklärten Holzweg).

In this paper, I will defend a philosophical-aesthetic reading of the epic as an organized whole. The outlines of a meaningful architecture of the Mahābhārata can be gleaned from the literary self-consciousness of the text itself; especially in the first five books of the Ādiparvan. I will show how the double-beginning of the epic, the frame settings, and the materials in the Pauṣyaparvan use a distinction between the circularity of pravṛtti cycles and the teleology of mokṣa to create a circular narrative which accommodates both, while also carefully holding apart these two distinctions. To make my argument, I will also introduce some materials from the Nārāyaṇīya section of the Mokṣadharmaparvan.

PANEL 6: Reception and Reconstruction of Philosophical Texts in Late Antiquity

Chaired by David Gundry, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

Reception and Reconstruction: The Case of Aristotle’s Protrepticus – Monte Johnson, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego

Aristotle’s Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy) was one of the most famous books in antiquity, but it was not copied in the middle ages and so is now a lost work. But because of the way the book was received and used by later scholars (e.g. imitated in other philosophical works, excerpted in anthologies, and integrated into pedagogical syllabi), it can be substantially reconstructed. The result is precious insight into Aristotle’s contribution to the genre of prose dialogue.

“Now we must consider that some of the ancients discovered the truth”: Reception and antiquity in ancient Neoplatonism – Michael Griffin, Professor of Greek Philosophy, University of British Columbia

In this paper, I would like to explore an interface between philosophical education and inquiry in later ancient Greek philosophy, focusing on the work of the commentator Simplicius of Cilicia (c. 490–c. 560 CE). Simplicius is well known as an interpreter (exēgētēs) of the formative texts of Hellenic philosophy, and he regards the commentary as an important vehicle for what we might call ‘research’ or inquiry into an array of subjects: a philosopher can progressively uncover the truth about a subject by interpreting a canonical text on that subject with care, or perhaps by synthesizing a detailed doxography of differing but reputable views (cf. in Phys. 640,12-18). Simplicius also treats commentary as a useful tool for pedagogy. Focusing on Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, I will suggest that a common psychological or pedagogical theory underlies the function attributed to the commentator by Simplicius in both inquiry and education: a pupil who engages in dialectic with a teacher, or with the ‘greats’ of the past, may recover the natural, undistorted concepts (ennoiai) that were her birthright, before they were distorted by the fall of the soul and the rattle and hum of our quotidian experience (illustrated by Simplicius in an evocative passage in Cat. 12,10-13,4). This analysis has a sound justification in Neoplatonist psychology (as Philippe Hoffmann has discussed), which I hope to draw out here.

Meeting the Stoic Challenge: The Reception of the Aristotelian ‘Formula’ of Living Well in the Context of Late Hellenistic Philosophizing – Jan Szaif, Professor of Philosophy, UC Davis

Late Hellenistic philosophers had to work in a philosophical environment in which the conceptual framework created by the Stoics exercised great influence and could not be ignored by other schools. This is particularly noticeable in the case of the Peripatetics (followers of Aristotle) of the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE. They tried to reformulate and interpret the famous Aristotelian ‘outline’ (or ‘formula’) of what is means to live well (NE I.7; EE II.1) in a way informed by Stoic arguments and distinctions. My talk will relate primarily to the traces of these endeavors in the Epitome of Peripatetic Ethics by Arius Didymus (‘Doxography C’) and to some of their echoes in the 2nd century CE commentator Aspasius. My aim is to demonstrate how the reception of the Aristotelian formula into a quite different philosophical environment leads not only to re-interpretation, but also to greater conceptual clarity on a crucial question, viz. the question of how living well and morally correct decision making relate to each other.



Chaired by Rex Stem, Professor of Classics, UC Davis

Classical Motifs and Perceptions of Space and Time in Medieval St. Gall – Natalia Lozovsky, Office of Science and Technology, UC Berkeley

The abbey of St. Gall in what is now Switzerland was an important center of learning in the Middle Ages. Many of the manuscripts produced at St. Gall survive; they include copies of classical texts annotated by St. Gall scholars and chronicles written by local monks. My paper will explore the strategies medieval scholars used and the goals they pursued while reading and interpreting ancient texts. Absorbing classical learning and adapting it to their needs, St. Gall scholars constructed their own vision of space and time, an image that helped them understand their place within the physical world and human history.

A Medieval Map of the Roman World – Emily Albu, Professor of Classics, UC Davis

Historians of cartography have long accepted the Peutinger map’s self-presentation at face value, viewing the medieval map as a copy of a Roman ancestor, effectively the only world map to survive from Roman antiquity and valuable primarily as a vehicle for speculation about a lamentably lost Roman original. This paper presents some of the reasons for considering this display map of the Roman world a medieval artifact produced to address concerns of its own day (c. 1220 CE).

The Hereford Map (c. 1300) and its Roman Credentials – Marcia Kupfer, Independent Scholar, Washington DC

My paper analyzes how the mappa mundi made for Hereford Cathedral narrates its own backstory as a Roman commission. While one set of inscriptions locates the map’s genesis in a command issued by Julius Caesar, a major pictorial vignette attributes the same command to Augustus. Some scholars, most prominently A. O W. Dilke, have accepted the relevance of this dual ascription to the real history of Roman cartography. Others read the Julian and Augustan claims programmatically within the context of the medieval work. I pursue the latter path, showing that the Map’s overdetermined account participates in antinomies—pagan vs. Christian, secular vs. ecclesial, Babylon vs. Jerusalem—structural to the work on multiple levels. At the same time, the Map uses its ancient credentials to set up the role of the modern artist/ patron and to comment on the relationship between human handiwork and divine Creation.

Re-settling a Chinese Classic: Global Geography and Early Modern China – Yuming He, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

The notion of “Asia”/“Yaxiya,” which has now become a reflexive part of the way we imagine the landmasses of the globe, was introduced into the Chinese vocabulary by the Jesuits and their Chinese collaborators in the late sixteenth century. This talk attempts to capture the changing terms and the historical experience of spatial cognition and imagination of this era by looking at how early Chinese classics were re-interpreted and re-placed.


Chaired by Noah Guynn, Professor of French, UC Davis

“Oriental Despotism and the Reception of Romance” – John M Ganim, Professor of English, UC Riverside

From the twelfth century onward, romance is imbricated in and by the discourse of the crusades, and a case can be made that its flowering depends on a certain compensation for the erosion of crusader territory. After the fall of Constantinople, crusading rhetoric and crusade motifs reemerge, this time embedded in new forms inspired by the rediscovery of Greek prose romances. Even Malory hints that according to some of his sources (but not others) the remnants of the Round Table pick themselves up and “these foure knyghtes dyd many bataylles upon the mycreantes, or Turkes.” Far from the fading possibility mentioned in Malory, a host of new romances and romance epics emerge in several European languages which send their heroes off to battle a disturbingly refashioned infidel. But the Ottoman Empire presents a different challenge to the political ideology of crusade narratives, due to its articulation of an absolutist sovereignty also emerging in Western Europe at the same time.

Medievalisms of the Postmodern: Contemporary Fiction and the Crusades – Shirin Khanmohamadi, Professor of Comparative Literature, San Francisco State University

Turning to two recent novelistic reimaginings of the European Crusades by postmodern masters, Jose Saramago’s History of the Siege of Lisbon and Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, this paper will consider the way in which postmodern historical novels gloss and appropriate signature aspects of medieval textual culture– the instabilities of manuscript “mouvance,” or the textual system of auctoritas which conferred truth to cited authorities without recourse to scientific verification of texts – in order to explore equally signature postmodern concerns such as historical indeterminacy or the slippage between truth and fiction in historical construction. In placing medieval textuality in intimate dialogue with postmodern concerns, each author bridges the gap between the pre- and post-modern, marking structural affinities in their textual cultures, and enacting a medievalism less of appropriation than of homage.

The Unrepentant Lancelot in the “Epic Romance” Le Haut Livre du Graal or Perlesvaus – Marisa Galvez, Professor of French, Stanford University

A prose Grail romance dating from the first half of the thirteenth century, the Perlesvaus or Le Haut Livre du Graal has often been recognized for its violent representation of the Grail legend as a struggle between the New Law and the Old: in their quest for the Grail, knights representing Christian Law mercilessly dispatch all non-Christians. In contrast to other Arthurian romances, Jean-Claude Payen calls the Perlesvaus a “roman épique” whose unnuanced manichaiesm conveys an “esprit de croisade” seen in a chanson de geste such as La Chanson de Roland. My paper will examine how Lancelot’s unrepentance of his love for Guinevere in an exceptional confessional scene not found in the Vulgate cycle troubles this crusading ethos of the romance. The ambivalent figure of Lancelot who embraces courtly love as the motivation of his militant acts on behalf of the New Law resists the view of a heavenly chivalry subordinated to an earthly one. While the Vulgate cycle and Chrétien’s romances do not diminish the value of Lancelot’s adulterous love for Guinevere, they also do not include a confessional scene that foregrounds the uncomfortable reconciliation of sin and crusade. I will argue that in the Perlesvaus Lancelot embodies a conflict between the external crusade against the pagan enemy and the internal, individual crusade against the sinful self. By allowing his crusading actions to redeem his sinful unrepentant love for Guinevere, the romance depicts Lancelot as resisting the interiority of a penitential discourse connected to crusading at this time. I will reflect upon why this ‘epic romance’ might allow his sinful “volonté” or desire to exist within a crusading ideology.

History Lessons: Antiquity and the Crusades – Zrinka Stahlujak, Professor of French and Francophone Studies, UCLA

The centerpiece of the paper is Guillaume de Machaut’s La Prise d’Alixandre [The Taking of Alexandria] (c. 1369-1377). Machaut used a mixture of different pasts ancient Greco-Roman myths and crusade treatises to write a history in octosyllabic verse, the fact that has been puzzling literary
scholars for over a century by its exceptional status in an otherwise coherent poetic corpus of Machaut. The uses of ancient (Greco-Roman) and more recent (First Crusade) history were characteristic of crusade treatises written after the fall of Acre (1291) for the justification of the reconquest of the Holy Land. The accretion of history lessons and their transformations in order to achieve moral change and military action may explain Machaut’s literary-historical anomaly as being simply in the
spirit of the times.