English Academic Delves into Hellenistic Literature
The Classics Department in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics hosted visiting academic, Ms Valeria Pace from the University of Cambridge, England, who presented two papers on Hellenistic Literature and engaged with students in connection with their research.
Pace’s first seminar examined the poem by Theocritus - Idyll27 - in a paper titled Idyll27 as Fan Fiction: the Invention of the Bucolic Female Singer. The poem features an unusual plot in the Theocritean bucolic universe in which a character named Daphnis attempts to seduce a young girl, Acrotime, and, by the end of the poem, obtains sexual satisfaction.
‘None of the bucolic Idylls that are considered to be genuinely Theocritean have a woman in their cast of speaking characters, and never do we see an inhabitant of the bucolic world satisfy their erotic longing. Indeed, bucolic song is both respite from and rehearsing of impossible love,’ said Pace.
Pace argued that the poem’s unusual plot could be seen as the enactment of a readerly desire to see certain situations, characters and plots that are suggested as a possibility but never feature in Theocritean poetry come to be. Such type of readerly wish-fulfilment fantasies animate the workings of fan faction.
Pace suggested that the poem should be read as a creation of a new episode in the life of Daphnis, the mythical singer whose love troubles are sung in Idyll 1. Pace showed that the poem does not attempt to create a scene that explains why Daphnis was to become a famous bucolic singer, rather, that ‘the poem ought to be seen as using our knowledge of the Daphnis myth to tell a story of how Acrotime’s future fate is to become a bucolic singer.’
She presented a second paper titled: Aetiology in Moschus’ Europa which is the most ancient extant extended treatment of the myth of Europa, the Phoenician princess abducted by Zeus disguised as a bull. This mythological figure was connected to the name of the continent Europe from early on.
‘A striking feature of the poem is that no explicit connection appears to be made between the name of the girl and the naming of the continent Europe. Some scholars have argued that the origin of the name of the continent is not within the remit of the interest of the poem as the its main focus is the depiction of the emergence of Eros in an adolescent girl,’ she said.
Pace argues in her paper that the importance of desire in the poem, rather than shifting focus away from the connection between continent and the girl, is instrumental to the creation of an aetiological narrative. She said that in fact, the poem is primarily concerned with providing a foundation myth loaded with geo-political meanings.
Words and photograph: Melissa Mungroo